AMERICA/HAITI - Caritas Haiti fears a humanitarian crisis as rebels approach the capital - The Bishops of the Church in America voice concern and solidarity with the people of Haiti

Friday, 27 February 2004

Port au Prince (Fides Service) - “The ungovernable situation of insecurity and violence is having a disastrous effect on the country’s already precious economy” said Padre Wilnès Tilus, director of Caritas Haiti (opened in 1975), who fears a humanitarian crisis, which would be devastating for a country where 65% of the population lives below the poverty line and the infant mortality rate is almost 100 per 1,000. Only days ago in a joint declaration, national and international aid organisations working in Haiti, including Caritas, denounced the serious situation condemning all violence and calling for peace and security to be restored immediately in full respect for international law, national sovereignty and the Haitian people’s right to self-rule. The humanitarian organisations call on the international community to help strengthen the country’s democratic structures to guarantee social development and full respect for fundamental human rights. The countries of the Caribbean region have asked the United Nations Security Council to send an international peace-keepers to the Island.
In the meantime the rebel troops are within a short distance of the capital and would appear to be waiting only for the order to attack should President Aristide refuse to relinquish power. Haiti’s constitution foresees resignation of a President the installation of an interim government and this would guarantee a peaceful and constitutional solution to the crisis. To prevent a crisis within the crisis the United States Coast Guard has already intercepted a number of boats carrying at least 400 refugees: President Bush warned Haitians that any asylum seekers from Haiti will be repatriated.
Solidarity with the people of Haiti was expressed by the Bishops of America meeting in San Antonio Texas for their annual meeting 16-19 February. In the letter addressed to Archbishop Hubert Constant, Archbishop of Cap. Haitien and President of the Bishops’ Conference of the Bishops write: “Every day brings new accounts in our media about the violence that is afflicting Haitian society and causing additional harm to so many Haitian people, already afflicted by intense poverty and other social ills”. The letter dated 18 February was signed by Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, Archbishop of Santiago-Chile also President of the Council of Latin America Bishops’s Conferences - CELAM; Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien, Archbishop of St John’s. Newfoundland, President of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops; Bishop William S. Skylstad, Bishop of Spokane, WA, Vice-President of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.
The Bishops express solidarity with the people and all those who are at their service, priests, religious and laity and they encourage the many efforts being made by the Church to find a peaceful solution to the political crisis. “One sign of hope in this dark time is the Peace Building and Reconciliation Commission recently established by the Episcopal Conference of Haiti, under the leadership of Archbishop Emeritus François Gayot, S.M.M. as Commission President, and Bishop Joseph LaFontant as Vice President. We send our prayerful best wishes that this Commission may help guide the people of Haiti along the paths of genuine peace and reconciliation.
Be assured that you and all the people of Haiti are in our prayers.” The bishops invoke the maternal protection of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, so that the Church in Haiti will emerge from the present crisis strengthened and ever more united.. (R.Z) (Agenzia Fides 27/2/2004; righe 19 - parole 266)