Haitian turmoil continues

Anglican institute leader killed as country waits for rescheduled elections
January 31, 2006

Anglicans in Haiti and officials of Episcopal Relief and Development were shocked at news of the death of Edward Emmanuel Corneille, director of the diocese’s Bishop Tharp Institute of Business and Technology. Corneille was shot and killed in Pétion-Ville, just outside of Port-au-Prince, on Jan 5.

“Rampant violence and unrest has become a daily reality that threatens all of us living in Haiti,” Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin of Haiti told the Executive Council meeting in Iowa a week after the tragedy. “Since BTI’s opening, the institute has been seen as a symbol of hope for Les Cayes and the southern part of Haiti -- with Emmanuel there was hope.”

ERD staff had worked in partnership with the Diocese of Haiti to build the institute which opened in October 2005. “This is disheartening for the BTI community, the Diocese of Haiti and ERD,” said Abagail Nelson, vice president for program for the development agency. “Emmanuel was a charismatic leader who will be sorely missed.”

Circumstances surrounding Corneille’s death remained unclear, but reports said he had been involved in the campaign of Charles Henry Baker, a presidential candidate. An interim director immediately was named for the institute, which reopened on Jan. 9 after a holiday recess.

Corneille was instrumental in the final phases of building and opening the institute and helped recruit more than 120 students. He had worked in the United States for several years in business and higher-learning institutions.

Weakness ‘endemic’

Haiti is hampered by widespread escalating violence and political instability, Duracin told the Executive Council. But, he maintained, the church in Haiti -- one of the Episcopal Church's 12 “overseas” dioceses -- is strong.

The bishop said armed gangs had control of much of the capital of Port au-Prince. In the midst of this recurring and worsening violence, Duracin said, there has been no socio-economic progress and there is “endemic weakness” in the country’s infrastructure.

There is no good system of agricultural development, per-capita income is $440 and the inflation rate is 20 percent, Duracin said. The unemployment rate is 80 percent, he said, and more than 55 percent of the population is illiterate. “We don't have enough schools but the church tries to fill that gap and has some of the best schools in the country.”

The bishop said there was a chronic shortage of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. “Water is a luxury rather than a basic necessity,” Duracin said, adding that much of the disease in the country is water-borne. Still, Haiti has “great potential,” he told the council.

“The country remains full of hope because it has eight million able bodies willing to work, eight million consumers -- the largest consumer market in the Caribbean -- a vibrant youth population, a hospitable location, some beautiful beaches, a rich history and culture, a warm climate,” he said.

The country needs political stability, forgiveness of its external debt and massive investment in its infrastructure and in job creation, he said. It also needs a “massive redistribution of wealth and services,” he said. One percent of the population controls half of the nation's wealth.

Haiti’s often-delayed elections are crucial to the country’s future, he said. Haiti’s United States-backed interim government recently announced a fourth delay in elections scheduled for November 2005, and the United Nations urged the government to begin the first round of the elections by Feb. 7.

Peace and stability depend on the outcome of the elections, the bishop said. “If the elections are seen as fair and democratic, there will be a greater chance for that peace and stability; otherwise it will be confusion.”

Coup in 2004

Much of the current violence can be traced to the coup in 2004 that forced the country's twice democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from office. “Since 2004, our church has been victimized,” Duracin told the council.

He reported that priests had been shot, had their vehicles stolen and had been the victims of other crimes. One priest's life was spared only because his assailant ran out of bullets. Despite the violence, “the church works,” Duracin said, but it has many challenges, including a lack of clergy and a need for better management practices so it can be a better steward.

The Episcopal Church of Haiti has more than 100,000 baptized members in 109 congregations. The diocese was founded in 1861 when the Rev. James Theodore Holly, one of the Episcopal Church’s first African-American priests -- ordained in 1856 at age 27 -- left New Haven, Conn., for Haiti with 100 emigrants.

The Haitian church runs 100 primary schools, 15 secondary schools and a school for handicapped students, as well as vocational and agricultural training efforts, a university and a seminary. It also has a very supportive lay ministry, which needs more training, Duracin said.

“The church of Haiti has a strong ministry spiritually and socially,” he said. “It is very respected.” The Haitian diocese has many partnerships with Episcopal Church-related organizations, including ERD; the Diocese of Maine, which is helping Haiti solve some of its communications problems, and the United Thank Offering, which has funded three new schools, according to Duracin.

The diocese also is working ecumenically. The new Desmond Tutu Center for Reconciliation and Peace, due to open in Haiti Feb. 12, will be a place where various denominations can gather “to see if the churches together can do something to make peace among the populations of Haiti,” Duracin said.

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