Haiti: deportee dies, the displaced are forgotten

A Haitian national with symptoms of cholera died in Haiti just two days after his Jan. 20 deportation from Florida by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Wildrick Guerrier was one of 27 Haitians repatriated in ICE’s first deportation of Haitian immigrants since an earthquake devastated southern Haiti in January 2010. Immigrant rights advocates had warned about the dangers of resuming deportations, especially after a cholera epidemic struck Haiti in mid-October. “This is death by deportation,” Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) executive director Cheryl Little said in a Jan. 31 press release.

On arriving in Haiti the detainees were put in one of the country’s notoriously unsanitary prisons. Guerrier, 34, suffered from “extreme vomiting and uncontrollable diarrhea,” according to FIAC. These are symptoms of cholera, which can develop in less than one day after exposure, although the cause of death seems not to be established—Guerrier was complaining of stomach pains before his deportation.

ICE officials say they are only deporting Haitians convicted of violent crimes. Guerrier, a permanent US resident who came to Florida as a teenager in 1993, had been sentenced to an 18-month prison term, but it’s not clear what he was convicted of. “A criminal record should not be a death sentence for Haitians,” Little said. “Sadly, Guerrier’s family now mourns his loss.” (FIAC press release, Jan. 31; Miami New Times blog, Feb. 3)

Dominican authorities are also deporting Haitians, but their pretext is that the immigrants could spread the cholera among Dominicans. More than 3,000 Haitians were expelled in January, according to Dominican officials cited in a press release from Haiti’s Ministry of Haitians Living Abroad. The ministry said “a number of repatriated citizens” reported “acts of brutality, humiliating persecutions on public streets, the separation of families, the loss of goods and merchandise.” A Dominican group, the Jesuit Service for Refugees and Migrants (SJRM), charged that “[t]hese actions are not effective for avoiding the spread of the epidemic, but instead they undermine the rule of law, give rise to violations of migrants’ human rights, promote racism and generate economic losses.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain homeless in the Port-au-Prince area more than a year after the 2010 earthquake. The International Organization for Migration (IOM, or OIM in French) reports that the number of people living in temporary camps has gone down to 810,000 from 1.5 million in January 2010, but it is not clear how many actually obtained shelters and how many continue to live outdoors after leaving the camps—or being expelled from them by people who claim to own the land.

The deportations and the situation of displaced persons are largely ignored in the media as attention stays focused on disputes over the chaotic Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections, according to Haitian journalist Wooldy Edson Louidor. “The current post-electoral political crisis tends to make people forget more and more the multiple urgent problems the country faces,” he wrote on Feb. 4. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 4)

On Feb. 3, one day behind schedule, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced its official election results. As expected, the council named two conservatives—Mirlande Hyppolite Manigat (Coalition of National Progressive Democrats, RDNP) and popular singer Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky,” Peasant Response)—as the candidates for the March 20 presidential runoff. US ambassador Kenneth Merten congratulated the CEP on its decision. “Finally it’s a good day for Haiti,” he said. (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, Feb. 3)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 6.

See our last posts on Haiti and the politics of immigration.