International News

Miami Archbishop: ‘Haiti Would Have No Luck If It Wasn’t For Bad Luck’

A man and his children stand amid the debris of their destroyed house in JÈrÈmie, Haiti, Oct. 17, 2016, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

MIAMI — In about two months’ time, the one-year anniversary of a tragic earthquake and presidential assassination in Haiti will have passed, and the state of the Caribbean nation appears to be even worse, or as Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami describes: “as bad as it’s ever been.”

In a conversation with The Tablet, Archbishop Wenski, who has long been an advocate and ally for the Haitian people both domestically and abroad, detailed his understanding of Haiti’s state of affairs, and how it has stalled a number of church projects.

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

An “isolated” Port-au-Prince is at the heart of the problem. The three main roads out of the capital city are all blocked by armed gangs, who force people to stay where they are or run the risk of being kidnapped, extorted, or even killed. Haitians also face a lack of available resources, including gas and food.

It’s bad enough that Cardinal Chibly Langlois of Les Cayes didn’t attempt ground travel to get to Port-au-Prince in order to fly to Miami to visit Archbishop Wenski. Instead, he took a private plane from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince, which Archbishop Wenski explained “is the only way in and out of the capital.”

“The security situation is pretty desperate and it’s paralyzing the whole country,” Archbishop Wenski said.

That paralysis includes church projects that date back more than a decade. Archbishop Wenski said reconstruction projects following the 2010 earthquake, which leveled Port-au-Prince and killed at least 220,000 people, are essentially “dead in the water” because gangs have blocked construction workers from getting to the sites. Also, local mafias controlling the ports have made it costly and difficult to even ship the material down there.

One project, in particular, that’s on hold is the building of a new major seminary in Haiti to replace the one destroyed by the earthquake. Archbishop Wenski said property is secured and money raised, but construction is on hold because the site is controlled by gangs, “and because it’s on hold we risk losing some of the funding because people might want to redirect that money to other areas.”

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio, and Archbishop Bernardito Auza, papal nuncio to Haiti, stand inside the destroyed Our Lady of Assumption Catherdral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010. (CNS photo/George M. Martell, The Catholic Foundation)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Haitian church, and others cooperated on the project. The USCCB Partnership for Church Reconstruction (Proche) is supervising about 40 total reconstruction projects stemming from the 2010 earthquake, including churches and rectories.

A temporary seminary built by the Archdiocese of Miami is now in a zone controlled by gangs as well. Haitian clergy moved the seminarians to the college seminary a few miles away, but Archbishop Wenski said it’s “only a matter of time until gang activity invades that area of the country” too.

The Archdiocese of Miami is also conducting a damage assessment in the aftermath of an earthquake that struck southwestern Haiti, mainly Les Cayes. Those efforts, Archbishop Wenski said, have the same challenges. He’s hoping to have it done by the middle of the summer, to know what needs to be rebuilt or repaired.

“The punch to do the rebuilding and the possibility of that rebuilding is pretty much contingent on what happens with the security situation,” ArchbishopWenski said. “The Diocese of Jérémie, the Diocese of Les Cayes, Anse-á-Veau, and Miragoâne, lost dozens of rural chapels, schools, rectories, clinics, and so they’re in a pretty dire situation there.”

Regardless of if and when the rebuilds and repairs take place, the question of how Haiti can move towards political and general societal stability remains. Archbishop Wenski said the answer likely won’t come from the international community and will have to be a “Haitian solution,” though he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the state of the Haitian government is another challenge. Prime Minister Ariel Henry took over after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated last July. However, Henry doesn’t have any confirmation from a legislative body and therefore doesn’t have any legitimacy.

The constitutional period to put in place a transitional government in Haiti also elapsed earlier this year; therefore, what you have is an “illegitimate government that has no coherent plan to move the country towards an election,” Archbishop Wenski said.

“It’s as bad as it’s ever been and that’s reflected in the increasing number of people that are trying to flee the country,” the archbishop noted. “It’s a sad situation. 

“I tell the Haitians that Haiti would have no luck if it wasn’t for bad luck.”