By Elizabeth Eames Roebling, www.caribbean360.com
ANSE-A-PITRES, HAITI - The cholera epidemic ravaging Haiti has affected even this small southern border town, which lived primarily from the trade with its neighbour even though it counts for less than five percent of the cross-border market trade.
All three of the border markets between Haiti and the Dominican Republic have been closed for the better part of the last two months.
Samuel Elouest, a trained human rights observer, walked proudly through the formerly dusty and rutted main street of his home village, Anse-a-Pitres.
"The streets were paved for the Binational Fair last year. We have a large generator now," he told IPS. "We have lights at night. It is only for the main street and the churches so far, none for private homes. But it has changed our lives."
"Our population increased from 22,000 people to about 28,000 after the earthquake. But since the market has been closed for two months, there has been little money in town," Elouest explained.
Whitney Alexander, a Haitian doctor who received his medical degree in Cuba, is now the attending physician at the small clinic on the border. It was without staff until the Batey Relief Alliance took over the clinic's management from the Haitian state a few years ago.
"We cannot say how many cases of cholera we have had since we do not have a confirmation from Port-au-Prince," Dr. Alexander told IPS. "All the cases here have been cases of suspected cholera. I do not wish to say that it is not serious since there is a nationwide alert against the disease."
"We are the only [medical] centre here, serving more than 50,000 people in the surrounding communities," he said. "I have been here for two years. We were already busy before the cholera outbreak two months ago, but with the help of the international community, we are managing."
Behind the clinic are three large tents for cholera treatment, isolating those cases from the other patients inside the clinic building. The tents are manned by a doctor, a nurse, and a technician from Doctors without Borders. They are assisted by nurses and personnel from the Haitian Red Cross.
Upon entering the cholera treatment tent, everyone is required to run their hands under the spigot of a five- gallon jug of chlorine while standing in a box lined with material soaked in the disinfectant. The same process is required upon exiting. Of the 12 beds available, only one is occupied, by a thin older man connected to an intravenous drip.
While there are now over 150,000 cases and more than 3,700 cholera deaths reported in Haiti, the Dominican Republic has managed to keep its cases to only 145, with no deaths.
Next to the border fence on the Dominican side is a new Health Department building, with four sinks and soap on each. Posters in Kreyol and Spanish explain briefly how cholera is transmitted and how to avoid it.
The government of the Dominican Republic, under pressure from many sectors, announced last week that it would resume repatriations to Haiti, which had been suspended after the earthquake a year ago.
Residents in one section of the nation's second largest city, Santiago, which is only two hours away from the northern border of Haiti, threatened to start expelling illegal Haitian immigrants. Protestors said that the immigrants were living in unsanitary conditions, defecating in plastic bags which were thrown on the street. Police in that city warned residents not to take the law into their own hands and then started deportations.
More than 900 Haitians have been repatriated since the beginning of this year. This prompted a call from Amnesty International to stop the deportations.
The Presidential Palace offered a clarification that the government was actually not deporting Haitians but simply increasing efforts to halt illegal immigration. It did acknowledge that it was searching for many of the convicts who escaped prison during the earthquake and announced that more than 100 convicted felons had been returned to Haitian authorities.
The U.S. State Department announced that it might introduce sanctions against the Dominican Republic if it did not do more to prevent the trafficking of Haitian children across the border. According to officials and rights groups, these children are often sold into prostitution or to organised groups of beggars.
The U.S. government spokesman said that the Dominican Republic has not brought any criminal cases against traffickers. Sanctions could include suspending economic and military aid, blocking of exports into the United States, and opposition to its votes in international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
At the end of the main street of Anse-a-Pitres, by the small rocky beach, four gaily painted 35-foot open boats ride at anchor. A policeman comes out from the whitewashed barracks which house the local complement of eight officers and blows his whistle. The small group of fishermen and traders stop and stand in silence, facing the flagpole as the flag of their nation is slowly raised.
Jesner Amboise watches as sacks of flour are prepared for loading into his boat. He says he will leave for Marigot, which is 45 minutes by truck from Jacmel, at 8 pm and arrive at 2 am the next morning.
"It is too hot to sail during the day. The sun is too strong and there is no shelter, so we make the trip at night," he said. "I used to travel with a full boatload of people. But the closing of the market has been hard on us."
"I used to make 15,000 gourdes profit from each trip, twice a week because of the number of people who would come to trade at the market," Amboise said. "Now there is only the transport of some goods. I am lucky to make 5,000 gourdes after I pay for the gas."