Caribbean Floods Catastrophe Was Foreseeable, Says Papal Envoy

Archbishop Cordes Tells of Visit to Dominican Republic and Haiti

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ROME, JULY 9, 2004 ( Papal envoy Archbishop Paul Cordes says the recent floods that devastated Haiti and the Dominican Republic were a «foreseeable tragedy.»

The president of the Pontifical Council «Cor Unum» visited the Caribbean nations to see the damage done by the floods at the end of May, in which more than 2,000 people died and tens of thousands lost their homes. «Cor Unum» coordinates Catholic aid efforts.

«These catastrophes could be predicted,» Archbishop Cordes told ZENIT. «This is why my visit was an appeal to the politicians to pay attention to the situation in areas in which these tragedies occur periodically.»

«The problem is that the political authorities take no interest in these more-remote areas as they do not attract many votes,» he said.

«In Jimani,» in the Dominican Republic, «the parish priest, exhausted from the enormous effort, lamented very much that even the Jimani delegates in Parliament do nothing to protect the people from these floods,» the archbishop said.

«In Monte Plata, we visited a very isolated area, after having driven for over an hour on unpaved roads,» he recalled. «They were isolated from civilization. We came upon 45 families threatened with being expelled from their plots as some potentates want their lands.»

The archbishop added: «I had the suspicion that this is the reason why these people are not connected to the water or electricity systems, so as to exert pressure on them and oblige them to leave. It is a policy of impoverishment. This puts a question mark on the authorities’ policy.»

«Moreover,» he continued, «Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, archbishop of Santo Domingo, has again raised his voice in support of the poor and criticized the fact that not all the aid reaches those in need, and criticized concrete cases of corruption.»

Archbishop Cordes said he saw a great willingness by U.N. institutions and the military to help refugees, especially in Haiti.

And, «the Dominican Republic’s Caritas is very well organized to address real needs on the spot,» he added. «This organization of the Catholic Church seems to be the most trustworthy aid network. It becomes concrete especially in the parishes.»

On the second stage of his trip, to Haiti, from June 22-25, the archbishop said he saw «more poverty than in many countries of Africa.»

«The first meeting was in the Cite Soleil, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, where I visited a group of Salesian Sisters who are giving their lives; they share the needs of the poorest of the poor,» he said. «I saw the rubbish on the streets, children playing in sewage water.»

«All this, perhaps, is also the consequence of the dictatorship which has pressured the country for decades. François Duvalier, Jean-Claude Duvalier and recently Aristide have abused the country and robbed the people of their energies,» he continued.

«Aristide continues to speak on the radio,» the archbishop said. «He is constantly in touch with his followers. So he fuels powder kegs of violence in the country: arson such as occurred recently in Gonaives, the assassin of Air France’s director, and also witchcraft practices in which some children have been killed. In fact, Aristide introduced the voodoo cult officially» in Haiti.

«With Prime Minister Gerard Latortue we talked about the political situation and he stressed that now there must be no yielding to the spirit of vengeance and emphasized the need to create a spirit of reconciliation,» Archbishop Cordes added.

«However, he acknowledged that a thick veil of forgetfulness could not be drawn over all that has occurred,» the prelate said. «Justice is necessary to that myths won’t be created about personalities of the past.»

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