February 26, 2010

Saving Haiti's heritage called key to emotional recoveryPower outage delays decision on missionaries

— The Associated Press

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This undated photo provided Monday Feb.15, 2010 by the French Culture Ministry shows French military rescue workers standing by the painting "Serment des ancetres" (Oath of the Ancestors), by Guillaume Guillon Lethiere, at the presidential palace in Port au Prince, Haiti. France's Culture Minister says Louvre art restoration experts will repair the 1822 painting found in the rubble of the Caribbean country's presidential palace after the Jan.12 2010 earthquake. The painting depicts a meeting between two of the fathers of Haitian independence. Haiti won its independence in an 1804 slave revolt against France, defeating Napoleon's forces. (AP Photo/French Culture Ministry)NO SALES - MANDATORY CREDIT


PARIS — Haiti's historical heritage risks being bulldozed in the push to rebuild towns and cities flattened by last month's earthquake, a leading cultural official warned Monday.

''There is a temptation to demolish everything. When the bulldozers come, it's fatal,'' Daniel Elie, director of Haiti's governmental Institute for the Preservation of National Heritage, told The Associated Press at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. cultural agency.

Keeping survivors alive and building solid shelter for the 1.2 million made homeless by the Jan. 12 quake are the most immediate priorities. But U.N. officials say preserving the country's churches, artwork and mementos from its slave revolt will be crucial for Haitians' long-term emotional recovery.

Cathedrals and other buildings dating to the 17th century were among those damaged, some reduced to their foundations or a lone crumbling wall. In that state, Elie said, their cultural value isn't obvious to demolition teams sent to raze neighborhoods, he said.

His agency is compiling lists of buildings that should be protected to send around to other government agencies.

Despite the country's current administrative disarray, ''We must make everyone, everywhere sensitive to this,'' he said.

Elie is joining Haiti's culture and communications minister, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, and UNESCO officials for talks this week to determine the most urgent needs for restoring damaged historical and cultural sites.

Irina Bokova, director of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said the agency has contacted ''quite a few donors who have expressed their availability to finance'' restoration projects. She would not name them but said it could involve European governments or private donors.

Elie said ''the priority of priorities'' is restoring the historical center of Jacmel, a 17th-century coastal town once home to wealthy coffee merchants, with a turquoise bay and a serene reputation that attracted tourists and expatriates. About three-quarters of the homes in its downtown were damaged.

''The historical center is the basis of tourism development'' as the country tries to recover some semblance of a tourism sector, he said. Haiti wants UNESCO to make Jacmel a World Heritage site.

Lassegue argued that Haitians and their international backers must respect history and culture as they rebuild the nation. ''Heritage is so closely linked to national identity,'' she said.

UNESCO is also pushing for a ban on international trade in Haitian cultural treasures to prevent pillaging of the nation's museums, and international security forces to protect cultural sites.

In one example of global efforts to protect Haitian artworks, French restoration experts will repair an 1822 painting found in the rubble of the Caribbean country's presidential palace. French firefighters discovered the damaged, ripped painting.

''Serment des ancetres'' (Oath of the Ancestors), by Guillaume Guillon Lethiere, depicts a meeting between two of the fathers of Haitian independence. Haiti won its independence in an 1804 slave revolt against France, defeating Napoleon's forces.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will travel to Haiti Wednesday -- the first ever trip by a French leader to the country.PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti's creaky, quake-damaged electrical system apparently delayed on Monday a judge's decision on whether to release 10 Americans charged with child kidnapping.

Prosecutor Josephe Manes Louis told The Associated Press that he completed his recommendation to the judge, as the law requires, but that a power outage kept him from printing it out and delivering it.

''I have made my decision,'' he said. ''What is blocking me now is the electricity.'' Power has only been restored to about one-fifth of Port-au-Prince.

But even before the earthquake only one in four Haitians had power and, on average, any given capital neighborhood only had 10 hours of power a day.

Because today is a national holiday -- Mardi Gras -- Louis said he did not expect the judge to issue a decision until Wednesday morning.

Neither Louis nor Judge Bernard Saint-Vil would say whether a provisional release would allow the group to leave the country while an investigation continues.

Saint-Vil told the AP on Thursday he would recommend the Americans be granted provisional release.

He said he accepted the defense argument that the Americans, who said they were setting up an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic, had good intentions.

They were arrested Jan. 29 trying to take 33 children out of Haiti.

-- The Associated Press

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