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Dean Curran, former U.S. Ambassador To Haiti receives recognition 06/12/2010

Posted by DS in meetings, speakers.
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Dean Curran (left) with Lion Chris Leeman spoke to the Bristol Area Lions June 7.

At the June 7 meeting of the Bristol Area Lions, members heard from Dean Curran, former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti.

Curran is a true Mainer, born in Portland and now living in Damariscotta. His mother was born in Washington County and his father in Portland. His father joined the military which took the family all over the U.S.

As a result Curran attended a number of schools. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and was awarded a Masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University.

Curran spent 32 years in U.S. Foreign Service from which he retired in 2008. He was nominated as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti by President Clinton near the end of his second term and was confirmed by the Senate.

During the Gore vs. Bush presidential debates only three counties were mentioned in Foreign Affairs: Russia, China and Haiti. After the election, his nomination had to be reaffirmed by the transition team and Colin Powell, then Secretary of State designate. Curran spent three years in Haiti as Bush’s ambassador, but under a much different policy then he had originally planned.

Even before the earthquake Haiti was an impoverished country. The average life span is only 50 years and the average annual income only $1000. It has the highest infant mortality rate and HIV prevalence in the western hemisphere. There are 10 million people in a country the size of Massachusetts and it is 90-95% deforested.

The U.S. Marines occupied the island from 1915 to the mid-1930s and introduced baseball. The Dominican Republic on the western end became very good at it, whereas it never caught on in Haiti.

It is a unique culture. A slave insurrection in the 1790s lead to their independence inspired by the same enlightment ideas as those which sparked the American Revolution.

Haitians have pride in their history as the first black republic. At the time of the insurrection half of the people were born in Africa so when Haitians started making their own decisions African folkways, culture and religions dominated. Today, voodoo is recognized officially as a religion.

Before independence, Haiti was the richest colony of the French empire and provided one third of the wealth of the kings of France. It was considered the “Pearl of the Antilles” and supplied sugar, indigo and rum from its large slaved based plantations.

Because of the slaves insurrection the U.S. did not recognize Haiti until Lincoln became president.

There is a strong link to Louisiana. At the time of the Haitian insurrection the slave owners were driven out of the country in fear of their lives. Many fled with their slaves to New Orleans, then the nearest French controlled city.

Most of the French roots of New Orleans are from Haiti and not from New Brunswick (Acadia) as is the popular belief. Jambalaya, gumbo and voodoo and not found in New Brunswick.

U.S. assistance to Haiti between 1994 and 2008 amounted to $1.4 billion; since the earthquake in January of this year, an additional $1.2 billion in aid has been provided.

An estimated 230,000 people were killed in the earthquake and many others maimed and injured. Of the 2.5 million people affected, 1.69 million still are living in temporary shelters and the hurricane season has begun. 4700 schools were destroyed as well as government institutions and hospitals in the capital, Port-du-Prince.

Former U.S. President Clinton will co-chair and oversee the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission with Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive in financing and awarding construction contracts. Member countries of the United Nations have pledged 10 billion over 10 years.

Curran has been assisting in Haiti and recently participated in “Maine Walks for Haiti” in Portland to aid Haiti which raised $35,000 for the Konbit Sant’-e (which translates to Partnership in Health).

Curran is a member of the board of this organization which is working for the last ten years with the Justinian Hospital in Cap-Haitian, 80 miles north of Port-du-Prince.

The next meeting of the Bristol Lions will be Mon., June 21 at 6 p.m. and will be spouse’s night and include the installation of officers and directors.

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