One of our last official meetings took place on that Friday evening at the Hotel Montana (destroyed during the January 2010 earthquake). The Hotel Montana was a fashionable hostelry. It was situated halfway up a mountain side and commanded a panoramic view of Port-au-Prince and the bay beyond. It was above the smoke and the stench and the noise of everyday life and it was where the Organization of American States Civil Mission (observing team) was housed.
We arrived in the parking lot just as the quickly gone evening twilight descended. We stood in a circle and held hands. Father Ron asked if I’d lead us in prayer before we went inside. My first words were: “Oh God”—not necessarily expressed in a prayer-like voice. “A good beginning,” he smiled. So, starting with that, I continued: “Let us do this rightly even if it means we mess it up.” All of us finished with “Amen” and, then, walked toward the entrance to the hotel.
Since their arrival a number of months before, the Civil Mission had seldom left the hotel. Unfortunately, their vehicles had been stolen from the docks in Miami—so they had no official transportation. And, as their plane had been landing in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian military had fired on it. The delegation, which we found out was being paid $4,500 each per month for the work, was unable to conduct the interviews and observations. And, if members did leave the hotel, they were followed and threatened. People were aware of this and reluctant to report to them at all. So they were reliant on delegations such as ours to assist them in gaining information.
Nine of the eighteen person mission met with us that evening. Most of them were sincere in their efforts to accomplish the task—one or two were taking advantage of a nice sinecure. After the meeting, I actually chased one of these down to speak directly—my suspicions were confirmed that night and re-confirmed on several occasions afterwards. There are always a couple of rats in the grain.
The one person, in particular, that I came away with respect for was the Mission leader, Colin Granderson. In the years ahead, the OAS Civil Mission would become the UN-OAS Civil Mission. He remained a constant. His word was true and his pledge was his bond. He was an extraordinary personage—quiet, astute, and effectual—the best possible person for a nearly impossible assignment.
That last Sunday, November 1, 1992, we attended Mass at Sant Gerard (the patron saint of pregnancy) where Fr. Jean–Juste was in hiding. During the Mass, I was struck by the sight of the incense smoke, caught in the sunrays, as it made its way heavenwards—carrying with it the hopes and prayers of the Haitian people. And, I continued to recall the words that we had heard repeated over and over this week, words that had begun as a political motto during the presidential election but had become a rallying call of solidarity in the time since: Tet Ansemn (heads together—together we can accomplish it all). Afterwards, we left for the airport. And, then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over.