NETWORKING PLANS IN HAITI

By Schiller Jean Baptiste and Daniel Pimienta (*)

INTRODUCTION

Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic (DR) the second largest island (after Cuba) of the Caribbean. If the main local dance is called "el merengue" on the Dominican side and "la meringue" on the Haitian one, there are some more notable differences between the two countries:

       LANGUAGE   SUP. POP. GNPper Adult Life   Under 5 Forest
                  000  m    Capita Illi- Expect.Mortal. Wood
                  km2       US$    teracyYears  Rate    000 ha
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HAITI : FRENCH(1) 28   6.5   370   62    55     133      48
DR    : SPANISH   49   7.3   820   20    67      80     629
AVG(2):               19.8  2970   16    68      32   
----------------------------------------------------------------
(1) Mainly a french creole
  1. Average figure for Caribbean

Source: "Caribbean Region: Current Economic Situation", 1992,
World Bank

Beside the figures and the common Caribbean cultural background, the main other differences lie in the socio-political situation. Haiti is suffering a long history of instability together with a profound state of underdevelopment. The history of the relation of the two countries sharing the Hispaniola Island is also full of traumas, tension and misunderstandings (the DR independence from Haiti in 1848, the Trujillo massacre of 17000 Haitians in 1937, the treatment of the Haitian sugar cane workers in the DR, the high figure of Haitian emigration to the DR). This peculiar context and the mutual interest of intellectuals in both sides of the frontier to create the condition for better understanding and cooperation is to be taken into account when one focuses networking. The communication by classical means is weak and has always represented a negative incentive for cooperation. The creation of computer mediated communication infrastructures within the island should trigger the acceleration of the process of cooperation, starting by the scientific level, and expanding progressively to other sectors.

Another key factor to consider for networking is the size of the "Haitian Diaspora". The Haitian immigration (USA, Canada, France, Venezuela) is older than the Dominican and holds an important number (although difficult to evaluate) of researchers which should play an active role at this time.

The last key asset is the proportionally very high level of implantation of organizations linked to development, being those governmental or not. These organizations should benefit immediately of this communication tool, and it is expected they will offer support and funds for the growth of the Haitian network.

The very situation calls for a coordinated effort for networking in the two countries. However, the level of political instability in Haiti has been such that it has frustrated the intents made to provide a simultaneous solution. In May 1992, the DR network (REDID: Red Dominicana de Intercambio para el Desarrollo) was born, and the enthusiastic announcement in many electronic forums ended with: "A disappointing note to conclude. The initial objective, stated during the REDALC workshop in July 1991 (when the idea of REDID was crystallized), was to associate the Haitian researchers to the proposed solution and method. Unfortunately, present conditions in Haiti have made this impossible." The Spanish announcements in the REDALC listserv opened a public reflection about the necessary revision of existing methodologies in order to face the situation. Three new key ideas were progressively emerging:

  1. The possibility to form a group of network users and technicians outside Haiti (particularly in the French West Indies) with the responsibility for the group to build the network infrastructure and associative grounds upon return.

  2. Most of the cooperation projects (and budgets) rapidly started with the signals of democracy, more rapidly stopped with military actions, and remains in a wait and see status until new signs of evolution towards democracy would appear. If morally apparently wise this way of conducting projects become totally impractical if the mean period of political change is larger than the project duration for completion! This analysis conducted to take the decision not to tight the path of a network project to the up's and down's of the political context.

  3. The technical solution should be technically strong enough to stay in order even when political turmoils appear again. This is stated as a network resistant to catastrophic situation, being natural or not...

Based on these principles which modify the methodology already tested with success in Peru and the DR (REDALC methodology), and arise the interest for the packet-radio technics, a plan for a network in Haiti has been set up and is described hereafter.

BACKGROUND

Research environment

There is a State University which gather 60% of the students. The University of Haiti faced a strong increase of the student subscription (34%) with the election of President Aristide and is now terribly suffering of the political situation (cancellations of teachers, military occupancy...). The university is composed of 11 units, physically and administratively separated, most of them located in Port au Prince. There is no PhD level, neither Masters, neither specific budget for research. The private universities receive 20% of the students; they are numerous and, in general, very expensive, the most notable is named Kiskeya. The remaining 20% students attend non national universities. The research domains the most notable are agronomic and health.

Although there is no law for non profit organizations, the number of NGO's is estimated to reach 600, a large proportion linked to religious charity and 10% of them being international. The crisis of the state is such than situation occurs where one NGO manages more money than the corresponding State Department (for instance, in health). The work of the NGOs always suffered from the problems of communication; hence, the potential is not fully utilized and the cooperation within the NGOs and with the universities is insufficient.

The total number of researcher is estimated (with a very open scope of definition) toward 1000 persons. There is no estimate for the diaspora researchers, but there is no doubt the figure is high both in quantity and quality.

Telecommunication background

TELECO is the monopolistic government owned company in charge of all the telephone services. The state national bank (Banque de la Republique d'Haiti) holds almost all the shares of Teleco. Beside, a State Agency called CONATEL has the responsibility to plan, rule and control all the telecommunications services.

In spite of the Teleco monopoly, radio transmissions are widely spread within the country and services are offered by various independent companies. Before the embargo, several companies started competing for the cellular market.

Not all the cities have telephone access, and line quality is hardly acceptable. The telephone density is close to 0.8 for 100 hab. (compare with the average in LAyC of 65). As of June 1991, the 15 digital plus 6 analogical CXs allowed a total capacity of around 50,000 installed lines (only 15% out of the capital). The number of telephone employees per 1000 lines is 34 (far above the international standard of 7). The recent months of embargo constrained all the enhancements projects to be stopped and induced difficulties in provisioning spare parts for the current network which are perceptible in the quality of service.

These conditions are not ideal for the rise of the telematic and VAN market. Nonetheless, on line computer services can be given at 300 and even 1200 bauds almost everywhere in the country. Wherever the noise condition is critical, modems with error correction have always been able to control the situation. Indeed, since 1989, a small company (TELEMAT) managed a Galacticom BBS with more than 200 users. The service was momentarily suspended due to the recent economic situation (there is no appropriate condition right now for new private investments), but, during more than three years, the experiment participated to the CMC learning curve in Haiti.

Beside, the airlines and travel agencies on line computer service, SITA, is reachable via dedicated lines through Santo Domingo. Also, some international companies links their computer in Haiti into their host in the USA, via the PANAFTEL satellite. Another company called ACN is offering e-mail and fax services locally and internationally..

Obviously, much has to be done to improve the situation of the telecommunications in Haiti. However, nothing prevent the use of low speed data transmission and the rise of a research network.

HISTORIC OF ACTIVITIES

All the past activities presented hereafter are linked to the REDALC project of Union Latina, an International Governmental Organization dealing with the promotion of Latin derived languages and cultures. Mention of Haiti has been found in the brochure of the CUNET project (Caribbean University Network) of OAS. During the last regional networking meeting in Guadalajara (Mexico), the OAS person stated the intention of his Organization to incorporate Haiti to Cunet, but we are not aware of any action plan yet. Rio project of Orstom had no plan, as of last year. Other activities or plans may exist outside of our knowledge. If so, we ask the managers to please contact us in order to try to federate or coordinate the efforts.

Union Latina started the project for a regional network in Latin America (REDALC) in 1988. A feasibility study for REDALC was funded by EEC and executed between 1990 and 1992. Haiti was one of the eight countries of the study.

In June 1991, a REDALC consultant (Jean Marie Burgaud) made the diagnostic for the research and telecommunication situations and organize, together with a documentalist in mission in Haiti for 6 months (Michel Perdreau) and an Haitian telematic specialist (Schiller Jean Baptiste) the first coordinated action for network promotion. This mission concluded positively in term of feasibility and a list of partners were identified.

In July 1991, the first REDALC international workshop was held in Santo Domingo, with the main objective to consolidate the intermediary results of the regional study. A secondary objective was to prepare the condition for the creation of the Dominican and Haitian networks. The idea of a coordinated pair of networks in Haiti and DR appeared as a desirable solution. The brutal change of the political situation in Port au Prince jeopardized the plan. A positive side effect remains the fact that a kernel of Haitian people participated actively in the steps toward REDID (Patrick Tardieu from the Haitian Embassy in Santo Domingo, and Schiller Jean Baptiste, in Port au Prince).

In April 1992, a study conducted by the Redalc's Office of Union Latina, in French West Indies, concluded with the interest for Martinica to provide a multi-media training center to teach locally and remotely network users and technicians.

In July 1992, during the workshop organized by Unesco/Cresalc and Redalc's Office to intensively train the Dominican users, the theme of the Haitian network was treated by a subgroup of the teachers and a strategy was set up based on the training of Haitian users and technician outside Haiti. Martinica was identified as a potential good candidate (would the conclusion of the mentioned study be followed on), taking into account the language, the proximity, and the will of the French Antilles to participate to the Caribbean cooperation.

In November 1992, with the financial contribution of Unesco/Cresalc, the Redalc's Office prepare the draft for a network project in Haiti, which incorporate all the previous considerations.

In March 1993, a "Caribbean Networks Integration Meeting" was scheduled in La Habana. This event, where an important Haitian participation was expected, had to be postponed. The Redalc's Office took the decision to redefine the meeting in Santo Domingo, with an objective limited and dedicated to Haiti.


SANTO DOMINGO NETWORKING WORKSHOP FOR HAITI

The workshop was held in April, from 11th to 16th, in the REDALC's Office in Santo Domingo. The event was sponsored by Union Latina, the Haitian Embassy in Santo Domingo, Unesco/Cresalc, University of Quebec, and four Haitian NGOs: INTER-OPD, CRESFED, CRESDIP, GHRAP.

OBJECTIVE:

To reach a final definition for the Haitian Network Project, in a participative fashion, between future end-users and network administrators, the Redalc's Office and other international experts.

TASKS:

ORGANIZING COMMITTEE

ATTENDANCE

From Haiti:
 
Camille Charmers,
Researcher GHRAP
Nicolas Dauphin,
Researcher in agronomy CRESDIP
Schiller Jean-Baptiste,
Expert in telematics
Ernst Mathurin,
Researcher GRAMIR
Mich�le Romulus,
Researcher CRESFED
Joanisse Domerson,
CRESFED
From Redalc's Office:
 
Senaida Jansen,
Sub Director
Cristian Matias,
Responsible for technical matters
Daniel Pimienta,
Director
From Dominican Republic:
 
Ignacio Fernandez,
Expert in telematics
Alejandra Liriano,
Economist, CIECA
Roberto Reyna,
Sociology, UASD

International experts:
Jean Marie Burgaud, Consultant economist, specialized in Ha�ti Michel Cartier, Professor Mediatics, Universit� de Qu�bec Pablo Liendo, Regional Correspondent for REDALC's Office, Caracas

The workshop received also a remote support from the Latin American Networking School of Merida (Venezuela), Sam Lanfranco from CERLAC (York University), Yves Henry from SEMAIR (Martinica) and Jos� Silvio from Cresalc/Unesco (Venezuela).

CONTENT OF THE WORKSHOP

Conferences:

Group working sessions:

Working groups with stated objectives:

The workshop reach all the fixed objectives and was the trigger point of a series of activities back in Haiti.

CURRENT ACTIVITIES

After the return in Haiti of the group, a permanent structure (the "Initiative Group") was constituted to manage the project:

Communications between the Redalc office in Santo Domingo and the Initiative Group became no longer a problem when ACN offers freely its e-mail facilities. More than a hundred messages were exchanged since the establishment of the link, in May 93, and the redaction of this paper is a good example of e-mail cooperation between Haiti and the DR.

The project was divided into four phases:

A key part of the current phase is to give access to a group of 50 researchers to the Internet, using the ACN facilities. This will allow the understanding of the behavior a group of users, in order to take any necessary corrective action before the final definition of the project. The project is clearly user and service oriented. All the necessary support have to be organized to make the users participate in the network creation and later in the network services. Within few days the procedure for the creation of the Haitian Internet domain will be completed. At the same time, CONICIT of Venezuela would have open a listserv for Haiti ([email protected]).

The Initiative Group has distributed the tasks among six committees:

Most of these committees have already started their activities.

The technical committee will be ready for reporting and cost estimating by July (Note: there is will to participate in INET93, but no fund are available). All the committees will release and consolidate their final conclusions by end of phase 2 (11/93) when the final project will be defined.

The financial aspect of the project does not only concern the implementation stage. Money is required during the next six months to finance the organization of some training seminars for the prospect users, promotional activities, the cost of the telecommunication link for the initial group of 50 users, the technical studies, and the organization of a Project Office in Haiti. Actually the Initiative Group is formed by volunteers, they will not be able for a long time to continue to use for the project only the operational structure of their different organizations.

The organization committee has the challenge to define a provisional structure which will allow the users to manage themselves the institution created, while making it possible for the Initiative Group to work on a legal basis, even before the creation of the network.

The main task right now, besides the technical evaluations is to motivate the researchers and their institutions and obtain their support. It is known that people does not easily change their habits, mainly when it has to do with their perception of their environment. When you have concluded that a certain number of things are impossible, they remain impossible in your mind whatever the reality became. This is true as far as access to information is concerned. Linking Haiti to the Internet does not solve the problem. People have to be educated and motivated in order to use those facilities. We can see right now that the main difficulties of the Initiative Group is to bring the prospect users at work around the project.

To achieve the educational work, key people capable to disseminate motivation and participation around them have to be found. As an example, a full day meeting of the Haitian librarians and documentalists was organized, under the supervision of Wilfrid Bertrand, the Director of the National Archives of Haiti. The objective was the evaluation of the new environment which should emerge from the Haitian network. The information professionals decided to give full support to the project and formed a permanent comity to represent them and make the necessary follow-up with the Initiative Group.


PLAN FOR THE HAITIAN NETWORK

The future "Reseau Telematique Haitien pour la Recherche et le Developpement" (REHRED), will include all the services which are required by a national research network.

The link to the Internet will be done by connecting to Santo Domingo, and to Puerto Rico or Miami. The two gates will be handled by two different servers for redundancy and backup purpose. The Puerto Rican (or Miami) gate might be carried by a VSAT, so in case anything happen to the regular link through Santo Domingo, the network will remain operational.

Inside the country, users will access via the telephone network, although we know that some of them will be obliged to use packet radio transmission and spread spectrum in order to overcome the absence of telephone in some region of the country.


CONCLUSION

REHRED must now become not only a project handled by the whole Haitian community, but also the opportunity for the distant Haitian researchers who are willing to help their country. Haitian diaspora are called to give time and support to an initiative capable to reduce the distance to their native country. The challenge deserved to be shared by hundreds of Haitians, in Haiti, and around the world. The Haitian diaspora community should bring his daily contribution to the building of the country, to reshape the new Haitian, to help colleagues in Haiti reach the same technical level as them.

REHRED is openly and widely looking for financial and technical supports from other countries and organizations. Any funding or user participation offer will be more than welcome.

REHRED hope is to be a basic stone in the process of reconstruction of Haiti and to help the country participate to the global development.

(* )

-Schiller Jean-Baptiste studied Computer Science, Data Communications (NRI) and Data Entry Management (DEMA). He started working in the computer field as System Manager of Alpha Electronics from 1983 to 1989, creating the first Haitian BBS (Telemat) and the first computer Haitian newspaper (Telemag). In 1991, he participated to the creation of ACN (American Caribbean Network) a company marketing e-mail and fax transmission, with branches in Port au Prince, Miami and Santo Domingo.

He can be reached via the Internet by courtesy of Cristian Matias: [email protected].

-Daniel Pimienta, PhD in Computer Science, University of Nice (France) worked until 1988 as System Architect and Planner in IBM Telecommunication Labs, and since then is the Director of the Redalc's office of Union Latina and dedicated to networking in developing countries, mainly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

[email protected]