U.S. mission a world away from doctor's U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 23, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

LIMBE, Haiti -- There are no U.S. Marines here, but there is an American doctor named William H. Hodges, whose gray hair, slacks and shirt match his pessimistic attitude.

For 36 years he has run the Good Samaritan Hospital, creating a healing place in a lush forest, bringing modern medicine to one of the poorest parts of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

He is 70 years old and has weathered countless coups and three forced evacuations of foreigners. But never before has he been through an American occupation.

He worries about the Marines in nearby Cap Haitien, and about the Army in Port-au-Prince. But even more, he fears for Haiti.

"I expect failure," he said. "I'm old. I'm eccentric. I'm a missionary. You'll have to forgive me."

Yesterday was the day when caution mixed with optimism, when the Marines drove into the Justinien Hospital in Cap Haitien with truckloads of bandages, antibiotics, gowns and slippers, and everything else they could think of.

With two Black Hawk helicopters hovering above, the Marines restocked a hospital where 24 hours earlier patients had slept on the springs of rusting beds, broken limbs were set in a courtyard and aspirin was a luxury.

"My God, we had nothing. And now, we have everything," said Dr. Fritz Volmer, 51, an orthopedic surgeon.

The Marines also initiated foot patrols in downtown Cap Haitien as they began the transition of turning over their occupation duties to the Army's 10th Mountain Division. And the main airport became a C-130 terminal as one cargo jet after another landed every hour.

A personal mission

But just 15 miles southwest of Cap Haitien, a different story was playing out in Limbe.

Dr. Hodges was making the rounds, looking in on dehydrated babies lying quietly in wooden cribs, checking children for broken bones, passing through the maternity ward where women lay on their sides waiting to deliver.

"Tuberculosis, AIDS, childhood diabetes, malnutrition," he said. "I've seen a lot."

Dr. Hodges came from Bakersfield, Calif., to Limbe in 1958, leaving a successful pediatric practice for life as a mission doctor.

He hasn't looked back, raising four children, three of whom followed him in mission work.

He puts in 12-hour days seven days a week, and hasn't taken a vacation in 16 years.

"I have a calling for this," he said. "It's a mission. I would never come for any other reason. You come to a place like this because you believe that you are essential."

With his hands and heart, he has erected a hospital complex, the buildings of plaster walls, tin roofs and green shutters shaped around a courtyard where hundreds of patients sit waiting to be attended by a staff of 250.

He has a record room stacked with 500,000 files. He has a ward filled with 15 retarded babies, who were left at his doorstep.

"You never stop trying," he said.

The needs are great. In Limbe, a town of 10,000, there are 10 working cars and maybe 50 jobs outside the military that pay a salary. Children play in puddles filled with human waste and garbage. Shower curtains are used as front doors to the cinder-block and tin-roofed homes that sit on bare plots of dirt.

"Everything is broken," said Andre Gesner, a local interior minister.

A trip through the market is like a trip into the Dark Ages. Piles of rotting fish and beef lie on wooden tables and lure thousands of flies. Barefoot women try to sell tattered earrings and pieces of cloth. There is no bread, but there are a few half-empty sacks of flour on tabletops.

Change seems far away

"We need water. We need food. We need a job," said Iferni Svil, who was selling tiny crabs for $1 each. "We are hoping the Marines are coming here. We want everything to change."

But the Marines will not arrive here anytime soon.

The town remains in the control of a local military barracks that overlooks the market. Behind the concrete wall, a dozen soldiers armed with pistols and knives sat under a tree. Some played cards. Others talked. In the main office, a pair of World War II rifles sat propped against a wall. Three combat helmets lay on a desk. In a dusty corner were a dozen handmade wooden batons carved from trees.

The police remain an intimidating presence.

Dr. Hodges has learned to deal with it all. The poverty. The corruption. The endless battle for supplies. But it is the United Nations sanctions and the U.S. occupation that have given him a sense of growing anger.

Doctors have left for more comfortable conditions. In June, the two operating rooms were shut down except for emergency surgery. Medical supplies are dwindling.

"We're lucky if we don't get bad stuff, much less outdated stuff," Dr. Hodges said. "Conditions in this country have deteriorated in every way."

Dr. Hodges estimated that tens of thousands have died as a result of curable medical conditions amid Haiti's political turmoil. "I'm talking about people dying from all causes, not just violence," he said. "The American concept -- that the equation in Haiti is that violence is causing people to die -- is ridiculous."

The Americans are 15 miles and a world away. Their only trace here is when helicopters fly overhead. The patients wait for the clinic to open in the afternoon.

The hospital in Cap Haitien has new supplies and new hope. The hospital in Limbe still runs on a wing and prayer.

"The Americans say they know they can fix Haiti," Dr. Hodges said. "I wish them well.

"In the end, you have to have people like me, stupid enough and faithful enough to do this kind of work."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.