PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Gaunt and unshaven, Paul Waggoner stepped out of his closet-sized cell at the Haitian National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince this past Monday for five minutes of casual banter, tight hugs and handwritten fan letters.
It had been more than a week since Haitian police jailed the 32-year-old Florida native on kidnapping charges, and he still couldn't believe he was locked up. After all, he came to Haiti to help.
"Frustrating,'' said Waggoner, a native of DeFuniak Springs in Florida.
Waggoner is accused of kidnapping a 15-month-old boy after the father brought the baby to a hospital for urgent medical care. Waggoner, a former carpenter who ferried medical supplies for relief groups, and others say the baby died of several illnesses, and the father failed to claim the body before it was cremated.
Waggoner's story highlights how international relief workers with good intentions have clashed with Haitians after the January earthquake pummeled Port-au-Prince and other major cities.
When the 7.0-magnitude quake wiped out almost all local institutions, a parallel one popped up with full force: a thousands-strong community of foreign do-gooders. While no one denies that international relief organizations saved countless lives by bringing much-needed water, food and medical care, many Haitians believe their presence in post-quake Haiti has fomented tension between foreigners and locals.
Foreign aid workers have been accused of dressing inappropriately, driving up the cost of living, and breaking rules to get things done.
Just weeks after the Jan. 12 quake, police arrested a group of Idaho missionaries on kidnapping charges after they tried to bus 33 Haitian children to an orphanage in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
"We have to think hard about our actions when we leave our countries to go somewhere to help,'' said Julie Schindall, a spokeswoman at Oxfam International, a relief group handling sanitation.
Before the earthquake, the number of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, in Haiti was as high as 10,000, giving the country one of the highest number of private, nonprofit aid agencies per capita in the world. Today, the number is believed to be much higher because not all NGOs register with the Haitian government. They vary in size and scope from the United Nations peacekeeping force to mom-and-pop operations, similar to the one run by Waggoner.
The influx of foreigners is evident throughout the country.
Large white SUVs marked with NGO logos contribute to the knot of traffic in Port-au-Prince, a city with too few streets for three million people.
The arrival of so many foreigners has proved to be a mixed blessing: Relief workers have employed cadres of drivers, interpreters and security guards, boosting business for rental car companies and restaurants. But some perceive aid workers to project an air of entitlement and superiority, less than mindful of cultural norms.
Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com