Posts Tagged ‘Baby Doc’

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HAITI, BABY DOC, & LESSONS LEARNED

January 19, 2011

This week we have all watched with horror and sadness as one year after Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, news media revisited to capture progress towards reconstruction…and found little good news to report.  Instead we find a country on the precipice of total destruction, unable to right itself, and apparently proving to be too big a challenge to those in the international community that rushed to its aid.  One year later, Haiti is a nightmare.

And the horrors of that nightmare intensified this past weekend, as Baby Doc returned to the scene of his crimes 25 years after he was overthrown and departed.

For most Americans, this is, at most, an interesting twist to the story.  For some, like me, I presume it conjured up memories of our own nightmares of Haiti and interactions with Baby Doc.

Some years ago, a client wanted to hold their dealer meeting and new product introduction aboard a cruise ship.  The ship was bought out, and because of the size of the new product – a major line of massive recreational vehicles for self-contained camping, touring and partying – the decision was made to stage the actual reveals in a port-of-call along the way.   After site visits by us and our client, we recommended our best option, but the client had fallen in love with the pristine beauty and charm of Haiti, and unfortunately for all involved, we succumbed to their wishes – against our better judgment.

The logistical challenges of getting RVs just off the assembly line to Miami and then Haiti ahead of the dealers so that they could be placed in the display area prior to the dealer arrival was only the beginning of our many challenges.  But eventually, the team and travel staff headed out and the cruise commenced.  I breathed a sigh of relief, as back in the office, I received confirmation of product arrival in Miami and then, the sailing of the ship out of the port of Miami.  And that definitely was a “not so fast” moment on my part!

The afternoon of the Product Introduction, I received an emergency call from the cruise line:  Baby Doc had confiscated one of the new RVs and it was now locked up within his compound.  They had been negotiating locally with him all afternoon, to no avail, but in order to stay on schedule, the group had been transferred to the port, had re-boarded, and the ship now needed to sail without the RV. Did they have my permission to do so?  After ensuring that the cruise line would work on the client’s and my company’s behalf to outline options to both the client and our travel personnel, we agreed the best approach was to sail, and then continue trying to get the product released…which could then be scheduled as cargo on a subsequent cruise and would ultimately be returned to the US and shipped back to the client.  With that, I okayed the plan, the ship sailed and stateside, we picked up the effort to reason with Baby Doc.

The next day, I got another call from the cruise line.  No, they were not confirming we had convinced Baby Doc to stop being childish; they were calling to report one day later, we had another disaster brewing.  A significant number of the guests and many of the travel staff had become ill in the night.

By the time the ship reached Cozumel, we had a full-blown medical disaster, with most of the guests and staff very sick and all captive on what had now become a floating first aid station- and one that was running out of meds.  Of course, the culprit was the two-hour Haitian buffet of seafood set outside in the sun, with little provisions to keep the food at temp.

Sadly, this second disaster gave us leverage with Baby Doc – and we were able to convince him that releasing the RV was warranted in view of the consequences of dealing with negative international press about him and his country in view of health crisis caused by the food poisoning.  Overall, it was a situation from which we could not gracefully recover.  Fortunately, all recuperated-some after being hospitalized and battling the illness for extended time, but of course, that client no longer trusted us to handle either their dealer meetings or their incentive programs.

So memories of Haiti and Baby Doc represent a nightmare to me; and to all those on board that cruise, I am sure.  The only redemption was this became a significant teachable moment for me.  First and foremost, the client is NOT always right, and it is our responsibility, holding firm to our principles, to convince them of better alternatives; and secondly, it began my commitment to the process of Risk Assessment and Emergency Action Plans that I am still passionate about decades later!

Over the weekend, those memories combined with the news that Baby Doc had returned to Haiti, triggered a survival instinct within me that has been signaling “fight or flee”.  That man is deranged and dangerous! I caution all to watch him carefully as the world decides what to do about whatever he is up to.