Haiti News and Views

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Haiti: Avoiding a Democratic Disaster in Haiti

foreignpolicy.com

With no natural disasters or political violence afflicting Haiti for the past several years, it would be easy to assume that the country has finally achieved the level of relative stability that international donors and millions of Haitians have sought since the toppling of the Duvalier dynasty in 1986. Yet this perceived calm is belied by troubling signs that all is not well, as Haiti prepares for the first of up to three rounds of contentious elections.

On July 15, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), held a hearing on the run-up to the elections, with the State Department’s point man on Haiti, Thomas Adams. Adams admitted the elections were significantly underfunded. That made his rather sanguine attitude towards the whole process all the more surprising. With the first round of elections scheduled for August 9, hesuggested that there is a “fairly good chance” they will go on as scheduled.

But even as the Obama administration and the donor community focus primarily on the mechanics — voter education and registration, security, integrity of vote-counting — they are skirting important questions about just how free and fair the contest will actually be.

A shocking New York Times article from this past March, for instance, raised a range of concerns about establishing a level electoral playing field in Haiti, red flags that appear to have escaped notice in Washington. The piece detailed a disturbing turn of events under President Michel Martelly, the former musician elected president to much fanfare in 2011. The article revealed a president ruling by decree (due to the expiration of the terms of most of those in parliament), and depicted a government where power is being concentrated “in the hands of a man who,” according to his critics, “is a prisoner of his past, surrounded by a network of friends and aides who have been arrested on charges including rape, murder, drug trafficking and kidnapping.” Defending Martelly, his allies say he is “loyal to a fault, and that he will stand beside old friends no matter what trouble they find themselves in. The president, aides said, wants the best for Haiti but is easily influenced by relatives known for ties to drug trafficking and friends who abuse their proximity to power.”

That is hardly conducive to holding credible, transparent elections. And the cracks are showing already.

The most conspicuous evidence to date of manipulation of the process has been the arbitrary exclusion of several well-known, would-be candidates for presidential elections to be held in October, including former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, university president Jacky Lumarque, and former Sen. Rudolph Boulos. The pretext for their exclusion is a Haitian electoral law that requires any candidate who previously held public office to receive a “discharge petition” from Parliament, certifying that the individual did not misuse public funds while in office. However, with no sitting congress to issue such discharges, the process has become opaque. Some candidates have received approval to run for office, and others have not. This has led to suspicions that the process is being manipulated to favor some candidates over others.

Pierre Esperance, the head of Haiti’s largest human rights group, recentlytold the Miami Herald: “It gives you the impression that it’s a political decision rather than something based on legal grounds.” And the Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project’s James Morrell has written: “By the time the commission is through, there will be little left for the voters to do on election day. Most of the choices will already have been made for them.”

Yet the State Department has shown no great urgency to address concerns that democracy in Haiti is being undermined. Sen. Rubio has responded with legislation that conditions the release of U.S. assistance to Haiti on the State Department’s reporting on whether the upcoming elections are free and fair, and on possible “attempts to disqualify candidates” from office for “political reasons.”

No one is doing the Haitian people any favors by tip-toeing around issues such as transparency and rule of law — it’s called the soft bigotry of low expectations. By failing to pressure Haitian authorities to ensure voters have a full range of candidates from which to choose in their upcoming elections, many well-meaning people who truly care for the country will only serve to bring on the kind of political strife and instability that everyone wants to avoid.

Photo Credit: Hector Ratamal/AFP

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Haiti, Development: Bill and Hillary – The King and Queen of Haiti

By JONATHAN M. KATZ, May 5, 2015, Politico

Sunday, January 30, 2011. Two hundred thousand people occupied
Egypt’s Tahrir Square, defying a military curfew to demand the ouster
of President Hosni Mubarak. Tunisia’s authoritarian leader had just
been overthrown, unleashing a wave of anti-government protests from
Yemen to Syria to Morocco. South Sudan’s provisional president
announced his people had voted overwhelmingly for independence,
clearing the way for the breakup of Africa’s largest country. Yet as
Hillary Clinton rushed to Andrews Air Force Base to catch her battered
government-issue 727, the secretary of state was not headed to Cairo,
Tunis or Juba. She was going to Haiti.

Haiti doesn’t seem like a place that would be central to a U.S.
presidential candidate’s foreign policy. It’s a small country, whose 10.3
million people inhabit the western third of a Caribbean island the size of
South Carolina. They are the poorest people in the hemisphere when
you average their country’s meager $8.5 billion GDP among them, and
would seem poorer still if you ignored the huge share held by the
country’s tiny elite—which controls virtually everything worth
controlling, from the banks and ports, to agriculture and, often, politics.
It is not a major exporter of anything. Even its location, 500 nautical
miles from the Florida Keys, has been of only passing strategic
importance to the United States since a brutal 1915-1934 U.S.
occupation assured no European power would surpass its influence
there.

Yet the world’s most powerful couple have an abiding interest in this
out-of-the-way place; the island where Bill Clinton four decades ago
recommitted himself to politics after an eye-opening journey and an
evening with a Vodou priest. During her tenure at State, Hillary traveled
to Haiti four times, as often as she did Japan, Afghanistan or Russia. Bill
Clinton continues to visit even as her presidential campaign starts up.
He attended the February dedication of Port-au-Prince’s new luxury
Marriott hotel, a trip on which he reaffirmed, once again, that his work
in Haiti represented “one of the great joys of my life.”

Over the past two decades, the once-and-perhaps-future first couple
repeatedly played a key role in Haiti’s politics, helping to pick its
national leaders and driving hundreds of millions of dollars in private
aid, investment and U.S. taxpayer money toward its development.
They’ve brought with them a network of friends and global corporations
that never would’ve been here otherwise. Together, this network of
power and money has left indelible marks on almost every aspect of the
Haitian economy. The island nation, in many ways, represents ground
zero for the confusing and often conflict-ridden intersection of her
State Department, the Clinton family’s foundation and both of their
foreign policies.

“When it’s happening you don’t realize it, [but] after everything is in
place … you see the Clintons at every level,” says former Haitian Prime
Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who was Clinton’s co-chairman on the
commission charged with rebuilding Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
“Even if they are clever enough to make you think sometimes that you
are the one having the idea.”

The legacy of the Clintons’ efforts here is decidedly mixed, a murky
story filled with big promises and smaller results. Despite the huge
amounts of aid and investment, the sweeping visions they’ve offered of
transformative prosperity—promises delivered by a broad network of
friends they recruited and deals they negotiated—have been tripped up
by realities on the ground.

Five years after the hemisphere’s deadliest single natural disaster,
when both Clintons assumed leading roles in the rebuilding efforts,
little progress has been made on many core problems in Haiti, and the
government that Hillary Clinton helped put in power during that
January 2011 trip—and that both Clintons have backed strongly since—
has proven itself unworthy of that trust. Economic growth is stalling,
and the nation’s politics look headed for a showdown in the next year
that could once again plunge the country into internal strife.

A World Bank study released in December showed that despite modest
declines in extreme poverty—mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince—
Haiti remains the poorest and most economically depressed country on
the continent, with the richest 20 percent of households accounting for
64 percent of the country’s total income. (The bottom one-fifth of the
population earns less than 1 percent.) The report warned that
impending political instability could quickly reverse the few gains made
since the earthquake.

Hillary Clinton once hoped that Haiti would be the shining jewel of her
foreign policy. But far from transforming this poorest of countries,
many of the Clintons’ grandest plans and promises remain little more
than small pilot projects—a new set of basketball hoops and a model
elementary school here, a functioning factory there—that have done
little to alter radically the trajectory of the country. Visiting some of
their projects over the course of an April research trip affirmed as much
about their tenuousness as about the limited benefits they’ve provided.
Many of the most notable investments the Clintons helped launch, such
as the new Marriott in the capital, have primarily benefited wealthy
foreigners and island’s ruling elite, who needed little help to begin with.

Even for those who know how Haiti operates, there are many more
questions than answers when one examines the Clintons’ recent work.
Did Hillary Clinton keep her promise when she said, soon after taking
office at State, that “we will demonstrate to ourselves as well as to the
people of Haiti and far beyond that we can, working together, make a
significant difference”?

Five years after her husband pledged to Esquire magazine that he was
“prepared to spend three years” helping Haitians get “the right things
for their country,” what does it mean that the vast majority of Haitians
still haven’t gotten much of anywhere?
***
The Clintons like to cast their relationship with Haiti in personal
terms—invariably starting with their 1975 visit as newlyweds to Portau-
Prince, where they watched Vodou penitents walk on coals and the
country’s then-dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, lay a wreath
at the base of a memorial to Haiti’s founding victory over slavery and the
French empire. But there is more than sentiment at stake.

When Hillary Clinton became secretary of state in 2009, America’s
poorest neighbor was slated to be one of the first beneficiaries of what
she called “the power of proximity.” One of her first directives at State
was to review U.S. policy toward Haiti—“an opportunity,” she would
write in her memoir Hard Choices, “to road-test new approaches to
development that could be applied more broadly around the world.”
That approach had business at its center: Aid would be replaced by
investment, the growth of which would in turn benefit the United
States. Underscoring the importance of the policy, she tasked her chief
of staff—former Clinton White House deputy counsel Cheryl Mills—to
oversee the Haiti review personally.

Clinton had two other tools to make Haiti an even more auspicious
“road test.” Shortly after she was confirmed, her husband accepted
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s offer to serve as his
special envoy for Haiti. As president, Bill Clinton had intensified a
crippling embargo against Haiti’s then-ruling military junta and ordered
the 1994 U.S. invasion to restore the democratically elected president,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to power. Now he was supposed to finish the
job, spearheading development after a hunger crisis and a series of
damaging hurricanes that had struck in late 2008. Haitians weren’t sure
what to think: Clinton was popular with the masses for returning
Aristide to power and hated by the elites for the same reason. But few
understood his vague new role. Joking that he must be coming back to
lead a new colonial regime, the Haitian press dubbed him Le
Gouverneur.

The other tool was the Clinton Foundation, which was simultaneously
embarking on its own program to boost Haiti’s economy, securing
commitments worth more than $130 million from foreign leaders,
corporate executives and philanthropists to help Haiti “build back
better,” as Clinton put it, from the 2008 storms.

Everything seemed to be falling into place when, on January 12, 2010, a
magnitude-7.0 earthquake ripped through the mountains of Haiti’s
southern peninsula, leveling much of the capital and killing 100,000 to
316,000 people—the deadliest single natural disaster ever recorded in
the hemisphere. The earthquake destroyed the presidential palace,
government ministries, schools, offices and countless homes.

It also threatened to upend the Clinton State Department’s nascent
Haiti policy. Mills’ team had completed its review just a few hours
before the ground shook, concluding in a draft report that Haiti was
poised for an economic renaissance, citing indicators such as marginal
declines in child mortality and upticks in employment in the country’s
garment-assembly industry. Undeterred, in the final, 89-page postquake
version of the report, the State Department team would call the
response to the disaster “a moment for U.S. partnership, leadership and
strategic investment.”

I was the Associated Press correspondent in Haiti at the time. I had been
posted in Port-au-Prince for 2 ½ years when the earthquake shattered
the walls of my house with me inside. That night, suddenly homeless
like millions of others, I moved through the devastated city with my
Haitian friend and colleague, Evens Sanon, taking stock of the
devastation and watching Haitians rescue and comfort one another as
best they could. The living sang prayers of salvation. Everyone was
waiting to see what kind of help would come. I remained in Haiti for
another year to report on the response, watching up close the central
role Hillary and Bill Clinton came to play in the attempt to rebuild.

Four days after the quake, Hillary Clinton was at Port-au-Prince’s
damaged airport, holding meetings with then-Haitian President René
Préval. That same day, Bill Clinton was in the White House Rose Garden
with President Barack Obama, agreeing to lead fundraising efforts on
behalf of the beleaguered country along with former President George
W. Bush. Two days later, on January 18, Bill arrived in the quake zone
with daughter Chelsea and her fiancé, Marc Mezvinsky. In short order,
the Clintons became the most important figures in the response. They
co-moderated a U.N. donors conference at which 150 nations and
organizations pledged $9 billion for Haiti’s recovery. Bill was tapped at
the same meeting to co-chair the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, a
nominally Haitian entity that was supposed to direct the spending. At
every stage of Haiti’s reconstruction—fundraising, oversight and
allocation—a Clinton was now involved.

“I believe, before this earthquake, Haiti had the best chance in my
lifetime to escape its history, a history that Hillary and I have shared a
tiny part of. I still believe that,” Bill Clinton had said in the Rose Garden,
alongside Obama and Bush. “It is still one of the most remarkable,
unique places I have ever been, and they can escape their history and
build a better future if we do our part.”
***
Hillary Clinton never took her eye off Haiti as secretary of state, even
as so many geopolitical hotspots competed for attention. The island
represented a key piece of what Clinton called “economic statecraft”—
her theory that U.S. foreign policy should not simply respond to security
threats but should actively bolster both America’s economy and global
influence through diplomacy, trade and economic development abroad.
By far the most consequential moment was that visit on Sunday,
January 30, 2011. Two months before, just 10 months after the quake,
Haiti had plowed ahead with a presidential election under pressure
from Washington. Donors blamed then-President Préval, a skeptic of
foreign aid and investment, for what had clearly become a glacial mess
of a reconstruction effort. In short, they wanted him out. But the
election was a fiasco. Voting halted five hours early on Election Day as
nearly every candidate threw out accusations of fraud. When the results
showed the candidate of Préval’s party advancing to a runoff anyway,
supporters of the eliminated No. 3 candidate, the Haitian pop star
Michel Martelly—better known by his stage name, “Sweet Micky”—
rioted in protest for days.

Despite all that was happening around the globe that day, the secretary’s
most important mission was to make sure all the parties in Haiti agreed
to put Martelly back into the race—salvaging the election, in her view,
and with it Haiti’s place in U.S. economic statecraft.

Martelly was a left-field candidate, a massively popular singer famous
for taking off his pants during performances. But he was not a political
neophyte. A longtime resident of Miami, he’d been a strong backer of the
now-disbanded Haitian military and an opponent of Aristide. In 2002,
the Washington Post called him a “favorite of the thugs who worked on
behalf of the hated Duvalier family dictatorship before its 1986
collapse.” Martelly was also a businessman and, in contrast to Préval, an
enthusiastic backer of foreign investment in Haiti.

Clinton met with the top three candidates at the U.S. ambassador’s
mansion in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Then she went to the
grounds of the destroyed national palace to confront a recalcitrant
Préval.

“That day I realized why she is a great woman and a great politician,”
former Prime Minister Bellerive, who was at the meeting, told me. “She
said, ‘Look René … I care about you, because you are my only friend
there. … What is happening in the international community is that they
are making you appear as a little crook that wants to control the
elections and put a puppet in the national palace. We cannot accept that.
Because, in a way, you are the father of the democracy. You are the only
president that was elected two times … that never [fled] the country,
that never killed people, that enforced liberty of press. She went into a
story I’ve never heard about what President Préval represented and I
see that guy—vvvvhh—deflate. And he was not anymore in a fight mood.
So my [election files] that I brought were never used. At the end of it,
when we separated, I realized that the fight was over.”

Bill Clinton applauded from a few feet away.

Many in Haiti thought the Clintons’ influence had reached its peak
when, shortly after Martelly took office, he selected one of Bill Clinton’s
top aides, Garry Conille, to be his prime minister. Conille had been Bill
Clinton’s chief of staff at the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy, and many
in the Haitian political elite assumed that the Clintons had imposed him
to keep an eye on the unpredictable new president.

If that was the idea, it failed. Conille lasted just four months. He was
replaced by Laurent Lamothe, Martelly’s longtime business partner,
whom the former pop star had once referred to, lovingly, as a “true
bandit” in a song.

Things have only gotten more discordant since. Haiti has not held a
single election, at any level, in Martelly’s four years in office. Parliament
disbanded late last year when the terms of its members expired, leaving
Martelly to rule by decree. Both the Clintons and the State Department
tried to remain enthusiastic about the Martelly-Lamothe
administration. But when opposition protests broke out last year, even
Bill’s last-ditch endorsement of the prime minister in a Miami Herald
interview could not save him from being forced to resign.

Shortly thereafter, a New York Times article by reporter Frances Robles
spotlighted criminality surrounding the Martelly administration,
including its protection of members of an alleged kidnapping and drug
smuggling ring. A day after the article’s publication, one of the most
prominent allies of the president, Woodley Ethéart, was indicted on
charges of kidnapping and murder—only to be freed within weeks.
I asked Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson, Nick Merrill, whether Martelly’s
track record had changed her opinion about the leader she helped put in
power. “She supports democratic elections, just like she did as
secretary,” Merrill said. He declined further comment.
***
The hardest thing about evaluating the Clintons’ work in Haiti is that
there is so much of it. There’s the Clinton Foundation, which has
directed $36 million to Haiti since 2010, but also the $55 million spent
through the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, and the $500 million in
commitments made through the Clinton Global Initiative’s Haiti Action
Network. On Hillary’s side, there’s her own diplomacy, the State
Department’s Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator, and the U.S.
Embassy in Port-au-Prince, as well as the U.S. Agency for International
Development, whose administrator reported to her.

The amounts of money over which the Clintons and their foundation
had direct control paled beside the $16.3 billion that donors pledged in
all. Even Bill’s U.N. Office of the Special Envoy couldn’t track where all
of that went—and the truth is that still today no one really knows how
much money was spent “rebuilding” Haiti. Many initial pledges never
materialized. A whopping $465 million of the relief money went through
the Pentagon, which spent it on deployment of U.S. troops—20,000 at
the high water mark, many of whom never set foot on Haitian soil. That
money included fuel for ships and planes, helicopter repairs and
inscrutables such as an $18,000 contract for a jungle gym that I found
buried in the U.S. Navy’s Haiti bills. Huge contracts were doled out to
the usual array of major contractors, including a $16.7 million logistics
contract whose partners included Agility Public Warehousing KSC, a
Kuwaiti firm that was supposed to have been blacklisted from doing
business with Washington after a 2009 indictment alleging a conspiracy
to defraud the U.S. government during the Iraq War. (That case is still
pending in U.S. federal court.)

But even looking at money and institutional heft alone barely captures
the reach and influence of the Clintons’ network in Haiti: a vast, diffuse
web of power in all its 21st-century permutations. Take the story of
actor Sean Penn and his unlikely transformation into a Haiti power
player. Penn used his celebrity to establish the aid group J/P HRO in the
weeks after the earthquake, then to forge a friendship with Bill Clinton
—who in turn used his foundation and his own celebrity to help turn J/P
HRO into one of the most powerful NGOs in Haiti. That led to deeper
ties to the newly elected government of Martelly, which named Penn an
ambassador.

When I returned to Haiti in April for nine days, the Clinton Foundation
put me in touch with about a dozen projects it is still running there.
Many surely do excellent work, such as the Haitian medical group
GHESKIO, one of the world’s oldest AIDS clinics, which is now engaged
in a host of medical issues including battling the pernicious cholera
epidemic imported into Haiti by United Nations peacekeepers in 2010.
The Clinton Global Initiative supports coffee growers and peanut
farmers, and has helped the Swiss fragrance supplier Firmenich expand
its access to Haitian limes and vetiver, a key oil in perfumes.
The money given directly by Clinton entities, often a few hundred
thousand dollars, is small change compared to the billions floating
around the humanitarian industry and the corporate world. But the
combination of carefully targeted money and connections is invaluable,
says GHESKIO’s founder, Dr. Jean William Pape: “He’s a catalyst. He
doesn’t give you funds to throw away. He gives you funds to get you
started.”

The Clintons have also had a hand in nearly all the new luxury hotel
projects that have sprung up around the Haitian capital. Denis O’Brien,
the billionaire owner of the major cellphone provider Digicel and
principal investor in the swank $45 million Marriott that just opened in
Port-au-Prince, said Bill Clinton conceived the project. “He said to the
two of us [O’Brien and Marriott CEO Arne Sorensen], ‘Why don’t you
build a hotel?’ And after a bit of a conversation, about half an hour, we
said, ‘We’ll put up the money.’”

One of the Clinton Foundation’s favorite lines is: “Everywhere we go,
we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job.” But at least in the case of
Haiti, it’s hard to see how that would happen. The Clintons themselves
are the only thing linking all of these projects and initiatives.
More than money, in other words, what the Clintons really provide is
access. That dynamic both leaves them open to criticism and makes
people loath to criticize for fear of being left on the outside. “I don’t
want to use names, but I have seen bad businessmen around Mr. Clinton
badmouthing the good businessmen and then the good businessmen,
seeing that, come into the Clinton Foundation. It’s life, it’s like that,”
says Leslie Voltaire, a longtime Haitian politician and government
minister who served as the Préval government’s liaison to Clinton at the
U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. “Every businessman looks to
see if they can be next to power.”
***
The Clintons are hardly the first foreigners to try to remake this
island. The ancestors of today’s Haitians were survivors of one of the
most brutal periods of slavery, torture and exploitation the world has
ever known. More than 910,000 kidnapped Africans were taken to what
was then the French colony of Saint-Domingue between 1679 and 1797,
according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database at Emory
University. Their labor on sugar and coffee plantations turned the
colony into France’s most valuable engine of economic growth. That
period ended with the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution, the only successful
slave revolt in modern history, which created the second-oldest
republic in the Western Hemisphere, behind the United States—and the
first in which all people were free. Haiti’s former French masters,
though, exacted a crippling indemnity in compensation for what they
deemed the lost value of land and bodies.

For the past century, it’s been the Americans, not the French, who
repeatedly reshaped the political landscape here. On July 1, 1915, the
U.S.S. Washington arrived on the north coast of Haiti, nominally in
response to political turmoil on the island. Within weeks, U.S. Marines
had taken the capital, placing the United States in control of Haiti’s
government and finances. Five U.S. presidents oversaw the occupation
of Haiti, waging war against Haitian insurgents, rewriting laws and
ensuring, as Duke University historian Laurent Dubois has written, a
“Haitian government [that] was compatible with American economic
interests and friendly to foreign investments.”

The Marines’ departure in 1934 did not end U.S. involvement in Haiti.
Exactly sixty years later, President Clinton ordered a new American
invasion—Operation Uphold Democracy—to restore exiled President
Aristide, who had been deposed in a 1991 coup. The story of the Clintons
and the first black republic had already been underway for a long time.
Their December 1975 trip as newlyweds is often described by the
Clintons as a seminal journey. It was paid for by a friend, Edwin David
Edwards, a junior executive at Citibank who had just set off a firestorm
by accusing his bank of improper currency transactions in the
Caribbean.

The newly married couple were at a critical juncture in their political
lives. Bill had just lost a congressional race in Arkansas and was giving
up on national politics. It was in Haiti that he decided instead to embark
on a run for Arkansas attorney general—the race that turned out to be
the start of his journey to the White House and, arguably, the beginning
of Hillary’s public life as well. We may never know what moved him. But
an important moment came outside the capital, at the Vodou temple of
Max Beauvoir, a Sorbonne- and City College of New York-educated
houngan, or priest. After a ceremony honoring Ogou—the god of iron,
war and politics—the Clintons and Beauvoir sat all night by the coralstone
peristyle talking about faith and the future, the houngan told me.
“We reached the conclusion that the pursuit of God is the pursuit of
excellence,” he recalls.

When Clinton ran for president in 1992, he blasted the George H.W.
Bush administration for rounding up boats of Haitians fleeing the
military junta that ousted Aristide and for taking too light a hand
countering the junta itself, many of whose leaders had received U.S.
training or money. Ultimately, Clinton’s intervention returned Aristide
to power. But Aristide did not live up to White House expectations. In
the years ahead, U.S. relations worsened, and in 2004 the George W.
Bush administration provided a plane to fly him into exile, touching off
years of instability and lost growth, all capped by the 2010 earthquake.
That last disaster presented another chance for the U.S. to get involved
and another chance for redemption.

Today, driving east from the city of Cap-Haïtien—where the U.S.S
Washington first arrived 100 years ago this summer—out along Haiti’s
north coast, past the banana-tree farms at the foothills of the Massif du
Nord, you enter the hotbed of U.S. post-quake reconstruction. The
agricultural region, a bumpy six-hour drive from Port-au-Prince, was
partly chosen to encourage people to disperse from places devastated by
the 2010 disaster. Development plans for the corridor include expanded
tourist facilities (visitors are expected to flock to the Citadelle
Laferrière, a monumental 19th-century Haitian fortress and UNESCO
World Heritage Site; Royal Caribbean’s lone pier in the country is also
nearby), ports, schools, roads and electrification. American Airlines
recently began flights to Cap-Haïtien.

The linchpin is the $300 million, 600-acre Caracol Industrial Park,
financed by U.S. taxpayer money and Inter-American Development
Bank and geared toward making clothes for export to the United States.
The Clintons were instrumental at nearly every step in its creation. The
development program Bill came to sell as U.N special envoy, written by
Oxford University economist Paul Collier, had garment exports at its
center.

As only he can, Bill Clinton managed to tout the idea as an exciting
departure from Haiti’s past. He successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to
eliminate tariffs on textiles sewn in Haiti. (The powerful Association
des Industries d’Haiti lobbied, too, paying at least $550,000 to a D.C.
lobbying firm led by Andrew Samet, a former Clinton Labor Department
official, and Ronald Sorini, who was the chief U.S. Trade Representative
negotiator on textiles during the North American Free Trade Agreement
talks.)

Clinton won headlines by apologizing for having maintained as
president the import-substitution policies that destroyed Haiti’s food
sector—policies built on the dangerously misguided theory that factory
jobs obviated the need to produce rice and other food locally. He made a
special point to note that the policy had benefited farmers in his home
state of Arkansas. The message was clear: This time would be different.
And he had grand plans for what the industry could become. Clinton
predicted that with the right support to the garment sector, 100,000 jobs
would be created “in short order.”

Secretary Clinton joined in too: She hired Collier’s research partner in
Haiti, Soros Economic Development Fund consultant Jean-Louis
Warnhoz, as a senior adviser. She and her key aide Cheryl Mills
negotiated an agreement between the Haitian and U.S. governments,
multilateral financiers and the South Korean textile giant Sae-A
Trading Co. Ltd., which makes clothes for Old Navy, Walmart, Kohl’s,
Target and other retailers. The Haitian government provided the land.
To create a “plug and play” environment in a country lacking nearly all
basic services, IADB and USAID invested millions in roads, water
systems, a power plant, executive dormitories and the warehouse-like
“shells” that would house the factories. The Clinton Foundation “helped
to promote Caracol as an investment destination and worked … to
attract new tenants and investments to the park,” says Greg Milne, the
foundation’s director of Haiti programs.

In October 2012, Hillary and Bill Clinton flew down to join President
Martelly at the ribbon-cutting, where she pledged, “Our partnership, I
promise you, will extend far beyond my time as secretary of state. And
so, too, will the personal commitment that my husband and I have to
Haiti.”

If things went as planned, Caracol would be a triumph of the Clintons’
core model: the “public/private partnership”—U.S. taxpayer dollars,
Haitian land and private corporations working together to put cheap
clothes on American shelves and wages in Haitian pockets.

Today’s reality, though, falls far short of the 2012 dream—despite an
incredible financial investment. Far from 100,000 jobs—or even the
60,000 promised within five years of the park’s opening—Caracol
currently employs just 5,479 people full time. That comes out to roughly
$55,000 in investment per job created so far; or, to put it another way,
about 30 times more per job than the average Sae-A worker makes per
year. The park, built on the site of a former U.S. Marine-run slave labor
camp during the 1915-1934 U.S. occupation, has the best-paved roads
and manicured sidewalks in the country, but most of the land remains
vacant.

The park’s boosters respond that the number of employees has doubled
in the past year. One of Haiti’s richest men, Richard Coles, is opening a
new factory to produce for Hanesbrands there. The park’s 10-megawatt
plant is providing electricity to more than 8,000 people in the
surrounding area under a pilot project run by a Beltway-based energy
cooperative, bypassing the weak national electric utility. Mark D’Sa, a
former Gap Inc. sourcing director who now works for the State
Department, laughed at the idea that anyone could evaluate Caracol’s
success or failure after only 2 ½ years. “It’s a half-baked idea that’s still
in the oven,” he says, approvingly.

But the workers have their own complaints, starting with pay. Aselyne
Jean-Gilles, 35, makes the minimum 225 gourdes a day, or about $4.75.
She says she spends $3.19 on food, plus 45 cents each way for a group
taxi that takes her from her home in Cap-Haïtien to a town where she
can catch a free shuttle to work. She does not have children yet. “If you
do, you can’t afford to do anything,” she says.

Inside, Sae-A’s three warehouses are kept reasonably comfortable by
giant fans. A disc jockey plays Haitian kompa music to keep workers
energized. Enormous U.S., Haitian and South Korean flags hang
overhead. Seamstresses sit in forward-facing rows, stitching and
passing forward Mossimo and Old Navy tops under the glow of red signs
that keep track of the daily “meta,” or quota (the signs were imported,
along with middle managers, from older Sae-A factories in Central
America, at least one of which closed as the Haiti project was opening).
Quality checkers stand all day at the end of the row, discarding clothes
unfit for export. “From 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., I stand and stand. I can’t sit
down,” says Tamara Pierre, a 22-year-old quality checker, rubbing her
visibly swollen ankles as she waits for a bus home.

Outside the park’s walls some 336 families say they were forced off the
land to make way for Caracol and were not compensated enough to
make up for the loss of livelihoods. It was good, productive farmland in a
deforested, hungry country—chosen by the park’s planners precisely
because of its access to a good water supply. The farmers’ claims are
hard to prove, in large part because Haitian land law is a mess. Five
years after it became clear that disputes over land tenure were halting
reconstruction after the quake, Haiti still lacks a functioning land
registry.

Park officials say the proper channels were followed and compensation
was more generous than it had to be. But the peasant farmers believe
that once again they were taken advantage of by unaccountable, distant
powers. “Mr. and Mrs. Clinton,” specifies Milostene Castin, an area
farmer and organizer with the community group Je Nan Je, or “Eye to
Eye,” “they have been there since the cornerstone was laid. I think they
have monetary interests and political interests in the park.”

When I mentioned that President Clinton had apologized for harming
Haitian farmers in the past, Castin was unimpressed. “We call on them
to invest in the people, respect human rights and the law,” he says.
To many close observers of Haiti, the Clintons made the same mistake
that has been made for generations. Though striking a populist pose, in
practice they were attracted to power in Haiti, which meant making
alliances and friendships within the Haitian elite. “The strong push
toward Caracol is evidence of this,” says Robert Maguire, an expert on
development in Haiti and the director of The George Washington
University’s Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program. Their
project responded not as much to the “more inclusive development
priorities pushed for by most Haitians and their government … but
rather to those supported by Haiti’s economic elites, who stood to
benefit the most from them.”

That does not mean that the Haitian elite are all fans of the Clintons. Far
from it. Many still smart over Bill’s decision to reinstate the overthrown
Aristide. Others are resentful of the power and money the Clintons
bring with them in their entourage, including billionaires like O’Brien
(who in turn have no love for the oligarchical power of the Haitian
import-export cartels). But infighting, the maneuvering of power and
political brinkmanship have long been tactics of the Haitian elite.
In a way, some whisper in Port-au-Prince, it’s as if the Clintons have
joined their ranks.
***
The Washington Post recently wrote that “the Clintons’ long
influence in Haiti is hard to overstate.” It’s indeed hard—but not
impossible. While the Clintons and their allies sometimes seem to be
omnipresent, they are not omnipotent. In part, that’s because, as a rule,
things in Haiti do not go as planned.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission closed shop in 2011, derided
for ineffectiveness and decisions “not necessarily aligned with Haitian
priorities,” according to the Government Accountability Office. In
December 2010, the IHRC’s Haitian members protested in a letter that
they were being sidelined by Clinton, Bellerive and major donors on the
board, including the U.S. representative to thecommission, Mills. “In
reality, Haitian members of the board have one role: to endorse the
decisions made by the Director and Executive Committee,” they wrote.
Washington was a bigger obstacle. Congress capped the U.S. money it let
the IHRC control at a comparatively tiny $120 million, and the Obama
administration then issued instructions on how the money had to be
spent. “That was the end of the trust fund as it was intended,” a former
senior Haitian commission official told me. (In a recent interview, Bill
Clinton told Town & Country that the IHRC was “incredibly
cumbersome.”)

Other allegations of double-dealing and pocket-lining have been based
on the dubious idea that the Clintons can do as they please in Haiti.
Conservative author Peter Schweizer recently set off a media storm
when he reported that a small mining company with rights to dig in
northern Haiti had Tony Rodham, Hillary’s brother, on its board. On a
sunbaked April morning, I hiked up a narrow path on Morne Bossa, the
mountain 160 miles north of Port-au-Prince where that mine is
supposed to end up. Spectacular countryside surrounded us. In the
distance, across a wide green valley, the Citadelle Laferrière soared atop
a 3,000-foot peak. Our destination inspired less awe: a sawed-off PVC
pipe in a concrete base the size of a shoebox, from which the company—
Victory, Championship, Strategic Mining—occasionally takes samples.
Schweizer’s report triggered a lot of speculation, inside Haiti and out,
that the Clinton network was enriching itself in Haiti, and that lonely
pipe on a remote hill became an object of fascination for the political
press. But the site looked more like another example of overblown
promises than a master scheme. There was no mining equipment
nearby, and judging by the complete lack of activity at VCS Mining’s
nearby office, little sign any would come soon.

VCS CEO Angelo Viard told me Rodham was a financial adviser, not a
member of the board as had been reported, and that he had met him—
through the Clinton Global Initiative—after the Haitian government had
already granted him the right to explore for gold and copper. “Mr.
Rodham … said very clearly, Haiti has been hurt by so many disasters, if
there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know. And we said, ‘Hey,
you might be able to help us with the capital,’ and he was very happy to
do so,” Viard told me. He estimates he needs $60 million to begin
digging, whenever the government might allow it again.

All mining programs in Haiti are on hold while the country’s mining law
is reviewed. VCS’s office, full of dusty bags and wooden boxes of rocks,
have no active staff beside the caretaker, Williamcite Noel, whose main
qualifications seem to be speaking a bit of English and living near the
site.

Many observers I spoke to think Viard is more likely to try and flip the
company than to ever actually start blasting the ground. What role Tony
Rodham might play in the company’s future, or what money he might
make off a future deal, is just as unclear as the mine’s future. Its
potential may never amount to anything, which some argue might
actually be the better outcome for Haiti. An open-pit mine on the site
could create environmental havoc while destroying the gorgeous view
from the Citadelle, harming tourism potential in the years ahead.
Others have questioned a $500,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation
made by the Algerian government after the 2010 earthquake, and a
$900,000 donation by Boeing to support Haitian schools at the same
time Secretary Clinton was lobbying the Russian government to buy
that company’s planes. The foundation has acknowledged it violated an
ethics agreement with the Obama White House by taking the Algerian
donation. Boeing indeed won a major contract, according to the
Washington Post.

But, though tracing the money in Haiti is difficult, there are no solid
indications that the donations went anywhere other than where they
were supposed to go. A Clinton Foundation spokesman says the
Algerian money went into a $16.4 million direct aid fund, which in turn
provided money to groups including Partners in Health, the operating
fund of the IHRC, and Sean Penn’s J/P HRO.

Boeing’s money went to a now-defunct NGO named Architecture for
Humanity, which rebuilt a quake-damaged school in the impoverished
Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Bel-Air. I visited on a recent school day.
While the new building does not scream luxury—there is no library or
computer lab, barely any furniture, and the school building does not get
electricity—it does seem to be a well-put-together piece of construction,
certainly by Haitian standards, where schools collapsed from shoddy
building materials even before the earthquake. The former lead for the
project, Kate Evarts, told me that while she no longer has immediate
access to the books, she thinks that $900,000 sounds about right as a
price tag when considering fees, licenses and the cost of subcontractors. The foundation says some money also went to teacher training.

Following the money in Clinton Foundation projects is often a
challenge. In recent weeks, under media pressure, the foundation has
admitted that its bookkeeping and transparency have been lacking at
times. Last week, after days of questions and press reports about the
Clinton Foundation’s work in various countries, acting CEO Maura
Pally posted a statement explaining the foundation was committed to
transparency: “Yes, we made mistakes, as many organizations of our
size do, but we are acting quickly to remedy them, and have taken steps
to ensure they don’t happen in the future.”

Even poring over documents doesn’t tell you much: In 2013, the most
recent tax year for which disclosures are available, the foundation
raised $295 million overall and spent $223 million—of which it says
$197 million, or 88 percent, went to “program services.” That
intentionally vague term, used universally by NGOs across the aid
world, includes anything that can be justifiably linked to specific
projects including travel, office expenses and salaries.

Clinton Foundation officials told me that, “unlike most organizations
operating in Haiti, the Clinton Foundation and its Haiti program do not
charge overhead expenses or collect an administrative fee for our work.”
It is easy to see how the Clintons’ influence in Haiti—where the power
players are few and the vast majority of people live on less than $2 a day
—can be misunderstood or raise suspicions. There is little transparency
in Haiti. Almost every deal, even a legitimate one, gets made out of sight
—and over the past five years, the Clintons have seemingly had a
representative or friend in all the most important backrooms. That
power discrepancy, along with the Clintons’ fondness for keeping their
cards close to the vest, has led to wild rumors everywhere. Many center
on the Clintons supposedly buying land, the traditional source of wealth
and power. “I’ve heard people say Bill Clinton was trying to buy the
Citadelle!” laughs Michele Oriol, an expert on land rights with a Haitian
government agency.

The complexity and limits of the Clinton model in Haiti can be summed
up in a complex of 750 pastel-colored houses up the road from Caracol.
The residents of Village La Difference are happy to have homes with
electricity and water cisterns. But the settlement has been plagued by
construction problems since the beginning. Two USAID contractors
have been suspended for failures including using shoddy concrete
blocks and failing to separate water and sewage pipes.

The village’s shining feature, however, and its most Clintonian
innovation, is a school. Lekol S&H’s monthly $8,400 budget is funded by
Sae-A. It’s a savvy public relations move that has yielded what is
probably the most dynamic elementary school in the country. The
principal, Jean V. Mirvil, was recruited from P.S. 73 in the Bronx. He and
his teachers, many of whom have completed teaching school (a rarity),
devised a cutting-edge curriculum that emphasizes instruction in
Kreyòl, rather than French, the traditional language of education and
the elites.

Like many of the Clintons’ interventions in Haiti, it is not a direct
project of the foundation but what Mirvil happily referred to as “the
Clinton network.” The Clintons provided contacts ranging from USAID
trainers to the Brooklyn Nets, who donated the basketball hoops out
back. Gold plaques in the hallways and cafeteria bear the hand-scrawled
inscriptions in English: “My best wishes to the children who will be
educated here and congratulations to Sae-A!—Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
(Bill’s scrawl adds, “To the children: Learn a lot!”)

But barring an angel investor willing to pay for the program nationwide
for a generation or so, Lekol S&H remains essentially a one-off,
dependent on a single company’s decision to stay and keep paying the
bills. The model is precarious—particularly given the increasingly likely
possibility that Haiti reenters a period of political instability.
***
Haiti’s current political troubles fall short of what might cause real
problems for Hillary Clinton as she touts her foreign policy bona fides
during her White House run. But that could quickly change.
Impatience with President Martelly is growing at all levels, even inside
the State Department. With the falling price of oil and the death of
Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, the seemingly free PetroCaribe money that
has bankrolled Haiti’s meager growth—and the Martelly
administration’s tenuous hold on power—is running out.

With the Martelly administration now able to set up elections on its
own terms, the long-delayed parliament vote is scheduled for August.
New presidential elections are slated for October. Martelly is barred
from running for reelection by the constitution. Both Lamothe and the
president’s wife, Sofia Martelly, are rumored to be exploring runs. No
one knows if the elections will go off on time.

“If the election is not held this year and there is a high level of violence
and turmoil, [the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti] decides to leave, and
the 82nd Airborne or the Marines have to be sent here to keep order,
then yes, this could affect the U.S. election. It could lead to questioning
the ability of a Democrat in the White House to keep peace and stability
in a country like Haiti,” says Lionel Delatour, a prominent Haitian
businessman with ties to many in the U.S. government and private
sector. “The likelihood of such a series of events to take place is very
remote. But we have surprised the world before.”

The real date to watch is May 15, 2016, when Martelly’s five-year term
ends. If no election is held by then, a transitional government will take
power, there will be a constitutional crisis, or both. That date will fall
almost precisely as Hillary Clinton hopes to wrap up the Democratic
primaries and turn to the general election. Instability in a place where
she and her husband have planted a big flag would hardly help her
campaign.

It’s impossible to say how all this will turn out. From top to bottom, the
Clintons’ work in Haiti is far from over. Many promises remain
unfulfilled; many projects still, as D’Sa put it, “half-baked.” Bill Clinton
still goes there frequently, including a February stop to join Martelly
and O’Brien at the opening of the Port-au-Prince Marriott. His
comments are ever boosterish, but tinged with frustration. “If everyone
knew this country the way Denis and I do, your incomes would be three
times higher than they are, people would be flooding in here every day,
and we wouldn’t have had the problems we do,” the former president
told a group of Haitians, according to the Miami Herald.

If Hillary is successful in her presidential bid, the Clintons will have
another four or even eight years to drive U.S. policy toward this
Caribbean nation—for better or for worse. Perhaps unsure of how Haiti
will fit into the upcoming election, Hillary Clinton has been less
talkative than her husband. Her spokesman declined to comment on
how her experience in Haiti has shaped her foreign policy, saying she
would address that “when the time comes to do so.”

I asked Benel Etienne, a 32-year-old resident of Village La Difference
and construction day laborer at Caracol, if he had a message for the
candidate. “Mrs. Clinton, we hope you became president of your United
States, but at the same we hope you bring change for Haiti, because you
have good diplomatic relations with Haiti,” he told me. When I asked
what kind of change that might be, he smiled and shrugged. Haitians like
him have heard too many promises, and seen too many things, to think
they could really know.

Original URL:
http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/caribbean-haiti-clinton-politics-business

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Media, Haiti: Media’s Multiple Roles in Democracy and Development

USAID, by  on Friday, May 1st 2015

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

Reading the newspaper while sipping morning coffee and settling into an armchair to watch the evening news have long been iconic images — and for good reason. These sources of information are critical to promoting civil engagement and democracy

Today, in advance of the United Nations General Assembly’s World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, we take a moment to reflect on the vital role that journalists and media play in our daily lives and pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for their profession. Operating around the clock, year-round, the media is expected to provide factual up-to-the minute reporting in addition to deeper analyses of societal issues ranging from democratic governance and free and fair elections to disaster reconstruction and reducing preventable diseases.

USAID Community Radio struggles to keep lines of communication open in a rural, isolated community in Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Over the last 15 years as senior media advisor for USAID’s Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, I have observed a recurrent theme of the media as a central hub of information exchange. This seems to be something almost everyone can agree on–ordinary citizens and elites alike, regardless of the issue.

This expectation was recently reiterated in Haiti, when a leading Haitian human rights activist told our USAID delegation that “everything is channeled through the media,” comparing media to a “traffic circle, where all issues must pass.” A former journalist, she understood how the media system in Haiti can be a double-edged sword. While some journalists provide accurate and professional media content, educating the public and promoting progress, others can spread misinformation, increase tensions and even undermine stability.

A man in Myanmar reads a newspaper on the street. / Kim Nguyen van Zoen, Internews

While in Haiti, we visited seven towns, where local focus groups talked about what they liked and disliked about the Haitian media. Individual opinions differed, but we found widespread appreciation for a few specific areas, such as the recent health information campaigns that helped reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, cholera and other illnesses.

However, Haitians across the board also expressed clear frustration with the lack of quality local news; they felt that more coverage of social issues and educational content could help the country develop faster. This kind of media, they reasoned, could help people make better life choices and engage citizens in their country’s government and development. Simply stated: People valued the power of knowledge and believed in media as a translator of information and source of empowerment.

Women radio journalists from  Radio Ibo FM 98.5 read the midday news for the listening public in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Haitians and international representatives across development sectors agreed. A medical doctor noted that “using community radio for prevention is much more cost effective” than treating diseases that could have been prevented. A specialist working to improve food safety nets added: “The more I work on health issues — including nutrition, the more I realize that the main problems arise from the public’s lack of information.”

USAID Media Officer Mark Koenig treks to the isolated, rural  community radio station, Radyo Vwa Peyizan Abriko / Radio Voice of the People of Abricot. This radio station has received support over the years from USAID and is beloved by the community, not only for sharing news and information, but also for acting in a mediation role and helping in lost and found. / Nicole Widdersheim

Throughout the world, USAID supports programs in over 30 countries to strengthen journalistic professionalism, establish media management skills and promote freer media. USAID programs are helping local media systems deliver critical information in diverse areas of development including agriculture, education, health, growth, environmental protection, resource management, conflict mitigation, election reporting and more. In countries struggling to cope with and recover from conflict, USAID also supports peace-building messaging and civil society monitoring.

As the testimony of Haitians suggested, citizens in all countries can be empowered by local media to address the issues they care about. People everywhere — across all development sectors — need trustworthy information and opportunities for public discourse. Access to information is a basic human right — freedom of press is a key foundation of this right. Today, and every day, we applaud the difficult work that journalists and media do and refocus our efforts on how best to empower media systems across the globe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Koenig is Senior Advisor for Independent Media Development at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.
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Development: Don’t rush to Nepal to help. Learn from haiti and read this first

Guardian Newspaper, Monday 27 April 2015 , by 

You may want to help victims of the earthquake, but they don’t need unskilled volunteers or aid they can’t use. Here’s what you can do that won’t get in the way

As someone who has considered Nepal home for many years, the shock on hearing the news of the earthquake that has devastated the country was extreme. I felt pained at being away from home – cut off in rural Cambodia – at a time like this, impotent and powerless.

The quake has left thousands dead, many more injured and even more without shelter. What we also know from tracking events in natural disasters all over the world is that the situation only gets worse in the weeks following the event, as hospitals become overwhelmed, basic supplies become scarce and those living in temporary shelters succumb to exposure and disease. The example fresh in everyone’s minds is the 2010 earthquake in Haiti – a country in a similar economic condition to Nepal and which, despite an enormous influx of international aid, is still recovering from the disaster five years later.

Something that has been much discussed in the international aid community is the lack of coordinated response to the Haiti disaster. Ragtag brigades of well-intentioned do-gooders flooded the country: students, church congregations, individuals who had previously vacationed in the area, all clambering over one another looking for a way to make their mark and do good, but lacking either the skills or coordination to have an impact. Indeed, many ended up slowing down the aid efforts.

There were even reports of teams of doctors who arrived to help but were unable to feed themselves. This wave of unsolicited and poorly planned shipments of untrained people and donated goods was dubbed by some humanitarians “the second disaster”.

One of the biggest problems with relief work is that it is a free-for-all. Anyone who wants to, and who is privileged enough to afford a plane ticket, can pitch up. Unlike doctors or engineers, who need to train for years to gain qualifications that prove they probably know what they’re doing, no such qualification exists for aid workers.

What Nepal needs right now is not another untrained bystander, however much her heart is hurting. Nepal has one international airport for the entire country, which has itself sustained damage. That airport needs to be used for emergency supplies, immediate aid for the victims, and qualified, professional relief workers. My trip back to commiserate with loved ones can wait a few weeks.

Remember that it is not about you. It is not about your love for the country and its people. Your feelings of guilt and helplessness may be difficult to deal with, but you may not be what is needed right now. Do not rush to go there, at least for the next couple of weeks while the country is reeling. The exception to this is if you are a qualified professional with much-needed skills to offer. If you are, join up with an international relief agency that can place you in a position where you are needed most.

Do not donate stuff. Secondhand goods are difficult to distribute in a disaster area and are hardly ever what is actually needed. It is easier, and often in the long run cheaper, for organisations to procure goods themselves and distribute based on need. If you want to give away things you no longer need, sell them and donate the money to the relief fund. Or give them to a local charity shop, which can convert them into cash on your behalf.

Give money. More than your plane ticket or your collection of old T-shirts, what is most needed in Nepal right now is money. Donate what you can, to a reputable relief organisation, and do research to find out where your money will go. If you can, compare a few organisations with aid appeals and ensure that you agree with their approach.

In the short term, handouts are necessary. I have previously questioned this as a method of long-term development. However, in the immediate wake of such devastation, handouts are necessary to give victims the essentials for survival.

In the long term, rebuild sustainably. If in the coming months you want to contribute to the rebuilding efforts and the longer-term development of the country, consider sustainability as a factor. There will be many programmes to repair and rebuild destroyed houses. Nepal is an earthquake-prone country, so the buildings most likely to withstand another quake are not those that are cheapest, or those made by foreign volunteer labourers for “free”.

And if you do decide to go … Please look at the resources we have produced on the Learning Service website before you get on the plane. I am not against volunteering; I am imploring you to wait a while and think carefully about where to use your skills. Volunteering can have a wonderful impact on the world, when done mindfully. But it is not easy or automatically beneficial. Before signing up for a programme, spend time learning about Nepal and the complex nature of its recovery and development, and continue to be open to learning during your time there.

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Haiti: How Not to Report on an Earthquake

A police officer looking on as an excavator digs through rubble in search of bodies in Katmandu, Nepal, on April 27. Credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
As of Tuesday morning, exactly three days have passed since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, killing thousands and leaving millions in need of help. In disaster response, the end of the first 72 hours is often considered an inflection point: the unofficial moment when the most acute phase passes, the odds of finding trapped survivors plunge and the relief effort tends to really pick up steam.

Three days into a crisis, roads and airports are often reopening, and outside responders and journalists are arriving in droves. The decisions made at this time can determine the course of the response. A misstep now can have ramifications lasting years, even decades.

I know this because I lived through a moment of just this sort five years ago, in Haiti. I was in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, when a powerful quake rippled outward from an epicenter 15 miles from the capital. In 40 seconds, the shock waves, according to some estimates, literally decimated the population, killing 100,000 to 316,000 people in an overcrowded, overbuilt metropolitan area that was home to more than three million. Governments and aid groups mobilized cargo planes and ships, deploying thousands of soldiers, search-and-rescue teams and medical responders. I was the lone correspondent in the country’s lone full-time foreign news bureau when the quake hit, but I wasn’t on my own for long. By the 72-hour mark, hundreds of reporters — if not more — had joined me in town, beaming images and accounts of the destruction around the world.

Time seemed to stop during the earthquake, and only gradually picked up speed in the days that followed. The first night felt as if it would never end. Aftershocks roiled the ground. People were scouring the rubble for loved ones and neighbors, but the quake had hit in the late afternoon, and in a country with little infrastructure and electricity, it was impossible to continue the search once darkness fell. Nearly everyone who could be was outdoors that night, many of them singing and praying, waiting to see if help would come from outside.

It did, though slowly at first. A trickle of aid convoys arrived overland from the Dominican Republic the next morning. A United States military advance team landed at the damaged airport and took over its operations, setting up an emergency air-traffic-control system.

Then, on the third day, the skies filled with planes and the harbor with ships. Soon United Nations peacekeepers and American soldiers were scrambling to hand out food and water. My editors at The Associated Press made sure that my colleagues and I traded shifts covering the search-and-rescue efforts; they wanted to be certain we did not miss out on images of survivors being pulled from the rubble.

The old standby narratives of disaster coverage picked up from there. We watched for panic and desperation to turn to looting and violence. When aid groups began issuing warnings of impending post-disaster disease outbreaks, we repeated them.

Similar story lines are now emerging from Nepal (although, as of this writing, rumors of looting and violence have been confined mainly to social media). But in Haiti, as is often the case, those story lines turned out to be dead wrong. Most embarrassing for a journalist, they were wrong in ways that would have immediately been made clear had we taken the time to ask some basic questions.

Food and water, for example. When I was in Haiti two years later, to research the relief effort for a book, I was shocked to discover that no one could tell me with any precision if there was ever a food or water shortage in the first place. No one among the responders had even contacted the Coordination Nationale de la Sécurité Alimentaire — the Haitian government agency overseeing food security — to find out what might be needed. Indeed, earthquakes tend to inflict the worst damage on cities, not farms — especially in countries that already have limited infrastructure — and Haiti’s urban areas didn’t have any sewers or piped drinking water to begin with.

People indeed lost their homes and incomes, and markets closed. But theWorld Food Program had enough supplies in its Port-au-Prince warehouses — which survived the quake — to feed 300,000 people one full meal for three weeks. There was no acute food or malnutrition crisis after the quake; that much we know. But it seems very likely that the city could have avoided one even without the frenzied aid push.

Our focus on the organized rescue efforts was similarly misplaced. The constant media coverage and well-financed, specialized rescue teams created the impression in many viewers’ minds that large numbers of people were being saved by outside responders. In fact, according to a report by the French Defense Ministry’s Haiti mission, no more than 211 people were saved by all of the international search-and-rescue efforts combined, in a disaster in which hundreds of thousands were trapped.

This isn’t the responders’ fault; they worked as hard and as fast as they could. But disaster experts routinely note that a vast majority of rescues after an earthquake take place within the first 24 hours, and are almost always done by people from the area using their hands or simple tools. By contrast, the first American search-and-rescue team didn’t arrive in Haiti until nearly a full day after the disaster.

As for the notion of post-disaster disease outbreaks, epidemiologists have gone looking for evidence of epidemics resulting from calamities like earthquakes, and they have generally concluded that they don’t happen. (“The news industry is prone to emphasizing more dramatic and simplistic messages, and unjustified warnings will likely continue to be spread on the basis of an approximate assessment of risks,” the authors of a 2006 study wrote in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) If you look closely, news reports tend to cite unspecified “fears” or “threats” of disease, often sourced to nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross. But those sources are rarely asked to produce any actual evidence.

There is violence after disasters, just as there is violence every day wherever humans live. But taking a hard look back puts the lie to the idea that societies somehow become less cohesive after a natural shock, at a moment when most people are busy trying to put their lives back in order. After Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, crime fell in nearly every category in New York City. (The murder rate in Nepal’s capital, Katmandu, when it was last measured nearly a decade ago, was higher than New York’s but comparable to Chicago’s in recent years.)

There is no way to know for sure if that was true in Port-au-Prince; crime statistics were unreliable before the quake and nonexistent after. The escape of prisoners from the city’s national penitentiary did lead to a series of murders over turf in the slum Cité Soleil, and there were reports of increased sexual violence in the months after the disaster. But there was no widespread civil unrest of the magnitude that would justify keeping 20,000 United States troops on call. Having been there at the time, I recognized the sentiment expressed by Donatella Lorch, a Katmandu-based writer, in The Times this week: “I am buoyed by the generous spirit of [Nepal’s] people. My son and I know that life here will get worse in the days and weeks ahead as fuel and water run low. But we also know we are in this together.”

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Hiati: Haiti’s Unsteady Land

Originally found on: Pulitzer Center

By: Jacob Kushner on December 4, 2014

Unstable land is what caused the January 2010 earthquake that killed some 300,000 people and displaced 1.5 million more in Haiti. Five years on, land conflict is what’s stalling Haiti’s progress.

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Lack of clarity around Haiti’s land laws is a major barrier to building — or rebuilding — Haiti. These barriers keep poor families from finding a place to live or farm, and they prevent wealthy ones from opening businesses that would employ the former. Acquiring land is too expensive for most Haitians, and often too complex, with multiple people claiming ownership and no system to sort that out. Ten percent of the land in Haiti is owned by the government, but the government isn’t entirely sure which ten percent. Only five percent of Haiti’s total land is accounted for in official registries, according to the United Nations, and many records were lost in the earthquake.

Today, critical investment projects such as industrial trade zones and tourist resorts remain stymied due to land disputes.Now, as Haiti turns to manufacturing and tourism to build the country’s economic future, Haitians themselves are caught in the middle. On the small island of Ile a Vache, a new airport threatens to displace hundreds of rightful landowners in the name of tourism. And in the country’s north, a free-trade zone that overtook 600 acres of fertile farmland has failed to attract more than a few companies to fill the space.

Five years after the earthquake, Haiti’s leaders have a vision. But with limited assistance by the US and other foreign donors allocated to fix Haiti’s underlying land catastrophe, will Haiti’s grand scheme fail and leave ordinary Haitians landless?

Originally found on: Pulitzer Center

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Haiti: Five years after earthquake, Haiti’s journalists show resilience amid threats to freedom of the press

Original article found on: Journalism in the Americas 

By Shearon Roberts
01/27/2015

 Ayiti Kale Je news team, with the assistant director in 2013.

Ayiti Kale Je news team, with the assistant director in 2013.

Five years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the country’s journalists face threats, harassment, and silencing by government supporters and, on occasion, the president himself. While journalism had an urgent and imperative role in the aftermath of the earthquake, Haitian journalists have maintained a steady criticism of reconstruction efforts and, as a result, have been vilified by authorities.

Haiti’s media landscape had been divided before the earthquake along political lines. The disaster brought media factions together as news organizations faced limited resources, ongoing political-socio-economic crises and a strong adversary in the government of President Michel Martelly.

“The Haitian state does not want freedom of the press that is not in their interest,” said Liliane Pierre-Paul, president of the Association National de Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), Haiti’s largest media organization. “They do no wish to respect transparency. They do no want to have awareness among the population, and they do not approve of our reporting that denounces their behavior in government.”

Pierre-Paul participated in a series of research interviews I have conducted with Haitian journalists since 2013 to highlight how Haiti’s media workers have covered the country’s reconstruction.

As the 2015 anniversary of the earthquake approached, Haitian journalists clarified in follow-up interviews that celebrating reconstruction milestones was news of interest to external news agencies, mainly in the United States and for non-profit organizations operating in Haiti.

Haitians remained concerned with events on the ground, specifically, the political impasse between President Martelly and opposition within the Haitian Senate. The political crisis had less to do with what Martelly’s government had or had not achieved with regards to reconstruction after the earthquake.

Haitian news of the November to December 2014 protests, and January 2015 political crisis, had more to do with the government’s apparent failure to allow Haitians to participate in the democratic process, as Martelly’s administration had failed to organize local elections.

Martelly’s administration had sought to establish legitimacy with the Haitian people by touting reconstruction projects. Yet the president’s government remained fledgling – one that Martelly had assembled in a disruptive earthquake year, with low voter turnout in a disputed election that was decided by external, international observers.

“The word reconstruction is a very interesting word,” said Marcus Garcia, president of the Association des Médias Indépendants d’Haïti (AMIH). “The Haitian people do not think of a reconstruction. No one has asked them their opinion and that is the first question.”

Garcia’s AMIH, which was founded in opposition to the ANMH, joined forces with Pierre-Paul after the 2010 earthquake. Solidarity among Haitian news organizations after the earthquake reinforced the mission of Haitian journalism to advocate on behalf of the Haitian people who, as Haiti’s journalists argue, have been left off the bargaining table in a reconstruction directed by international players, such as the U.S.-led United Nations reconstruction effort in Haiti.

It is why the recent political upheavals have dominated Haitian headlines and more importantly Haitian airwaves, the primary source of news and political mobilization in a country with low French literacy and a strong tradition of Haitian Creole radio broadcasting advocacy journalism.

The re-unification of the ANMH and AMIH since the 2010 earthquake has been further bolstered by an alliance forged with Haiti’s leading alternative and community news media networks. Together, they , signed in 2011.

However, as Kathie Klarreich, a Knight International Journalism Fellow, found in her work with Haitian journalists, the implementation of such ethical standards is often a challenge in Haiti.

In interviews, Haitian journalists said that the economic constraints of rebuilding their homes and accumulating possessions after the earthquake remain a very real challenge. They have also mentioned their need to work multiple jobs and pointed out that many times, international donor and non-profit agencies pay triple their wages, presenting clear conflicts of interest.

The owners of news organizations are aware of such challenges, and have sought to provide additional revenue streams for key journalists who cover the Haitian state or report on foreign organizations in an attempt to reduce conflicts of interest and preserve journalistic integrity.

Haitian news organizations now face a strong competitor in non-governmental agencies who would like to hire journalists with talents, said Max Chauvet, the owner of Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s oldest newspaper and current paper of record.

Chauvet, who preceded Pierre-Paul as head of the ANMH, said the presence of hundreds of radio stations, in addition to the newspaper, now must compete for the same share of reduced advertising revenue to support their enterprise and pay their journalists.

The millions of international aid that flows to non-governmental organizations mean that radio stations receive more advertisements from NGOs and that NGOs, in turn, seek out Haitian journalists as employees, Chauvet said.

Haitian news organizations are outnumbered 10 to 1 by NGOs who seek to communicate their agenda across the airwaves, in print and in broadcast ads that read like news articles.

“They have the means that we don’t have, so it is gonna be a tough fight. We can only influence the government,” Chauvet said.

Taking an aggressive tone on coverage of the Haitian government has resulted in a range of retaliation. Haitian journalists indicated they experienced obstruction to information, reports, and interviews. They have been barred from access to press conferences or officials if they report news that has been critical of the Martelly administration or painted the government in a negative light.

Journalists faced a common tactic, where official sources would take weeks or months to even return a call or request for information. Within the same time frame, a foreign journalist would receive an interview with the same Haitian official that a Haitian journalist had requested an interview with weeks before.

Because such barriers to reporting supported facts, the early work of Ayiti Kale Je or Haiti’s Grassroots Watch allowed vital investigative reporting to filter through mainstream media in Haiti.

Ayiti Kale Je emerged as a consortium of alternative and community news networks in August 2010, with collaboration from the faculty and students at the Faculté de Sciences Humaines, at the State University of Haiti. Co-founded by Jane Regan who taught at the university, the initiative produced more than 30 multimedia and multi-lingual investigative projects on the reconstruction with the goal of providing mainstream news organizations the material and jumpstart needed to critically cover the reconstruction.

The Ayiti Kale Je project was unique, because it provided fact-based investigative journalism disseminated by the mainstream media. Non-profit donors also offered funding and Ayiti Kale Je journalists were given the financial support to practice investigative journalism without threatening the news organization’s bottom line.

Max Chauvet, the owner of Le Nouvelliste, pointed out that reports by Ayiti Kale Je provided the entry point for Le Nouvelliste’s journalists to conduct follow-up reporting based on these findings. On some occasions, Le Nouvelliste published the Ayiti Kale Je reports in full, and key radio stations aired broadcast versions of the dossier reports. On each occasion, news media owners would be harassed by the government for doing so. Ayiti Kale Je journalists were ignored at media events by government officials and in one instance had their equipment damaged by administration workers and supporters.

The Ayiti Kale Je project has since changed leadership. Regan, who no longer heads the project, said that unfortunately, no new investigative reports had been produced since January 2014. However, the Ayiti Kale Je project had accomplished a key objective within Haiti’s local journalism landscape, which was to provide fact-based reporting on Haiti’s reconstruction at a time when Haiti’s commercial media lacked the human and financial capital to conduct investigative journalism.

While Le Nouvelliste has the largest staff of journalists, Chauvet pointed out, investigative reporting in Haiti requires the collective support of radio stations, the primary news source for the average Haitian. Radio provided the critical mass needed for Ayiti Kale Je reports to be disseminated in full or in part to the general public. And as Chauvet and Pierre-Paul said, when Haitian media owners act as a unit, they are able to protect press liberties from government retaliation and hold the government accountable.

Both the ANMH and AMIH have jointly released statements on behalf of their membership to address state attempts to hike broadcast license fees for media organizations that air critical reports. Haitian media organizations have also condemned alleged threats on popular radio broadcasters who have either been insulted or denounced publicly by President Martelly, or have been the subject of alleged plots and death threats at the hands of Martelly supporters.

Five years after the disaster, debates and interviews that take place on popular weekend news-talk radio programs now end up on the Senate floor. Although investigative reports are no longer being produced by the media consortium, Haitian media’s critical assessment of the state of the country’s recovery has been documented in editorials, commercial radio news, analytical news reports, and essays.

Haitian journalists have stated in interviews that a lack of access to government data does not impede their ability to pose questions to officials in news reports. In some cases, journalists produce news reports that outline to readers in detail the degree of government obstruction encountered in providing answers to the public as the journalist attempted to cover an issue or event.

“My role on the radio is to denounce corruption in government, to denounce the fact that the real reconstruction itself has not begun,” said Jean Monard Metellus, a Haitian veteran journalist and host of Ranmase, the most listened to radio program in Haiti, aired on Saturdays on Radio Caraïbes FM Haïti.

Metellus reported in October 2013 that after a heated broadcast, he discovered that the nuts to the rear tires of his vehicle has been removed, nearly leading to a fatal accident. Other critics of the Martelly administration have found themselves in similar situations earlier in the year. Journalists have speculated that Martelly supporters are behind the spate of vehicle sabotage attacks.

Such attacks have served to intimidate Haiti’s most prominent journalists, currently covering the Haitian state and the earthquake’s aftermath. Journalistic retaliation in the current context is far less violent and overt than it was under the Duvalier dictatorship. However, the current tactics employed by the Haitian state and its supporters have served to dissuade journalists from critical, advocacy, and investigative journalism that could change the current conditions of ordinary Haitians or the existing political status quo.

“We (the media) are not the actors of a plan, it is not us who are the drivers of politics or the economy,” said Gotson Pierre, the executive director of Média Alternatif, one of Haiti’s leading alternative media organizations that comprised a part of the Ayiti Kale Je consortium’s initial work. “I think that our role is to see that the communication of information is not ignored and we have a responsibility to take this on.”

Shearon Roberts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Mass Communication at Xavier University of Louisiana. She has covered news in Haiti, the Caribbean and Latin America as a journalist. In 2013 and 2014 she conducted extensive research in Haiti with Haitian journalists and media owners on the impact of the 2010 earthquake disaster on Haitian media and journalism. All interviews were conducted in French and translated for use in this article.

Original article found on: Journalism in the Americas 

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Haiti: Haitians Worry World Bank-Assisted Mining Law Could Result in “Looting”

Original article found on: Inter Press Service News Agency

Written by Carey L. Biron

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

WASHINGTON, Jan 13 2015 (IPS) – With Haiti’s Parliament having dissolved on Tuesday, civil society groups are worried that the Haitian president may move to unilaterally put in place a contentious revision to the country’s decades-old mining law.

Starting in 2013, that draft was written with technical assistance from the World Bank. Last week, a half-dozen Haitian groups filed a formal appeal with the bank’s complaints office, expressing concern that the legislation had been crafted without the public consultation often required under the Washington-based development funder’s own policies.

The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies already interested in the country’s significant gold and other deposits.

“Community leaders … are encouraging communities to think critically about ‘development’, and to not simply accept projects defined by outsiders,” Ellie Happel, an attorney in Port-au-Prince who has been involved in the complaint, told IPS.

txbx“These projects often fail. And, in the case with gold mining, residents learn that these projects may threaten their very way of life.”

Haiti’s extractives permitting process is currently extensive and bureaucratic. Yet the new revisions would bypass parliamentary oversight altogether, halting even a requirement that agreement terms be made public, according to a draft leaked in July.

Critics worry that this streamlining, coupled with the Haitian government’s weakness in ensuring oversight, could result in social and environmental problems, particularly damaging to a largely agrarian economy. Further, there is question as to whether exploitation of this lucrative minerals wealth would benefit the country’s vast impoverished population.

“The World Bank’s involvement in developing the Draft Mining Law lends the law credibility, which is likely to encourage investment in the Haitian mining sector,” the complaint, filed with the bank’s Inspection Panel on Wednesday, states.

“[T]his increased investment in the mining sector will result in … contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law.”

An opaque process

The complaint comes five years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and as political instability is threatening reconstruction and development progress made in that catastrophe’s aftermath. Elections have been repeatedly put off for more than two years, and by Tuesday so many members of Parliament are slated to have finished their terms that the body would lack a quorum.

On Sunday Haitian President Michel Martelly indicated that a deal might be near. But the leftist opposition was reportedly not part of this agreement, and has repeatedly warned that the president is planning to rule by decree.

The Inspection Panel complaint, filed by six civil society groups operating under the umbrella Kolektif Jistis Min (the Justice in Mining Collective), contextualises its concerns against this backdrop of instability. “[T]he Haitian government may be poised to adopt the Draft Mining Law by decree, outside the democratic process,” it states.

Even if the political crisis is dealt with soon, concerns with the legislation’s drafting process will remain.

The Justice in Mining Collective, which represents around 50,000 Haitians, drew up the complaint after the draft mining law was leaked in July. No formal copy of the legislation has been made public, nor has the French-language draft law been translated into Haitian Creole, the most commonly spoken language.

“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law,” Sarah Singh, the director of strategic support with Accountability Counsel, a legal advocacy group that consulted on the complaint and is representing some Haitian communities, told IPS.

“They’ve had two meetings that, to my knowledge, were invite-only and held in French, at which the majority of attendees were private investors and some big NGOs. Yet the bank’s response to complaints of this lack of consultation has been to say this is the government’s responsibility.”

The Justice in Mining Collective is suggesting that this lack of consultation runs counter to social and environmental guidelines that undergird all World Bank investments. These policies would also call for a broad environmental assessment across the sector, something local civil society is now demanding – to be followed by a major public debate around the assessment’s findings and the potential role large-scale mining could play in Haiti’s development.

Yet the World Bank is not actually investing in the Haitian mining sector, and it is not clear that the institution’s technical assistance is required to conform to the safeguards policies. In a November letter, the bank noted that its engagement on the Haitian mining law has been confined to sharing international best practices.

Yet Singh says she and others believe the safeguards do still apply, particularly given the scope of the new legislation’s impact.

“This will change the entire legal regime,” she says. “The idea that bank could do that and not have the safeguards apply seems hugely problematic.”

A World Bank spokesperson did confirm to IPS that the Inspection Panel has received the Haitian complaint. If the panel registers the request, she said, the bank’s management would have around a month to submit a response, following which the bank’s board would decide whether the complaint should be investigated.

Parliamentary moratorium

Certainly sensitivities around the Haitian extractives sector have increased in recent years.

Minerals prospecting in Haiti has expanded significantly over the past half-decade, though no company has yet moved beyond exploration. In 2012, when the government approved its first full mining permit in years, the Parliament balked, issuing a non-binding moratorium on all extraction until a sector-wide assessment could take place.

Meanwhile, Haitians have been looking across the border at some of the mining-related problems experienced in the Dominican Republic, including water pollution. Civil society groups have also been reaching out to other countries in the Global South, trying to understand the experiences of other communities around large-scale extractives operations.

Current views are also being informed by decades of historical experience in Haiti, as well. Since the country’s independence in the early 19th century, several foreign companies have engaged many years of gold mining.

That was a “negative, even catastrophic, experience,” according to a statement from the Justice in Mining Collective released following the leak of the draft mining law in July.

“Mining exploitation has never contributed to the development of Haiti. To the contrary, the history of gold exploitation is one marked by blood and suffering since the beginning,” the statement warned.

“When we consider the importance of and the potential consequences of mineral exploitation, we note this change in the law as a sort of scandal that may facilitate further looting, without even the people aware of the consequences.”

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

Original article found on: Inter Press Service News Agency

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Haiti: Then and Now

Original photo essay and article found on: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Sparkling white walls, palm trees, and a gazebo paint a serene mask on the hospital in Gressier, an oceanfront town 22 kilometers south of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

“At first look you see it’s beautiful,” said Vaudrise Paul, a 31-year-old midwife in charge of the maternity ward. “But if you come in, you see it’s so small, there’s no equipment, there’s no staff.”

The hospital is five years old, built after the powerful earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010. In the aftermath, charities and nonprofits rushed to Haiti’s aid in an expensive and broadly disappointing relief effort. I went to Gressier in May at the suggestion of Dr. Reynold Grand Pierre, Director of Family Health at the Ministry of Health. I was exploring new programs to improve maternal care; Pierre had spoken with such vitriol about the broken, disjointed system of healthcare that both depended on and was destroyed by the global charity sector. He told me Gressier was an understaffed mess, but when I arrived it felt serene and perfect, cooled with sea breezes from the beach down the road.

As I entered the verdant grounds, I wondered if the minister had been sending me on a goose chase to undermine my reporting. I shouldn’t have doubted though.

In the aftermath of the earthquake there have been countless picturesque projects on this gorgeous Caribbean island — shells of schools with no teachers, gleaming new hospitals with no staff. Many charities have come and gone, and even those that stay largely have short-term contracts. My motorcycle driver, Junior, told me his wife had birthed each of her three children since the earthquake in a different clinic — following a word-of-mouth network about ever-shifting programs and projects to find affordable options for her deliveries. The strings of these myriad distinct programs do not knit into a safety net for Haiti, and mothers are left to advocate for themselves.

Allyn Gaestel is a recent Pulitzer Center grantee. Read her full story here.

Original photo essay and article found on: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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Haiti: Who Owns What in Haiti?

The island of La Tortue, off the northern coast of Haiti, has become best known as a place where Haitians facing hard times set sail for lot bo dlo—the other side of the water. When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first ousted, in 1991, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted and repatriated some eighteen hundred “boat people” who had fled Haiti’s north coast en route to South Florida. Recently, though, one British-American company has been working to bring large numbers of people in the other direction, from South Florida to La Tortue. In July, Carnival Corporation, the cruise-ship company, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Haitian government, which would allow a port to be opened on the island’s Pointe-Ouest beach, to serve as a stopover for its Caribbean ships. Haitian officials claimed that the development would create two thousand jobs, and would represent a major step forward in a plan for tourism to propel the nation’s economy. Five years after an earthquake caused an estimated $8.1 to $13.9 billion in damage—more than the country’s G.D.P. at the time—Haiti remains plagued by chronic underemployment and poverty.

The port deal is now at risk, however, because the ground onto which Carnival’s passengers would disembark may not have been the government’s to offer. In 1970, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier, Haiti’s President at the time, agreed to lease much of La Tortue to a Texas businessman named Don Pierson, with the aim of creating a free port; Pierson’s son, Grey, now holds the lease. The contract gave Don Pierson’s company a ninety-nine-year lease, and specified that he would develop the island’s infrastructure for tourism. Though Pierson soon began signing deals to that end, including one with Gulf Oil, for three hundred million dollars, the development project never got off the ground.

Occasionally, Grey Pierson says, Haitian officials would “rediscover” the project, and, in 1998, two years after his father’s death, a delegation came to Dallas to see him. As he tells it, he put up the Haitians at the Loews Anatole and held a meeting with them at the offices of the Texas Rangers’ ballpark. He told them that his father had procured four hundred million dollars in commitments to La Tortue. Leslie Voltaire, an architect and urban planner who was serving as the adviser on infrastructure and urban planning to René Préval, Haiti’s President at the time, was present at the meeting; Voltaire recalls that Pierson wanted the four hundred million dollars in compensation. (Pierson denies that.) The discussions went no further.

“I think that Carnival didn’t know that,” Voltaire told me, referring to the 1970 deal with Pierson. “If Carnival sees that there is that land issue, they won’t come.” Carnival confirmed to the Miami Heraldthat it did not learn of the dispute over ownership until several months after signing the agreement. (The newspaper further reported that yet another entity, Hotel Mont Joli SA, holds a lease on Pointe-Ouest.) Pierson, for his part, says that he has not been contacted by Carnival or Haitian government officials regarding the matter.

Similar uncertainty over land ownership has played out across Haiti as the country attempts to attract foreign investment in tourism, mining, manufacturing, and agriculture—often without clear knowledge of who, precisely, owns what. The country’s present difficulties with land ownership are a function not only of its twentieth-century dictators but of Haiti’s history as a former slave colony. After achieving independence, in 1804, former slaves discovered that the land they had taken from their owners would not be theirs to keep. The country’s revolutionary leaders, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture, thought it best for land to be held in large swathes, by the state. “Having survived the brutality of the slave system and then the violence of the revolution, the ex-slaves strongly believed that the land should be theirs; land ownership would give freedom its full and true meaning,” the historian Laurent Dubois writes in “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History.” But the early debates over who would control Haitian territory “revolved only around the question of which group of elites would profit from Haiti’s new order—not what that order would look like.”

“Now there is a fight between the Haitian bourgeoisie and peasants who want to control the land,” the Haitian sociologist Bernard Etheart told me. The tension played out over the past two centuries with governments often bequeathing parcels of land to various groups, only sometimes to take them back later, subsequent disputes over territory, and little regard for formal title throughout. Peasants in rural Haiti generally worked the land under an informal system of tenancy, in which they established de-facto ownership over small plots of land, then joined their plots with their neighbors’, usually members of their extended families, and farmed the land collectively. The land would typically remain under the name of just one family member—but no records of these arrangements were provided to the state.

Many people have sometimes claimed to own the same parcel of land, while other plots of land had no identifiable owner. Cases in which title could be established are rare (though Etheart traced one going back to Spanish colonial times). A 1997 study, conducted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and Haiti’s agriculture ministry, estimated that ninety-five per cent of all land sales in rural Haiti had been conducted without going through legal formalities.

In the wake of the massive earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010, resolving long-standing land-ownership issues has been a low priority for Haiti’s leaders, even as they regard tourism, mining, and other industries affected by questions of title as crucial to the island’s economic development. France is helping to fund Haiti’s land-management office, but the Haitian government hasn’t allocated the resources it would take to create a national cadastre (a survey of the country’s land). Joab Thelot, a coordinator for the National Office of the Cadastre, says that it wouldn’t take much—just three million dollars a year—to pay the salaries of trained surveyors and buy the vehicles they would need to get around. In recent years, though, Haiti’s parliament has allocated his office just a third that amount.

Indications from Haitian officials regarding how they will handle the uncertainty over ownership have raised further concerns. In addition to the Carnival case, in August, 2013, President Michel Martelly’s government, which had come to power two years earlier, announced a major investment on the small island of Île-à-Vache, aimed at turning it into a tourist destination. A few months earlier, the government had published a decree meant to establish that state-owned land on the island could be used only for tourism and public utilities. The announcement may have been intended to avoid the kind of embarrassment that the government later experienced with Carnival. The hundreds of people who had been farming and living on Île-à-Vache for generations responded by staging protests, which haven’t halted construction.

As Martelly pushes ahead with his development agenda, he has given few indications that he intends to address the pervasive issues relating to land ownership and insecurity that have undermined development in Haiti for two hundred years. On Tuesday, the day after the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, a deal to set terms for new elections fell apart and the country’s parliament dissolved, leaving Martelly to rule by decree. The latest bout of political turmoil makes it even less likely that Haiti will be able to address the basic conflicts over land that threaten to inhibit the island’s economic development.

Original article found on: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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Haiti: Five Years after Haiti’s Earthquake, International Community Still Must Act to Address Urgent Needs, CEPR Co-Director Says

Original article found on: Center for Economic and Policy Research

January 12, 2015

Cholera Eradication, Housing, Sanitation and Safe Water Remain Underfunded

Washington, D.C.- Five years after Haiti’s devastating earthquake killed some 217,300 and displaced 1.5 million people, the international community still needs to act to address ongoing urgent needs, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. While the international community pledged over $10 billion for relief and reconstruction following the quake, much of that assistanceultimately went to agencies and contractors from the donor countries themselves, while Haitian organizations and the Haitian government were largely sidelined. Hundreds of people continue to die from cholera each year in Haiti as water and sanitation remain sub-standard, while fewer than 10,000 new houses have been built to house the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes in the earthquake.

“This is a shameful milepost for the international community, as so many urgent needs in Haiti remain a full five years later,” Weisbrot said. “Countries such as the United States, France and Canada share a particular burden for these failures, since these countries have trampled upon Haitian sovereignty and sidelined Haitian institutions throughout the country’s history.”

In October 2010, Haiti was hit with a second disaster when a cholera epidemic began downriver from a base for United Nations troops. Over 8,774 [PDF] people have died from the disease since – hundreds of them last year, and more than 700,000 have been infected. The U.N. has refused to take responsibility, leading to lawsuits on behalf of cholera victims and their families, and the U.N.’s cholera eradication plan remains woefully underfunded.

“The ongoing cholera epidemic is a humanitarian disaster directly caused by the international community,” Weisbrot said. “By the U.N., whose troops caused the outbreak through reckless behavior, and by the U.S. government, which had previously deliberately held up millions in loans to upgrade Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure.”

The ongoing lack of adequate housing – and the tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who remain in settlement camps – marks another area where the international response has failed to address urgent needs.

“The post-quake housing story is one of scandal, profiteering and tragedy,” CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston, who wrote about the housing response in detail for the Boston Review, explained. “Certain contractors got tens of millions for housing that they didn’t deliver, while authorities have still been able to claim success by pointing to how fewer people remain in IDP camps. But many of these people were forcibly evicted from the camps, often with no place to go. The displacement crisis continues; it is just hidden now.”

Housing contracting by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an example of the lack of transparency that has dogged the response effort, with subcontractors often unknown and therefore unaccountable. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and cosponsored by 34 other legislators, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last year, is meant to foster greater transparency in U.S. government contracting in Haiti through regular progress reports to Congress.

Weisbrot and Johnston noted several other key challenges for Haiti that could be aided by a more effective international response, including high poverty, high unemployment [PDF], the lack of jobs offering a living wage, and Haiti’s struggling agricultural sector, which could be supported were food aid funds used to purchase harvests from Haitian farmers rather than undercutting the sector through exporting lower-cost U.S. grains.

Original article found on: Center for Economic and Policy Research

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Development, Haiti: Art, an economic stake in the country’s development

Original article found on: Haiti Libre 

11/30/14

 

Photo

As part of the implementation of the Strategic Plan for the Development of Haiti (PSDH) developed by the Government, the Council for Economic and Social Development (CDES), an agency of the Primature, recently completed a three-day workshop on the theme “The world of arts and trades through the credit system”, which took place around three fundamental axes: the valuation of arts, trades and occupations according to the various trades; accompanying mechanisms for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the financial system and its adaptation to new economic challenges.

The Office of the Deputy Minister (Marie Carmèle Rose Anne Auguste) responsible for human rights and the fight against extreme poverty is involved in this project together with other government ministries and public agencies.

In her speech, the Minister Auguste highlighted the importance of arts and culture in the development of the country “The arts should be the engine of our economic development. Our culture, the talent of our artists and our craftsmen is our greatest wealth,” appealing to investment in the arts the Minister added “Our artists of sensitive neighborhoods need sustained coaching, good tools to work, adequate environment that enables them to work in peace.”

The Minister Delegate believes essential to build of integration centers in disadvantaged neighborhoods that will be, according to her “places of high culture where will will meet and will will commune all social strata of the Nation.”

At the end of the forum, a series of recommendations was formulated concerning inter alias : the development of a social credit system to finance the activities of artistic creation, the supervision of artists and craftsmen, a strong training in marketing management and customer service and the creation of tens of Community integration Centers, across the country.

 

Original article found on: Haiti Libre 

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Haiti: Creating Haiti’s Future Leaders Through Art

Original article found on: Huffington Post

By Karl Romain, Posted:

Photo credit: Fedno Lubin, ACFFC alumnu

Photo credit: Fedno Lubin, ACFFC alumnu

 

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti took an estimated 316,000 lives and destroyed buildings and entire towns. One such city, Jacmel, began a very special phase of its revival six months after the disaster to memorialize the lives lost: a mural project called Mosaïque Jacmel.

The organization, Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC) partnered with artist Laurel True of True Mosaics Studio who came and taught local children how to use mosaics to change the face of the devastation. True eventually became ACFFC’s Mosaic Program Director.

Today, Jacmel is known for its beautiful mosaic walls created by the city’s young artists, and is supported by the local Departments of Tourism and Culture, Jacmel, and Sud-Est, which recently commissioned the students to create mosaic stairs leading to the open air market in the center of town. The mosaics stand as glittering symbols of hope and transformation in Haiti.

My family emigrated from Haiti when I was a child. To hear of this creative endeavor, and the leadership skills it is bringing to its children, makes me hopeful for my homeland. I spoke with Laurel True, and Nadïne LaFond, a New Jersey-based musician, visual artist and arts educator born in Brooklyn of Haitian descent and longtime friend to ACFFC about the project.

Turning broken pieces into a new whole

“The Tree of Life public art installation turned broken pieces into a new whole, memorializing lives lost in the earthquake,” says True. The kids were involved in all parts of the inspiring mural — the design, development, and execution. The mural has become a focal point in the community. It has become a place for people to gather, as well as a place for artists to sell their crafts.

The ACFFC was founded in 1999 to provide children in need with a place to go. The foundation, as it’s called, provides food and clean water, medical care, education, and art programs for the children. The mosaic art program started after the earthquake–and after the numbers of the kids the foundation cared for nearly doubled. “It’s not about handouts,” ACFFC Media Coordinator, Rae Stevenson tells me. “It’s about investing in futures. These kids have everything they need within them to overcome their circumstances. What we do is give them the tools to develop these skills.”

“We focus on how to train kids to start thinking of how to flow this into a small business; how to order supplies, to price things, create a proposal, how to talk to a client, etc.,” explains True. “Over the past few years, I’ve passed the baton on to some of the kids. The older kids are super empowered to say what they think, what they want, state their vision, and just go for it.”

The results are phenomenal: Last November, the group was invited to Delray Beach, Florida to create a mural together with the Toussaint L’Ouverture High School, (the first time they’ve been commissioned to go to another country). The public art installation was created to memorialize the people of Florida, who have come to Haiti’s aid after numerous natural disasters. When LaFond — who’d been collaborating with True, Stevenson and Katherine Bullock, U.S. Director of Operations at ACFFC, to create a new support project — started telling her friends here in the States, the reaction was huge. So they came up with another plan — a way for people to sponsor a mosaic wall in Jacmel.

“These kids are so smart, so creative, so activated, and they’re changing the face of Haiti,” says LaFond “They’re the next generation of creative leaders.” By giving them the support they need, they will transition to the next step: taking these skills and creating the self-sufficiency that is at the heart of the program, and the heart of Haiti.

LaFond is currently working on a multi-media art project in collaboration with the students. In the coming months, True will be working on mosaic projects near Jacmel and helping students launch their Sponsor a Mosaic Wall project, while Bullock and Stevenson of the ACFFC Leadership Team will soon be packing their bags to join the students in Jacmel for six months to support a number of projects on the ground.

And those are just ACFFC’s plans for this winter. With so many creative pursuits at the foundation, there are many opportunities for meaningful giving this season. To get involved and support its mission, please visit acffc.org. In addition to the Sponsor a Mosaic Wall project, there are opportunities to support an individual young artist for a year, purchase artwork made by ACFFC students, and show your support with ACFFC gear.

Original article found on: Huffington Post

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Training Process

Interviewing applicants that work in radio, journalism, the theater, print, photography, communications and with social change organizations.

Interviewing applicants that work in radio, journalism, the theater, print, photography, communications and with social change organizations.

The Training Begins

Our work begins in Haiti – thanks in great part to your support and encouragement. Starting tomorrow, Monday November 3, Haitians will be trained to produce 10 short films telling Haiti’s story since the 2010 earthquake.

On Friday evening CSFilm and our Haitian partners, Groupe Medialternatif, finalized the selection of the 10 participants! That is, after 5 intense hours of reviewing and debating the 19 that were interviewed, after 2.5 days of interviews, after reviewing the materials of all 74 applicants’ and weeks of outreach across the country! Ralph Thomassaint Joseph, CSFilm’s Haiti program coordinator, Gotson, head of Groupe Medialternatif, and assistants have made great efforts to gather a diverse group – in terms of gender, regional, media and community engagement backgrounds. We were blurry eyed and gleaming from the stifling heat but feeling very good as we called each successful candidate.

This weekend we have finalized the setup of the training site, which is generously being provided by REFRAKA, Network of Haitian Woman Community Radio Broadcasters.

And now, after two years of dreaming, fundraising and planning, the team and trainees will gather in the morning to begin the work of Haitians producing a new series of broadcast-quality documentary films. Their films will add Haitian perspectives and experience to the local and international conversation about what has and has not happened since the 7.0 earthquake – one of the world’s worst disasters.

 

 

 

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Haiti, Development: Haitian Tourism Project Leads to Environmental Damage and Community Depression

Original article found on: Peace and Collaborative Development Network

Posted by: Deepa Panchang on Septemeber 15th, 2014
By Other Worlds and the Solidarity and Resistance Collective for the Population of Île-à-Vache

“Destination Île-à-Vache” is a government-driven tourist project planned for a small island off the northern coast of Haiti, Île-à-Vache. Plans include an international airport, golf courses,1,500 hotel bungalows, agri-tourism, and “tourist villages” which will include boutiques, restaurants and even a night club. Groundbreaking on the project occurred in August, 2013, without the inclusion or participation of the community.

Once the construction on the road began in late 2013, the community began to peacefully protest and formed a local group in December, 2013 called KOPI (Collective for Île-à-Vache). In response, the government has coerced, repressed, and intimidated the population. A leader of the resistance movement has been a political prisoner – imprisoned without charge or trial – since February 24. The details of some of these acts are included in the declaration below.

The declaration, signed by members of grassroots Haitian organizations, was circulated to local press at the end of August 2014.

Representatives from the Collective and KOPI (of Île-à-Vache) and family members of imprisoned Lamy speak to the press. Photo by: Jessica Hsu

Representatives from the Collective and KOPI (of Île-à-Vache) and family members of imprisoned Lamy speak to the press. Photo by: Jessica Hsu

[Declaration] denouncing the government conspiracy to intimidate and stifle the voice of the people of Île-à-Vache regarding the Tourism Development Plan

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

We, the signatory organizations of this [declaration], explicitly denounce the Martelly/Lamothe government’s maneuvers to repress the population of Île-à-Vache and grant investors free reign on the island.

We want to remind everyone that on May 10, 2013, the Martelly/Lamothe government issued a decree that Île-à-Vache was to be designated for tourism development and public utility, effectively pitting the population of Île-à-Vache against the government in a David-Goliath scenario. Since then, the islanders have watched politicians and businessmen land at Île-à-Vache with police escorts, to implement the first phases of the project in people’s own fields and yards all over the island.

On December 27, 2013, the population stood up and demanded a thorough explanation of the tourism development plan. The powers that be responded with lies of all sorts, repression, persecution, threats, and arrests of resistance leaders, among whom Jean Mathulnès Lamy has been sitting in prison since February, 2014. It does not take a genius to be suspicious of such “development” that takes place under repression, arbitrary arrests, intimidation, militarization, and threats. Since the government seems to envision displacing the whole island’s population under the May 10, 2013 decree, who will this development really serve?

Prime Minister Lamothe visited Île-à-Vache from June 27-30, 2014 under the pretext of supervising the advancement of various tourism projects. But the real objective of the visit was to continue the flow of lies, propaganda, and support for the machine of repression on Île-à-Vache. To prepare for this visit, the state promised households 10,000 gourdes (approximately US$220) each to help finance microbusiness [if they came to] Lamothe’s public meeting. People did receive something for coming out, but it was far from the 10,000 gourdes they were promised. When people arrived, they received bags of rice, cans of oil, and candy from the hands of Lamothe and his people. After the visit there appeared 20 motorcycles without plaques, cell phones which allowed for the state to maintain surveillance on the population, more police and military personnel, three new police cars, and three new judges. The government commissioner was replaced.

On top of that, police visited members of the Peasant Organizing Collective of Île-à-Vache (KOPI) at their homes, with arrest warrants in hand. Most importantly, the inhabitants of Île-à-Vache no longer feel safe because of a number of members of the Haitian National Police, specifically the UDMO [the Department Unit for the Maintenance of Order], who are circulating the island heavily armed, and intimidating the populace. This has continued despite the numerous human rights violations that organizations have already documented on the island.

Moreover, on August 14-15, 2014, while most people were celebrating [at the annual patron saint celebration] on Gelée Beach, the government created a phantom organization called MPDI [Farmers’ Movement for the Development of Île-à-Vache] whose head is a former director of KOPI that the government has since bought off. The government then promised the organization $1.5 million gourdes [about US$34,000] to fund its activities. Lots of talk, little action.

What is really happening on this island? It’s just one of the many programs happening all over that is touted with empty promises like Ti Manman Cherie [Dear Mother, a component of the national assistance program “Ede Pep”, or Aid the People, established by the Martelly-Lamothe Administration], streetlamps, new jobs, handouts of money, etc from the Minister Against Extreme Poverty, Roseanne Auguste. All this is being shoved down the throats of the people. The only positive thing that has happened has been the construction of a police station and housing for Dominican workers.

Île-à-Vache was once a region covered in beautiful vegetation. These projects are blindly destroying a huge number of natural resources that the island’s inhabitants depended on to live. The projects are laying waste to the environment. No serious study was conducted prior to the demolition and clear-cutting of the forests, and now officials are realizing that the spot they envisioned for the airport is not appropriate. They have since chosen a new location to tear up in the heart of the island, according to the testimony of many of the inhabitants. This is a clear violation of articles 253 and 254 of the Constitution of Haiti. [Article 253: Since the environment is the natural framework of the life of the people, any practices that might disturb the ecological balance are strictly forbidden. Article 254: The state shall organize the enhancement of natural sites to ensure their protection and make them accessible to all.] This situation will continue to create tensions on the island.

In light of all these facts, the Collective for Solidarity with the Île-à-Vache Peasants’ Struggle supports all forms of grassroots mobilization and community organization and reminds the population to stay vigilant. We, the signatory organizations of this [declaration], demand that the government cease all forms of propaganda, intimidation, repression, and violation of human rights on Île-à-Vache.

At the same time, the Collective reminds the government of the demands of the people:

– Retract the [May 10, 2013] decree that is being used as a justification to confiscate peasant lands on Île-à-Vache;

– Unconditionally release Jean Mathulnès Lamy, a native of the island unjustly held by the state for the past seven months for his involvement in peaceful protests (a right he retains) concerning the tourism development plan. [A well-respected leader and president of KOPI, Lamy was arrested and has been detained at the National Penitentiary without seeing a judge. The initial reason given for his arrest was his role in organizing a protest on the island on February 7, 2014.]

– Recall all UDMO and other police forces that have been recently stationed on the island.

On behalf of the Collective:[Solidarity and Resistance Collective for the Population of Île-à-Vache]

Nixon Boumba, Popular Democratic Movement (Mouvman Demokratik Popilè – MODEP):

Jackson Doliscar, Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (Fòs Refleksyon ak Aksyon sou Koze Kay – FRAKKA):

Jules Esaie Gelin, Neighborhood Association of Solino (Asosiyasyon Vwazen Solino – AVS)

Samia Salomon, Group for the Development of the South (Gwoup Api pou Develop Sid – GADES)

Celine Lajoie, Progressive Youth of Les Cayes (Jèn Pwogresis Okay – JPO)

Olrich Jean Pierre, Popular Collective to Revitalize Haiti (Konbit Popilè Pou Remanbre Ayiti -KOPRA)

Translated by Nathan A. Wendte

 

Original article found on: Peace and Collaborative Development Network

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Haiti: Wikileaks Reveals Obama Administration’s Role in Stifling Haitian Minimum Wage

alternet.org, by Rod Bastanmehr, January 16, 2014

American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss prefer to pay Haitians slave wages to sew their clothes.

Strike another one for Wikileaks. The ever-controversial leaker of the world’s best-kept secrets has published a wire on The Nation that reveals the Obama Administration fought to keep the Haitian minimum wage to 31 cents an hour.

According to the published wire (which came to light thanks in large part to the Haiti Liberte, a newspaper based in Port-au-Prince and New York City), Haiti passed a law in 2012 raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. America corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss vociferously objected, claiming such an increase would irreparably harm their business and profitability. According to the leaked U.S. Embassy cable, keeping these garment workers at “slave wages,” was better for the two companies The corporations in question allegedly stated that they would only fork over a seven-cent-an-hour increase, eventually going so far as to involve the U.S. State Department.

Soon, the U.S. Ambassador put pressure on Michel Martelly, the president of Haiti, to find a middle ground, resulting in a $3-a-day minimum wage for all textile companies. To put it in perspective, the United States’s minimum wage—already considered extremely low—works out to roughly to $58 a day.

Haiti has about 25,000 garment workers, who are somehow getting by on these abysmal wages. According to Business Insider, if each garment worker was paid just $2 more a day, it would cost their given corporate employers $50,000 per working day, or $12.5 million a year. Hanes, the garment company best known for their t-shirts, had roughly 3,200 Haitians working in their factory. An increase of $2 a day would cost the company a mere $1.6 million a year—for a company that had $4.3 billion in sales last year alone.

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Development, Haiti: For Disenfranchised Haitian Islanders, Tourism Signals a Paradise Lost

Homes like these in the village of Madam Bernard, Ile à Vache, Haiti, might be removed to make way for tourist development or islanders removed from other areas might be relocated here. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

Homes like these in the village of Madam Bernard, Ile à Vache, Haiti, might be removed to make way for tourist development or islanders removed from other areas might be relocated here. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

ILE À VACHE, Haiti, Aug 8 2014 (IPS) – Calm waters lap the shore beneath stately coconut palms. Mango trees display their bounty alongside mangrove forests. Goats graze peacefully on hillsides.

Ile à Vache is “the Caribbean’s last treasure island,” says Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism. Just 10.5 km off Haiti’s southwest coast, the 13 by 3.2 km haven is, the ministry continues, “unpaved, unplugged, unspoiled and unlike anywhere else,” and “singular for its complete absence of roads and cars.”

“After three successive demonstrations, they sent police to terrorise the people of Ile à Vache.” — Alexis Kenold

 

These words were written, however, before mangroves were cleared for an international airport, coconut palms were bulldozed for a road, a bay was dredged for yachts and some 40 police officers came with weapons and three all-terrain vehicles to quell protests.

Islanders, estimated at between 14,000 and 20,000, are angry at their exclusion from the government decision-making process that has opened the island for investment in an international airport, hotels, villas, a golf course, and an underwater museum — investments that place residents’ futures in limbo.

“The project came to the island by surprise,” Alexis Kenold, a 40-year-old father of five, told IPS. “The government hadn’t talked to us about it. They want to kick us out in favour of those who would profit from tourist development.”

On May 10, 2013, President Michel Martelly decreed that the island was a “public utility,” zoned for tourism.

“The decree says that no inhabitant of the island owns his land and that the state can do whatever it wants with it,” said Kenold, a member of Konbit Peyizan Ilavach, Farmers Organization of Ile à Vache, formed to oppose the project.

Minister of Tourism Stephanie Villedrouin Balmir, who declined an interview for this story, has said that no more than five percent of the islanders will be displaced, that they will be relocated, not removed from the island, and that they will be compensated for their losses.

But involuntary relocation is unacceptable to the islanders, who have held several large demonstrations since December demanding retraction of the decree.

The government reacted to the protests by beefing up police forces and throwing KOPI Vice President Jean Matulnes Lamy into the National Penitentiary, Kenold said. Officials say Lamy is detained on charges unrelated to the protests, but activists say his imprisonment is political.

“After three successive demonstrations, they sent police to terrorise the people of Ile à Vache,”
Kenold said, charging that when he was away from home police ransacked his house and took money he’d saved for his children’s school fees.

He said they’ve harassed and beat others, and now islanders live in fear of the police. Before the demonstrations, there were just three or four police on the peaceful island, he said.

A spate of planned investment projects on Ile à Vache, Haiti has placed residents’ future in limbo. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

Islanders say they don’t oppose tourism – they might benefit by getting electricity, potable water and government services. But they don’t want to be moved from their five-room homes with spacious yards for trees, gardens and animals, to crowd into two rooms up against neighbours.

And they worry about the island’s fragile ecology.

“The forest is the lungs of the island,” Kenold said. “It’s like they want to sacrifice the heart and the lungs of the island to put in an international airport.”

There’s concern as well for the waters surrounding the island. They “began dredging a pristine bay known as Madam Bernard without an assessment of the environmental impact on marine ecosystems,” Jessica Hsu of the NGO Other Worlds and radio host Jean Claudy Aristil said in a joint presentation at a July Innovators in Coastal Tourism symposium in Grenada.

The project has already impacted some islanders economically. School director Dracen Jean Louienel told IPS that people had used the mangroves that were cut down for the airport to produce charcoal.

“That was how people made their living,” he said, “This destroyed their livelihood.” And building the road removed coconut trees on which other families depended, he said.

Louienel said, moreover, promises of work have not been fulfilled. “People signed up to work on the road, but few were hired,” Louienel said.

Some islanders, however, have profited from the project and support it. Standing in the clearing where the airport is to be built, Gilbert Joseph called the project “a wonderful thing.” Joseph works as a security guard there at night and sells beverages to the construction workers during the day.

Clausel Ilmo, whose son is working as a translator for the Dominican road-building company, also likes the project. He pointed out that where it once took hours to walk to distant parts of the island, one now can go quickly on the road by motorbike.

Father Guy Carter Guerrier, a Catholic priest, did not join the militant protests. Still, he has concerns. “To me, developing the island could be a beautiful project,” he said. “The problem is, the government didn’t include the people here. They even passed over the church. They left everybody out.”

Up the hill from Guerrier’s church, Sr. Flora Blanchette, a French-Canadian Franciscan nun who’s run an orphanage on the island since 1981, shared her hopes and concerns.

New roads can help people access health care, schools and food, she said, but the fruit trees that nourish the children should be protected.

“What I’m hoping is that they bring the essentials for people living on the island,” she said, “that they truly bring development for all the social classes to benefit.”

In Costa Rica, the whole population has benefited from tourism, Elizabeth Becker, author of “Overbooked: the Global Business of Travel and Tourism” told IPS by phone. There, locals have input into development, she said.

Implemented correctly, Haiti could greatly benefit from the booming tourism market, she added.

However, “bottom-up tourism is the best way to do ecotourism,” Becker said. “People should not be losing their property rights in order to have tourism. People should instead have … a voice in what kind of tourism they want.”

Cambodia’s tourist development provides a cautionary tale, she said. The government took away people’s property rights and parks protections and did not consult locals before installing hotels and airports.

In Cambodia, “all that great money that supposedly comes from tourism doesn’t land in local hands,” she said. “It either lands with the elite or with foreigners.”

Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism emphasises environmentalism. The Ile à Vache “project objective is to develop sustainable tourism based on the practices of ecotourism,” an online ministry slideshow says. But islanders say the government hasn’t demonstrated care for the environment.

Documents also say the government will undertake a “social improvements programme.” It has recently dug new wells, built a community centre, installed outdoor solar lights, and distributed rice and fishing equipment.

But Kenold says it was only “after the population rose up, that they came with a few grains of rice to appease the anger of the people.”

“I’m not against tourist development, but it’s the way they’re going about it,” Kenold said, adding that people are open to dialogue with government officials, but only after the decree is retracted, Lamy is released from prison and police are removed from the island.

“After lifting the decree that would disposes the inhabitants,” he said, “they can come with their projects and we will come with ours.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at judithscherr@gmail.com

Related IPS Articles

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Haiti, Development: Reconstruction or Haiti’s Latest Disaster? Tourism Development on Île-à-Vache Island

The following is adapted from a presentation by Jessica Hsu of Other Worlds and Jean Claudy Aristil of Radio VKM Les Cayes at the Executive Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism conference in St. Georges, Grenada held from July 8 – July 11, 2014.

A large-scale tourism project planned for the Haitian island of Île-à-Vache targets “the well-heeled tourist from traditional markets…creating a place of exquisite peace and well-being,” as described in the government of Haiti’sexecutive plan. The project aims to attract four character types: “the Explorers, the Lovers, the Rejuvenators and the Homecomers.” The corporations behind the project intend to build 1,500 hotels and bungalows along the island’s beaches, an international airport, a golf course, island farms, and tourist “villages” with cafes, shops, and night clubs.

The government touts the project as “community hand-in-hand”, with “equitable distribution of benefits for all.” It says the tourism will be “mothering [to] nature” and is for the “general good.”

The community sees it very differently. A grassroots group, Collective for Île-à-Vache (KOPI), was formed in December 2013 and immediately began organizing multiple peaceful protests, strengthening the voices of the local community, and connecting with allies.

Community members have been mobilizing because they understand the multiple challenges ahead if the project continues as planned. Problems will likely include displacement of people from their land, forced migration to the overcrowded capital in search of work, loss of food production in a hungry nation, further economic impoverishment, and environmental and cultural degradation.

The administration has been making empty promises and telling lies to the inhabitants of the island, while systematically violating their rights and using violence to repress and intimidate those who have been peacefully protesting.

Special police forces, such as the Motorized Intervention Brigade (BIM) and the Intervention and Order Maintenance Corps (CIMO), have a permanent presence on the island now. Preceding the inception of the tourism project, there were only three police officers. In the last two weeks, a SWAT team has been introduced to the island. [The team was described in one account as more than 50 special police forces dressed in black with masks.]

Vice-president of KOPI, Police officer Jean Mathelnus Lamy, was arrested on February 21st.  He was moved to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince on Februray 25, where he remains without official charges.

The “peace and well-being” envisioned for the tourists have not extended to the local population. On the contrary, there is a sense of fear around what is impending. It began when the government issued an official decree on May 10, 2013 making all of the offshore islands zones of tourism development and public utility. The proposed plans for the project were created by three Canadian companies: Resonance, 360 VOX, and IBI/DAA. They have little understanding or attachment to community needs.

Since then, the situation has gotten much worse. In August 2013, groundbreaking for the international airport flattened an old-growth forest, which was considered community land. Truxton began dredging a pristine bay known as Madam Bernard without an assessment of the environmental impact on marine ecosystems. Abaka Bay, which is one of the two luxury hotels on the island, illuminated the issue of waste management when a recent human rights delegation spotted the resort’s current method of waste disposal behind the resort. The expansion of Abaka Bay is part of phase I of the project.

Construction on a new road began in late 2013, without any notice, damaging a number of homes and taking out up to 18 coconut trees, which were a critical part of one household’s livelihood. No compensation was offered for the losses, though that is required by the Haitian Constitution. The company working on the road and airport is the Dominican Company Ingeneria Estrella. [The delegation] spoke to one elderly woman whose home is near the airport and has been marked for demolition, as she understands, by the Office of Land Registry (DGI). She stated about the Estrella workers, “They come in and out of my yard without notice and they enter without even a greeting.”

The collective KOPI has been organizing with other grassroots and human right organizations from Port-au-Prince. The group’s demands are (1) transparency and communication about the project, (2) retraction of the May 10, 2013 decree stating that the island is for tourism development and public utility, and (3) release of KOPI’s vice-president, Jean Mathelnus Lamy, who remains in the National Penitentiary, and (4) removal of the special police forces from the island. KOPI consists of 11 steering members and seven additional members in each of the 26 localities on the island.

Largely, the island community is not opposed to tourism. They are in favor of development which is respectful of their needs, which does not exploit nor threaten to take away their land; a project in which their participation is central and integral. However, they strongly oppose the current iteration of the project which is systematically violating their rights.

Last week, Prime Minister Lamothe visited the island again with a government delegation consisting of the Minister of Justice and a delegate from the Ministry of the Promotion of the Peasantry. Multiple communications were issued during this visit from the Ministry of Communication and Martelly-friendly outlets, including Haiti Libre, show what appears to be the prime minister talking to a supportive population about social programs and distributing food.

The untold story in these communications by Prime Minister Lamothe and Minister of Tourism Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin is that the population was told each household would receive 10,000 gourdes, or about US$220, during the visit to help boost microenterprise. When the delegation arrived, no money was distributed, but rather sacks of rice and crackers. Close inspection of the picture of Lamothe speaking, which was circulated by Haiti Libre and the Minister of Communications, shows the audience actually standing in a line for this hand out.

While the population protested the visit with burning tires and blockades, there were few people taking to the streets because of SWAT presence which accompanied the delegation. Warrants were issued for the arrest of KOPI leaders. Many of them have left their homes and gone into hiding unable to continue with their daily livelihood activities.

Villedrouin continues to say publicly the tourism development project is for the community, while the lies, intimidation, and repression continue. The population’s claims were verified in a report issued on April 2, 2014 [by eight Haitian human rights groups which visited the area] to investigate the tensions.

Similar recent foreign investment schemes in Haiti, like new free trade zones, have not brought the much- touted government line of better incomes. Residents of Île-à-Vache are concerned that they will have no power to enforce even the daily minimum wage of $5.11, as has happened with new sweatshops. Further, Haiti’s tourism industry – when it was flourishing in the 80’s – created a collision of wealth and extreme poverty which promoted other informal economies, such as the sex industry which was illuminated in the film Heading South.

Under the platform “Haiti is Open for Business”, the Martelly/Lamothe Administration continues to entice foreign investments with images of stability and security, building of infrastructure financed by PetroCaribe, and incentive policies such as a 15-year exemption from local taxes and duties exonerations on the import of equipment, goods and materials.

Tourism is one of the development pillars of the government in reconstruction/rebuilding following the 2010 earthquake. Tourism is supported by the Bill Clinton, UN Special Envoy to Haiti, who speaks of “Building Back Better.” The other economic pillars include mining, free-trade zones, and monocropping for export, all of which are direct affronts to the livelihoods of the rural peasantry and to food and land sovereignty.

The situation on Île-à-Vache is indicative of all the woes of Caribbean tourism and the model for what is to occur across Haiti. The government continues on its path to implement development to shape what it is calling “an emerging country by 2030.” In reality, these modes of development are further displacing and increasing urban migration; detaching and alienating the peasantry from the land with few alternatives.

Villedrouin does not speak about displacements, but rather “relocation,” when addressing residents of the island, while reporting to Reuters that only five percent of the population will be displaced. Lamothe promises there will be no displacements.

Simultaneously, there are still displacement camps in Port-au-Prince more than four years after the quake. There is no relocation plan for the residents of these camps, and in some areas of Port-au-Prince there is still rubble remaining. If this is the precedent for what happens to those who are displaced in Haiti, then the inhabitants of Île-à-Vache should be concerned about their futures.

Will many farmers and fishers from the island end up in the shantytowns of Haiti, as have hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers before them? Those who were living in hillside shantytowns had the highest mortality rate from the earthquake. Île-à-Vache’s population continues to be unsettled, uncertain of its future.

And so the Île-à-Vache community sings in protest:

Caller:

Nou gen kasav (We have cassava)

Nou gen kafe (We have coffee).

Group Response:

Nou pa bezwen pwoje sa (We do not need this project).

 

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Development, Haiti: Bill, Hillary and the Haiti Debacle

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2014

The news website Tout Haiti reported last month that two prominent lawyers have petitioned Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, demanding an audit of Bill Clinton’s management of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). There are powerful interests that won’t want to see the petition succeed and it may go nowhere. But the sentiment it expresses is spreading fast. {snip}

Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC, are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.

Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: “I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.”

{snip}

The Clinton crowd has a lot of experience in Haiti. After President Clinton used the U.S. military to return Jean Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994, assorted Friends of Bill went into business to milk Haiti’s state-owned telephone monopoly. Telecom revenues were one of the few sources of hard currency for the country so the scheme hurt Haitians. (See Americas columns Oct. 27, 2008, and March 12, 2012.)

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck sheds light on Mr. Clinton’s most recent Haiti adventures in the 2013 documentary “Fatal Assistance.” Mr. Peck uses footage from an IHRC meeting in December 2010, when 12 Haitian commissioners confronted co-chairmen Mr. Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, complaining that the commissioners had been marginalized.

The full letter they read from that day includes the charge that “the staffing and consultant selection” excluded Haitian board members. “No documentation on hiring criteria or candidate selection was sent to inform board members. The same is true for selected consultants; the Haitian board members don’t even know the names of the consultants who work for the IHRC nor their respective tasks.”

Obviously the Haitians didn’t understand. That was the job of the Clinton machine, which controlled the bankroll and could award the lucrative contracts.

{snip}

The “Fatal Assistance” film features shoddy housing projects plopped down where there is poor infrastructure and few job prospects. The GAO report cites other housing snafus. USAID underestimated funding requirements. Its budget went up by 65%, and the number of houses to be built came down by 80%. “Inappropriate cost comparisons were used”; and Haitians, it turns out, prefer flush toilets.

Foreign aid is notoriously wasteful and often counterproductive. Even when the money is not going directly to Swiss bank accounts it is rarely allocated to its highest use because the process is fundamentally political. Contractors with all the wrong training and incentives but the right connections have the best chance of winning jobs. No surprise, the GAO says that USAID’s Haiti reports have been incomplete and not timely.

{snip}

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Media, Haiti, Development: Sean Penn Accuses the Media of Ignoring Haiti’s Progress. But He’s Ignoring a Few Uncomfortable Facts, Too.

New Republic, June 19, 2014, By Jonathan M. Katz

These days, when U.S. media outlets are looking for an update on the state of things in Haiti, one of the top experts they turn to is Sean Penn. That isn’t meant as a joke. The star of Mystic River and Milk has long since established himself as a serious player in the Caribbean republic, founder of an influential nongovernmental organization, credentialed as an ambassador, and a reputedly close friend of the nation’s president and prime minister. After four years working on, and in, the country at the highest levels of international power, Penn has as much or more claim to the slippery mantle of expertise as plenty of other foreigners who took more traditional paths.

Still, the relationship remains a bit awkward between the media and policy worlds on the one hand and the square-jawed actor on the other. Case in point: Penn’s op-ed on Haiti’s “tremendous progress” in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

The outlines of his argument seem straightforward at first blush. Penn primarily wants to highlight the work his aid group and allies in the Haitian government have done since the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010, which left an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people dead and the country’s political and economic center in ruins. “The people of Haiti have come a long way,” he writes, which is fine as far as it goes, if perhaps conflating his organization and political allies with the national body politic.

But as you keep reading, the basis of Penn’s argument becomes decidedly less clear. Penn seems to see the enemy of this clear progress as his old bête noire, the media: “Headlines continue to spin Haiti as a dark, poverty-entrenched no-man’s-land. … Such cynicism sells papers and entices people to click, but at the cost of Haitian lives.” This kind of coverage is destructive, he argues, because it scares away the one group of people whom Penn seems to believe are the last great hope for the salvation of the Haitian people: foreign investors.

The mechanics of this are a bit hard to fathom. Does Penn suppose that investors, whose primary missions are to make money and beat the competition, depend solely on mass-media accounts of political and social problems? Is he alleging that the problems described in those unnamed reports are untrue; or just that, had journalists a bit more loyalty and tact, foreign businessmen simply wouldn’t know about them?

And what media are he talking about? Though Penn doesn’t name her, his op-ed must in some part be a response to WSJ editorialist Mary Anastasia O’Grady, who last month penned another entry in her ongoing narrative of Haiti and the world, which boils down to the personal malfeasance of Bill and Hillary Clinton. (This has been O’Grady’s take on all things Haiti for more than a decade.) O’Grady’s recent characterization of a post-quake recovery “debacle” is likely to have rubbed Penn the wrong way, or at least prompted someone to ask for his rebuttal. But it seems strange that Penn would complain about the airing of Haiti’s troubles in papers like the Wall Street Journal, since he goes on to spend the next six paragraphs airing Haiti’s troubles in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, the problems Penn expounds on—a continuing post-quake housing crisis and an ongoing cholera epidemic—are real, but the way he chooses to describe them do them, if anything, a disservice. Penn focuses his housing critique on the persistence of a few remaining post-quake encampments, settlements that, in a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the people who built them, have since early on tended to be indistinguishable from other shantytown neighborhoods across Haiti, except for the fact that someone—usually the state or a powerful landowner—wanted them gone. The problem, which Penn hints at but never specifies, is that the vast majority of Haitians who have returned to pre-quake housing are living in houses as vulnerable as the ones that collapsed on January 12, 2010.

He also neglects to mention that the preponderance of evidence shows that the cholera epidemic was started by the negligent sanitation of United Nations peacekeeping soldiers, who dumped their waste in Haiti’s primary river system. Or that the U.N. and member nations including the United States steadfastly continue to refuse to pay for a cleanup, presumably because they don’t want to and nobody can make them, not because a columnist somewhere told them to beg off.

And this is where the contradictions really hit home. Penn is not, as the Journal identifies him, simply “an actor, director and the founder of J/P Haitian Relief Organization.” If he were just an outside observer, he’d likely have mentioned that one of the biggest crises in the country—and one of the ones most likely continuing to scare off investment, for what that’s worth—has been the failure of his friend, President Michel Martelly, to hold municipal and legislative elections since taking office in 2011.

Nor is he strictly a journalist. (A fact-checker would have noticed that, contrary to his claim, the cholera epidemic that erupted in Haiti in October 2010 has already spread to Mexico; and an editor would have prompted him to note that Haiti is flailing along with the rest of the hemisphere in the face of another epidemic, of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, and that his boasting of Doctors Without Borders’ ongoing work in Haiti is especially misguided given that the organization only works in emergency areas with little infrastructure, a particularly concerning fact for Haiti since they have been there since 1991.) But at the same time, no one hosting all-star fundraisers featuring the U.S. ambassador to Haiti and Anderson Cooper, or publishing critical op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, can fairly claim to be outside the media himself.

None of that is disqualifying. Who is without contradictions, after all? It just reaffirms the question anyone should ask when encountering such an opinion piece: Who is writing this? What do they want? Who, right now, is Sean Penn?

Jonathan M. Katz is a freelance journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

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