By Kevin Edmonds
Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and doctoral student in Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is one of the authors of the recently released report by a Harvard University based research group, on MINUSTAH in Haiti.
Editor’s note: Saturday marked the third anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. A letter to the British Guardian newspaper, and signed by members of the Global Women Strike, the, Women of Colour Global Women Strike, US, the Haiti Action Committee (US) and Red Thread (Guyana), points out that “the robbery of Haiti by governments, NGOs and private contractors, under the protection of UN troops which have been occupying since 2004, is more glaring than ever.” The letter also underlines the double standard in the treatment of former presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide (deposed by a US, French and Canadian backed coup in 2004) and Jean Claude Duvalier (the dictator who was removed by popular forces in 1986), noting that “President Aristide is to appear in court on Wednesday on charges of exploiting street children. Thousands protested these outrageous charges last week, forcing a week’s postponement of the hearing, and will protest again tomorrow. The LafanmiSelavi centre for street children was founded in 1986 under parish priest Aristide, and young people have been his staunchest supporters. The centre was burned down twice and each time the Aristide administration rebuilt it. Rumour has it that the Canadian and French embassies are behind the charges and that those making them have been promised material benefits. Chief prosecutor Delile was one of the leaders of the 2004 coup. In the meantime, former dictator Duvalier whose death squads, the TontonMacoutes, imposed decades of terror, has had all charges for crimes against humanity (rape, torture, assassinations, disappearances) dropped, and has been given a diplomatic passport by the [current] Martelly government. Martelly, himself a supporter of the TontonMacoutes and FRAPH (a CIA-funded paramilitary group), was put in power by the US through rigged elections (Aristide’s party was not even allowed to stand); this has so far guaranteed him and Duvalier immunity.” Signatories note that they would mark the anniversary demonstrating outside of the Red Cross. This week’s column helps us to understand the significance of such a decision. In the aftermath of January 12, 2009, what has been truly obscene is those who have profited from the earthquake, the amount of resources spent in the name of Haitians that Haitians have yet to see, and those governments and international institutions that continue to perpetuate this intolerable situation.
In the three years that have passed since Haiti was devastated by the earthquake, it has stood as a testament to the deep seated paternalism and naked hypocrisy of international development aid. For those that do not believe in the existence of disaster capitalism or of the neocolonial intentions of foreign development agencies, Haiti must be presented as exhibit A.
The failures of the international reconstruction effort have become well known to most. Three years later 300,000 people still remain without shelter, nearly 8,000 people have died from the cholera epidemic imported by the United Nations troops, food insecurity remains high and there has been a prioritization of sweatshops and five star hotels over much needed infrastructure and housing.
During the three years of increased foreign intervention, the debate surrounding Haiti has followed a path of initial optimism spouted by its international saviours to a muted pragmatism, and most recently has descended to placing absolute blame on the Haitian people and their government for the failure of reconstruction. They argue that the reason why the failure has occurred is due to Haiti’s endemic corruption.
According to the Oxford dictionary, the generally accepted definition of corruption is “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”. With this guideline, it would be naïve for us to state that corruption is non-existent in Haiti – or any other country for that matter. The problem in this instance has to do with the matters of power and access to resources, especially given the small scale of Haitian corruption in comparison to that of the international donor countries, multinational corporations and NGOs. The blame and accusations of corruption only flow one way.
One of the most notable examples of this has been Canada’s recent call to cut development aid to Haiti. Since 2006, Canada has been one of the most influential donors in Haiti, contributing Cdn$1 billion in the form of development aid. On January 8, 2013, Canada’s International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino announced that Ottawa was concerned about the slow pace of development, and as a result would not fund any new programmes in Haiti until it found a new and better way to help itself, remarking that “Canada’s assistance will not be a blank cheque”.
Fantino went on to state that Canada “should not take gratification in the simple transaction of international aid” and that “Our government’s international development goal is to help countries, their governments, and their people help themselves… we expect transparency and we expect tangible results for those most in need.”
The claim by the Canadian government that Haiti is responsible for the current situation is without merit or much thought. Canada’s government to government assistance is extremely low and consisted primarily of the training of Haitian security forces and building prisons. It must also be noted that CIDA is no impartial actor in Haiti, as it played a major role in severely weakening Haiti’s government institutions by drastically reducing aid to the Aristide government, funding disinformation campaigns and channeling resources to anti-Aristide groups which eventually carried out the 2004 coup.
Aside from the less admirable legacy of the agency, the list of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded projects in Haiti is quite long. A deeper look at CIDA’s multi-million partner organizations going back to 2007 reveals that NGOs such as Oxfam Canada, CARE Canada, World Vision, Save the Children Canada and larger multinational organizations such as the World Food Program and the United Nations Development Program have received virtually all of the contracts, not the Haitian government as Fantino implies. As such they do not have control over any of the Canadian funding sent to Haiti, and one would think should not be on the hook for the failure of projects or the disappearance of the money. Yet this is not the case.
A March 2012 report from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research established that a similar pattern of channeling reconstruction funds to Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and non-Haitian contractors has been followed by the United States. The report revealed that out of the nearly US$400 million spent by USAID in Haiti at the time of publication, only 0.02% of the procurement contracts went to Haitian firms. On the opposite side of the procurement spectrum, U.S. firms concentrated in the Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland area were rewarded with an astounding 77.46% of the contracts.
The report went on to note how reconstruction contracts were drafted with loopholes such as an “indirect cost rate” which allows for the repatriation of funds. Such loopholes “allow a portion of all funds allocated to go towards costs not related to the actual program, in other words, back to their headquarters inside the Beltway. Both Chemonics [a construction contractor] and USAID declined to provide HRRW [Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch] with the Indirect Cost Rate stipulated in their contract.”
The Canadian accusations towards Haiti bring to mind the statements made by former Organisation of American States (OAS) Special Representative to Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, who bluntly remarked that “The charges of corruption are part of an ideological discussion. There is no corruption, there is the perception of corruption. Haiti has no way of being corrupt because the state has no resources. What can be questioned is how the resources that the NGOs collect, without accounting for them to anyone, are being administered. That is indeed the big question. I make an exception of the work that was done in the emergency, but there cannot be a permanent policy of substituting the NGOs for the state. Haiti is Haiti, it is not Haiti-NGO. No country would accept what the Haitians are forced to accept.” These candid comments were made to the BBC in Brazil; shortly after the interview was printed Seitenfus was dismissed from his position.
When looking at Haiti it is important not to break time periods into historical blocs such as before the earthquake and after. The historical events that preceded the earthquake played a direct role in magnifying the devastation which occurred on January 12, 2010. Even before the earthquake, 80 percent of Haiti’s basic services were provided by the more than 10,000 NGOs. This was due directly to the actions of organizations like CIDA and USAID undermining the Haitian state in order to benefit Canadian and American interests.
By all accounts NGOs are less transparent and accountable than the Haitian state – the only difference is that the money flows back to the donor countries. While there are exceptions in the case of Partners in Health and the few organizations which work in partnership with the Haitian government – by and large the Haitian government is regarded and portrayed as an insatiable parasite which cannot be trusted. However there is evidence to suggest that the same can be said about NGOS. In 2010, the Disaster Accountability Projectwas formed, and they found that of the 197 largest NGOs in Haiti, only 6 provided regular, factual situation reports on their websites. Out of the 197, only 21 offered to even take part in the survey.
The only way to ensure progress going forward is that those involved in Haiti work with the government as an equal partner and support the democratic process which would allow the Haitian state to rebuild itself. It is important that this is not a hollow democracy as defined by the United States, Canada, France or the United Nations – but one which is defined by the choice of the Haitian people without outside interference (something that did not occur with the election of President Michel Martelly). Hopefully the three year anniversary of the earthquake will be a turning point and bring about a shift in the conversation to focus not on a failed reconstruction in Haiti, but who has failed Haiti and why.