Haiti, one year later Are we help­ing or hurt­ing?

For­eign aid keeps the coun­try from shap­ing its own fu­ture

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - BY ALEX DUPUY Alex Dupuy, a na­tive of Haiti, is a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at Wes­leyan Uni­ver­sity and the author most re­cently of “The Prophet and Power: Jean-Ber­trand Aris­tide, the In­ter­na­tional Com­mu­nity, and Haiti.” adupuy@wes­leyan.edu

The in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to the earth­quake that struck Haiti nearly a year ago was im­me­di­ate and mas­sive. The dev­as­ta­tion was mas­sive as well: The quake killed more than 200,000 peo­ple, in­jured more than 300,000, de­stroyed more than 250,000 homes and dis­placed more than 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple, 1 mil­lion of whom are still liv­ing in makeshift shel­ters in hun­dreds of camps.

The cost of the dam­age has been es­ti­mated at up to $14 bil­lion. Thirty-nine gov­ern­ments and peo­ple from around the world have sent money and emer­gency aid of one sort or an­other, in­clud­ing doc­tors, food, medicine, wa­ter, tem­po­rary shel­ters and heavy equip­ment to re­move rub­ble. The Haitian pop­u­la­tion wel­comed the hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse and the ges­tures of in­ter­na­tional sol­i­dar­ity.

To­day, by con­trast, Haitians are in­creas­ingly im­pa­tient with the United Na­tions, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and their own govern­ment be­cause of the lack of progress in re­build­ing their coun­try. This dis­con­tent was ex­ac­er­bated by the cholera out­break in Oc­to­ber, which has caused more than 3,000 deaths so far and is be­lieved to have been in­tro­duced by a con­tin­gent of Nepalese U.N. sol­diers.

To un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion, which can oc­ca­sion­ally turn into vi­o­lence, it is nec­es­sary to make some key dis­tinc­tions. The laud­able im­me­di­ate hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse to post-earth­quakeHaiti is one thing. The ob­jec­tives of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity — the United States, Canada, and France; the United Na­tions; and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions such as the­World Bank and the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund — are quite an­other, and they’re sig­nif­i­cantly more prob­lem­atic. Their ob­jec­tives and their poli­cies first and fore­most aim to ben­e­fit their own in­vestors, farm­ers, man­u­fac­tur­ers and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs).

There is a dra­matic power im­bal­ance be­tween the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity — un­der U.S. lead­er­ship — and Haiti. The for­mer mo­nop­o­lizes eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal power and calls all the shots. TheHaitian state and the tiny but wealthy elite that rules the coun­try also bear great re­spon­si­bil­ity for the abysmal con­di­tions of the coun­try be­fore the earth­quake, but they did not cre­ate those con­di­tions alone. They did so in close part­ner­ship with for­eign gov­ern­ments and in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions long in­volved in Haitian af­fairs, the same ones that are now in charge of post-earth­quake re­con­struc­tion. It is not sur­pris­ing, then, that this un­equal re­la­tion­ship is re­flected in the In­terim Haiti Re­cov­ery Com­mis­sion (IHRC), with mem­bers drawn equally from the for­eign com­mu­nity and Haiti, and co-chaired by Bill Clin­ton and Haitian PrimeMin­is­ter Jean-Max Bel­lerive.

The IHRC, orig­i­nally con­ceived by the State Depart­ment, has ef­fec­tively dis­placed the Haitian govern­ment and is in charge of set­ting pri­or­i­ties for re­con­struc­tion. When mem­bers of the Haitian Se­nate pointed out to Bel­lerive that Haiti had sur­ren­dered its sovereignty to the IHRC, he con­ceded the point but hoped that the govern­ment could be­come “au­ton­o­mous in its de­ci­sions” at some point. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Bel­lerive crit­i­cized the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity for not al­low­ing his coun­try to play a big­ger role in its own re­con­struc­tion.

So far, the IHRC has not done much. Less than 10 per­cent of the $9 bil­lion pledged by for­eign donors has been de­liv­ered, and not all of that money has been spent. Other than re­build­ing the in­ter­na­tional air­port and clear­ing the prin­ci­pal ur­ban ar­ter­ies of rub­ble, no ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture re­build­ing — roads, ports, hous­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tions — has be­gun. Ac­cord­ing to news re­ports, of the more than 1,500 U.S. con­tracts doled out worth $267 mil­lion, only 20, worth $4.3 mil­lion, have gone to Haitian firms. The rest have gone to U.S. firms, which al­most ex­clu­sively use U.S. sup­pli­ers. Al­though these for­eign contractors em­ploy Haitians, mostly on a cash-for-work ba­sis, the bulk of the money and prof­its are rein­vested in the United States.

That same logic ap­plies to the 1,000 or so for­eign NGOs that are op­er­at­ing in Haiti. These groups, which work in­de­pen­dently of the Haitian govern­ment, re­in­force the coun­try’s de­pen­dence on for­eign aid and fur­ther sap the ca­pac­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity of the govern­ment to meet the ba­sic needs of its cit­i­zens.

The stage for this in­creased de­pen­dence on for­eign aid, in­vest­ment and NGOs was set in the 1970s, when the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in par­tic­u­lar the United States and the World Bank, de­vised devel­op­ment strate­gies that turned Haiti into the sup­plier of the re­gion’s cheap­est la­bor for the gar­ment in­dus­try. Haiti also went from pro­duc­ing 80 per­cent of its food in the 1980s to be­ing one of the largest im­porters of U.S. food in the hemi­sphere to­day. This shift took place through “struc­tural ad­just­ment” poli­cies that kept wages low and re­moved tar­iffs and some re­stric­tions on im­ports. This was highly profitable for the for­eign in­vestors and their Haitian contractors, but the gar­ment in­dus­try did lit­tle to re­duce un­em­ploy­ment or lift its work­ers out of poverty.

One pri­mary ar­chi­tect of the pol­icy knows it wasn’t a suc­cess. In tes­ti­mony last March, for­mer pres­i­dent Clin­ton said that com­pelling Haiti to cut tar­iffs on im­ported rice from the United States “may have been good for some of my farm­ers in Arkansas, but it has not worked [to help Haiti]. It was a mis­take.” Later he ac­knowl­edged that the poli­cies have “failed ev­ery­where [they’ve] been tried.”

Yet, these are es­sen­tially the same poli­cies that his IHRC is rec­om­mend­ing. This ob­vi­ous con­tra­dic­tion would bog­gle the mind only if one be­lieved that mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity had the best in­ter­ests ofHaiti in mind rather than those of their own farm­ers, firms, NGOs and economies. For their part, the elites in Haiti who ben­e­fit from the sta­tus quo have no al­ter­na­tive to pro­pose and are all too will­ing to point their fin­ger at some­one else. What­ever new govern­ment emerges from the re­cent, though flawed, elec­tions will not change that ba­sic re­al­ity.

NIKKI KAHN/THE WASHINGTON POST

CAROL GUZY/THE WASHINGTON POST

The dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake that struck­Haiti nearly one year ago has left 1 mil­lion peo­ple still home­less and liv­ing in tent camps such as this one in Port-au-Prince, the nation’s cap­i­tal, seen three weeks af­ter the quake.

NIKKI KAHN/THE WASHINGTON POST

Still strug­gling to re­cover from last year’s earth­quake, Haitians went to the polls to vote for pres­i­dent in Novem­ber. A dozen can­di­dates al­leged “mas­sive fraud.”

NIKKI KAHN/THE WASHINGTON POST

An­der­son Didier, 5, plays with a bal­loon while re­ceiv­ing treat­ment for cholera symp­toms in Novem­ber. Haiti has been bat­tling an out­break since Oc­to­ber.

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