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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Inspector General: USAID Project to Provide Housing Comes up Short Print

A new report from USAID’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) found that a U.S. government program to build thousands of new homes in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 is woefully behind schedule and over budget, reports the Associated Press. The report’s findings echo those made by the Government Accountability Office in June 2013. USAID’s housing program was also the subject of an investigation published in the Boston Review in January 2014 by HRRW contributor Jake Johnston.

The IG’s audit found that USAID “did not achieve its goals” of providing permanent housing for Haitians and that “the mission had substantially completed construction of only 816 of the planned 4,000 houses—21 percent of the goal.” To compensate for the shortfalls, USAID increased funding for the project from $55 to $90 million and extended the deadline from December 2012 to October 2014. Still, the IG report found that, “it is unlikely that USAID will be able to meet its original goals even by the new target dates.” USAID mission director John Groarke told the AP that USAID “will now try to build homes through the use of mortgages.”

The IG’s audit takes USAID to task for failing to monitor quality control and environmental mitigation plans put forward by the contractors tasked with carrying out the project. The IG found that, for example, cement testing was improperly documented and that USAID “personnel did not review the contractor’s quality control procedures.” This could lead to “the use of substandard material in USAID-funded construction projects, affecting structural integrity,” according to the IG.

The IG also found that while the contractor tasked with monitoring environmental mitigation, CEEPCO, consistently found faults with the work of Thor Construction, tasked with building 750 of the new homes, USAID staff failed to follow up or adequately address the concerns. While CEEPCO, “issued citations” to Thor, the IG found that USAID “did not do detailed follow-up” on the problems identified.

Despite the project being over budget and behind schedule, the IG found that USAID had failed to even conduct basic performance evaluations of any of the four contractors involved in the program. Per contracting regulations, the evaluations were due between July 2012 and April 2013, yet had still not been completed by the time of the IG’s audit.

The audit from the IG is the latest to find that USAID has failed to adequately monitor its contractors and grantees in Haiti, resulting in substandard outputs. Responding to these findings, in December 2013 the House of Representatives passed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which calls for greater accountability and transparency in USAID’s programs in Haiti. The bill is currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 
Transparently Untransparent – USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives Print

By Jake Johnston

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) has recently been in the news after a covert “Cuban Twitter” program “aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government,” was revealed last week by the Associated Press. As my colleague Dan Beeton has written on CEPR’s Americas Blog, this is not the only time OTI has been implicated in destabilization campaigns in Latin America.

OTI has also been extremely active in Haiti since the earthquake in 2010. Two private companies, Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) began operations on the ground in Haiti, with USAID OTI funding, within a week of the earthquake. When the project came to a close this past November, the total spending through OTI totaled nearly $150 million, making it the largest post-earthquake U.S. government funded program in Haiti. And yet, very little is known as to the exact nature of how that money was spent, despite multiple USAID Inspector General reports showing delays, improper oversight and other associated problems.

The OTI website is explicit in describing the difference between it and other branches of USAID:

While humanitarian aid is distributed on the basis of need alone, transition assistance is allocated with an eye to advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives and priorities.

The website adds:

OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform. In short, it acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will. In most cases, a key event occurs - an election, a peace accord, or the rise of a nonviolent protest movement - that signals a fundamental realignment of power or direction. Before initiating a new country program, OTI analyzes the extent to which the ingredients for success are in place.

OTI Will “No Longer Post Monthly Written Reports From Our Partners.”

As OTI explains on its website, in “exchange for the flexibility granted OTI, Congress demands and deserves complete, accurate, and real-time information” concerning its activities. To this end, OTI posted monthly, quarterly and annual reports from its various programs on its website. It even explicitly states this on its website, noting that, “OTI posts reports on its website at least monthly for its country programs.” However, according to an e-mail from OTI today, the office will “no longer post monthly written reports from our partners.” The e-mail added that the website will be changed accordingly. The website was indeed updated today, however no changes to that specific language were made.

In reality, at least in the case of Haiti, these reporting requirements had not been posted publicly for multiple years. Even when they were posted, they often contained contradictory information. Following inquiries from HRRW into discrepancies between two quarterly reports in late 2011, I was copied on an e-mail intended for an OTI employee’s superiors. It stated, bluntly:

Given the recent CEPR blog on Haiti and Chemonics, do you think I should follow up with Jake below, or refer him to LPA [Legislative and Public Affairs]?

The e-mail came just days after I had posted the final installment of a three-part blog series on some of USAID’s largest contractors in Haiti, including Chemonics. I was referred to LPA. [Side note: The employee who sent that e-mail previously worked for Chemonics.]

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UN Official Calls for Cholera Compensation; UN Cholera Coordinator is Interviewed; Insider Tells of UN Cholera Cover-up Print

Last month, the U.N. Independent Expert of Human Rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallon, released his first report since taking over his post. As the BBC reports, Gallon called for “full compensation” for those who have been victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. Gallon added that, “The diplomatic difficulties around this question have to be resolved to stop the epidemic as soon possible and pay full compensation for suffering experienced,” adding that “It is advisable to shed light on what really happened and to punish those responsible, whoever they may be.” Finally, Gallon stated that the U.N. “should be the first to honor” these principles. As the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), points out, Gallón has become “first to make the demand [for compensation] in a publicly available official UN document.”

However, while the human rights expert Gallón encouraged compensation, the U.N. itself has continued to evade responsibility. After the U.N. dismissed claims against it brought on behalf of over 5,000 cholera victims, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), IJDH and civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt filed a lawsuit in October 2013 against the U.N., MINUSTAH and two officials on behalf of the victims. In a press release concerning Gallón’s report, IJDH notes that:

Gallón’s report comes as the deadline to answer the lawsuit has lapsed for MINUSTAH and the individual defendants. The UN itself has failed to respond to a motion that service of process is complete.

“The defendants’ failure to accept service or to respond to the lawsuit continues the UN’s pattern of avoiding justice despite its clear-cut responsibility for the epidemic,” said plaintiffs’ co-counsel and IJDH Staff Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom. Amidst reports that the UN has asked the U.S. government to defend its position, the United States is currently weighing whether to take a position in the lawsuit by their March 7 deadline.

When the U.N. was asked about Gallón’s report, the response from Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was typical of the way the U.N. has handled media requests on the cholera epidemic:

The Human Rights Council-appointed special rapporteurs and other special advisers of various kinds are independent and they are not appointed by the Secretary-General and I don’t have anything further to say on that.

The U.N. has also sought to deflect criticism and separate the legal issues from the current response on the ground. In a long interview by former AP correspondent Jonathan Katz, the U.N. Senior Coordinator for the Cholera Response in Haiti, Pedro Medrano stated:

[W]e have two things here: I am not dealing with the legal issue; I am dealing with the response. We will have plenty of opportunities to continue to discuss the legal issue. But at this stage … when we have an epidemic like this, which is the largest in the whole hemisphere, we need to deal with the response.

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Ten Years After the Coup in Haiti, Democracy is Still Under Siege Print

It has been 10 years since the February 29, 2004 coup d’etat that ousted the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. Paramilitary groups – including many former members of Haiti’s disbanded army and/or CIA-funded death squads – had engaged in a campaign of violence directed against supporters of the government, and the Haitian National Police (HNP), for years before. Supported by the Dominican government and advised by groups based in Washington, they unleashed a wave of terror, killing innocent civilians including children and women, assaulting and brutalizing others, and burning down police stations and other government buildings. In the end, however, these groups seem to have realized they could not mount a successful incursion into Port-au-Prince, and it was a U.S. plane that flew Aristide out of the country.

As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote after the coup, Washington also directed international financial institutions to withhold funds from the Aristide government (some of which were designated for potable water – their being withheld helping to create the conditions for the cholera epidemic several years later):

[T]he Administration has been working on toppling Aristide for the past three years, plunging the country into chaos in the process.

The major international financial institutions (IFI's) -- including the IMF, World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, supported the administration's destabilization efforts by cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in credit to one of the most desperately poor countries in the world.

The pretext was a dispute over the election of seven senators of Aristide's party in 2001. Aristide offered every possible solution but it didn't matter. With Washington and the IFI's backing them, the opposition refused any agreement short of Aristide's resignation.

In the end, Aristide did not resign – although the Bush administration claimed he did. Aristide himself claimed instead that he was the victim of a “kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat.” His account is verified by witnesses, as Randall Robinson has pointed out in his account of events related to the coup. Bundled onto a plane, he and First Lady Mildred Aristide were flown to an unknown destination, what turned out to be the Central African Republic.

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Haiti: From Original Sin to Electoral Intervention Print

En français

An Interview with Ricardo Seitenfus by Dan Beeton and Georgianne Nienaber

[Excerpts of this interview were originally published by Dissent Magazine on February 24, 2014. The full interview follows.]

The title of Brazilian professor Ricardo Seitenfus’ book, HAITI: Dilemas e Fracassos Internacionais (“International Crossroads and Failures in Haiti,” to be published in Brazil by the Editora Unijui (Universite de Ijui) dans la Serie Globalisation et Relations Internationales) appropriately opens with a reference to existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Camus’ third great novel, The Fall, is a work of fiction in which the author makes the case that every living person is responsible for any atrocity that can be quantified or named. In the case of Haiti, the January 2010 earthquake set the final stage for what amounted to what Seitenfus says is an “international embezzlement” of the country.

The tragedy began over 200 years ago in 1804, when Haiti committed what Seitenfus terms an “original sin,” a crime of lèse-majesté for a troubled world: it became the first (and only) independent nation to emerge from a slave rebellion. “The Haitian revolutionary model scared the colonialist and racist Great Powers,” Seitenfus writes. The U.S. only recognized Haiti’s independence in 1862, just before it abolished its own slavery system, and France demanded heavy financial compensation from the new republic as a condition of its honoring Haiti’s nationhood. Haiti has been isolated and manipulated on the international scene ever since, its people “prisoners on their own island.”

To understand Seitenfus’ journey into the theater of the absurd, it is necessary to revisit the months after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As the Organization of American States' (OAS) Special Representative in Haiti, Seitenfus lost his job in December 2010 after an interview in which he sharply criticized the role of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the devastated country. But it appears that the author also had insider information about international plans for a “silent coup d’etat,” electoral interference and more.

On the Ground in Haiti: October - December 2010

It was not yet one year since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed 220,000 or more, left infrastructure in chaos, and 1.5 million people homeless. Accusations were rampant in October international press reports that the United Nations mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) had introduced cholera into Haiti’s river system; the resulting epidemic would kill over 8,500 and sicken over 696,865 by the time of this writing.[1] Ground zero for the outbreak was negligent sewage disposal at the Nepalese Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp. The malfeasance was first documented by the Associated Press and ultimately provided crucial proof of the U.N.’s guilt. Thousands were infected and the number of dead rose exponentially. On November 28, the national election was contested in what can only be termed an electoral crisis. Hundreds of thousands of voters were either shut out of the electoral process or boycotted the vote after the most popular party in the country – Fanmi Lavalas – was again banned from competing. Many of those displaced by the earthquake were not allowed to vote, and in the end less than 23 percent of registered voters had their vote counted.

Eyewitness testimony on election day reported numerous electoral violations: ballot stuffing, tearing up of ballots, intimidation and fraud. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, responsible for overseeing elections, announced that former first lady Mirlande Manigat won but lacked the margin of victory needed to avoid a runoff. An OAS “experts” mission was dispatched to examine the results. Even though it was indeterminate that he should advance, due to the OAS’ intervention, candidate and pop musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly was selected to compete in the runoff instead of the governing party’s candidate Jude Célestin. 

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) subsequently released a report showing that there were so many problems with the election tallies that the OAS’ conclusions represented a political, rather than an electoral decision.

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