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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Why Doesn't the American Red Cross Want People to See "Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?" Print

Filmmaker Michele Mitchell presented her documentary, "Haiti: Where Did the Money Go?" at a congressional briefing yesterday sponsored by Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Barbara Lee, and Rep. Donald M. Payne (CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot spoke at the briefing, and CEPR helped to publicize the event.) Through visits to Haiti in 2010 and 2011 in which she conducted interviews with IDP camp residents, NGO spokespersons, aid workers, and others, and through other background research, Mitchell examines why so many people (currently half-a-million) remain stuck in tent camps with few services, despite the billions of dollars pledged for relief following the earthquake. The film is currently airing on dozens of PBS stations around the U.S.

One NGO that Mitchell focuses on, in interviews, and in on-the-ground examination of the situation in IDP camps, is the Red Cross. Mitchell notes that the Red Cross is the biggest NGO operating in Haiti, and American Red Cross (ARC) Senior Vice President International Services David Meltzer is provided with a significant portion of screen time to explain the Red Cross’ activities in Haiti, and why some services – such as shelter and sanitation – appear to be so sorely lacking. As the Huffington Post’s Laura Bassett describes:

A senior Red Cross official for international aid is interviewed extensively throughout the film, and Mitchell said she repeatedly asked ARC to answer questions and corroborate facts during the production process.

Despite the prominent role that Meltzer has in the film, and Mitchell’s apparent reaching out to the organization, staff from the American Red Cross attended the briefing yesterday, handing out copies of a document titled “Correcting Film@11’s Errors and Distortions on the Haiti Response” (which we have posted here in PDF format). The several ARC staffers from the Washington office also interrupted a panelist (see the video here, 50:40) by complaining that the film was imbalanced and that Meltzer was not given sufficient notice ahead of the event (he was invited six days earlier, according to organizers).

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Former Dictator Lives the Good Life, as Haitian Government has “Deliberately Stalled” Investigation Print

In a front page Washington Post article, William Booth reports on the luxurious lifestyle that former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has been living since his return to Haiti last year. Although officially on house arrest, Booth reports that Duvalier “dines with his many admirers at the chic bistros of Petionville” and last week for the two year anniversary of the earthquake “Duvalier drove himself — with a police escort — to the government’s memorial ceremony to mark the second anniversary of Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake. The audience, which included Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, his prime minister and former president Bill Clinton, rose to greet him.” (Journalists on the scene noted that both Martelly and Clinton also shook Duvalier’s hand.)

Duvalier’s presence at the ceremony in Titanyen was particularly troubling because, as Susana Ferreira pointed out in an article for TIME:

Titanyen, located north of Port-au-Prince, has been used as a body dumping ground for decades. It's where the Tonton Macoutes, the feared militia of the 1957-86 Duvalier family dictatorship, buried many of its estimated 30,000 victims.

Booth reports that Duvalier’s attorney believes all charges will be dropped, “He will be cleared of all charges. It is almost finished now; the judge is typing up the order to throw it all out,” Reynold Georges told Booth. This should come as little surprise given that President Martelly has consistently voiced his support for amnesty for the former dictator, telling Booth “It is part of the past. We need to learn our lessons and move forward.” Additionally, as Booth points out, “Martelly’s government includes many officials with ties to Duvalier’s government.” The AP’s Trenton Daniel reported in October that:

Now, a former minister and ambassador under the regime is serving as a close adviser to Martelly. And at least five high-ranking members of the administration, including the new prime minister, are the children of senior dictatorship officials.

Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch said when Duvalier returned a year ago, that "Duvalier's return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice. Under the presidency of Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes, thousands were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled into exile. His time to be held accountable is long overdue." Amnesty International issued a statement this week calling on the Haitian government to prosecute Duvalier.  Amnesty’s statement is even more forceful, placing blame directly on Martelly and his administration for delaying the prosecution:

“The authorities haven’t made a serious effort to look into past events that afflicted a generation of Haitians with torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and other serious human rights violations.”



“The investigation seems to have deliberately stalled by changing Public Prosecutors multiple times,” said Javier Zúñiga.

“It has become evident that in Haiti, the independence of the judiciary is just a mirage.”
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Ten Things Cheryl Mills May Prefer You Not Know About Haiti Today Print

In the weeks prior to the 2nd anniversary of Haiti’s January 12, 2010 earthquake, an unprecedented U.S. State Department public relations offensive has unfolded. On December 28 the U.S. State Department released 11 fact sheets, celebrating the achievements of the U.S. humanitarian and development assistance in Haiti in areas ranging from shelter to food security.  To make sure the message got through to journalists, on January 6th the U.S. government partnered up with UN entities and held a joint press teleconference on Haiti to discuss the “amazing” work done removing rubble and providing clean water and shelter to those made homeless by the quake.

The effort continued with an op-ed by Cheryl Mills, Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that appeared on January 9thin the Huffington Post.  The piece was then sent out widely by the State Department public affairs office. Finally, on the day of the anniversary, additional op-eds were published by Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID.  Shah and Feierstein appeared to have received the same memo: their talking points were strikingly similar and the two articles had nearly the same titles “Haiti Is on the Move” and “Haiti ‘a country undeniably on the move’”.

Clearly, there is heightened concern – within the U.S. foreign policy machine – about the perception of U.S. efforts in Haiti, given the increased press scrutiny generated by the 2nd quake anniversary commemorations.  A lot of money has been spent - $2.2 billion by the US alone according to their fact sheet on funding - and it’s important to show some results after two years.  And, apparently, there are plenty of results on display, as Cheryl Mills has emphasized in her piece, which rolls out ten impressive-sounding achievements.  But are these achievements real, and – if they are – do they really represent significant steps forward?   Let’s try to go beyond the hype by taking a closer look at Cheryl Mills’ article “Haiti – Two Years Post-Earthquake: What You May Not Know,” and providing the reader with a few additional facts that Mills and the U.S. State Department may prefer you not know: 

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Two Years Later: Media Assess the State of Reconstruction in Haiti Print

There have been a host of assessments in the media over the past week examining the state of recovery in Haiti two years after the earthquake. All of these present a mixed review, usually noting early on, as this one from Reuters’ Kevin Gray and Joseph Guyler Delva does, that “More than a half a million people still live in a critical situation in crowded tent camps, many without running water or electricity.” Gray and Guyler Delva also mention that “throngs of Haitians line the streets every day in a jarring reminder that 70 percent of the population is either unemployed or underemployed.”

Reuters goes on:

"It's been two years and I'm still here in the camps," said Jerome Mezil, a 28-year-old who lives in the Sainte-Therese tent camp in the capital's Petionville district.

Some tent camp dwellers say they fear life outside the camps will be even tougher.

Indeed, this echoes what respondents told the International Organization for Migration last year regarding their decision to leave camps: "Poor conditions in the IDP site", "eviction", "high incidence of crime/insecurity in the IDP site", and "rain/hurricane" were cited by 77.9 percent of respondents. These answers contradict claims by the Washington Post that “most were pulled away [from tent cities] by programs that gave them rent subsidies or assistance to repair a home.”

While some headlines seemed to present an almost rosy view of things two years later, the Miami Herald’s assessment begins

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Hospital in Mirebalais, Set to Open in 2012, Stands as Example of Aid Done Right Print

As the two year mark approaches, many are justifiably asking, where did the money go? With billions pledged by donors, and billions more in private donations, it is a natural question. As important as the level of disbursement is the question of where that money has gone and whether it has been spent appropriately.  Independent evaluations have shown that many NGOs were responding more to their donors than to those whom they are supposedly in Haiti to help. Last year, the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti (OSE) released a report, “Has Aid Changed? Channeling Assistance to Haiti Before and After the Earthquake,” which analyzed whether donors “have changed the way they provide their assistance in accordance with the principle of accompaniment” which “is specifically focused on guiding international partners to transfer more resources and assets directly to Haitian public and private institutions as part of their support.”

Yet the vast majority of aid projects and donor support bypassed the Haitian government. In fact, there was less direct budget support in 2011 than there was in 2009 before the earthquake. Additionally, many aid projects were undertaken outside the purview of the government. Rather than reinforcing the government’s capabilities, these types of projects have historically undermined them.  Despite this, there are examples of aid done right; the construction of a new teaching hospital in Mirebalais by Partners in Health is one such example.

Partners in Health/Zanmi Lasante (PIH) had been in Haiti for 25 years before the earthquake and has a history of working closely with the government. Dr. Paul Farmer of PIH, writing in the introduction of the OSE report referenced earlier, stresses the importance of working with, not around Haitian institutions:

We know from our shared experiences in Haiti and elsewhere that the way aid is channelled matters a great deal, and determines its impact on the lives of the Haitian people. For example, with over 99 percent of relief funding circumventing Haitian public institutions, the already challenging task of moving from relief to recovery—which requires government leadership, above all—becomes almost impossible.

We have heard from the Haitian people time and again that creating jobs and supporting the government to ensure access to basic services are essential to restoring dignity. And we have learned that in order to make progress in these two areas we need to directly invest in Haitian people and their public and private institutions. The Haitian proverb sak vide pa kanpe—“an empty sack cannot stand”—applies here. To revitalize Haitian institutions, we must channel money through them.

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