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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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One Week After the Quake, Hillary Clinton Directed a "Push Back" Against Criticism of U.S. Relief Efforts Print

One week after the earthquake, as three million survivors anxiously awaited water and other aid while the U.S. prioritized getting security teams in place first, Secretary Clinton sent a cable – made available by Wikileaks through The Guardian - to all U.S. embassies instructing diplomats to “push back” against “distorted” media coverage of the U.S. response to the quake:

I am deeply concerned by instances of inaccurate and unfavorable international media coverage of America's role and intentions in Haiti. This misinformation threatens to undermine the international partnership needed to help the people of Haiti, and to damage our international engagement across the range of issues. It is imperative to get the narrative right over the long term. Where you see ill-informed or distorted perspectives in your host country media, I direct you as Chief of Mission to personally contact media organizations at the highest possible level - owners, publishers, or others, as appropriate - to push back and insist on informed and responsible coverage of our actions and intentions, and to underscore the U.S. partnership with the Government of Haiti, the United Nations, and the world community. It is important that you and other members of your Embassy team engage opinion-makers in setting the record straight on America's commitment to assist the Haitian people and government in recovering from this disaster.

There were very serious problems with the U.S. effort that were not merely “distorted perspectives” or “misinformation”, however. The cable is dated the same day that Doctors Without Borders reported that one of its "plane[s] carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport” in two days. The U.S., in control of the airports, also turned away other planes carrying relief supplies to Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. A USA Today report that day stated that the U.S. had only airlifted 70,000 bottles of water into Port-au-Prince in the week since the earthquake. NGO’s engaged in the relief effort at the time said "Right now the U.S. is blocking aid.”

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USAID/OTI's Politicized, Problematic Cash-for-Work Programs Print

Last week the Associated Press reported, "Out of every $100 of U.S. contracts now paid out to rebuild Haiti, Haitian firms have successfully won $1.60". The AP focused on two of the largest contractors with USAID, Chemonics and DAI, two companies we had previously reported on. The AP article cites a USAID Inspector General (IG) report that showed that both Chemonics and DAI were hiring significantly fewer Haitians in the Cash-for-Work programs than what was originally thought. A closer look at the Inspector General report (PDF) finds that this was only one of many problems with these two companies.

First, it is important to highlight the distinction between Chemonics, DAI and other contractors providing Cash-for-Work (CFW) services.  There are a total of four contractors who are providing CFW programs in Haiti, two of them through USAID/Haiti and two through USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). While USAID's website describes their role as the primary U.S. agency to "extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms," the Office of Transition Initiatives has a more overtly political aspect.  OTI describes itself as supporting "U.S. foreign policy objectives by helping local partners advance peace and democracy in priority countries in crisis. Seizing critical windows of opportunity, OTI works on the ground to provide fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs." USAID documents, examined by Haiti Grassroots Watch, also betray a political motive behind the CFW programs: they "decrease chances of unrest." In this way, they may have a similar function as past USAID/OTI programs such as OTI sponsorship of soccer games during the 2004-2006 post-coup regime that OTI saw as undermining support for Fanmi Lavalas and protests against the undemocratic government (and, we would add, the rampant human rights abuses it was perpetrating).

According to the USAID IG report, while the contractors under USAID/Haiti were relatively more successful, the OTI contractors (Chemonics and DAI) had numerous problems. Both DAI and Chemonics operate under an Indefinite Quantity Contract with USAID/OTI that allows them to bypass the traditional bidding process and begin operations on the ground quickly when an opportunity for engagement arises.

The Indefinite Quantity Contract with Chemonics provides some insight into the role that OTI plays in US foreign policy and in regards to foreign disaster assistance. The contract specifies the four "criteria for engagement":

·    Is the country important to U.S. national interests?
·    Is there a window of opportunity?
·    Can OTI's involvement significantly increase the chances of success?
·    Is the operating environment sufficiently stable?

The contract continues, going into more detail on each criterion. Under the first criterion, the contract states "OTI seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests." When assessing if there is a "window of opportunity", the contract states that "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, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will."

These ominous words should raise the eyebrows of anyone unfamiliar with OTI, an interventionist arm of USAID that has been used in democracies such as Venezuela (2002-present), and Bolivia (2004-2007). The U.S. government’s desire to promote “transition” in such democratic countries has aroused considerable controversy, and understandably: the above language frames OTI’s activities in terms of something short of a coup d’etat or other government destabilization (a “create[d] transition” or “impose[d] democracy”). This raises questions also regarding why the U.S. government feels an OTI presence is called for in Haiti.
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"Wikileaks Show Why Washington Won't Allow Democracy in Haiti" - Mark Weisbrot in The Guardian Print
CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot writes in The Guardian (UK):
The polarization of the debate around Wikileaks is pretty simple, really. Of all the governments in the world, the United States government is the greatest threat to world peace and security today. This is obvious to anyone who looks at the facts with a modicum of objectivity. The Iraq war has claimed hundreds of thousands, and most likely more than a million lives. It was completely unnecessary and unjustifiable, and based on lies. Now, Washington is moving toward a military confrontation with Iran.

As Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, pointed out in an interview recently, in the preparation for a war with Iran, we are at about the level of 1998 in the build-up to the Iraq war.

On this basis, even ignoring the tremendous harm that Washington causes to developing countries in such areas as economic development (through such institutions as the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization), or climate change, it is clear that any information which sheds light on U.S. “diplomacy” is more than useful. It has the potential to help save millions of human lives.

You either get this or you don’t. Brazil’s president Lula da Silva, who earned Washington’s displeasure last May when he tried to help defuse the confrontation with Iran, gets it.  That’s why he defended and declared his “solidarity” with embattled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, even though the leaked cables were not pleasant reading for his own government.

One area of U.S. foreign policy that the Wikileaks cables help illuminate, which the major media has predictably ignored, is the occupation of Haiti.  In 2004 the country’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown for the second time, through an effort led by the United States government. Officials of the constitutional government were jailed and thousands of its supporters were killed.
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Haitian Companies Bypassed in Favor of DC Area Contractors with Poor Track Records Print
An excellent Associated Press article by Martha Mendoza yesterday looks at how Haitian contractors have fared since the earthquake. The verdict: not so well at all. Beltway contractors on the other hand have made out extremely well. The AP report found that:
Out of every $100 of U.S. contracts now paid out to rebuild Haiti, Haitian firms have successfully won $1.60, The Associated Press has found in a review of contracts since the earthquake on Jan. 12. And the largest initial U.S. contractors hired fewer Haitians than planned.
The article focuses on the two largest recipient of post-earthquake contracts, Development Alternatives Inc.(DAI) and Chemonics, both based in the Washington, DC area. We first reported on these two organizations and the millions in contracts they had received back in February and March. Chemonics has past ties to one of the companies most responsible for the invasion of Miami Rice into Haiti in the 80s and 90s, while DAI has its own questionable past. We also questioned the disbursement of funds to a company that the Government Accountability Office and USAID Inspector General have found to have a poor track record of program implementation. In addition to the Cash-for-Work programs that Chemonics is implementing in Haiti, they have also received agricultural aid contracts. Yet this is the same area for which they have come under scrutiny in Afghanistan. As we wrote in March:
Chemonics has been tapped by USAID in Afghanistan as well, in an effort to improve the agricultural sector. Chemonics received a $153 million contract in 2003.

In 2005 the Government Accountability Office found that Chemonics had failed to "address a key program objective", and that "consequently, during its first 15 months, the project`s progress in strengthening Afghanistan`s market chain was limited."

Despite this, Chemonics received a contract in 2006 for $102 million. Once again, the USAID Inspector General found significant problems with the program:
Chemonics reported results for all eight indicators for the first year of the program. However, the audit identified that for two of the eight indicators, reported results fell considerably short of intended results. Targets had not been established for the other six indicators making it difficult to tell how well the project was proceeding. In addition, Chemonics did not have documentation to adequately support reported results for six indicators. In two of the six cases, the support was inadequate, while in four cases there was no support at all. For example, Chemonics had inadequate support for the reported result that 1,719 individuals had received short-term agricultural training, and no support for the reported result that project activities had generated an economic value in excess of $59 million. In addition, the audit found that a major program activity—the Mazar foods initiative—was behind schedule. This $40 million initiative to cultivate 10,000 hectares for a commercial farm was not finalized in time to take advantage of the summer planting season as initially planned.
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Elections Were Marred Long Before November 28 Print
Last night the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced preliminary results from last Sunday's flawed elections. The results: Mirlande Manigat, and President Rene Preval's hand-picked successor, Jude Celestin, would compete in a run-off election scheduled for January. Finishing in third place was Michel Martelly, just 6,800 votes - or less than one percentage point - behind Celestin. The United States Embassy was quick to offer a response:
Like others, the Government of the United States is concerned by the Provisional Electoral Council’s announcement of preliminary results from the November 28 national elections that are inconsistent with the published results of the National Election Observation Council (CNO), which had more than 5,500 observers and observed the vote count in 1,600 voting centers nationwide, election-day observations by official U.S. observers accredited by the CEP, and vote counts observed around the country by numerous domestic and international observers.
The National Election Observation Council, whose observations from election day can be seen here, announced their own preliminary results yesterday. According to the CNO, based on a sample of 15 percent of polling stations, Manigat and Martelly would reach the second round, with Celestin falling short.

Demonstrations have been ongoing since the announcement last night, and many news reports have been focusing on the election day fraud and apparent manipulation of results by the CEP, however few have noted that these elections were not free nor fair even before election day. Writing in the New York Daily News, Beatrice Lindstrom notes that:
The Election Day irregularities are just the latest in a long line of actions by the CEP to maximize the ruling party's electoral success by excluding popular opponents and reducing voter participation. The CEP rejected 15 political parties from participating in the election's parliamentary races, and efforts to re-register displaced voters were inconsistent.

In light of these problems, political parties, human rights groups and Haitian voters warned that these elections would be a sham. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and 44 other members of Congress expressed grave concern, and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) warned that the "absence of democratically elected successors could potentially plunge the country into chaos."

Haitian voters deserve better. It is not too late for the Joint Mission to condemn the flawed process and call for new, fair elections. It is critical that it does so. Truly democratic elections are a prerequisite to ensuring peace and stability through the difficult rebuilding process that lies ahead.
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