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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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U.S. Embassy: “Without a UN-sanctioned …force, we would be getting far less help …in managing Haiti.” Print
Wednesday, 24 August 2011 14:21

As a new child sex abuse scandal involving Uruguayan MINUSTAH troops unfolds (without coverage in the English language media), and new scientific studies emerge linking MINUSTAH to the origin of the current cholera epidemic, recently Wikileaked cables from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince spell out MINUSTAH’s importance to the U.S. government in a more direct fashion than probably any previously released documents. A confidential October 2008 cable from then-Ambassador Janet Sanderson begins:

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG policy interests in Haiti. Security vulnerabilities and fundamental institutional weaknesses mean that Haiti will require a continuing - albeit eventually shrinking - MINUSTAH presence for at least three and more likely five years. Haiti needs the UN presence to fill the security gap caused by Haiti's fledgling police force's lack of numbers and capabilities. It needs MINUSTAH to partner with the USG and other donors in institution-building.

It goes on to state:

MINUSTAH is a remarkable product and symbol of hemispheric cooperation in a country with little going for it. There is no feasible substitute for this UN presence. It is a financial and regional security bargain for the USG. USG civilian and military assistance under current domestic and international conditions, alone or in combination with our closest partners, could never fill the gap left by a premature MINUSTAH pullout.

The cable expands on these points later on, noting in detail how the U.S. government benefits from Latin American and other nations’ contributions to the Mission in funds and troops:

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Illegal Evictions and Violence Are No Solution to Haiti’s Post-Earthquake Housing Problem Print
Monday, 22 August 2011 13:57

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has filed his latest Guardian column from Port-au-Prince. It highlights ongoing forced evictions following a tense stand-off over the weekend between residents of Camp Barbancourt 17 and actor Danny Glover and other activists, on the one side, and the camp’s landlord, on the other.

Mark writes:

Port-au-Prince, Haiti --  At this sprawling IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp of battered tents and tarps here in the neighborhood of Barbancourt in Port-au-Prince, a confrontation was underway. A landlord who claimed ownership of the land on which some 75 families had been living since the earthquake was very angry. A crowd of hundreds had gathered and a man in his thirties said that the landlord had beaten him and destroyed his tent.

“These people have been here for 19 months and I want them out of here!” the landlord shouted.  He was yelling in English now because a group of activists had arrived, including the actor and human rights campaigner Danny Glover. They were defending the camp residents, but the landlord wasn’t having it.

Meanwhile a group of heavily armed troops from MINUSTAH – the UN military force that has occupied the country for the past seven years – arrived on the scene.  They were tense and sweating in the morning heat, and as the standoff continued and the crowd spilled into the street, another contingent of troops arrived, bringing the total to about fifteen.

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Not Doing Enough: Unnecessary Sickness and Death from Cholera in Haiti Print
Thursday, 18 August 2011 14:30

A new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research argues that cholera treatment and prevention efforts in Haiti have fallen woefully behind, leading to thousands of preventable deaths, even though the dramatic rise in new cases this spring and summer was entirely predictable. The paper, “Not Doing Enough: Unnecessary Sickness and Death from Cholera in Haiti”, by researchers Jake Johnston and Keane Bhatt, argues that it is not too late to bring the 10-month old cholera epidemic under control and save thousands of lives by ramping up treatment and prevention efforts. Below is the Executive Summary of the paper, to read it in its entirety, click here.

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A Brief History of Failure in Post-Quake Haiti Print
Tuesday, 16 August 2011 10:11

A 11,849-word article by journalist Janet Reitman in the new issue of Rolling Stone provides a sometimes fascinating and always disheartening overview of relief and reconstruction in Haiti since the earthquake. Reitman, who has recently been in the news herself over her new book, Inside Scientology, spent months researching the report, both in the U.S. and in Haiti, and so she is able to cover a good deal of ground. Much of her focus falls on the failings of various initiatives by often prominent individuals and organizations, which often contrast with their public images and their stated goals and intentions. Addressing the role of big NGO’s, for example, Reitman writes

On top of the earthquake, aid workers in Haiti are contending with a cholera crisis, a disease of poverty spread through poor sanitation and contaminated drinking water. These are all things that NGOs like the Red Cross have expertise in fighting, but larger structural issues often trump their best intentions. Because international NGOs get most of their money from large government agencies, they are beholden to the broader policy imperatives of their funders. "The big problem is that most NGOs are only really accountable to their donors, when we should really be accountable to the people we're trying to serve," says Dr. Louise Ivers, senior health and policy adviser for Partners in Health, a Boston-based NGO that has worked in Haiti for 25 years. Some organizations, she notes, "exist only to write grant proposals that respond to specific donor requests. If your mandate is just to follow the money, then the money determines what happens."

CHF International is one NGO that comes in for scrutiny further on:

[American field-office director for CHF International, Ann] Lee admits that [CHF], a vast NGO with relief operations in 25 countries around the world, has never done "micro-urban planning," as she calls it — nor have the half dozen or so other NGOs planning similar projects in Port-au-Prince. "It's a complete learning experience for all of us," she says. All that's needed to make the project a reality, she adds, are more funds.

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MINUSTAH: Mission (Almost) Accomplished? Print
Thursday, 11 August 2011 16:29

As was reported in the Brazilian and other Latin American press, but generally ignored by English language media (save for brief mentions by Americas Quarterly and Haiti Libre), new Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim made public remarks the other day regarding a possible draw down of Brazilian troops from MINUSTAH.

As Haiti Libre and other outlets have noted, Amorim’s remarks are significant in part because Amorim was “the 'artisan' of the participation of Brazil in the Minustah [UN Mission for Stabilization in Haiti]” during his previous tenure as Foreign Minister.

Haiti Libre goes on to report that

Already in 2010, as Foreign Minister under the government Lula, Amorim expressed the necessity of replacing the military presence in Haiti by engineers and social workers to collaborate in the development and the economy of Haiti.

Amorim’s remarks are the latest sign that an end to the UN Mission, so widely unpopular in Haiti, may soon be on the horizon. As we’ve noted in various earlier posts, MINUSTAH has been controversial from its start, when it often appeared to aid police in their post-coup crackdown on Fanmi Lavalas members, social movement activists, and others in the wake of the 2004 U.S.-backed coup. The Blue Helmets have since killed innocent civilians in violent raids on slums, attacked journalists, and seen over 100 troops expelled from Haiti over child prostitution and related charges. These are just the documented crimes, which are supplemented by other suspicious incidents. But the Mission’s popularity undoubtedly hit a new low following the cholera outbreak last October, which quickly was traced back to a MINUSTAH camp in Mirebalais.

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Heavy Rains Threaten to Bring More Cholera Cases; What to Do About It? Print
Thursday, 04 August 2011 16:18

Haiti may thankfully be spared the heavy impact of Tropical Storm Emily, as the storm seems to have weakened as it hit Hispaniola’s mountains. Health workers and others have been tracking the storm’s progress with trepidation, as it was heavy rains in June that led to a resurgence in cholera cases. Unfortunately, even a weakened storm may still bring strong rains, and more cholera. The PBS Newshour's Talea Miller reported yesterday:

A tropical storm bearing down on Haiti threatens to make daily life more miserable for tens of thousands homeless still living in tent camps and could deepen the cholera epidemic that has already killed more than 5,800.

Tropical Storm Emily was on a path toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti Wednesday, and forecasts predicted heavy rains and possible flooding -- perfect conditions for the spread of water-borne diseases like cholera.

"[The weather service] is talking about possibly 10 inches in Haiti. That's a huge amount of water," said Julie Sell, spokesperson for the Haiti mission at the American Red Cross. "In a country where people are frequently using the same water sources to bathe, [such as] as a toilet, and to drink, the last thing you want is standing water."

But missing from the report was any mention of the role the U.S. government played in undermining Haiti’s provision of potable water. As described in great detail elsewhere, the U.S. government, under the Bush administration, directed the Inter-American Development Bank, in a highly unusual move, to withhold loans to the Aristide government that would have provided hundreds of millions of dollars for a potable water project, among other purposes. The Aristide administration was even forced to pay interest on the loans, despite their non-disbursal (in other words, the “loans” actually took money from Haiti while offering nothing in return).

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Forced Evictions Continue, Despite Public Opposition from Martelly Print
Tuesday, 02 August 2011 15:28

On July 21, President Martelly declared “my government is against forced evictions,” but as of yet has done little to stop this systematic violation of rights. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ) reports that over 125,000 people face the imminent threat of eviction every day. Yesterday, the residents of Camp Django in Delmas protested (click for photos) for their right to adequate shelter and for Martelly to live up to his promises after having faced the constant threat of eviction for months (follow developments on Twitter under #noevictions). In June, Bill Quigley and Jocelyn Brooks of the Center for Constitutional Rights, reported:

Last Saturday, a group of five men, some armed with guns, stormed into the camp and threatened the residents. Four of the men were wearing green t-shirts that read “Mairie de Delmas” (The Office of the Mayor of Delmas).

The Mayor’s men told the people that they would soon destroy their tents. They bragged they would mistreat people in a manner worse than “what happened at Carrefour Aero port,” referring to the violent unlawful eviction of a displacement camp at that location by the same mayor and police less than a month ago.

The Mayor’s men pushed their way through the camp, collecting the names and identification numbers of heads of household and marking tents with red spray painted numbers.

When the men pounded on the wooden door of the tarp covered shelter where 25-year-old pregnant Marie lived with her husband, she tried to stop them from entering.  Marie tried to explain that her husband was not home.  But the leader of the group, JL, violently slammed open the wooden door of her tent into her stomach, causing her to fall hard against the floor on her back.

Three days later, Marie remained in severe pain and bed ridden, worried sick about her baby.


Jeena Shah, a BAI attorney, arrived at Camp Django while government agents were still there. Jeena asked JL [the leader of the group] who had sent his group to Camp Django and why they had marked the tents with numbers. JL was evasive, repeating over and over that “the government” had sent him. Finally he stated that “the National Palace,” a reference to current President Michel Martelly, had sent him.
Last Thursday, Jeena Shah gave an update on Camp Django:
At around 9 am this morning, two truckloads of police officers along with one of the mayor’s agents returned to the camp.  By this time, Camp Django residents had begun protesting just outside of their camp.  The police officers proceeded to beat camp residents with their batons and boots and arrest them.  Several victims required medical attention.  One family’s tent – that of the camp leadership’s spokesperson, who had spoken out against the Mayor’s past threats against the camp – was ransacked by police officers as they searched for her to arrest her.  The mayor’s agent and police officers were unaccompanied by a judicial officer, and neither did they present any judicial order to evict the residents, as required under Haitian law.
What happened to Camp Django was not an isolated incident. In mid-July some 500 families were forcibly evicted, illegally, from the area around Sylvio Cator Stadium in Port-au-Prince. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights characterized the eviction as not respecting the right to adequate housing and added that “the former camp residents will be much more vulnerable than they were in the camp.” Amnesty International added that:
“Port-au-Prince's Mayor must stop these illegal forced evictions of earthquake victims until adequate alternative housing can be found for all the displaced families,” said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

“By pushing families out in the street for a third time since last year’s earthquake, Haitian authorities have failed to protect their rights to an adequate standard of living and basic shelter.”
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Inside the Haiti Reconstruction Fund Annual Report Print
Tuesday, 26 July 2011 16:22

Last Friday, as the board of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) was meeting, the Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) released their first annual report. (Note: we obtained a copy by asking one of the report’s media contacts for one; the report itself unfortunately has still not been made publicly available.) The report, which received cursory but positive media coverage, touted the high level of aid disbursement and the flexibility with which the HRF can operate, while rightly noting that the wider international community was failing to keep up. As AFP reported:

At an international donors conference held in New York in March 2010, 55 donors pledged $4.58 billion in grants in 2010 and 2011 for rebuilding the country. But as of June, donors had disbursed $1.74 billion, just 38 percent of the pledges, the World Bank said.
In releasing the report, the HRF also pointed to major reconstruction projects, such as the Neighborhood Housing Reconstruction Project as “highlights of the work done so far”.

A more thorough look at the annual report, however, shows that although the HRF has disbursed a significant portion of the funds raised, much of that money remains unspent in the hands of partner agencies. In fact, the World Bank, which is the administrator of the Neighborhood Housing Reconstruction Project, has yet to disburse a single dollar for the project, while the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has yet to disburse any aid that has been transferred from the HRF.
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Paul Farmer's "Haiti After the Earthquake" - An Impressive Balancing Act Print
Friday, 22 July 2011 15:35

Dr. Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, released a new book last week to coincide with the 18-month anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. In addition to containing a dozen short essays by various contributors, Haiti After the Earthquake provides Farmer's firsthand account of his relief and reconstruction efforts as a diplomat and co-founder of the NGO Partners in Health, which has over a quarter-century of experience in Haiti.

Farmer is perhaps unique in his successful straddling of distinct, and at times, conflicting spheres of international development. While having authored numerous indictments of U.S. policy toward Haiti, in early 2009 he contemplated accepting a position in the Obama State Department to coordinate overseas health initiatives or to run the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Shortly thereafter, former President Bill Clinton, who was appointed UN Special Envoy to Haiti in April 2009, asked him to be his deputy at the United Nations. He was apparently undeterred by Farmer's prior denunciations of the "cynical realpolitik of Bill Clinton's presidency" of the 1990s. In particular, Farmer had characterized as an "abomination and a crime" Clinton's continuation of "his predecessor's policies" of indefinite detention of Haitian asylum seekers in a Guantánamo Bay naval base, which "resembled a dungeon." Farmer and Clinton have since forged a camaraderie as the Clinton Foundation assisted Partners in Health in its AIDS initiatives in Haiti in 2003, and, in "an honorable gesture," the foundation "declined to work in Haiti under the regime installed after the coup" in 2004 against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected president (28). Clinton then spurred Farmer to launch a major rural health initiative in Rwanda, where Farmer currently resides, and in the book, Farmer refers to Clinton as a "mentor and colleague" (27).

While delving into some history and politics, Haiti After the Earthquake's aim is narrower than Farmer's previous works like The Uses of Haiti. Farmer's overriding concern, as related in the book, is how to "build back better," considering that "the quake offered a chance to do reconstruction right" (38, 100). The book often highlights Farmer's endeavors to promote a principled, Haitian-driven agenda within elite spheres of policymaking. He explains how he accepted Clinton's honorary post at the UN, despite its "huge, largely military, presence in Haiti" (38). Farmer had strongly condemned the UN-bolstered de facto government after the coup d'etat, and in the book, he continues to express his "doubts about the peacekeeping mission in Haiti, stemming from the events of 2004 and after" (41). Although he delimited his own agenda within the UN to health, education and food security, his ambitions and influence are much broader. Upon entering the UN, he "insisted on bringing Haitians onto the team—none had been proposed," while hoping to "move the [UN's] focus from military assistance to development assistance, from security to human security, towards freedom from want" (37-38).

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"Brazil, MINUSTAH, Need a Timetable for Withdrawal" - Mark Weisbrot in Folha de Sao Paulo Print
Thursday, 21 July 2011 14:10

CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote in Folha de São Paulo, Brazil's largest circulation newspaper, yesterday:

U.S. diplomatic cables now released from Wikileaks make it clearer than ever before that foreign troops occupying Haiti for more than seven years have no legitimate reason to be there; that this a U.S. occupation, as much as in Iraq or Afghanistan; that it is part of a decades-long U.S. strategy to deny Haitians the right to democracy and self-determination; and that the Latin American governments supplying troops – including Brazil – are getting tired of participating.

One leaked U.S. document shows how the United States tried to force Haiti to reject $100 million in aid per year – the equivalent of 50 billion reais in Brazil’s economy – because it came from Venezuela. Because Haiti’s president, Préval, understandably refused to do this, the U.S. government turned against him. As a result, Washington reversed the results of Haiti’s first round presidential election in November 2010, to eliminate Préval’s favored candidate from the second round. This was done through manipulation of the Organization of American States (OAS), and through open threats to cut off post-earthquake aid to the desperately poor country if they did not accept the change of results. All of this is well-documented.

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