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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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U.N. and U.S. Blame Haiti’s Opposition for Delayed Elections, Ignore History Print

At the United Nations Security Council meeting last week, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power did not mince words regarding who was to blame for Haiti’s electoral impasse. Power, speaking to the assembled members, stated bluntly [PDF]:

But a group of six senators seems intent on holding elections hostage to partisan concerns, even going so far as to prevent a debate on the electoral law.

Legislators in a democracy have a responsibility to defend their constituents’ rights. But when elected officials take advantage of democracy’s checks and balances to cynically block debates and elections altogether, they stand in the way of addressing citizens’ real needs.

It wasn’t just the U.S. referencing the so called “Group of 6.” The head of MINUSTAH, the U.N. mission in Haiti, also blamed a “group of Senators opposed to the El Rancho Accord.” Today, in a separate action, 15 U.S. members of Congress wrote to the Senate president Simon Desras. As the Miami Herald reports, the lawmakers wrote that:

“We are deeply concerned that the Haitian Senate has been unable to pass the requisite legislation to authorize elections this year….We believe that Haitians deserve better than to have this fundamental democratic right continually delayed.”

But, the Herald continues, “[i]n addition to the senators, several large political parties in Haiti are also opposed to the agreement and were not part of the negotiations [the El Rancho Accord]. In addition to raising constitutional issues, Martelly opponents have also raised questions about the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) tasked with organizing the vote. Many feel that it is currently being controlled by the executive.”

Opposition leader Mirlande Manigat, a conservative who lost to Martelly in a run-off election in 2011 and is a constitutional scholar, responded to the comments from the U.S. and the U.N., saying it was unreasonable to overlook the role that Martelly has played in the delay:

“For three years, he refused to call elections. A large part of this is his fault…It is unfair to accuse the six senators for the crisis.”

As we have noted previously, there are legal and constitutional reasons behind the oppositions’ electoral stance. According to Mario Joseph, managing lawyer for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, “Prompt elections are much needed, but elections will only remedy Haiti’s political crisis if they are run fairly by a constitutionally-mandated electoral council. President Michel Martelly has delayed elections for three years because he does not want to lose the political control he has enjoyed without full parliamentary oversight.”

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Is the Martelly Government Putting Former President Aristide in Danger? Print

Fanmi Lavalas leaders report that the police that have guarded former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s residence since he returned to Haiti in 2011 were removed around 1:00 a.m. this morning. It is unclear who ordered the removal of the state security agents, but Agence Haitienne de Presse is reporting that Haitian National Police deny giving the order, and that a “pro-government source” says the orders came from the National Palace. This news conflicts with reports yesterday that Aristide is being placed under house arrest. While Judge Lamarre Belizaire reportedly issued an order for “agents of the prison administration, known as APENA” to be placed around Aristide’s house in Tabarre (according to the Caribbean Media Corporation) and “agents of the Central Department of the Judicial Police” to guard the perimeter of his residence, witnesses on the ground say it appears that law enforcement agencies have ignored Belizaire’s order. Under Haitian law, house arrest has no legal basis.

Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, whose sister organization the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux’s Managing Attorney Mario Joseph represents Aristide, sees the withdrawal of security as retaliation against Aristide for exercising his civil rights. Specifically, Aristide’s lawyers’ are seeking the recusal and dismissal of Judge Belizaire, who is already barred from practicing law for 10 years after he leaves his position as judge.

Concannon says that the message is that “If you assert your civil rights, we’re going to expose you and your family to being killed.” He sees it as a clear signal from the Haitian government that “the police will not come to Aristide’s aid if something happens.” The secretive way in which the security was pulled, in the dead of night, is worrying, he notes.

Aristide continues to have many enemies in Haiti. He was twice ousted in violent coups, in 1991 and 2004. Some of the people involved in the coups and in the killing of Fanmi Lavalas members and other Aristide supporters continue to walk free in Haiti. Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier – who was ousted in a popular uprising by the grassroots movement that later provided the base for Aristide’s party – also lives freely in Haiti despite the various human rights atrocities committed during his rule and the diverting of hundreds of millions of dollars from the government for his family’s personal use.

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USAID Education Contractor Gets a Bad Grade Print

Education remains one of Haiti’s lasting challenges. Illiteracy remains high (more than half of the total population), but since the great majority of schools are private, families usually pay for school expenses such as uniforms, meals, books and fees. This means that many children cannot afford school, while many other families struggle to come up with the money. The AP’s Danica Coto reported this week:

Haiti's education system has suffered for decades due to poverty, political instability and the devastating 2010 earthquake. An estimated 30 percent of young people are illiterate, and only about half of all children can afford to attend primary school, according to UNICEF, the U.N.'s children's agency. Fewer than a quarter go to secondary school.

The education ministry recently announced that it has invested some $13 million in books and school supplies for this year — though many students still must pay for all or part of their textbooks — and also launched a school meal system that will help 800,000 children.

Another challenge that Haitian school children face is that much of the teaching has been done in French, the country’s traditional language, but one which is spoken by only a (mostly higher-income) minority. In recent years, reformers have sought to expand Creole education, as the AP has also reported:

In a sign of growing interest in Creole's educational potential, the U.S. Agency for International Development last fall awarded a $12.9 million contract to the North Carolina nonprofit group, RTI International, to create a basic reading curriculum that includes the language.

Last month, USAID’s Office of Inspector General released an audit of the 2-year, 4-month Research Triangle Institute (RTI) contract, which was also intended “to help the Haitian Ministry of Education develop and test an instructional model to improve the reading skills of children in first through third grades in Haiti’s development corridors,” including by “provid[ing] curricula that meet international standards for best practice and respond to Haiti’s culture and students’ educational needs.”

The audit’s conclusions can, unfortunately, be interpreted as a failing grade for RTI’s performance. It found that:

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Will Former President Aristide be Arrested? After 10 Years of Investigations, He Has Never Been Charged Print

A judge in Haiti has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, saying that Aristide failed to appear for questioning following a summons issued earlier in the week. While some outlets reported that Aristide is facing “charges relating to acts of corruption, money laundering, misappropriation of public funds, criminal conspiracy,” as the Miami Herald noted on Tuesday, Aristide’s attorneys said that their client had not been summoned:

Haitian media, quoting unnamed sources, said that Aristide and at least 30 others have been barred from leaving the country by Judge Lamarre Belizaire and that arrest warrants have been issued for some supporters.

Belizaire could not be reached for confirmation, but a government source said Aristide was served to appear in court.

Mario Joseph, Aristide’s Haiti lawyer, denied that the former president was served. And both he and Aristide’s U.S. lawyer Ira Kurzban said no formal notice of a travel ban had been imposed. The ramblings, they said, are politically motivated.

“It is solely motivated by the upcoming potential elections in Haiti and, like all other allegations against President Aristide, has no basis in fact or reality,‎” Kurzban said.

Joseph said the reports are aimed at distracting the public from [suspected kidnapper Clifford] Brandt’s “organized” release from jail.

“President Aristide has not received any mandate,” Joseph said. “After Brandt’s planned freedom from prison, they are looking for anything that makes noise and distracts people from the real issues.”

The AP reports that Joseph went to the court session on Wednesday in an attempt to learn more about the summons, but Belizaire did not appear; Joseph’s colleagues with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti relayed the same account of events in a conference call today with reporters.

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US Congress Passes Aid Accountability Legislation as Local Procurement Falls in Haiti Print

More than four-and-a-half years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. Congress passed legislation on Friday demanding greater accountability and transparency in U.S. relief and reconstruction efforts. “[W]e need to provide more accountability of our efforts to rebuild Haiti as we work to produce sustainable local capacity and strengthen democratic institutions,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), in a press release praising the bill’s passage.

In April 2013, CEPR published “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Aid Transparency and Accountability in Haiti.” The report concluded that “the lack of real transparency around U.S. assistance to Haiti makes it much more difficult to identify problems and take corrective measures.” Among the recommendations made in the report, many have been included in the recent legislation, such as: reporting sub-award contract data, prioritizing local procurement and the involvement of local civil society, releasing data at the project level and including benchmarks and goals, and increasing the amount of information published in Haitian Creole.

The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, as the bill is known, will require the Secretary of State to submit to Congress a report every 6 months detailing the U.S. government strategy in Haiti, including program goals and outcomes. Crucially, the bill also requires reporting on “amounts committed, obligated, and expended on programs and activities to implement the Strategy, by sector and by implementing partner at the prime and subprime levels,” making it far easier to track where the money goes and who is the ultimate recipient.

It has been U.S. policy to increase local procurement worldwide as part of an ambitious reform program called USAID Forward. However, the new bill will ensure that the U.S. carries this out in its Haiti policy, something that has taken on extra importance as recent data released by USAID shows the level of local procurement actually decreased in 2013 from 2012.

Local procurement data recently posted (XLS) on the USAID Forward website reveals that just over $4 million, or 2 percent of all USAID spending went to local companies or organizations in Haiti. This is down from $11.3 million (5.4 percent) in 2012. Overall expenditures for Haiti decreased from $209.5 to $198 million, according to the database. Worldwide, the level of local procurement actually increased, from 14.3 to 17.9 percent, showing just how far behind U.S. policy in Haiti is.

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