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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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GAO Report Critical of USAID in Haiti, Bolsters Calls for Increased Oversight Print
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 15:57

In 2010, just months after Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake, the United States passed legislation allocating $651 million to USAID to support relief and reconstruction efforts. Three years later, just 31 percent of these funds have been spent as delays mount and goals are scaled back, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report [PDF] released yesterday. The report also criticizes USAID for a lack of transparency, especially in its reporting to Congress.

“This report shows a significant and sobering disconnect between what was originally promised for the Haitian people, and what it appears USAID is now prepared to deliver.  The Haitian people, as well as the US taxpayer, deserve better answers about our assistance than we have received to date,” according to Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The GAO found that inaccurate cost estimates and delays led to an increase in the amount dedicated to providing shelter from $59 million to $97 million while at the same time “decreased the projected number of houses to be built by over 80 percent, from 15,000 to 2,649.” Originally estimated to cost less than $10,000 for a completed house, actual costs have been greater than $33,000. USAID has awarded over $46 million to contractors for housing. Meanwhile, some 300,000 people remain in camps over three years after the earthquake. Overall, the humanitarian community has constructed just 7,000 new homes, about 40 percent of what is currently planned.

Further, the GAO report is critical of U.S. investments supporting the Caracol Industrial Park.  Randal C. Archibold of the New York Times reports:

A big portion of Agency for International Development money, $170.3 million, went toward a power plant and port for an industrial park in northern Haiti that was the centerpiece of United States reconstruction efforts and had been heavily promoted by the State Department and former President Bill Clinton.

But the project had mixed results. Although the aid agency completed the power plant under budget, the port, crucial to the industrial park’s long-term success, is two years behind schedule “due in part to a lack of U.S.A.I.D. expertise in port planning in Haiti,” the report said, and is now vulnerable to cost overruns.

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Canada Sends Soldiers to Haiti – Politics not “Peacekeeping” Print
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 11:45

Yesterday Canadian Minister of Defense Peter MacKay announced that 34 soldiers would be deploying to Haiti as part of the U.N. stabilization mission (MINUSTAH). The announcement, which comes as MINUSTAH is reducing the overall size of its force in Haiti, appears to be as much about strengthening relations with Brazil, as it is about “peacekeeping.”  Lee Berthiaume reports for Canada’s Postmedia News:

But MacKay was quick to confirm that Canada wasn’t re-upping with the UN in any significant way, but that the mission was part of a larger effort to help Haiti while strengthening ties with the emerging political, economic and military powerhouse that is Brazil.



MacKay was joined by Minister of State for the Americas Diane Ablonczy, who highlighted “the tremendous potential and the great partners that are available to Canada in Brazil.”

Aside from the fact that MINUSTAH is not truly a “peacekeeping” force, as there is no armed conflict in Haiti, Canada wouldn’t be the first country to use MINUSTAH for diplomatic or political reasons as opposed to legitimate security concerns. In fact, as we have previously noted, diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the motives behind Brazil taking the lead for MINUSTAH were largely political. One such cable, from March 2008 asserts:

Brazil has stayed the course as leader of MINUSTAH in Haiti despite a lack of domestic support for the PKO [peacekeeping operation]. The MRE [Ministry of External Relations] has remained committed to the initiative because it believes that the operation serves [Foreign Minister Celso] Amorim's obsessive international goal of qualifying Brazil for a seat on the UN Security Council. The Brazilian military remains committed as well, because the mission enhances its international prestige and provides training and operational opportunities.

And it doesn’t stop there.  In addition to being led by Brazil, MINUSTAH is comprised predominantly by troops from Latin America, making up over 70 percent of the total currently. Wikileaked cables provide insight into the U.S. strategic interests behind MINUSTAH and the advantage of having it be led by Latin American countries.

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New Details Emerge on Elimination Plan as Cholera Continues to Spread Print
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 12:40

On May 31 the World Bank, PAHO and UNICEF announced $28.1 million in new funding for cholera elimination efforts in Haiti. The new funding was announced following a meeting in Washington, D.C. of the Regional Coalition to Eliminate Cholera Transmission in Hispaniola. In February 2013, a $2.2 billion, 10-year cholera elimination plan was announced by the Government of Haiti, with the support of the coalition. The plan calls for $443.7 million over the first two years. Thus far, however, there have been few details of how the plan will be funded and coordinated.

In announcing the new funding, PAHO noted that UNICEF would “take lead responsibility for the operation of a national trust fund to channel resources to cholera elimination.” While the terms of reference for the national fund are still being worked out, those familiar with the discussions told HRRW that it would be run by a steering committee led by the ministries of health of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In contrast with previous aid and reconstruction funds that have largely bypassed the Haitian government and Haitian institutions, the new fund would have the ability to directly fund the work of the Haitian government as well as international NGOs.

“Donors are looking for improved international cooperation with Haiti and this is a model they’re looking for,” said Kate Dickson, Senior Policy Advisor at PAHO. Dickson added, “it is a model that allows the respective governments, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to actually take the lead, accompanied by a coalition at the international level.”

This would represent a significant change from previous efforts, such as the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, which was only able to disburse funds to the U.N., World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank. It also may reflect the influence of Paul Farmer, named the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Community Based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti. Under his previous role as Deputy U.N. Special Envoy, Farmer argued that “the way aid is channeled matters a great deal, and determines its impact on the lives of the Haitian people.”

During the meeting between coalition partners and donor groups in late May, Farmer directly addressed this, in an appeal to donors:

By December 2012, only 10% of the total $6.4 billion dollars invested in Haiti had gone through national systems.  We have learned and relearned this lesson in Haiti: unless efforts are made to increase the amount of such resources to and through public institutions, the process of building them is slowed or thwarted. When we say “through”, we mean of course, that there can be local private entities, from contractors to NGOs, that wish to be part of rebuilding… Again, we are here not only to fund the national actions plans, but to do so in a way that strengthens ownership and local capacity, while accompanying local authorities and providers. This requires, as the Americans say, “boots on the ground” – not those of soldiers but of community health workers.

Nevertheless, some traditional donors, reluctant to give up operational control of their aid funds may instead opt to work outside of the national fund. This is already evident. In December, when the U.N. Secretary General announced an initiative to support the cholera elimination plan, he stated that there had already been $238.5 million committed. However, with the recent funding commitments of $28.1 million announced last week, PAHO noted that it “brings the total funds committed to support the national plans to $209.4 million, less than half the amount needed over just the next two years.”

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Food Aid Reform Becomes More Urgent as Food Insecurity and Malnutrition Increase Print
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 09:20

The Associated Press’ Trenton Daniel takes a look at high levels of malnutrition and food insecurity in Haiti, reporting that

Three years after an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and the U.S. promised that Haiti would "build back better," hunger is worse than ever. Despite billions of dollars from around the world pledged toward rebuilding efforts, the country's food problems underscore just how vulnerable its 10 million people remain.

In 1997 some 1.2 million Haitians didn't have enough food to eat. A decade later the number had more than doubled. Today, that figure is 6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can't afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government's National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.

The AP article follows the release last week of a USAID-sponsored “Famine Early Warning System Network” report that warns that

The early depletion of food supplies from bad harvests, the growing dependence for poor households on market, and a reduction in agricultural employment opportunities have contributed to the increasingly widespread acute food insecurity throughout the country. Many municipalities are currently in Crisis

Late rains, seed shortages (driving up seed prices), and withering crops that were planted early are factors contributing to climbing food prices, the report states.

Daniel surveys some of the government’s responses to the challenge. One of the more hopeful efforts to tackle hunger in Haiti that Daniel describes is the Petrocaribe-funded program “Aba Grangou”:

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Haiti's Former President Préval Has Credible Charges that UN Tried to Remove Him Print
Monday, 13 May 2013 12:53

Writing in the Toronto Star, Catherine Porter reports on revelations from former Haitian President René Préval in Raoul Peck’s documentary film Fatal Assistance that UN head Edmond Mulet tried to remove him from the country on election day in November 2010:

“I got a phone call from Mr. (Edmond) Mulet, who was head of MINUSTAH, saying: ‘Mr. President, this is a political problem. We need to get you on a plane and evacuate you,’” Préval says in the documentary, Fatal Assistance. “I said: ‘Bring your plane, collect me from the palace, handcuff me, everyone will see that it’s a kidnapping.’”       

The comments from Préval echo those made at the time by Organization of American States special representative Ricardo Seitenfus, who told BBC Brasil in January 2011 that Mulet and other representatives of the “core group” of donor countries, “suggested that President Rene Préval should leave the country and we should think of an airplane for that. I heard it and was appalled.” The forced departure of Préval wouldn’t have been the first time a Haitian president was spirited out of the country, as former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was flown out of Haiti in 2004 on a U.S. airplane and taken to the Central African Republic in what he described as a “kidnapping” and “coup d’etat.” There is no doubt that it was a coup d’etat – the New York Times, among others, documented the U.S. role in bringing about the coup.  And Aristide’s charges that it was a kidnapping are credible and backed up by witnesses.

In response, Edmond Mulet told the Star, “I never said that, he [Préval] never answered that,” adding “I was worried if he didn’t stop the fraud and rioting, a revolution would force him to leave. I didn’t have the capability, the power or the interest of putting him on a plane.”

The first round of voting for president in November 2010 was plagued by irregularities. A CEPR statistical analysis found that some three-quarters of Haitians did not vote, over 12 percent of votes were never even received by the electoral authorities and that more than 8 percent of tally sheets contained irregularities. Perhaps most importantly, Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded from the election. At the time, 45 Democratic members of Congress wrote to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warning that political party “exclusion[s] will undermine both Haitians' right to vote and the resulting government's ability to govern.” These warnings fell on deaf ears, but diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks reveal the international community’s thinking at the time. At an early December 2009 meeting, Haiti’s largest donors concluded that “the international community has too much invested in Haiti’s democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections, despite its imperfections.”

These imperfections proved even greater than anticipated. Based on the pervasiveness of the irregularities and the close results, we concluded at the time that “it is impossible to determine who should advance to a second round” and that if “there is a second round, it will be based on arbitrary assumptions and/or exclusions.”

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Cholera Victims’ Lawyers to Seek Billions in Damages if UN Continues to Deny Responsibility Print
Wednesday, 08 May 2013 16:45

Lawyers seeking justice on behalf of thousands of cholera victims announced their next steps after the U.N. rebuffed their claim in February, citing immunity. Saying that they were offering the U.N. its “last opportunity to accept its legal responsibility,” attorneys with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) announced in a press conference today (video here) that the U.N.’s response opens doors to trying the case in national courts, and that they will pursue this option if the U.N does not reply with “an appropriate response” in the next 60 days. The BBC’s Mark Doyle reported that “The lawyers say they will file claims for $100,000 (£64,000) for the families of those who have died and $50,000 (£32,000) for every one of the hundreds of thousands who have fallen sick,” which would total billions of dollars.

The attorneys described the U.N.’s rationale for rejecting the claim as being on “flimsy grounds.” They also placed the case in a broader context of impunity for abuse, which has included sexual assaults by U.N. troops and officers, and extrajudicial shootings in Haiti and other countries where U.N. troops have been stationed.

Attorney and IJDH board member Ira Kurzban slammed the U.N.’s justification of dumping of sewage into rivers as a matter of “policy,” even though this would clearly go against U.N. principles. Kurzban also noted that the U.N.’s failure to establish a standing claims commission that would allow Haitians to seek redress for U.N. wrongs goes against its responsibility to the world.

Also speaking at the press conference, Dr. Jean Ford Figaro, MD, MPH, and Health Education Coordinator at Boston Medical Center detailed various recommendations that the U.N.’s own Independent Panel of Experts have made that have yet to be implemented. Among these are the screening of U.N. troops, the distribution of prophylaxis, and on-site treatment of human waste. Figaro cited a new Physicians for Haiti paper that states that all three of these “recommendations could be implemented at either no or minimal cost to the UN.” In its paper, Physicians for Haiti also notes, “Two year later, the UN has not responded publicly to the [Panel’s] report, made public any proceedings from the task force, or made any of the changes in its medical or sanitation protocols recommended by the report.”

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Congresswoman Lee Re-Introduces Bill to “Assess Progress” of U.S. Haiti Assistance Print
Wednesday, 01 May 2013 15:30

On April 25th, Representative Barbara Lee of California introduced H.R. 1749, the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce a detailed and comprehensive report on U.S. aid programs to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.  The bill, which has 24 original co-sponsors, reflects the growing concern in Congress about the lack of tangible progress in U.S. post-quake relief and reconstruction efforts, and the lack of transparency around how U.S. aid money is being used.

An earlier version of this bill was passed in the House of Representatives in May of 2011 and later was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but never made it to a vote on the Senate floor.  The legislation has been significantly revised and, whereas the old bill (which can be viewed here) had general reporting requirements, the new bill (which can be viewed here) has very specific and probing reporting language that should help shed light on how USAID funds are being used on the ground in Haiti.  Among other things, the legislation calls for:

·         An assessment of the “amounts obligated and expended on United States Government programs and activities since January 2010 (…) including award data [read: financial data] on the use of implementing partners at both prime and subprime levels, and disbursement data from prime and subprime implementing partners.”

·         A description of “goals and quantitative and qualitative indicators to evaluate the progress, or lack of achievement of such goals…”

·         An “assessment of the manner in which the Department of State and USAID are working with Haitian ministries and local authorities, including the extent to which the Government of Haiti has been consulted on the establishment of goals and timeframes and on the design and implementation of new programs…”

·         An “assessment of how consideration for vulnerable populations, including IDPs (Internally Displaced Populations), women, children, orphans, and persons with disabilities, have been incorporated in the design and implementation of new programs and infrastructure”

·         An “assessment of how agriculture and infrastructure programs are impacting food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Haiti”

Last month CEPR published a report titled “Breaking Open the Black Box” describing the lack of transparency of U.S. aid programs in Haiti, particularly at the contracting level, and recommended USAID reporting requirements similar to those found in H.R.1749.  The report noted that the effectiveness of U.S. aid to Haiti has been questioned by the GAO, the USAID Inspector General and other government watchdogs. 

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A Tale of Two Trials: Duvalier vs. Ríos Montt Print
Monday, 29 April 2013 14:57

Over the last decade the fight for accountability in Latin America for crimes committed by past dictatorships has seen a tremendous number of successes. In Peru, Alberto Fujimori is in jail. In Argentina dozens of defendants have been convicted in just the last year. But two ongoing cases continue to drag on, Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala and Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti. Both Ríos Montt and Duvalier enjoyed support of all kinds from the U.S. government, but the U.S.’s response to the cases illustrates the ongoing hypocrisy of the U.S. in the region.

In Guatemala, as numerous media outlets have described it, Ríos Montt is “the first former head of state in the Americas to stand trial for genocide in a national court.” While the case was recently suspended, after a week of legal maneuvers, it appears that it may be set to resume this week.  After the trial was suspended on April 18, investigative journalist Allan Nairn reported that “Guatemalan army associates had threatened the lives of case judges and prosecutors and that the case had been annulled after intervention by Guatemala’s president, General Otto Pérez Molina.” Nairn, who investigated atrocities in Guatemala in the ‘80s – including Pérez Molina’s involvement in them -- was supposed to testify at the trial.

But less than a week later, the U.S. sent Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp to Guatemala to “meet with U.S. Government and Embassy officials, local victims groups, and other international officials.” Last Friday, as the trial continued to be suspended, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson  Patrick Ventrell stated:

So we urge the Government of Guatemala to ensure that this legal case is conducted in accordance with Guatemala’s domestic and international legal obligations, and we expect the process and outcome will advance the rule of law.

The statement from the State Department came the same day that Rapp concluded his trip to Guatemala. Over the weekend, president Pérez Molina also seemed to partially walk back his previous statements criticizing the trial, calling the trial “historic” and pledging to not personally intervene.

In Haiti, on the other hand, the U.S. has been entirely absent.

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Accused of Sexual Abuse, MINUSTAH Officer Flees Haiti Print
Tuesday, 23 April 2013 11:36

In February, the United Nations confirmed that a Canadian serving with the United Nations Police contingent of MINUSTAH had been accused of sexually and physically assaulting a Haitian woman. Yesterday, Marie Rosy Kesner Auguste Ducena, a lawyer with the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, told CBC news that, though the victim reported the assault to police, “nothing will happen... Women who will go to complain, you will see that maybe somebody will take the complaint and will say to her you will be called after. But in fact, the case will just be closed.” CBC notes that the “day after the incident, the man boarded a flight back to Canada, where he remains.”

This is but the latest in a series of sexual abuse allegations leveled against MINUSTAH personnel in Haiti. According to U.N. data, since 2007 there have been 70 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against MINUSTAH members, but as CBC news points out, “not one has ended up in a Haitian court.”

The lack of accountability of U.N. military and police personnel in Haiti has “undermined” the organizations reputation and its ability to carry out its mandate, according to Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group (ICG). "The UN should ensure that in the agreement with the troop-contributing countries, that there is an understanding of what will happen if an abuse occurs — that there will be a full investigation, and that there will be appropriate action taken," Schneider added.

According to the CBC, the current case is complicated by the fact that the Canadian was serving as a UN Police agent. The CBC reports:

Soldiers can be tried in a military court, but under UN rules, civilian staff — including police officers — are immune from criminal prosecution in the country where the alleged offence occurred. Once back in Canada, they cannot be charged for a crime committed abroad.

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Is the IOM Underestimating the Impact of Forced Evictions? Print
Friday, 19 April 2013 15:59

The IOM reported this week that over the last three months, some 27,000 people have left IDP camps, bringing the total amount remaining to around 320,000. The IOM credits the vast majority of this reduction, some 74 percent, on relocation programs – most often a one-year rental subsidy. The report’s “highlights” section says that “Evictions accounted for a 6% decrease in IDP household population.”  Yet the data in the report directly contradicts this. Of a reported reduction of 6,401 households, the IOM says 977 were forced to leave due to evictions, representing over 15 percent of the total reduction.

But even this is most likely an underestimate. Over previous months, there has been “a dramatic new wave of forced evictions,” according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). One camp which has been under the threat of eviction, and from which some families have already been evicted, is Camp Gaston Margon. On March 22, Amnesty International released a statement, warning that:

Approximately 650 families living in Gaston Margon displacement camp in the Port-au-Prince municipality of Carrefour are currently under the threat of forced eviction. Already, on 15 February, 150 families were forcibly evicted from the camp by police officers and a group of men carrying machetes and knives who were accompanied by a local justice of the peace. The armed men began destroying the families’ shelters, while some people were still inside, and attacked individuals that attempted to stop them. The police also shot their firearms into the air to intimidate the families. One infant was reported to have suffered injuries when armed men and police damaged a shelter with the child still inside. The men reportedly threatened to burn down the entire camp and to kill the children of families who did not move.

During the previous IOM reporting period, Camp Margon had a population of 3,376. During the most recent reporting period, the population had decreased to 2,327. Given the reports of threats of eviction, and at least a partial eviction, it is clear that this reduction is not simply a case of “spontaneous return,” as the IOM report implicitly states.

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