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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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104 Members of Congress Call for the UN to Take Responsibility for Cholera Print

Haiti’s cholera infection and death rates show an alarming recent increase, with official statistics reporting 290 deaths and nearly 40,000 cases in May and June alone, as the rainy season returned. Pressure continues to build for the United Nations to take responsibility for causing the cholera outbreak, which has now killed over 7,418 people and infected over 579,014. Last week, Hollywood took notice of the issue, with some 90 celebrities attending a screening of the Olivia Wilde-produced documentary film, “Baseball in the Time of Cholera” directed by David Darg and Bryn Mooser, and many urged action on the issue via Twitter, leading to the hashtag #undeny becoming a top trend for much of the day last Thursday.

Today, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which features prominently in the film, took “Baseball” to Congress with a screening. The move is well-timed, as 104 members of Congress just released a letter addressed to U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice calling on her to “to strongly encourage the United Nations to take a leadership role in addressing this catastrophic public health crisis,” specifically by urging “UN authorities to support efficient treatment and prevention of the epidemic and to help Haiti acquire adequate water and sanitation infrastructure.”

The letter, which was circulated by Rep. John Conyers (D – MI) states:

As cholera was brought to Haiti due to the actions of the UN, we believe that it is imperative for the UN to now act decisively to control the cholera epidemic. UN authorities should work with Haiti’s government and the international community to confront and, ultimately, eliminate this deadly disease from Haiti and the rest of the island of Hispaniola.  A failure to act will not only lead to countless more deaths: it will undermine the crucial effort to reconstruct Haiti and will pose a permanent public health threat to the populations of neighboring nations.

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In MINUSTAH Abuse Case, Cover-Up Goes Unpunished Print

In March, three Pakistani MINUSTAH troops were found guilty, sentenced to one year in prison and repatriated for the rape of a 14-year old Haitian boy. Although the trial was held on Haitian soil, it was a “military justice procedure…undertaken in accordance with the national laws of Pakistan,” according to the UN. Additionally, Reuters reported at the time that “Haitian government authorities were given no advance notice of the military tribunal.” Had the troops faced a Haitian court, their sentences would likely have been much longer. Had the troops had to face Haitian justice they may also have had to respond to further allegations that the Pakistani UN Mission tried to cover-up the crime, going so far as to kidnap the victim.

While some Haitian media and blogs picked up the story at the time, little has been written about the attempted cover-up.  Independent journalist Kathie Klarreich, who recently traveled to Gonaïves where the crime took place, mentioned the cover-up in a larger piece about MINUSTAH scandals for the Christian Science Monitor. Klarreich has now provided new details to HRRW on what happened, raising even more questions about the level of impunity for UN troops in Haiti and just how widespread these abuses are. While the Haitian police have witnesses and evidence tying MINUSTAH to the cover-up of rape, the UN has apparently not been cooperative and has failed to adequately investigate and hold accountable those responsible.

What Happened


The UN first disclosed the case in January, announcing that an investigative team would be heading to Haiti. In February, as the circumstances around the case became clearer, Senator Youri Latortue took to the airwaves to call for the lifting of immunity for MINUSTAH and to denounce the apparent cover-up that was executed by the Pakistani contingent. After witnesses of the abuse went to local police, the 14-year-old boy was kidnapped and taken to a MINUSTAH base in Cap- Haïtien with the “objective to prevent the continuation of the investigation” according to Latortue. On January 26, 2012, police arrested Vladimir Alexandre, a local Haitian, for being an accomplice to the kidnapping. Another alleged accomplice is still at large. While the “military tribunal” was conducted behind closed doors and the guilty members of MINUSTAH whisked out of the country, the local case in the city of Gonaïves has gone nowhere.

Alexandre, speaking with Klarreich, defended himself, telling her, “All I did was show them where he [the victim] lived. I don’t know anything about taking him anywhere,” adding that he didn’t receive anything from the soldiers in return. But Klarreich said that what he told her directly contradicts what he had told police when they arrested him.  According to a copy of his testimony which Klarreich read, Alexandre admitted that he knew the boy, that he’d been in contact with the Pakistani MINUSTAH troops, and that he and the other accomplice had agreed to remove the boy from the area. He also admits that the Pakistanis came to his home bearing gifts for his mother – $100 Haitian Gourdes ($12 US) and a sack of rice.

Alexandre remains in the police station jail, held in a room with 111 other prisoners. The Gonaïves police chief told Klarreich that according to Haitian law, Alexandre could be held for up to two months but if no charges were brought then legally he should be allowed to go free.  “I am not here to judge,” the police chief said, “but rather to make sure that the justice system works. Let’s remove the obstacles and finish this case.” The local officials in charge of the case continue to seek answers, while the lawyers for the victim continue to seek compensation from the United Nations.

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Reports from Field Highlight Need for Greater Governmental, Non-Governmental Accountability Print

Vijaya Ramachandran and Julie Walz of the Center for Global Development recently reported on their trip to Haiti, where they further examined aid accountability and the ongoing reconstruction effort, the themes of their recent policy paper which we have previously described.

Among the problems that Ramachandran and Walz noted were:

International NGOs have frequent staff turnover and very high costs.  In the aftermath of the quake, we learned that senior staff came and went, some staying as little as a few weeks.  A new arrival meant starting all over again, often with an individual who had little knowledge of Haiti and no knowledge of Creole (or even French).   The cost of maintaining expatriate staff in Haiti is very high.  According to the Miami Herald, it can cost upwards of $200,000 annually in housing and other benefits to keep a senior-level manager in Haiti. Some of our interviewees explained how NGOs and foreign workers are exempt from Haitian taxes and often do not follow Haitian registration requirements.  Donors have spent billions of dollars trying to repair Haiti’s broken infrastructure, largely with their own goods and labor.  In the meantime, most Haitians in Port-au-Prince spend their day trying to sell a few vegetables or fruit or other goods on the sidewalk, which in most cases, does not generate enough money to feed themselves or their families.


We repeatedly heard stories about the unintended economic and social consequences of the influx of foreign workers.  Housing costs in certain areas have skyrocketed – rentals easily go for over $30,000 per year, with some houses being rented for a lot more. Restaurants and supermarkets in certain areas of Petion-ville cater exclusively to foreign tastes, and prices of basic goods have been driven up to a level that even middle-class Haitians cannot afford.

And:

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Environmental, Labor Concerns Overlooked in Rush to Build Caracol Park, Part II Print

This is the second installment looking at the New York Times in depth investigation into the Caracol industrial park. For part one, click here.

Jobs at What Cost?

Sontag reports that while concerns over Sae-A’s labor practices were consistently brought to the attention of officials, the project continued to go forward without a comprehensive review:

Before the Haiti deal was sealed, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. urged American and international officials to reconsider, given what it described in a detailed memo as Sae-A’s egregious antiunion repression, including “acts of violence and intimidation” in Guatemala, where Homero Fuentes, who monitors factories for American retailers, calls Sae-A “one of the major labor violators.”

The five-page memo “accused Sae-A of using bribes, death threats and imprisonment to prevent and break up unions.” Sontag describes the allegations against Sae-A in some detail, and notes that while “Gail W. Strickler… the assistant United States trade representative for textiles, says she considered Sae-A ‘an exemplary corporate citizen,’” meanwhile “Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, calls the company ‘a big player in a dirty industry with a track record that suggests a degree of ruthlessness even worse than the norm.’”

Of course, labor rights violations in the garment sector in Haiti are nothing new. In fact, on the same day that U.S., Haitian and development bank officials inaugurated the Caracol park, an investigation by Better Work Haiti found "evidence of violations of freedom of association" at other Haitian textile factories.  The most recent Better Work Haiti report, which “uncovered a higher number of violations in the areas of core labour standards than what [was] observed in the previous assessments”, is available here. 11 of 20 factories were found to be non-compliant in at least one of the core labor standards.

“American officials said Sae-A would be closely monitored in Haiti because of trade legislation requiring stringent scrutiny through an American-financed inspection program.”  As part of the legislation providing duty free access to the U.S. market, the U.S., together with the Better Work Haiti program, provides oversight as well as training to employers, employees and Haitian government officials on labor rights issues. But as Yannick Etienne of the Haitian workers’ rights group Batay Ouvriye tells Sontag, ‘“it remains to be seen” whether the inspection program will have “any teeth.”’

Every two years, the U.S. must identify which producers are in compliance with core labor standards and Haitian labor law. The most recent report, which was published in the last month, notes that, “While this is USTR’s fourth report, this is the first reporting period that [non-compliant] producers have been identified.” Yet, giving credence to Etienne’s concerns, this does not mean that the three producers identified as non-compliant on core labor standards will miss out on duty-free access to the U.S. market. As long as the producer shows an effort to improve and work with the U.S. to correct the problems, they will face no sanctions.

One resident of Caracol, who went to Nicaragua to participate in a Sae-A apprenticeship came back so disillusioned he told the New York Times that as soon as he found other work, he would quit his job with Sae-A:

“The way the Koreans treat the Nicaraguan workers is awful,” Mr. Joseph said. “They just treat them like nothing. Just: ‘Do your job. If you don’t do it, I’ll call somebody else to do it.’ ”
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Environmental, Labor Concerns Overlooked in Rush to Build Caracol Park Print

The first of two installments looking at the New York Times in depth investigation into the Caracol industrial park. Part two will be posted shortly.

Deborah Sontag, writing in today’s New York Times, takes a detailed look at the new Caracol industrial park being built in northeastern Haiti, finding that in their rush to show reconstruction progress the plan’s backers have overlooked labor and environmental concerns. Sontag writes:

Two and a half years after the earthquake, Haiti remains mired in a humanitarian crisis, with 390,000 people languishing in tents. Yet the showcase project of the reconstruction effort is this: an industrial park that will create jobs and housing in an area undamaged by the temblor, a venture that risks benefiting foreign companies more than Haiti itself.

The park, whose main tenant Sae-A expects to generate some 20,000 jobs over the next six years, has been made possible by generous subsidies from the U.S. and Haitian governments and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Sae-A officials were invited to the U.S. embassy in Seoul to meet with Secretary of State Clinton in 2010. One concern the company had at the time was “uncertainty about whether Haiti’s minimum wage for textile workers, scheduled to increase to $5 from $3.75 a day this October, would continue to rise.” Wikileaks cables later revealed that the U.S. embassy in Haiti, along with some multinational companies had “aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers,” according to The Nation.  While the minimum wage has increased, 18 out of 20 factories monitored by the Better Work Haiti program were found to be non-compliant on the minimum wage in their most recent assessment published in April.

Despite the “obstacles,” and convinced by legislation providing tariff-free access to the U.S. market, Sae-A officials were soon heading to sign an agreement -- but not in Haiti, in Washington:

By late summer, they were flying with their investment plan to Washington for a meeting with Mrs. Clinton and other international officials in a historic treaty-signing room on the State Department’s seventh floor.

While Sae-A originally estimated the project would create 3,000-4,000 jobs, American and international officials wanted more:

“We would say, ‘We could probably do a factory with about 3,000 to 4,000 people.’ They’re like, ‘Wow. What would you need to make it bigger?’ I [Lon Garwood, senior advisor to Sae-A] said, ‘If we could get a loan for the machines, we could probably double that.’ They said, ‘What about 10,000?’ We said, ‘If we didn’t have to worry about purchasing the land, if we didn’t have to build the factory shells, then we could double it again.’ That’s where the 20,000 jobs figure came from.”

In the end, the land was provided free of charge by the Haitian government (evicting some 350 farmers in the process), the IDB agreed to provide $100 million to finance the building, while the U.S. would contribute $124 million for a power plant, housing and a port. Sae-A, which reported $1.1 billion in export business last year, only needs to invest $39.2 million. The $124 million provided by the U.S. is over a quarter of the money the U.S. earmarked for reconstruction. 

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