Post-Quake Haiti: The Year in Review

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The donor nations – a matter of rectitude or a study in the national interest of others?

Collapse of Préval as a credible political figure

Baby Doc returns: why not Aristide?

Is Haiti a hopeless economic and political basket case?

Last Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the tragic earthquake that ravaged Port-au-Prince, killing upwards of 300,000 Haitians, destroying more than 250,000 homes, and displacing more than 1.3 million people. The earthquake in Haiti was by far one of the most unforgiving natural disasters of the past century (with property damage estimated at up to $US 14 billion), and has led to one of the most comprehensive international humanitarian relief responses ever undertaken. Within a few weeks of the earthquake, national governments, international agencies, charities, and well-intentioned individuals reached out from their homes and overseas, pledging several billions of dollars in emergency assistance. A portion of the funds are now being devoted towards rehabilitation and future reconstruction efforts.

The initial challenges brought on by the earthquake were overwhelming. Port-au-Prince was cluttered with thousands of tons of rubble, 300,000 injured people who needed treatment, and the homeless who needed shelter. Maintaining security during the process would be no easy feat. The initial efforts of volunteers and doctors were nothing less than heroic. Humanitarian organizations responded by bringing in food and medicinal supplies, clean water, and heavy construction equipment to remove rubble and set up temporary shelters. Despite the swift response to the crisis, progress over the past year in general has been painfully slow. Ninety percent of the earthquake-strewn debris remains on the streets of Port-au-Prince. A full year later, there are still over a million Haitians living in makeshift shelters. The UN’s controversial security force MINUSTAH is stationed in the capital, but civilian security in camps located far away from refugee centers remains woefully inadequate (presenting serious risks of sexual violence against women). There have been many promises to bolster employment opportunities for destitute Haitians, but there are still few jobs available.

Failed Aid: What Went Wrong?

Many have observed that those assigned to implement aid projects are often blamed for the slow progress. Of the money pledged by governments and the scores of NGOs operating in the field, only a limited amount of such assistance actually has been delivered. And of the funds that have been received, only a small portion has been dispersed. In general, there exists a frightening lack of transparency about where aid money has been allocated and spent. The Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) recently published its “One Year Report on the Transparency of Relief Organizations Responding to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.” After auditing 196 organizations that received donations for disaster relief, only 38 have completed follow-up surveys.1 The more than 80 percent that did not respond is a telling indicator of the lack of accountability among aid groups over the past twelve months.2 DAP’s Executive Director, Ben Smilowitz, concluded: “The fact that nearly half of the donated dollars still sit in the bank accounts of relief and aid groups does not match the urgency of their own fundraising and marketing efforts and donors’ intentions, nor does it convey the urgency of the situation on the ground. This may be a disincentive for future giving by individuals and other governments.”3 In other words, the inaction of these organizations can be accused of endangering Haiti’s recovery.

Another key factor behind the lethargic progress to date has been a lack of coordination and donor harmony among aid groups. An OXFAM Progress Report released in recent days explains that there is a lack of coordination among donor agencies and no effort on the part of the Haitian government to take control of the reconstruction.4 After the earthquake rocked the country, scores of NGOs flooded into Haiti setting up projects, both independent of government supervision, and of each other. This has further weakened the already tenuous exercise of state power, as the inept ruling Préval government faces competition from NGOs to distribute goods and services to their people. The government now expresses frustration over its inability to track the objectives of foreign-run operations and ensure that international organizations (operating as free-standing entities) are actually working towards the goal of the betterment of the Haitian people, rather than their overseas boards. Overall, the presence of such a plethora of organizations has unintentionally created road jams and foiled any attempts at local order.

In response to these concerns, leaders in Haiti and abroad collaborated last April to create the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC). The commission is co-chaired by former U.S. president Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Its mission has been to oversee the planning, coordination, facilitation, and implementation of development projects, as well as earmark priorities. The IHRC is composed of an equal number of Haitian and foreign stakeholders, working together to decide on future goals to renovate Haitian society. But even with equal representation, Haitians have openly complained that they are being excluded from meetings and marginalized by the decision-making processes.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Bellerive criticized the international community for not working alongside Haitians to find solutions when channeling aid.5 Professor Alex Dupuy, a highly regarded Haitian-born academic who is on the faculty of Wesleyan University, believes the relationship observed in the IHRC is evidence of the dramatic and costly power imbalance between Haiti and the international community, specifically the United States, Canada, France, the UN, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.6 These foreign states and organizations have historically controlled the political and economic life of Haiti, disregarding any respect of Haitian sovereignty. In the aftermath of the earthquake, they now have placed themselves in charge of its reconstruction, excluding Haitians from the process.

As for Bill Clinton, his credentials are not exactly unblemished. During his presidency he tirelessly reminded his staff that then Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (now living in exile in South Africa) be kept under Washington’s thumb. In the early 1990s, the Clinton administration came forth with plans to force Aristide to admit military figures into his cabinet, purchase U.S. rice from Arkansas (rather than allow Haitians to grow and export their own rice), and keep the Haitian leader from effectively governing. In a recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Clinton admitted that the strategies he had used against Aristide (with regards to Haitian agricultural production) were damaging to the country. Ironically, some of these detrimental policies are now being revisited by the IHRC.

According to Ricardo Seitenfus, Haiti’s former representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), “Emergency aid is effective. But when it becomes structural, when it replaces the State in all its duties, collective responsibilities in society end up abandoned.”7 While the humanitarian response to the earthquake was immediate, it has proved to be almost impossible to coordinate Haiti’s aid efforts. In many cases, it appears as though the several billion dollars pledged for emergency relief and reconstruction are also addressing some of the foreign policy purposes of the donor countries rather than only domestic priorities. This makes it difficult to establish if aid and assistance are sufficient propellants to lead to sustainable development and the strengthening of Haitian institutions.

In order to restore and revitalize the nation, policymakers would be wise to look at the events of this troubled year, assessing what has been ineffective, while working to develop an entirely new blueprint to accommodate large-scale international aid. Discussions on reconstruction need to include Haitian representation; not only politicians, but also members of Haiti are flourishing civil society. Often times, citizens will have better insights than outsiders about the struggling nation’s own needs. This might end up sharpening assistance efforts, contributing to better policymaking for the battered Caribbean state.

The Unexpected Outbreak of Cholera

The dire situation in Haiti has been further compounded by unforeseen events such as the outbreak of cholera and the continuing political uncertainty gripping the island. In October, a Nepalese UN peacekeeper stationed under MINUSTAH has been identified as unintentionally bringing cholera to the island. The disease quickly spread, infecting tens of thousands, killing more than 3,000 people, while causing widespread panic. In Mid-December, UN officials told reporters that the official death count likely underestimates the true scale of the epidemic.8 A number of days ago, Fadela Chaib, a (World Health Organization) WHO spokeswoman, said that “the peak has not been reached… there will certainly [be] many more cases of cholera in Haiti,” pointing out that hundreds of new cases are being detected every day.9

Dr. Paul Farmer, the Deputy UN Special Envoy for Haiti, has proposed a five-step plan for controlling the cholera outbreak, which includes prevention efforts to make safe water more accessible.10 Diarrheal diseases —like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery— thrive in an environment where there is little access to clean water and sanitation. But improving Haiti’s water systems will depend on more than water purification tablets and oral rehydration. It will require better infrastructure and sound governance, both of which the country severely lacks. Without a doubt, this tragedy will have lasting repercussions on Haiti’s fragile (and vital) agricultural sector, leading to more economic dislocations in the future.

As unclean water and a lack of sanitation increased the likelihood of the spread of cholera, the international media’s attention shifted to the current race for the presidency. With vested interests very much in mind, the international community offered its assistance to ensure that the new government be democratically elected. If Haiti wishes to have a stronger government in the future, capable of taking a more decisive leadership role in its own development efforts, the elections would have to be as free and fair as possible. While there never were high hopes for a perfectly accountable and legitimate election, observers were unsure how to react to the demonstrable fraud, ballot stuffing, and electoral disarray of November 28th.

The Flawed Elections

To begin, Haiti’s electoral council (the CEP), led by Préval (who appointed all nine of its members), effectively excluded fifteen political parties from running for the presidency. Though once known for his quiet demeanor, and now for his unqualified incompetence, Haitians expected Préval to show his putative leadership abilities by guiding the nation through its first year of reconstruction. After manipulating the CEP, he now he is facing accusations of fraud pertaining to the country’s disputed elections. His decision to exclude Haiti’s most representative political party—the Fanmi Lavalas of former exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide—from the electoral process was a final straw for many citizens and led to a thunderstorm of international outrage. Préval’s critics, such as U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, alleged that the November 28th elections were a “violation of the democratic resolve of the Haitian people.”11 The CEP’s exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas was also a breaking point for many citizens. No longer able to choose their leaders, disenchanted Haitians reacted in protest with many of them boycotting the election.

On Election Day, voters faced numerous barriers to cast their ballots. To begin, there were fewer than 1,000 polling stations set up across the country. More than a million internally displaced people were not issued proper identity cards, leaving them disenfranchised. The list of registered voters (used in the country’s electoral commission) predated the earthquake and contained the names of at least 250,000 deceased Haitians. Observers witnessed and reported ballot stuffing, accounts of intimidation at numerous voting stations, and other widespread irregularities. Overall, it was estimated that only 27 percent of registered voters went to the polls (compared to the 59.3 percent turnout in the 2006 elections).

International organizations acting as electoral observers (the OAS, CARICOM and the EU) dutifully counted the ballots to announce that former first lady Mirande Manigat and Jude Celestin (René Préval’s chosen successor) attracted 31.37 and 22.48 percent of the votes respectively. Popular singer Michel Martelly placed third with 21.48 percent. Just a few weeks ago, experts from the OAS challenged the official preliminary results, charging that due to fraud and irregularities, the government backed presidential candidate Celestin should be excluded from the run-off and be replaced by Martelly. Rather than calling for a re-vote, experts from the OAS (and the U.S. government) shocked observers by lending legitimacy to the fraudulent election, pressuring an angry Préval to accept the recommendations of the OAS mission and follow its electoral process.

Unclear Results

Today, any number of electoral camps are still voicing their outrage against the CEP and Préval, demanding that parties close to the average Haitian be allowed to have access to the ballot box, and that new elections be staged. Congresswoman Waters suggests that foreign nations should collaborate with the Haitian government to carry out new elections which will make them more inclusive and transparent.12 This means a more accurate voter list, easily obtainable voter registration, and a proper number of well-patrolled polling stations that are accessible to the population at large. The Obama administration announced last Friday that it would consider supporting the staging of a new election if the OAS panel election team deems the November results invalid.13 Meanwhile on Saturday, the American Ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth H. Merten embraced the OAS’s findings.14

These recent developments suggest that the U.S. government is splintered on its stance regarding Haiti, but is realizing that the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas and other political parties has only served to undermine Haiti’s ability to rebuild itself as a credible democratic state. These forces are placing pressure on Haitian officials and the OAS to reconsider the electoral outcome. Though dates have not been set, the concept of a second round of presidential elections is set to advance. If the second round is indeed to take place, it is doubtful that whomever gets elected will hold popular legitimacy. Their ability to lead the country and mobilize Haitians for reconstruction tasks will remain problematic, resulting in the precarious situation of yet another weak government. As demonstrated by Haiti’s past, a fragile president without popular support will continue to defer to foreign interests and allow the international community to manage the country with only limited input from islanders.

Arrival of Duvalier

Attention shifted away from the political confusion when last Sunday; former dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Jean-Claude Duvalier made an unexpected return to the small island nation. After fifteen years in power, Duvalier was overthrown in a popular uprising in 1986. Since his ousting, Duvalier has been absent from Haitian political life. In 2007, Préval told reporters that if Duvalier were to ever return from his exile in France, he would face instant justice for his looting of the national treasury and his crimes against humanity. Shockingly, Duvalier initially faced no charges in Haiti, but earlier this week the Haitian authorities brought him to a court where he was charged with corruption and embezzlement during his 1971-1986 reign. He was released after questioning but is presently barred from leaving the country. Human Rights Watch counsel, Reed Brody, told Reuters on Wednesday that, “it’s a necessity and it’s an opportunity.” Amnesty International issued a statement praising what it called “the arrest” of Duvalier but said it was just the beginning.

Duvalier’s mysterious and hardly explained return comes at a critical time in Haiti’s democratic process. Haitians are being left frustrated and increasingly impatient with the numerous setbacks and lack of progress in the rebuilding their country. If the international community is concerned with Haiti’s democratic process, they should be wary of the potential impact that Duvalier’s homecoming is sure to eventually have, and should encourage the Haitian government to proceed with prosecutions. The failure to arrest him will no doubt further the cycle of impunity that has prevailed for so long in Haiti. As the country struggles to deal with the electoral crisis, the lingering cholera epidemic, and the continued earthquake reconstruction, Duvalier’s appearance can only further disrupt Haiti.

Will Préval Honor His Political Mentor and Grant a Passport to Aristide — or is the President Beyond Redemption?

Duvalier’s return to Haiti has not only threatened Haiti’s already shaky political order, but also seems to have has also sparked a response in the former priest-turned-president: Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Just four days after the surprise return of overthrown dictator Duvalier, Aristide released a letter announcing his intention to also return to Haiti. Aristide has been in exile since 2004, when he was escorted onto a U.S. flight destined for Africa. On Wednesday he sent a message to his supporters saying he was ready to return home “today, tomorrow, at any time” and would be excited “to contribute to serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.”15

If Aristide hopes to make a triumphant return back to Haiti, he will need to be issued a valid Haitian passport. Réné Préval, once a political protégé and close friend of Aristide, now refuses to issue him a new one. Duvalier, on the other hand, had no trouble flying into Port-au-Prince on his long expired diplomatic passport. Amazingly enough, Haitian forces allowed Haiti’s most infamous dictator to return to the country, while effectively barring the country’s first democratically-elected president from returning home.

Préval (supported by his closest allies; the U.S. and France) would be right to be weary of Aristide’s return to the country. His return would be a groundbreaking affair, and could also further disrupt Haiti’s convoluted presidential race. There is no doubt that the elections should be entirely redone, but having Aristide and Duvalier back on the island may only serve to further polarize politics, propelling supporters of both camps to encourage the former leaders back into the political arena. Haitians have spent the past year moving ‘beyond mountains’ confronting challenge after challenge. If this were to transpire, the reverberations felt on the ground would send further shock waves throughout Haiti.

References for this article are available here