Haiti: 2011—”year of revolt” or more of the same?

Criticism of both the Haitian government and the international community continues to mount as the Jan. 12 anniversary of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake approaches. The quake killed as many as 250,000 people and destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and other cities in southern and western Haiti, leaving more than 1.5 million people homeless. One year later the majority of the displaced still live in improvised shelters without proper nutrition, sanitation or medical care.

There has been little progress in the reconstruction effort, according to a Jan. 6 report by the aid organization Oxfam International. The report’s authors blame indecisiveness by the Haitian government, a lack of coordination among donor nations and a failure to act by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC, or CIRH in French and Spanish), a group set up last March to disburse and monitor international aid. Just 15% of the temporary shelters needed for the homeless have been built, while only 5% of the rubble has been removed, the report says, making new construction almost impossible. Donor nations have released about $2 billion dollars so far, 42% of the amount promised for last year. (AlterPresse, Haiti, Jan. 7)

The problem with the reconstruction aid is that the donors’ “objectives and their policies first and foremost aim to benefit their own investors, farmers, manufacturers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs),” Alex Dupuy, a Haitian-born sociology professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, wrote in the Jan. 7 Washingon Post. One example is the US. “According to news reports, of the more than 1,500 US contracts doled out worth $267 million, only 20, worth $4.3 million, have gone to Haitian firms. The rest have gone to US firms, which almost exclusively use US suppliers. Although these foreign contractors employ Haitians, mostly on a cash-for-work basis, the bulk of the money and profits are reinvested in the United States.”

Dupuy noted the “dramatic power imbalance between the international community–under US leadership–and Haiti…The IHRC, originally conceived by the State Department, has effectively displaced the Haitian government and is in charge of setting priorities for reconstruction.” Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive has admitted that Haiti has lost its sovereignty, according to Dupuy, who concluded that international aid is actually hurting Haiti. (WP, Jan. 7)

Even an official of the international community came to this conclusion. “Nothing gets resolved; it’s made worse” by international operations, the Organization of American States (OAS) representative in Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, told the Swiss daily Le Temps in an interview published on Dec. 20. “They’re trying to make Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for the American market; it’s absurd. Haiti ought to go back to what it is, that is, an essentially agricultural country rooted in customary law… If there is any evidence for the failure of international aid, it’s Haiti.”

Seitenfus, a Brazilian diplomat, also questioned the need for the international “peacekeeping” force, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). “Haiti isn’t an international menace. We’re not in a civil war situation. Haiti isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan… When the unemployment rate is 80%, it is inexcusable to deploy a stabilization mission. There’s nothing to stabilize, and everything to build.” The United Nations (UN) has made “the Haitians into prisoners on their own island.” The UN mandate “is to maintain the peace of the cemetery.” (Le Temps, Dec. 19, via AlterPresse, Dec. 21)

Seitenfus hoped to have his two-year term as OAS representative extended when it expired in two months, but OAS secretary José Miguel Insulza “asked me to take a vacation” after the Le Temps interview appeared, the diplomat said in a later interview. (Folha do Brasil, Brazil, Dec. 29)

On Jan. 1 about a dozen Haitian grassroots and leftist organizations marked the 207th anniversary of their country’s independence with a statement declaring 2011 a “year of revolt.” They pledged “to continue to struggle against imperialist domination, against exploitation, against the MINUSTAH” so that the country could regain its sovereignty.

“The urban and the rural masses must reject imperialism, the bourgeoisie, the traditional politicians, along with the fraudulent elections that have brought us to this situation today,” wrote the organizations, which included Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle), the Popular Democratic Movement (MODEP) and the Gramsci Circle. “[W]e must not defend either the old or the new restavek [servant] politicians who struggle for power. Like Président Préval, they have the same agenda and are going to rule in opposition to us.” The organizations also said they would fight for the United Nations to compensate the victims of the cholera epidemic and would struggle alongside those displaced by the earthquake “in favor of a new state, for a more just society.” (AlterPresse, Jan. 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 9.

See our last post on Haiti.