Haiti: US cables released, new housing dangers revealed

The WikiLeaks group is releasing a total of 1,918 previously unpublished US diplomatic cables concerning Haiti to the weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté, which is published in New York and Port-au-Prince. The cables cover a period of seven years, from April 17, 2003 to Feb. 28, 2010, shortly after the January 2010 earthquake that shattered much of southern Haiti. The newspaper is planning a series of articles based on the cables. The first article, which appeared in the May 25-30 edition, details US diplomats’ unsuccessful efforts to keep former president René Préval (2006-2011) from having Haiti join PetroCaribe, a program through which Venezuela supplies oil to Caribbean Basin countries on favorable terms. Later articles are to show how the US government backed assembly plant owners fighting an increase in the minimum wage and how the US militarized the distribution of aid after the earthquake. (Haïti Liberté, May 25-May 30; AlterPresse, Haiti, May 31)

The cables are appearing on the WikiLeaks site as they are released. Those originating from the US embassy in Haiti are posted at: http://www.wikileaks.org/origin/59_0.html

Controversy over earthquake death toll
In other news, controversy continues around a draft report for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that dramatically lowers estimates for the death toll in the earthquake and for the number of homeless survivors still living in camps. There have been suggestions that the lower estimates could lead to a reduction in international aid.

But as the DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) notes, the discussion overlooks a more important estimate in the report. Last year engineers assessed the damage to surviving buildings, using yellow to mark unsafe buildings that need repairs and red to mark buildings that need to be demolished. The USAID report found that many survivors had returned to these buildings—preferring the danger to the unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the camps and lacking any alternatives in the absence of new housing.

This “means that as many as 570,178 people (114,493 residential groups or families) are living in 84,951 homes that may collapse in foul weather or in the event of another tremor,” according to Timothy Schwartz, the lead author of the study. “That’s yellow buildings. For red buildings it means that 465,996 people (100,430 residential groups) are living in 73,846 buildings that might collapse at any moment.” CEPR calls this “the most relevant and alarming data” in the study, which clearly “does not portray a Haiti that needs less help.” (CEPR, Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, June 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 5.

See our last posts on Haiti and the WikiLeaks scandals.