Haiti and the Hypocrisy of Foreign Assistance
By Nnenna Ozobia October 2008 "The free world cannot allow the destiny of a small independent country to be determined by the aggression of a larger neighbor." When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said this to a group of reporters at the State Department, she could have been talking about Haiti. In reality, the Secretary used the statement to rally the international community to the side of Georgia, following its armed conflict this August with Russia. According to a New York Times report, it is now clear that Georgia initiated military operations, killing Russian peacekeeping troops in the process. i Russia struck back the next day and, in the process, the conflict claimed hundreds of innocent lives. Both countries are still disputing the actual death toll. The U.S. administration responded swiftly. Vice President Dick Cheney announced a $1 billion USD aid package to Georgia to provide humanitarian relief. In addition to the package, the U.S. government has already provided nearly $39 million to the “pro-Western” democracy, which is thousands of miles away from U.S shores, has a population of over 4.6 million people, and is a key transit point for pipelines that bypass Russian oil and gas networks. The U.S. views Georgia as a key ally that would help provide alternatives to Middle Eastern oil and help limit Russian influence on global energy supplies. The country of Haiti is also of geopolitical interest to the U.S. Yet, the nature of that interest underscores the hypocrisy of the words expressed by the Secretary and contextualizes the disparity in treatment Haiti is experiencing during a grave crisis of its own —less than 600 miles off the coast of Florida. Recently, a rapid succession of hurricanes, torrential rains and devastating floods (Tropical Storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Hanna and Hurricane Ike) wreaked havoc on the country of Haiti and plunged it one of the worst natural disasters since the beginning of the twentieth century. Hedi Annabi, a United Nations envoy touring the city of Gonaïves, commented: "What I saw in this city today is close to hell on earth."ii Conservative estimates claim that 600 people have been killed and an additional 850,000 people have been affected. According to Partners in Health, or Zanmi Lasante, which operates primarily in Haiti’s Central Plateau, as many as 1,000 people have died and approximately 1 million people are homeless.iii The actual death toll, however, will be impossible to measure given the number of bodies that are hurriedly buried in mass graves and the numbers that continue to mount as flood waters recede. Flooding devastated eight out of the ten geographic regions of the country and many roads and bridges were washed away. People were seen stranded on their rooftops and wading waist-deep through water. Six key bridges connecting the capital of Port-au-Prince to towns in northern and central Haiti collapsed. Dead livestock are scattered along the countryside and seen floating in the same waters people from which people are forced to drink and bathe. In a recent report to BBC News, Haitian Prime Minister Pierre-Louis called on the international community for more assistance and said part of the city of Gonaïves may have to be moved.iv
In many parts of the country subsistence farming is the only means of survival. Earlier this year a combination of factors sparked a food crisis in Haiti, which accelerated political instability and contributed to the dismissal of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis. Areas that were already experiencing food insecurity and chronic malnutrition were further disabled by the storms, which destroyed crops such as rice, mangos and plantains. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the entire harvest for the current agricultural season was severely damaged or destroyed. These losses jeopardize the next crop season and leave country even more dependent on foreign imports, the prices of which continue to soar. Currently, total U.S. government humanitarian assistance for Haiti is approximately $30 million USD.v With so many of its approximately 9 million people affected, much more is needed. In contrast to the Georgia situation and the subsequent $1 billion the U.S. pledged, response has relatively slow and inadequate. The second largest bilateral donor behind the U.S. is Canada, which, in early September, committed $5.6 million in humanitarian assistance for Haitians affected by the devastation caused by recent hurricanes. Canada also committed to allocate $555 million over five years (2006-2011) to reconstruction and development efforts in Haiti.vi According to an OCHA report of funding per donor for Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna, the total contribution of private individuals and organizations was 2.2 percent of total humanitarian assistance, above the mere 0.9% pledged by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).vii It is important to note that, this year, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and Zamni Lasante (Partners in Health) released documents exposing politically motivated, behind-the-scenes interventions by the United States and other members of the international community to stop the dispersal of $146 million in loans the IDB had approved in 1998 for Haiti, which were designated for urgently-needed water and sanitation projects.viii Furthermore, after centuries of economic looting by France, the U.S., and via odious debt owed to creditors such as the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank, Haiti is still being asked to pay debt service to international financial institutions. Haiti still has to reach the "completion point" under the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in order to receive debt cancellation. According to a 2007 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, if Haiti did not reach this completion point by September 2008, it would have to pay an additional $44.5 million in debt service payments to multilateral institutions.ix This date was recently pushed back further to mid-2009. Given the harmful conditions tied to HIPC debt relief, however, HIPC is not the ideal answer. Immediate debt relief is needed and must be unconditional. The Jubilee Network has been at the forefront of this campaign and the Senate version of its Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation awaits a vote. On September 11th, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting an emergency appropriation of $300 million for disaster assistance for Haiti. 67 Members of Congress have signed her letter.x That same week, a congressional delegation consisting of Representatives Yvette D. Clarke, Kendrick Meek and Donna Edwards traveled to Haiti to assess the situation on the ground. Since then, they and many more representatives and politicians have echoed the call for immediate assistance as well as the call for the Bush administration to grant temporary protected status (TPS) for Haitians. The continued deportation of Haitians back to their country contributes to accelerating destabilization in the country and is inexcusable given the current humanitarian crisis.
TPS would enable Haitians in the U.S. to send money and aid back that is critical to helping Haitians survive. It would also help the government concentrate its limited resources on economic and political reconstruction instead of having to provide social services to deportees. The remittances Haitians outside the country provide already equal an estimated 25 percent of the country's gross domestic product, nearly double what it earns from exports.xi According the Associated Press, U.S officials have determined that Nicaragua and Honduras remain unable to adequately handle the return of their nationals ten years after Hurricane Mitch. The current Haitian crisis reinforces the need for TPS for Haitians and highlights yet another area of foreign affairs in which they are being treated inequitably. Daniel Erikson, of the InterAmerican Dialogue, recently reminded the Associated Press that TPS is political and countries that have obtained it have had to either give the U.S. something or play a shrewd lobbying game. He noted that El Salvador still has TPS after the earthquakes in 2001 and “one thing that's helped them to get it is there are Salvadoran troops in Iraq."xii On September 19th, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed no removals of Haitians from the U.S. are scheduled and that they would notify Congress if and when they would resume. Recently, Haitian President René Préval said his storm-ravaged country will no longer be able to accept U.S. deportees and publicly called for TPS for Haitians living in the U.S until their homeland recovers.xiii Given the estimated billions of dollars in damage in Haiti and the widespread instability and disaster, any substantial improvement in conditions will take a while. If federal officials resume under these circumstances, it would only intensify the crisis and the inability of the government to respond. The Department of Homeland Security has declined to comment on Préval’s request. Assuming Waters’ request is accepted, the pace at which the $300 million and at which other global cash assistance reaches Haiti’s shores and the possibility of any further allocations remains in question—which is troubling, because Haiti needs to see tangible results and fast. The country, already labeled as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, does not have the capacity to respond to a crisis of this magnitude. According to Dr. Paul Farmer (PIH), “The problem is, the Haitian government and the Haitian state have been so hollowed out over the last several years that they really don’t have the resources that they need...I have little doubt that Cuba was harder hit by Ike than Haiti and may have been harder hit just in general by these storms. But they have a fairly well coordinated—a very well coordinated disaster relief system that allows them to move hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of people on fairly short notice into shelters. Haiti doesn’t have that.”xiv At the root of the problem are years of neglect by the U.S government and the exploitation of the country for its own material and strategic interests, coupled with the neglect and rape of Haiti by past, undemocratic governments, specifically the Duvalier regimes. The role of these actors, as well as the role of international financial institutions that have bled the country dry, have been critical in generating the current catastrophe in Haiti. The current crisis also does not help prospects for improvements in political stability in the near future. Haiti just emerged from approving the new government of Prime Minister Pierre Louis on September 4, 2008, in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav, and the PM is now faced with installing a new government and responding to multiple disasters at once. In the short term, Haitians desperately need water, food, shelter, and health services. In the medium to long term, Haiti needs support for the long-term reconstruction of its public sector and areas such as agriculture and infrastructure. Roads, bridges, airports, schools and power
grids have been pummeled from all sides. Unlike Katrina, in the U.S South, not even rickety levees existed to soften the blow. For a country that has been robbed for centuries by outsiders and its own undemocratic leaders, and that has suffered under debilitating economic policies imposed by external financial institutions, Haiti continues to survive. None of the actors that continue to thrive on its instability and repress its democratic voices can change that legacy. And, with an Atlantic hurricane season that is expected to run through November, the country will continue to do what is knows best. The test is whether countries such as the U.S. will move fast enough to prevent it from eventually drowning and honor their moral obligation to rescue a country they have helped to sink. What is needed? Fast action to respond to short-term humanitarian needs (ie. food, shelter, water, medical supplies) The Bush administration must grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians currently living in the United States. It is unconscionable to deport Haitians back to their country under the current conditions. Immediate investment in public sector infrastructure (emergency bridges) and in massive reforestation, irrigation and agriculture projects. Immediate actions to create alternative employment and other mechanisms to boost local economies. A long-term strategy to stop destabilization in Haiti and support the broad-based movements for democracy that exist. What can you do? Call on your members of Congress to support Representative Maxine Waters’ request for $300 million in immediate, disaster assistance for Haiti and to urge the Bush administration to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians currently living in the United States. Call your Senators to ensure they support the Jubilee Act, which would cancel the debt of impoverished countries, including Haiti. The House version of the Jubilee Act passed in April and the Senate version, co-sponsored by Senator Richard Lugar, awaits a vote. Support organizations that are designed to advance sustainable development in Haiti, such as Partners in Health (PIH) [www.pih.org]. The needs are endless and range from transportation (helicopters, jeeps and boats) to water filtration devices. Do not send clothes, which are difficult to move and often get stuck in containers. Write about current humanitarian crisis in Haiti in your local newspaper or other media. It is important that as many people as possible raise awareness about what can be done to help the estimated 1 million people in crisis.
The New York Times, “Russia-Georgia: the Separatist Regions, the Western Response,” Times Topics, August 29, 2008, http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/. ii Associated Press, “Haitian City Pummeled By Hanna Braces for Ike,” September 7, 2008. iii Ophelia Dahl, “Haiti hurricane updates,” email to Partners in Health mailing list, September 15, 2008. iv Mike Thompson, “„One million homeless‟ in Haiti,” BBC News, September 13, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7613851.stm/. v USAID, “Haiti-Storms,” Fact Sheet #10, Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, September 22, 2008, http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistance/ countries/haiti/template/fs_sr/fy2008/haiti_st_fs10_ 09-22-2008.pdf. vi CIDA, “Haiti-Overview,” http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/CIDAWEB/acdicida.nsf/En/JUD-12912349NLX?OpenDocument.
OCHA, “HAITI - Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna: Table B-Total Humanitarian Assistance per Donor,” September 2008, http://ocha.unog.ch/fts/reports/daily/ocha_R24_E15585___08101016.pdf. viii “RFK Center Releases Documents Outlining US Actions to Block Life-saving Funds to Haiti,” Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, http://www.rfkmemorial.org/legacyinaction/2002_DocRelease. ix Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval, “Debt Cancellation for Haiti: No Reason for Further Delays,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), http://www.cepr.net/index.php/publications/reports/debt-cancellation-forhaiti-no-reason-for-further-delays/. x Testimony of Rep. Maxine Waters [D-CA], “The Hurricanes in Haiti: Disaster and Recovery,” Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere - Committee on Foreign Affairs, September 23, 2008, http://www.house.gov/apps/list/hearing/ca35_waters/hurricanes_in_haiti.html. xi The CIA World Factbook, Haiti, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html. xii Jennifer Kay, “Haitians seek temporary halt to deportations,” Associated Press Writer, September 12, 2008. xiii Jacqueline Charles and Trenton Daniel, “President Préval: Haiti needs help, not U.S. deportees,” Miami Herald, Oct. 07, 2008, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/story/712728.html. xiv “Haiti Struggles with Humanitarian Disaster in Aftermath of Deadly Storms,” Interview with Dr. Paul Farmer, September 10, 2008, http://www.democracynow.org/2008/9/10/haiti_struggles_with_humanitarian_disaster_in.