Haiti

It is now more than two years since a devastating earthquake killed at least 250,000 people in Haiti; and it is becoming increasingly evident that, despite the billions of dollars of aid, life continues to get worse for most Haitians.

In January 2011, we produced our first special newsletter on Haiti. In it we carried an impassioned interview with a Brazilian diplomat, Ricardo Seitenfus, in which he issued a stinging attack on international policy towards Haiti and promptly resigned as the OAS representative there. Among other pertinent comments, he said: “The international community wants to turn Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for the US market. It’s absurd. Haiti must return to what it is. That is to say, a predominantly agricultural country still fundamentally imbued with customary law.” 

LAB’s Nick Caistor has edited this week’s newsletter, presenting articles and analysis on the situation now in Haiti. Since the earthquake, more than US$4.5 billion has been pledged by the international community to help the country rebuild but some 500,000 Haitians still lack proper housing, with little to suggest that the crisis will be resolved in the short-term. The cholera epidemic, almost certainly introduced to Haiti by members of the United Nations’ MINUSTAH peace-keeping forces, has claimed 7,000 lives, and the government of President Michel Martelly seems increasingly paralysed.  It is clear that, just as Ricardo Seitenfus feared, almost all of the changes being wrought in Haiti are making the situation even worse for the mass of the population.

We begin with Nick Caistor’s  analysis of the current political stalemate, which has acted as a brake on international donors living up to their promises of aid and, he says, seems to be leading the country into the kind of downwards spiral that has so often plagued Haiti in the past. (Read more).

A further element of debate and uncertainty is the continuing presence of some 11,000 personnel from the United Nations’ MINUSTAH peace-keeping forces. Their mandate has been renewed until at least October 2012, but as the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) argues, the United Nations must also properly acknowledge its responsibility for introducing the deadly epidemic of cholera into Haiti, which threatens to claim many more victims as the 2012 rainy season advances. (Read more).

Immediately after the January 2012 earthquake, the international community responded with pledges of huge amounts of aid. However, on the one hand less than half of these promises have so far been kept. On the other, the capacity of so small and poor a nation-state as Haiti to be able to absorb and put to positive use this massive inflow of funds has been increasingly questioned. In an interview Tim Schwartz, the author of ‘Travesty in Haiti’ and an expert on aid, goes further, arguing that the aid has actually contributed to the destruction of the Haitian economy.  (Read more).

One of the stumbling blocks for the disbursement of international aid has been the accusation of corruption and misuse of the money. The Haiti Grassroots Watch has investigated specific cases in the provision of proper shelters for those left homeless by the earthquake. (Read more).

But it would be wrong to see in an entirely negative light all the efforts made by Haitians and the international community over the past two years. Remarkably, many Haitians have retained their determination to rebuild their country and are doing all they can to promote the initiatives that are working.  The southern port of Jacmel has for several years held an important film festival. It now also has a film school, training Haitians to make their own films about the reality of their country as they see it. In January 2012 a film crew from Jacmel set out on a voyage around Haiti to look at projects that were bringing hope to communities throughout the country. SEE VIDEO ON HOME PAGE

This and many similar projects benefit from the support of small NGOs from other countries. Tom Ricker of the Quijote Center in the United States describes how his group has been helping a reforestation campaign in Gros Morne in the north of Haiti. His article suggests that patience and perseverance are the keys to developing a successful, sustainable project. (Read more).

Finally, Peleg Charles, Oxfam’s press officer in Haiti, argues powerfully that, even though it is proving hugely difficult to give a new direction to the country, the struggle must continue to construct a fairer and more equitable society.  (Read more).

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