Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Man-made Aftershocks of A Natural Disaster: Haiti One Year Later

The Man-made Aftershocks of A Natural Disaster: Haiti One Year Later

Originally posted on:


Jan 26 2011
Kevin Edmonds

More than a year has passed since Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, along with one of the largest international relief efforts in modern history. Yet, for many people in Haiti today, little has changed, and for many others life has become worse. While the uncontrollable forces of nature can be blamed for the death and destruction of the earthquake (in which an estimated 300,000 Haitians perished), the extreme vulnerability of the nation both before and after the disaster was entirely man-made.

One year after the quake, 1.3 million people still are living in unsanitary and makeshift tent camps despite $10 billion dollars of aid pledged by the international community. Many Haitians think that instead of an international aid effort, they are witnessing the continuation of a lengthy history of self-interested foreign intervention in their country.

Instead of relief efforts, the more concrete plans coming from the international community are the construction of giant factories. While there is no argument about whether Haiti needs jobs, the $3 a day minimum wage offered in such factories will do little to help Haitians help themselves or rebuild their homes, as they will earn just enough to stay alive and return to work the next day. Taken together, the combination of an as-yet undelivered $10 billion in reconstruction funds promised for Haiti, the nearly 80% of the Haitian people without stable work, and a recently disclosed timeline estimating that only 40% of the rubble will be cleared by August 2011 (19 months after the quake) means that the lack of coordination and vision of the planners has now become deadly.

Haitian activist and historian Jean St. Vil told me that he was “disappointed, but not surprised,” with the lack of progress. ”Years before the quake, every indicator told us that the foreign players who hold almost all significant power in Haiti (political and economic), refuse to change the basic paradigm under which they operate. Therefore, the Haitian population is seen and treated as a threat, not an asset. Thus, the heavy investments in tools of repression (military, police, and prisons) rather than true reconstruction is not surprising.”

Since the quake nearly one billion dollars have been put towards the military. Aristide disbanded the Haitian military, but the UN forces are the de-facto force, and their 2010-2011 tour will cost $865 million – and still more money will be invested in the police, and prison apparatus.

St. Vil went on to say that, “The actions of the foreign diplomats and of the UN personnel in Haiti are often illegal. For instance, the IHRC [Interim Haiti Recovery Commission], co-chaired by Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive is dominated by its foreign membership. (See revealing letter by Haitian members of the IHRC. It has no accountability to the Haitian people, in whose name it is soliciting billions of dollars. So far the focus is not to invest in people, in Haitian-capacity building. We are witnessing the worst form of disaster capitalism at play and the Clinton Global Initiative is a major player at the heart of it all.”

Instead of relief efforts, the billions of dollars promised at the March donor conferences for reconstruction have been going to the payments of Haiti’s debt, sitting in the bank accounts of NGO’s like the Red Cross and World Vision, and held up in Congress, while the United Nations was unable to secure an additional $164 million from international donors to combat the spread of cholera.

Brazilian academic and Special Representative to Haiti for the Organization of American States, Ricardo Seitenfus, strongly criticized the development strategy in Haiti to the Swiss Daily Le Temps, saying that “It is unacceptable from a moral standpoint to treat Haiti as a laboratory. The reconstruction of Haiti and the shimmering promise of $ 11 billion inspire lust. It seems that a lot of people come to Haiti, not for Haiti but to do business. For me as an American it is a disgrace, an affront to our conscience.”

Norman Girvan, a professor and Professional Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies agreed and told me that “The record of the international community in Haiti in the past year is actually quite disgraceful, as the Seitenfus interview shows. They have established a virtual trusteeship over Haiti, instead of helping Haitians build their own institutions and capacity to manage their way out of the catastrophe. So the cycle of neo-colonial dependency has been perpetrated and strengthened.” Indeed, one year after the quake more than one million people still live in squalid conditions of the internal displacement camps.

“Aside from the earthquake, the two biggest problems facing Haiti right now are cholera and the exclusionary and undemocratic elections held on November 28,” comments Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. “The International Community injected the cholera into Haiti,” says Concannon, “and provided generous logistical, financial and political support to the unfair elections, knowing that they were unfair. So the International Community certainly brought harm. Whether that harm was offset by the earthquake reconstruction and other help is a tough question.”

At the time of this writing, the death toll from the cholera epidemic nears 3,600 people, with a recent increase in the total number of deaths per day as a troubling sign that relief efforts cannot effectively contain the spread of the outbreak.. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the strain of cholera spreading throughout Haiti matches a strain from an earlier outbreak in Nepal – the home country of a large contingent of UN soldiers at the Mirebalais base, next to the river where the cholera originated in Haiti.

The efforts to contain the cholera epidemic are hampered by the absence of the Haitian government and strong state institutions, as evidenced by November’s severely questioned elections in the country.

The exclusion of the most progressive and the most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas (in addition to 14 others), from the election created a significant obstacle to a reconstruction in tune with the needs of Haiti’s poor majority. Fanmi Lavalas was strong within Haiti’s most impoverished communities because it promoted the widespread building of primary social services such as health care and education, attempted to halt the privatization of public utilities, and worked to raise the country’s low minimum wage—all policies that remain widely absent from any of the international community’s reconstruction proposals.

“How can you expect the international community to do something good for Haiti while the same international community supports coup d’etats and flawed elections . . . ,” says Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre. “There has been only empty promises, biased conferences and economic self interest put forward.”

One year later, if Haiti is to see any significant progress in reconstruction, the entire relationship between the international community and Haiti must be radically reconfigured. As it stands, the Haitians living in the internally displaced persons camps, have seen little progress, despite the billions of aid pledged. Their precarious existence hinges on the relief effort that has widely been criticized as poorly organized, self serving, and indifferent.

The international effort to restore rebuild Haiti under the auspices of charity, justice and democracy is carried out through destructive, undemocratic and self serving means. It is hard to imagine that the already tested patience of the Haitian people will last much longer.

Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA Research Associate.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aftershock: After the Quake (TVO's The Agenda)

Today was my first apperance on television. It was on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. Niraj at the Toronto Haiti Action Committee forwarded my name to the producer who invited me on. It was both a unique and stressful experience - always second guessing my answers as I was speaking. Thankful for the opporunity to speak about Haiti. Hopefully next time they will include Haitians in their discussion about the lack of reconstruction about their own country.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Radio Basics: Haiti One Year Later - CHRY 105.5fm

Today I had the opportunity to go on the Radio Basics show on CHRY 105.5fm in Toronto. The hosts were great, giving me the time and space to express the questions in depth. They really knew their stuff. Looking foward to doing it again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Critic of Western Policy in Haiti Loses his OAS Job

Originally Posted on:

Posted on: January 6th, 2011

Link to Original:

A Critic of Western Policy in Haiti Loses his OAS Job
By: Kevin Edmonds
January 6, 2011
Brazilian peacekeepers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) distribute water and food in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 22/Jan/2010. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UN Photo/Marco Dormino/Flickr

On December 25, the Organization of American States removed their special representative, Ricardo Seitenfus, from Haiti. The reason was very simple. He told the truth.

In an interview four days earlier with the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, Seitenfus bluntly expressed the popular discontent which the Haitian people have been saying since the arrival of MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Force in Haiti) on June 1, 2004 -- simply put, that their presence " solves nothing, it makes things worse. [They] want to turn Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for U.S. market, it's absurd." The French language article can be read here.

Looking back at MINUSTAH's record, it is hard to disagree with Seitenfus. Since the arrival of the force in Haiti, MINUSTAH has been consistently documented operating under a political agenda, actively oppressing and executing followers of Jean Bertrand Aristide's political party -- Fanmi Lavalas -- and their accompanying demands of democracy, self determination and respect for the human rights of Haiti's poor majority.

MINUSTAH's trigger-happy tactics have been rigorously compiled by Haiti scholar Peter Hallward in his book Damming the Flood (pp. 275-310). According to Hallward, Haiti has been experiencing "one of the most prolonged and intense periods of counter-revolution anywhere in the world. For the last 20 years, the most powerful political and economic interests in and around Haiti have waged a systematic campaign designed to stifle the popular movement and deprive it of its principal weapons, resources and leaders."

The undermining of Haitian democracy by MINUSTAH reached a climax during the recent elections on Nov. 28. MINUSTAH, in partnership with the international community, openly supported the deeply flawed elections in which 15 political parties, including Fanmi Lavalas, were excluded from taking part. Both domestic and international organizations warned the Haitian electoral council and the international community far in advance of the political turmoil a rigged election would unleash in already fragile Haiti. A June report by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti was stunningly accurate in their warnings, but were disregarded, and the international community continued to finance and support the elections. The outright acceptance of the election process on Nov. 29 gave undeserving legitimacy to a sham, and further highlighted the efforts of MINUSTAH to operate in Haiti to further the demands of the international community and not the Haitian people.

If outright exercise of politically motivated violence and oppression was not enough, the occupation force has come under additional domestic and international scrutiny for importing the deadly cholera strain into the earthquake ravaged nation. At the time of writing, the epidemic had already claimed the lives of over 2,500 people. Epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, working on behalf of the Haitian and French governments concluded that "there was no doubt that the cholera originated in contaminated water next to a UN base outside the town of Mirebalais along a tributary to Haiti's Artibonite river." In addition to the report by Dr. Piarroux, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the strain of cholera spreading throughout Haiti matches a strain from an earlier outbreak in Nepal -- the home country of a large contingent of soldiers at the Mirebalais base. The United Nations has since announced that they will be launching their own investigation into the source of the outbreak which will be "completely independent" while in the same breath disputing the previously mentioned studies and statements saying that "There are several theories of the origins of the cholera outbreak in Haiti -- not all reports have reached the same conclusion."

Seitenfus goes on to criticize the fundamental premise of MINUSTAH's modus operandi in Haiti, stating that "When the level of unemployment is 80 per cent, it is unbearable to deploy a stabilization mission. There is nothing to stabilize and everything to build." These comments are disturbingly poignant when contrasted with the patchwork -- albeit well meaning -- operation of many medical charities on the ground. The $600 million per year cost of MINUSTAH's presence since 2004 could no doubt be channelled towards the construction of basic preventative healthcare infrastructure across the country. The money spent on bullets and tanks by MINUSTAH in one year could almost fund the entire $690 million plan by Cuba to rebuild the nation's medical system. However, according to Seitenfus, such plans are not the intention of MINUSTAH or the international community -- as Haiti "offers an open field to any and all humanitarian experiences. It is unacceptable from a moral standpoint to treat Haiti as a laboratory. The reconstruction of Haiti and the shimmering promise of $ 11 billion inspire lust. It seems that a lot of people come to Haiti, not for Haiti but to do business. For me as an American it is a disgrace, an affront to our conscience." Seitenfus later stated that "If there is a proof of the failure of international aid, it is Haiti."

Despite the plethora of heartbreaking truths contained in Seitenfus' interview, perhaps the most important aspect of the article is his understanding of MINUSTAH's present undermining of Haiti as a continuation of the naked brutality and hypocrisy which has dominated Haiti's relationship to the international community. The historical context provided by Seitenfus is much needed in the current dialogue on Haiti dominated by the distortions of short memories. He goes on to state that:

"The original sin of Haiti on the world stage is its liberation. Haitians committed the unacceptable in 1804: a treasonous crime for a troubled world. The West was then a world of colonialism, slavery and racism that based its wealth on the exploitation of conquered lands. So the Haitian revolutionary model scared the superpowers. The United States did not recognize Haiti's independence until 1865. And France required the payment of a ransom to accept this liberation. From the beginning, its independence was compromised and the development of the country obstructed. The world has never known how to deal with Haiti, so it ended up ignoring it. Thus began 200 years of solitude on the international stage."

While the interview by Seitenfus has yet to receive much media attention in the English language, we can only hope that his courage will become contagious amongst his fellow colleagues at the OAS, and more insiders step forward in such an honest way. Seitenfus stated that he spoke out because "I wanted to express my profound doubts and tell the world that is enough is enough." Without a doubt he is correct. The Haitian people fought and earned their right to self determination over 200 years ago. The fact that the Haitian people have been continually punished for simply demanding their right to exercise the ideals our nations claim to represent is an ongoing insult to any conception of liberty, democracy and equality. It is time for the international community to be held accountable for their self serving actions and hypocritical intentions in Haiti. While Seitenfus' interview may simply be ignored within the wider misguided discussion on Haiti, it is no doubt a step in the right direction.

Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University's Globalization Institute in Hamilton, Ontario.

Haiti One Year Later: Misery Loves Companies (NGO's) -

Haiti One Year Later: Misery Loves Companies (NGO's)

Originally Posted on:

Posted on: January 6th, 2011

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Haiti One Year Later: Misery Loves Companies (NGOs)
By: Kevin Edmonds
January 6, 2011

On January 12, one year will have passed since the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake devastated an already troubled Haiti. When the dust settled, nearly 300,000 people had perished, 1.5 million had been left homeless, and much of the government infrastructure (schools, hospitals, and administrative buildings) had been destroyed. Immediately after the earth stopped shaking, the United Nations and the major donor nations of the United States, Canada and the European Union vowed to “build Haiti back better.” One year into the reconstruction effort, many Haitians’ lives remain in the same disastrous state as they did on January 13 – yet for a great deal of others, they have become tragically worse.

Haiti UN 2010

While the earthquake unleashed untold structural and human suffering, it also set the stage for several manmade aftershocks which continue to threaten not only the course of the already sluggish reconstruction process, but also erode the entire political and economic sovereignty of the Haitian people.

In the year since the earthquake, there have been a great deal of expensive international conferences accompanied with ambitious, albeit hollow statements of good intentions, charity and self serving fundraising which has led to a further intensification of the “NGOization” of Haiti. These conferences (such as the Montreal donor meeting in March or the latter IHRC conference in New York) have recommended a further application of policies which have historically undermined the possibilities of Haitian self sufficiency.

Prior to the earthquake, 80% of Haiti’s basic public services (health and education) had been privatized – much of the services were now in the hands of foreign NGOs. Prior to the liberalization of the Haitian agricultural market in 1986, Haiti – characterized in the media by malnutrition, food riots and mud cookies – was largely self sufficient in food production. The very same forces currently at work to reconstruct Haiti have earned their spots largely through their previous experience with the destruction of Haitian institutions and productive capacities.

With this historical context in mind, the current lack of progress in reconstruction (1.5 million remain homeless and only 40% of the rubble is estimated to be cleared by August 2011) despite the allocation of $10 billion in aid shouldn’t come as a surprise. The goal of reconstruction is not to increase the self sufficiency of the Haitian people, but rather to increase their dependency, in addition to corporate profits. Charity has become big business – if you treat the root causes of systemic poverty in Haiti, you will lose a very valuable customer.

This current patchwork collection of NGOs is no match for a network of public health and education institutions. The current handling of the cholera epidemic is a terrifying and shameful case in point. However, the reconstruction plans for Haiti outlined by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (chaired by Bill Clinton) intend to circumvent the Haitian government once again – building partnerships with the unelectable, unaccountable private sector of foreign nations – to operate in spaces once occupied by the Haitian state, with jobs once staffed by the Haitian people. Of every American aid dollar given to Haiti, only 1 cent went to the Haitian government.

The donor nations have voiced their weariness in dealing with the Haitian state because of the conceptions that any Haitian government has corrupt and tyrannical tendencies. However, if one digs only a tiny bit deeper, the wider democratic experience in Haiti is one riddled with international intervention, embargoes and destabilization. When it comes to Haiti, the hypocritical double standards of the powerful and their consequences on the poor majority are tragic.

The governments of both Jean Bertrand Aristide and Rene Preval were widely accused of endemic corruption, incapable of handling any public funds. However, the historical record demonstrates that Aristide and his Lavalas party did more to build public health and education institutions with less money (due to economic and aid embargoes) than any other Haitian president. During Aristide’s second term he oversaw the completion of the nation’s first medical school which provided Haitian students with free tuition.

Less than one month after its opening on February 3, 2004, it was closed down at gunpoint and turned into a barracks for U.S. Marines after the overthrow of Aristide on February 28. Before its closure, it was estimated the medical school would train 600 doctors over its first 12 years – this was significant in a nation with one of the worst doctor/patient ratios, a nation now fighting the cholera epidemic (courtesy of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti - MINUSTAH).

down with neoliberalism

The banner states "Down with the neoliberal plan" in Kreyol

In addition to the task of rebuilding the shattered nation, the Haitian people now have to deal with the cholera epidemic which has been traced by French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux to the MINUSTAH based outside the town of Mirebalais. At the time of writing, the cholera outbreak has killed nearly 3,000 people, with the daily deaths of victims increasing – a sign that the epidemic is far from under control. When the Haitian people protested this painful connection in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien, MINUSTAH met them with gunfire and tear gas.

If the hijacking of the reconstruction towards the self serving interests of the major donor nations and the importation of cholera wasn’t enough, the tragedy was compounded with a fraudulent election which threatens to add political strife to a nation bombarded with both natural and manmade misfortune. The Haitian people entered 2011 in the midst of a political crisis, whereby a sham election was supported and financed by the United Nations and major donor nations. 15 political parties (including Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas) were excluded from participating under unconstitutional methods. The United Nations and donor nations widely accepted the illegitimate election, despite widespread documented fraud – as a puppet government would simply further their economic and political interests.

A Globe and Mail editorial recently remarked: “the least worst option is to salvage what you can from this election, that means holding a second round as soon as possible, and convincing the population the results are as legitimate as possible [emphasis added].”

If this twisted and hypocritical line of arrogant thinking is to dominate the discourse of decision making surrounding Haiti, without a doubt 2011 will be a long year for the Haitian people. With all that the Haitian people have endured, it is the responsibility of every Canadian concerned with social justice to take a stand – get informed, write your MP, MPP, join an organization like the Canada Haiti Action Network, protest – but say that the Haitian people deserve better. Instead of multinational corporations and political charlatans dictating the terms and priorities of reconstruction, the voices of the Haitian people must be front and center in any just reconstruction effort. Our government is complicit in undermining the Haitian people, who only want to control their own destiny – yet, in this misguided world our government has decided (amongst others) that it is an unacceptable demand.