Thursday, January 6, 2011

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

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

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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.

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