HaitiHaiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch is a blog that tracks multinational aid efforts in Haiti with an eye towards ensuring they are oriented towards the needs of the Haitian people, and that aid is not used to undermine Haitians' right to self-determination.

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A few weeks ago, the Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles wrote:
there are at least six Lavalas candidates in the presidential race, including former Aristide Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and Minister of Haitians Living Abroad Leslie Voltaire, and Yves Cristallin, Fanmi Lavalas co-founder and former Préval minister of Social Affairs.
For anyone who’s been following the controversy around the Provisional Electoral Council’s (CEP’s) arbitrary exclusion of political parties from this month’s ballot – perhaps most notably Fanmi Lavalas -- this statement may have come as a surprise. When we prodded Charles for a clarification, she stated that she stood by what she wrote, as she never wrote that any candidates were running under Fanmi Lavalas, and that Lavalas was a movement long before the Fanmi Lavalas party was founded.

These are both true statements, and an important clarification to make, as the Herald probably should not presume that most of its readers already know this history and will naturally differentiate between “Lavalas candidates” as candidates at one time associated with the Lavalas social movement that pushed out dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, and candidates affiliated with the Fanmi Lavalas political party. Unfortunately, it seems that this blog is the only place you are likely to see such a clarification made, as weeks later, the Herald has yet to append one to its article, or to make the distinction in any follow-up story.
Independent journalist Ansel Herz, who has been reporting from the ground in Haiti since the earthquake, writes in the New York Daily News today on the media's treatment of the cholera outbreak as well as the lack of spending by aid organizations. Herz begins his op-ed with a quote from Peter James Hudson of Vanderbilt University:
"Breaking: North American news outlets "excited" by Haiti cholera outbreak. They say for them, "without a crisis, Haiti doesn't exist."
Herz continues:
Now, CNN crews are back in Haiti, covering a deadly cholera epidemic that has killed at least 330 people and infected nearly 5,000, according to officials. The bacteria incubate in bodies before causing symptoms or passing into the environment. What most media reports ignore is that the epidemic has been years in the making.

The George W. Bush administration blocked millions of dollars in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank for public water infrastructure in Haiti's central region. In the previous decade, President Bill Clinton pressured the Haitian government into slashing tariffs on imported American rice, devastating the rice farming economy of the area.

Families are so poor they have no choice but to drink, bathe and cook with water from the muddy Artibonite River, where the cholera outbreak began. Yet UN officials said this epidemic was unexpected, attempting to excuse their slow response and failure to quarantine the zone where cholera broke out - even as they took credit in preceding months for preventing a postearthquake outbreak of infectious disease.

In the aftermath of the earthquake many warned that with well over a million people living in makeshift IDP camps a second wave of the disaster was possible because of the  potential for deaths caused by flooding or disease outbreaks. Fortunately, widespread disease outbreaks haven't materialized and Haiti has been spared a direct hit during the current Hurricane season. However, some 10 months after the quake, there are signs that the second wave may be coming.

On Tuesday officials reported that at least 10 people had been killed in flooding over the previous three days due to heavy rain and today the AP, AFP and BBC are reporting on an outbreak of disease. Although the outbreak is outside of Port-au-Prince, AFP reports that at least 50 have died after suffering what the BBC reports as "acute fever, vomiting and diarrhoea."  The Associated Press adds that most of the deaths are "reportedly children." The AP continues:
Hundreds of patients reporting those symptoms have overwhelmed a hospital in the seaside town of St. Marc, some 45 miles (about 70 kilometres) north of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Catherine Huck, country deputy for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told The Associated Press.

It remains unclear if the cases are linked. U.N. and Haitian health care workers are running tests for cholera, typhoid and other diseases, with results possible on Thursday, said OCHA-Haiti spokeswoman Jessica DuPlessis.

As we noted on Saturday, MINUSTAH, whose mandate is “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence,” and “support …Haitian human rights institutions and groups in their efforts to promote and protect human rights; and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country,” among other responsibilities, attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators Friday who were criticizing the UN’s decision to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year. Following the decision, “a coalition of grassroots and political opposition groups took to the streets to call for the end of what they say is an occupying force costing millions but doing little to ensure the security of the general population,” independent reporter Isabeau Doucet writes.

Among the threats MINUSTAH soldiers engaged with at the protest were foreign journalists, as “A reckless UN vehicle pushed a hand full of journalists, including myself and Al Jazeera’s correspondent, into a trash-filled ditch,” Doucet states. Another independent journalist, Ansel Herz, was threatened at gunpoint (click the link to see a photo).

Herz reports that “The protesters were peaceful, except for one bottle thrown at the end.” Nevertheless, as Other Worlds Program Coordinator Beverly Bell describes:

On October 15, according to video footage and to witness Melinda Miles of Let Haiti Live, about 200 people were marching in front of the U.N. logistics base when MINUSTAH forces fired two bullets in the air and leveled their guns at demonstrators. A MINUSTAH vehicle and a second UN car pushed three foreign journalists and at least two Haitian demonstrators into a ditch. Haitian police then began striking demonstrators and journalists, including foreigners Sebastien Davis-VanGelder and Federico Matias, with the butts of their rifles. A policeman bashed his rifle into the mouth of a demonstrator from the Kanarin camp, knocking out his front teeth.
          
“There was no provocation at all. The Haitian police and the private UN security guards were so aggressive. They were just looking to do violence,” said Miles.

The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera both reported yesterday on a protest at the "main U.N. logistics base" following the UN Security Council's decision to extend MINUSTAH's mandate. The protest, which involved around 100 people was broken up by MINUSTAH forces. AP correspondents, who were on the ground, reported that:

U.N. security personnel then emerged from the base. A plainclothes guard struck a protester before a Jordanian soldier with the mission fired a warning shot. AP journalists also saw a Haitian policeman hit protesters with his rifle and a U.N. vehicle push through the crowd, knocking over protesters and journalists.
While Sebastian Walker of Al-Jazeera noted that, "Haitians feel that the presence of [UN] security personnel doesn't offer much in terms of ordinary Haitians living in camps."  

The arbitrary exclusion of 14 political parties from Haiti’s November 28 elections is a growing scandal, with a letter from 45 members of Congress sent to Secretary of State Clinton last week stating that the U.S. should not provide funding for elections that do not “include all eligible political parties and ready access to voting for all Haitians, including the displaced.” This in turn has led to increased scrutiny and coverage of the issue from the BBC, Reuters, Agence France Presse, Spanish newswire EFE, and national and local radio broadcasts.

The congressional letter follows a similar statement from over 20 NGO’s last month, not to mention periodic press reports, so the State Department’s lack of a position on the issue is troubling. When pressed on the question last week, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner’s response was even more of a non-answer than P.J. Crowley’s had been when he was asked in September, and, even worse, Toner referred to the party exclusions as “allegations”:
obviously, we want free, fair, democratic, transparent elections to take place in Haiti as well. And we’ll look into these allegations and the letter and comment later. We just -- I’m sure we’ll review it and respond appropriately.
The reporter asking the question pointed out that indeed, this wasn’t the first time the issue had come up:

Months ago we reported on disaster capitalists that were setting themselves up to profit from the relief and reconstruction in Haiti, among them were many of the same contractors who found themselves surrounded in controversy after Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday The Hill reported on the use of lobbyists by many of these same companies:
A number of construction and disaster-response firms have hired Washington lobbyists to help navigate the contracting process for rebuilding Haiti.
The article reports on the companies' eagerness for U.S. reconstruction funds to be disbursed, not, apparently, out of any humanitarian concern (as no such sentiments are voiced in the article), but because the contractors are eager to make a profit.

Robert Naiman writes today at Huffington Post:

There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the electoral system in the United States as we know it. But it could be much worse. We could be confronted with the electoral system that Haitians are currently facing in elections scheduled for November 28.

In Haiti, as things are currently run, political parties are completely excluded from participation if the people currently in power don't like them, including Haiti's largest political party, the Fanmi Lavalas party of deposed and exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

It is a telling fact of our political-media culture that while American newspapers regularly carry articles, op-eds and editorials raising the alarm about democracy and human rights in countries where the U.S. has little influence, the major U.S. media are virtually silent about extreme violations of democratic rights in Haiti, a country where the U.S. has tremendous influence. (Two rare, praiseworthy exceptions have been the Miami Herald, which last month published this op-ed by Ira Kurzban, and the reporting of the AP's Jonathan Katz.)
Naiman then goes on to point out that part of the U.S. influence comes from the U.S. funding for the elections, already underway, despite these political party exclusions.

An Inter Press Service article this week reports on widespread discontent with the planned November 28 elections. Surveying people in Port-au-Prince from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, journalist Judith Scherr reports that
Residents of a number of camps recently told IPS they are neither ready nor willing to participate in the Nov. 28 elections, for which the international community is paying two-thirds of the $29 million cost.
and that
Only the more middle-class people interviewed said they planned to go to the polls.
Scherr describes some IDP’s sentiments, exemplified by a recent demonstration slogan "We are not going to the election in tents. We want housing before elections”, and noting that
In Camp Noailles, just outside Port-au-Prince, no one IPS spoke with planned to vote. A new president should come with plans to bring schools and jobs, "but most people come with a plan that doesn't work," one resident said.

Jonathan Katz reports for the Associated Press on the status of aid the US had pledged for reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The verdict: “Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived.” Rich nations not living up to their pledges is a topic we have reported on previously, but the effects were recently highlighted when a storm swept through Haiti last week, killing at least five. Although it lasted just 30 minutes, the storm had dire consequences for the displaced earthquake survivors throughout the country. Describing the situation, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA wrote:
In camp Automeca the situation is very dramatic. The people who were not evicted from the camp and forced to relocate two months ago are now living on a very fragile piece of land, on the downhill slope where the latrines were previously located. The camp has become a sea of mud and the air is dominated by a staggering odor left behind by human waste. We found the residents practically nude, scrambling to clean belongings and cut the branches and trunks of fallen trees. The rains and winds had tattered some of the tens and destroyed others. We don’t yet have a firm number on how many were destroyed, but it is much the same as in the rest of the camps – many will not sleep tonight and they have nowhere to go.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported yesterday that even after some emergency shelter materials (tents and tarps) were delivered, there are still at least 14,000 families who are without even what meager shelter they had before the storm.

Speaking alongside a meeting with Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive, Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner addressed the "growing impatience in the Caribbean nation over the slow pace of recovery," reports AFP.

Hillary Clinton said, "Those who expect progress immediately are unrealistic and doing a disservice to the many people who are working so hard." While for his part, Kouchner said that "It's because they have no idea of the immensity of the disaster." These statements echo those that were made against people speaking out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; that to criticize was to undermine or be "unpatriotic" in some way. Yet, it may be the foreign ministers who are unaware of the immensity of the disaster on the ground for the millions of Haitians still homeless nearly 9 months after the earthquake.

September 14, São Paulo based Brasil de Fato reported on the death of 16 year old Gerald Jean Gilles. The paper reports that the death may have been caused by MINUSTAH soldiers in the city of Cap-Haïtien. Thalles Gomes writes for Brasil de Fato (translated by lo-de-alla.org):
“They are suffocating me,” was the cry heard on August 17 by employees of the Henri Cristophe Hotel, in Cap-Haïtien, capital of the Nord department of Haiti. The call for help came from the Formed Police Units base belonging to MINUSTAH, the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti. On that same day, Nepalese United Nations soldiers reported that Haitian Gerald Jean Gilles had entered their military base and had hanged himself.

The report issued by the UN did not explain how the young Gerald had managed to get into the military base, tie a rope on the patio and hang himself without any soldiers noticing.

Their version is contested vehemently by Gerald’s family and friends. According to them, the young man had been doing odd jobs for the Nepalese soldiers for some time in exchange for money or food. And the suspicion that Gerald had stolen 200 dollars from one of the soldiers was the reason the Nepalese soldiers tortured and suffocated him to death.

The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday on the crisis of legitimacy surrounding the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in Haiti. CSM writes:
Details of an Aug. 16 meeting between Mr. Préval and members of Haiti’s election commission (CEP) has observers questioning whether the CEP rejected candidates based on politics instead of the Constitution.
The Monitor continues, noting that some allege President Préval personally removed some candidates from the final list, including former U.S. ambassador and Jean’s uncle, Raymond Joseph.

Although the election process has received considerable media coverage, most of it has simply focused on the candidacy of Wyclef Jean and not the larger issues relating to the CEP. As we have written numerous times before, and as described in an open letter from over 20 Haiti and U.S.-based NGO’s to Secretary Clinton this week, the CEP has suffered from a lack of legitimacy well before the current electoral season because of their arbitrary exclusion of Haiti’s most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, as well as numerous other political parties from last years planned legislative elections.  To the Monitor’s credit however, they also report on the exclusion of the political parties, writing:
The CEP excluded 14 political parties from parliamentary elections and seven political parties from presidential elections, including Fanmi Lavalas, the popular party of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Reasons given for its exclusion do not “pass the smell test under Haitian law,” says Mr. Concannon at IJDH.

AFP reports this morning that the Haitian Civil Protection Agency "declared an "orange alert," warning that several regions could be prone to flooding as a result of heavy rains expected in the next 48 hours" as Hurricane Igor approaches. The warning may affect the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons still living in makeshift camps over 8 months since the earthquake. As the first major hurricane threatens Haiti, it brings the dire situation on the ground into the forefront.

A press release this morning from the Haiti Response Coaltion [HRC] calls attention to a series of protests planned for today in Port-au-Prince. The statement reads:
On Monday September 13th at 11am EST (10am in Haiti) residents of more than a dozen camps for internally displaced people will demonstrate in front of the National Palace to demand the right to education. They are also calling for decent housing because they are living in fear during this hurricane season.

Haiti may have dodged a bullet as tropical storm Gaston – which meteorologists had feared might hit Haiti – dissipated late last week. But the scare was a reminder of just vulnerable hundreds of thousands of displaced Haitians, who lack adequate shelter, are.

Aljazeera English reported from Haiti on the country’s lack of hurricane-preparedness. Beginning its report with IDPs’ “bat teneb” protest of forced evictions, neglect, and unfulfilled promises on Friday, Aljazeera’s Sebastian Walker describes some of the challenges that Haiti – a country that is severely hit by hurricanes nearly every year – faces in the wake of January’s earthquake. If a hurricane were to bear down on Haiti, “…the sheer numbers of those still living under tarpaulin means an organized evacuation is almost impossible,” he explains, before visiting a hurricane shelter that can house 400 people - at an IDP camp that is home to 40,000.

“We’re not going anywhere, because we have nowhere else to go,” Oreste Saint-Philippe, an IDP camp resident explains. “We’ll just have to stay here, and see what happens.”

An editorial in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times opined:
Haiti has had two elected presidents since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986: Preval and the now-exiled Jean- Bertrand Aristide. Their Unity and Lavalas parties are divided, which means that for the first time there is no clear front-runner. Jean could play a constructive role in the wide-open race, either by endorsing another candidate, which would catapult that person into the lead, or by simply advocating for political participation. Either way, he would continue to build sorely needed legitimacy for the electoral system.
These statements would suggest that Fanmi Lavalas is running a presidential candidate. But Fanmi Lavalas is doing no such thing - apparently in reaction to past Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) rulings that arbitrarily disbar the party's participation based on technical criteria. As has been reported in various newspapers, and criticized by numerous U.S. observers, including Senator Richard Lugar [PDF], the most influential Republican in Congress on foreign affairs – to say nothing of the numerous Haitian protesters and people interviewed by international media -- the CEP is also continuing to bar Fanmi Lavalas, along with 14 other political parties, from participating in the parliamentary elections.

This arbitrary and undemocratic exclusion might also be a topic worthy of the LA Times’ editorial consideration.

At the UN-backed donor conference at the end of March, countries and organizations from all over the globe pledged over $10 billion for Haiti relief. Over $5.3 billion was pledged for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Now, nearly five months after the conference, we take a look at the status of these pledges. 



The UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti has been tracking international assistance (PDF) from the top 30 donors, and despite the dire situation on the ground and an immediate need for funding, billions have yet to be distributed. Not including debt relief, the top 22 donors pledged an amazing $2.6 billion just for fiscal year 2010, yet five months later, only 20 percent of this ($538.3 million) has been distributed. However, looking at where that money comes from reveals that few nations – and very few high-income countries at all – have contributed to this. Over $200 million of that total has come from multilateral organizations such as the IDB, World Bank and IMF. Among countries, the top three are Spain, which has distributed $126.3 million, Japan, with $56.7 million, and Brazil with $55 million. The United States, which pledged $898.4 million in 2010, has not distributed or even committed any money so far. 



International Action Ties (IAT), who have been monitoring forced evictions of the internally displaced since the earthquake, released a report last week outlining steps the US government can take to ease the plight of those displaced. The report notes three main issues that are "increasingly frequent (and highly preventable) violations of the human rights of IDPs." They include the forced expulsions without proper alternatives; a "lack of political will" both with the Haitian Government and International Community to prevent these expulsions; and the "Prioritization of profit-making and political interests over the basic needs and physical protection of IDPs."

IAT provides some revealing facts about the current situation facing IDPs. Some 60 percent of camps are on private land, nearly 70 percent of IDPs were renters before the earthquake and "only 19% of IDP’s have homes that they can repair." The vast majority of IDPs are also still living in their pre-earthquake communities. In addition, in a recent study of camps, one out of every eight registered camps no longer existed. As IAT notes, this "underscores the importance of quick action on land and settlement issues, as well as community input in planning relocations."

Over seven months since the earthquake, donor countries are coming under increasing scrutiny over the slow disbursement of aid pledges. According to the website of the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, which is tracking the aid pledges, $506 million has so far been disbursed, just over ten percent of what was pledged. Although some $1.8 billion has been spent on humanitarian relief, only .29 percent has gone to the Government of Haiti. Meanwhile the construction of transitional shelters has been far too slow, with over a million Haitians still living under fraying tents and tarps as the Hurricane Season picks up.

Writing in the Toronto Star, Canadian academic Isabel Macdonald writes that "dozens of leading academics, authors and activists from around the world proposed a bold solution to this desperate financial shortfall."

Over 100 protesters demonstrated in front of the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince Thursday, “demanding a halt to forced evictions and that the government immediately provide humane alternatives to the muddy, dangerous, unsanitary and simply brutal living conditions for more than 1.5 million” internally displaced Haitians. Others joined in solidarity by banging pots within the nearby tent cities.

A press release about the protest notes:
Food distributions have come to a halt and many aid agencies are intentionally withholding necessary and fundamental services such as latrines, water, food and medical aid, in order to force earthquake victims to abandon the camps that currently exist in former parks, school grounds and churchyards. However, no feasible plans exist to relocate these families.

“Haitians who lost loved ones, homes and all their belongings are now out in the merciless summer sun all day, then soaked to the bone by rains each night,” explains Melinda Miles, director of Let Haiti Live and Coordinator of the Haiti Response Coalition. “They are deprived of fundamental human rights – access to food, water, shelter – and have no other place to go.”

A new column by CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot was published in the Sacramento Bee and several other newspapers today. It examines Washington’s silence on the CEP’s exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas from the upcoming elections, and also notes that

six months after the catastrophe, less than 2 percent of the 1.6 million homeless have homes. Hundreds of thousands have nothing at all; and 80 percent of the homeless that do have shelter are living under tarps where the ground under them turns to mud when it rains. And less than 2.9 percent of all aid money has gone to the Haitian government, which makes reconstruction nearly impossible. With a hundred thousand children wounded from the earthquake, public hospitals are closing.

Read the entire column here.


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