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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Protests against the UN and MINUSTAH in Cap-Haitien and elsewhere throughout the country yesterday resulted in at least two civilian deaths and numerous injuries. Yet the response from MINUSTAH completely ignores the legitimate concerns of the citizens about the source of the Cholera outbreak and the role of MINUSTAH in Haiti. The UN News Center reports:
“The way the events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections,” the mission, known as MINUSTAH, said in a statement.

“MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country,” the mission added.
The protesters, according to news reports, largely held MINUSTAH responsible for bringing cholera (with a death toll now over 1000) into Haiti, where it had not been seen for decades. Despite calls from public health experts like Paul Farmer to pin point the cause of the epidemic, and the popular anger directed at MINUSTAH, officials have shied away from such an investigation. As reported by the Associated Press, a World Health Organization official said today that "at some time we will do further investigation but it's not a priority right now."

Despite the outbreak of cholera which has already claimed over 900 lives and spread to all 10 of Haiti’s provinces, despite new protests against authorities including the UN for possibly starting the outbreak (something which the UN continues to deny, while defensively claiming that the protests are “politically motivated”, “aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of the elections”), and despite public concerns from various Haitian politicians and parties, 45 members of the U.S. Congress, Senator Lugar, newspapers, and numerous NGO’s, the Haitian government still seems prepared to move ahead with November 28’s elections as scheduled.

As readers of numerous press reports and past blog posts know, controversy around the elections centers around the Provisional Electoral Council’s banning of some 14 political parties from the ballot, including the most popular, Fanmi Lavalas. Many Haitians and observers are also concerned about voter access in the wake of the January quake that displaced over a million people.

Now a new constituency of people with experience and knowledge of Haiti are weighing to voice opposition to what they see as rigged elections: returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV’s). As TruthOut describes:

Media reports say over 800 people have now died from cholera in Haiti, including at least 10 so far in Port-au-Prince, where some 278 cases have been detected. To deal with the worsening crisis, the UN is requesting some $164 million. The urgency of the situation was made clear by Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. humanitarian office, who "told reporters in Geneva that the funds need to be provided quickly 'otherwise all our efforts can be outrun by the epidemic.'"

Yet, international agencies, and the U.S. government, already seem to be preparing for “an epidemic” that could last for years, killing thousands of people. As AP reported today:
The World Health Organization said Friday that the epidemic isn't likely to end soon.

"The projections of 200,000 cases over the next six to twelve months shows the amplitude of what could be expected," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl. He noted that the current fatality rate of 6.5 percent is far higher than it should be.

"Cholera, now that it is in Haiti, probably the bacteria will be there for a number of years to come," he added. "It will not go away."

As Hurricane Tomas approached Haiti, authorities sent mixed messages regarding disaster preparedness efforts, and displaced Haitians in camps were told to evacuate from what had previously been held up as a “model” camp. While U.S. State Department Spokesperson P. J. Crowley told reporters at a briefing yesterday that
In and around Port-au-Prince, obviously where the earthquake damage last January was most significant, there are 400 shelters available in and around Port-au-Prince and these shelters can accommodate close to 1 million people, and we’ve been encouraging the people of Haiti to move to those shelters if they’re able in anticipation of the storm. If there is a silver lining here, it’s a very small one.
AP reported that
Officials in Haiti maintain a list of thousands of usable shelters in the capital -- often schools and churches -- but it is not being released to the public, despite pressure from international aid groups who say the information could save lives.

“We don't want people to know where these buildings are because people are going to invade and we won't have enough places for the people who really need them," [Nadia Lochard, Haiti civil protection departmental coordinator for the area that includes Port-au-Prince] said.

MINUSTAH is under increasing scrutiny as investigators consider whether Haiti’s cholera outbreak may have begun at a base in Mirebalais, on a tributary of the Artibonite River, used by a Nepalese MINUSTAH contingent. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the strain of cholera that has killed at least 442 people the past three weeks matches strains found in South Asia,” AP reported Wednesday. Other experts are certain that the disease – which has not been experienced in Haiti for many decades – must have had a foreign origin:
Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it is clear that the disease was imported to Haiti but that it is still not clear by whom or how. She said the epidemic will contain lessons for humanitarian relief work and disaster relief around the world.

"It has to be either peacekeepers or humanitarian relief workers, that's the bottom line," she said.
Some experts, such as Partners in Health founder, U.N. deputy special envoy, and award-winning doctor and humanitarian, Paul Farmer, urged continued investigation into the cause, despite UN reluctance. Farmer added that the decision not to investigate the diseases origins, “sounds like politics to me, not science.” AP also reports that

Nearly 10 months since the earthquake, the lack of adequate shelter has again been thrown into the spotlight as Haiti is under red alert in the face of tropical storm Tomas, which could still strengthen to a hurricane by the time it reaches Haiti. For months aid groups and advocates have argued for the need for hurricane preparedness, specifically the need for better shelter, yet as Tomas approaches, "Aid workers are scrambling to prepare but are badly short of supplies including shelter material," reports Jonathan Katz of the Associated Press.

With over 1.3 million Haitians still living in makeshift camps, with nothing but frayed tarps and tents, is is clear the relief effort has failed to provide adequate shelter. Only 18,872 transitional shelters have been built (PDF), out of a planned 125 thousand. Meanwhile, as Stephen Kurczy of the Christian Science Monitor reports, efforts have not yet begun to repair the 120,000 or so houses that could "easily be repaired with only days worth of work." A structural engineer who has been assessing the city notes that the repairs will not start until sometime next year and "That's assuming the money actually comes through from international donors who pledged billions of dollars but seem reluctant to actually open their wallets, he says." And that is a big assumption as rich countries continue to neglect their aid pledges, and NGOs continue to sit on emergency relief donations.

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.”


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