The U.S. Congress has passed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which will address some of the significant problems with the lack of transparency and accountability in U.S. contracting for aid and relief work in Haiti. After passing by unanimous consent in the House today, the bill will next head to President Obama to be signed into law. The Senate passed the bill earlier this month, and the House had passed an earlier version in December. In today’s vote the House passed the Senate’s modified version of the bill, which includes a new policy section.
As we noted in a press release today:
The bill requires that Congress receive annual progress reports “on the status of post-earthquake recovery and development efforts in Haiti, including efforts to prevent the spread of cholera and treat persons infected with the disease.” The bill mandates that agencies detail how the Haitian government and target constituencies, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and farmers, are involved in the coordination of the aid process and how they are being impacted.
Importantly, the bill will also require more reporting regarding sub-grants. CEPR’s 2013 report, “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Aid Transparency and Accountability in Haiti” by Jake Johnston and Alexander Main detailed how funds designated for Haiti end up going to sub-contractors who are often not identified, and who are not held accountable for what they do with the money. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act will require the State Department to provide data on U.S. Haiti assistance funds disbursed at both the prime and subprime levels in line with one of the CEPR report’s main recommendations.
Much of the U.S. government aid earmarked for Haiti following the quake has gone to foreign contractors, providing little benefit to Haitian businesses, organizations or workers. The Haitian government has also largely been bypassed as aid funds have gone to foreign contractors, international agencies and the many groups that populate what is known as the “republic of NGOs.” Of the $6.43 billion disbursed by bilateral and multilateral donors to Haiti from 2010-2012, just 9 percent went through the Haitian government.
Last week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon travelled to Haiti to raise awareness of the ongoing cholera epidemic that scientific studies have continually shown the U.N. troops in Haiti to be responsible for introducing. In an interview before his trip, Ban told Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald that the U.N. and international community had a “moral responsibility” to help Haiti eradicate the disease, already the world’s worst cholera epidemic having killed over 8,500 and sickened more than 700,000. Also last week, the U.N. quietly posted a document online (PDF) which provides information on its follow up to the Independent Panel of Expert’s recommendations, made in May 2011. The U.N. convened the panel in the aftermath of cholera’s introduction to study how it was introduced, how it can be stopped and efforts to prevent future epidemics.
In Haiti, during remarks at a church service in Las Palmas, the Secretary General told those present that, “I know that the epidemic has caused much anger and fear. I know that the disease continues to affect an unacceptable number of people.” Ban later ensured the Haitian people that, “You can count on me and the United Nations to do our part.”
But the visit by the Secretary General also put the spotlight on the U.N.’s own efforts to evade responsibility for cholera’s introduction, the subject of multiple lawsuits. "It is an insult to all Haitians for the Secretary-General to come to Haiti for a photo-op when he refuses to take responsibility for the thousands of Haitians killed and the hundreds of thousands sickened by the UN cholera epidemic," said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and one of the leading lawyers working to hold the U.N. accountable for cholera’s introduction to Haiti.
In December 2012, Ban pledged to “use every opportunity” to raise funds for an ambitious $2.2 billion ten-year cholera eradication plan. Yet over a year-and-a-half later, the plan remains woefully underfunded. According to the U.N. Office of the Secretary General’s Coordinator for Cholera Response in Haiti, at the current rate of disbursement, it “would take more than 40 years to fund the water, sanitation and hygiene” sectors of the elimination plan. Even the $485 million needed for the critical first two years of the plan, now nearing its end, is only 40 percent funded.
As part of the Secretary General’s trip, Ban launched a “Total Sanitation Campaign.” While it was presented as another new effort, according to the Office of the Secretary General’s Coordinator for Cholera Response in Haiti, it “is part of the sanitation component of the overall elimination plan.” Further, the U.N. itself has committed just 1 percent of the funds needed for the eradication plan. Meanwhile, since the earthquake, the U.N. troops that introduced cholera have cost the international community well over the $2.2 billion needed to fully fund the plan.
The Independent Panel’s Recommendations
In October 2010, the U.N. appointed an independent panel of scientific experts to study the introduction of cholera to Haiti. The panel concluded that it occurred as “a result of human activity,” and likely began in a river near a U.N. troop base, but that the “outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances” and that no single party should be blamed. Two years later, after additional scientific research was published, the authors followed up with a report that determined the U.N. was the “most likely” source.
As part of the Independent Panel’s original report, the author’s offered seven recommendations for the U.N.: using prophylactic antibiotics or screening U.N. personnel deployed from cholera endemic regions, use of antibiotics or the cholera vaccine when deploying personnel to locations with concurrent epidemics, improving on-site treatment of fecal waste at U.N. installations, taking the lead in improving case management, prioritizing programs to provide piped drinking water and sanitation, investigating the potential of cholera vaccines and increasing the use of advanced microbial techniques to improve surveillance and detection of cholera.
Upon the report’s release in May 2011, Ban announced that he would convene another task force to review the report and “ensure prompt and appropriate follow-up.” The Task Force was made up of senior U.N. officials from various agencies, including personnel from the UN Haiti team. However there has been little information as to what has been implemented in the intervening three-years, at least until a nine-page fact sheet was posted online last week by the U.N.
While Haitian President Michel Martelly has unilaterally scheduled long-delayed elections for October 26, 2014, the composition of the electoral council continues to cause controversy in Haiti. The current problems stem from the deeply flawed electoral process in 2010 that saw Martelly emerge victorious after the intervention of the international community. There have yet to be elections since then, with one-third of the 30 member Senate having their terms expire in 2011 while some 130 local mayors have been replaced by Martelly appointments. Another one-third of the Senate and the entire lower house will see their terms expire in January 2015 if elections are not held. In a “frequently asked questions” document released last week, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) provides a legal analysis of the reasons behind the delays and why the current electoral council is unconstitutional. In an accompanying press release, IJDH notes:
According to Mario Joseph, managing lawyer for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, “Prompt elections are much needed, but elections will only remedy Haiti’s political crisis if they are run fairly by a constitutionally-mandated electoral council. President Michel Martelly has delayed elections for three years because he does not want to lose the political control he has enjoyed without full parliamentary oversight.”
Joseph explains that “The current Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) put into place by President Martelly per the El Rancho Accord is unconstitutional.” The El Rancho Accord, which rules the government’s plan for elections, has not been approved by Parliament and the procedure for selecting a CEP conflicts with the Haitian Constitution. The CEP only has seven of the required nine members due to these legitimacy concerns. Parliamentarians and political opposition call the El Rancho Accord a political coup d’état.
Despite the problems associated with the “El Rancho Accord,” the international community has been supportive of the process. After praising the accord in March, the U.N. issued a statement in early May, co-signed with the “Friends of Haiti” grouping of countries, warning “that certain important decisions to advance toward the holding of the elections have yet to be made.” Days later Martelly announced the formation of the electoral council, unilaterally. In early June, the date of October 26 was announced by the government, even though the electoral body is tasked with scheduling elections. Last week, after meeting with Martelly, the Secretary General of the OAS committed “to back the holding of free and fair elections, in a process planned for October.” The OAS also said they would send an electoral observation mission.
Speaking in early May at the “Who ‘Owns’ Haiti?” symposium at George Washington’s Elliot School of International Affairs, Colin Granderson, the head of the CARICOM-OAS Electoral Mission in Haiti in 2010-2011 confirmed previous accounts that the international community tried to force then-president Réné Préval from power on election day.
That the international community had “offered” President Préval a plane out of the country during Haiti’s chaotic first-round election in November 2010 was first revealed by Ricardo Seitenfus, the former OAS Special Representative to Haiti. Seitenfus subsequently lost his position with the OAS, but Préval himself soon confirmed the story, telling author Amy Wilentz:
“At around noon, they called me,” he said in an interview at the palace recently. “‘It’s no longer an election,’ they told me. ‘It’s a political problem. Do you want a plane to leave?’ I don’t know how they were going to explain my departure, but I got rid of that problem for them by refusing to go. I want to serve out my mandate and give the presidency over to an elected president.”
Despite accounts of the story from three different high-level sources who were there, the story has gained little international traction in the media.
In filmmaker Raoul Peck’s documentary “Fatal Assistance,” Préval revealed that it was the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti at the time, Edmond Mulet, who made the threat. (Seitenfus recently offered his recollection of discussions with Mulet and other high-level officials that day in an exclusive interview with CEPR and freelance Georgianne Nienaber.) For his part, Mulet categorically denied the event, telling Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star:
“I never said that, he never answered that,” Mulet told the Star when asked about Préval’s allegation. “I was worried if he didn’t stop the fraud and rioting, a revolution would force him to leave. I didn’t have the capability, the power or the interest of putting him on a plane.”
The election, plagued by record-low turnout, problems with voter registration and massive irregularities, was in doubt on election day when, around noon, 12 of 18 presidential candidates held a press conference calling for the election to be cancelled. Speaking at last month’s symposium, Granderson discussed what happened next (just past the 11 minute mark in this video):
The international community intervened, working with representatives of the private sector, and managed to get two of the candidates to reverse themselves, to renege on their commitment, and this rescued the electoral process.
But what I think was most unsettling, was that following this attempt to have these elections cancelled, was the intervention of certain members of the international community basically calling on President Préval to step down.
This wouldn’t be the end of the international community’s intervention in the electoral process. After first-round results were announced showing Mirlande Manigat and Préval’s successor Jude Célestin moving on to the second round, a team from the OAS was brought in to analyze the results. Despite having no statistical evidence, and instead of cancelling the elections, the OAS team overturned the first round results, replacing Célestin in the second round with Michel Martelly. Seitenfus has described in detail how this intervention was carried out, in his recent interview with CEPR and in his forthcoming book, International Crossroads and Failures in Haiti.
Last month Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported that the U.S. government had changed its plan for the development of a new port in support of the Caracol industrial park in Haiti’s north. The Herald report began:
After months of unsuccessfully trying to get private investors to cough up millions of dollars for the construction of a new, multimillion dollar port in northeastern Haiti, the U.S. government is scratching its plans and will instead revamp the existing port in the city of Cap-Haitien.
“The private sector was markedly unenthusiastic about investing in a new port,” said a U.S. government official familiar with the decision, but not authorized to speak publicly.
The new Fort Liberté port would have cost between $185 million and $257 million, and the U.S. government had committed to investing $70 million. A new port was viewed as being critical to the success of the nearby $300 million Caracol Industrial Park because the park’s five companies mostly ship out of ports in the neighboring Dominican Republic, a loss of valuable dollars to the Haitian treasury.
But while the Herald report points to a lack of private sector enthusiasm for the project as a key reason for its failure, an analysis of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports and contractor documents reveals that this project has been plagued by a lack of in-house expertise and planning from the beginning.
It began in September 2011 when USAID awarded a contract to MWH Americas to conduct a feasibility study for port infrastructure in northern Haiti. MWH had previously been found by the New Orleans inspector general to have overcharged the city on reconstruction contracts related to hurricane Katrina. As HRRW reported in February 2013, “Within two weeks of receiving the $2.8 million contract, MWH Americas turned around and gave out $1.45 million in subcontracts to four different firms, all headquartered in Washington DC or Virginia.” The contract was extended multiple times, with the overall cost increasing to over $4.25 million. Still, the GAO later found that further studies “still need to be performed,” because the USAID “did not require the contractor to obtain all the information necessary to help select a port site,” according to the GAO.
Two weeks after the Associated Press reported that the “old political party founded under the Duvalier dictatorship says it plans to enter candidates in Haitian elections,” President Martelly issued an executive decree naming one of Duvalier’s lawyers, Frizto Canton, as a member on the body overseeing said elections.
The holding of local and legislative elections, now more than two years overdue, continues to cause controversy and political gridlock in Haiti and consternation for the international community.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of MINUSTAH, Sandra Honore recently warned in a press release, co-signed by the so-called “Friends of Haiti” group of countries, “that certain important decisions to advance toward the holding of the elections have yet to be made” and that the “inability to hold elections in 2014 could lead to the dissolution of Parliament in January 2015 which would engender yet another political crisis, with unpredictable consequences for the future of Haitian democracy.” This followed visits by members of the U.S. Congress, U.S. State Department representatives and the Club de Madrid, ostensibly to push elections forward.
The gridlock between the senate and the president stems from the composition of Haiti’s electoral body, tasked with organizing and overseeing the electoral process. The international community and President Martelly have continually referred to the “El Rancho Accord,” which was the result of negotiations brokered by the Catholic Church, as outlining the composition of the electoral council. However, the president of the Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras recently stated, as reported by Haiti Liberté, that, “the El Rancho Accord has no binding force and cannot override either the Constitution or the Electoral Law.” Desras added that a “trusted electoral council of consensus would not take one week to set up.”
Martelly, apparently frustrated by the Senate’s position, decided to move unilaterally today. The AP reports:
Haitian President Michel Martelly announced Tuesday he has appointed a new council to oversee legislative and local elections that are two years overdue, an important step to organizing a vote whose tardiness has frustrated many.
In a posting on his Facebook page and in a separate email, the leader said that the newest member of the council is Frizto Canton, a high-profile attorney who is defending former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier against human rights abuse and embezzlement charges.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its Haiti-based partner Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) have released a report outlining recent cases of persecution of organized workers in Haiti as well as Haitian government complicity in allowing illegal attacks against, and terminations of labor activists to occur without judicial consequences. The report, titled “Haitian labor movement struggles as workers face increased anti-union persecution and wage suppression,” documents attacks and firings of union organizers by both public and private sector companies.
In mid-December of 2013, garment workers staged a walkout and demonstrations to protest the low wages and subpar working conditions in Haiti’s garment factories. As Better Work Haiti revealed in its 2013 Biannual Review of Haitian garment companies’ compliance with labor standards, only 25 percent of workers receive the minimum daily wage of 300 Haitian gourdes (equivalent to $6.81). They also found a 91 percent non-compliance rate with basic worker protection norms. The BAI/IJDH report explains that on the third day of the December protests, “the Association of Haitian Industries locked out the workers, claiming they had to shut the factories for the security of their employees.” In late December and January, IJDH/BAI documented “at least 36 terminations in seven factories throughout December and January in retaliation for the two-day protest, mostly of union representatives. The terminations continue.”
The report notes that union leaders at Electricity of Haiti (EDH) - Haiti’s biggest state-run enterprise – have also been illegally terminated and even physically attacked. As BAI/IJDH describe,
On January 10, 2014, the leaders of SECEdH [Union of Employees of l’EDH] held a press conference at EDH, as they had countless times over the last several years. The purpose of the January 10 press conference was to allege mismanagement and corruption at EDH. At the last minute, EDH management refused to let journalists in the building, although they had given permission for the press conference the day before. SECEdH’s leaders joined journalists on the street outside EDH’s parking lot gate to convene the press conference. EDH security guards pushed down the metal gate onto the crowd, hitting SECEdH’s treasurer in the head and knocking him unconscious. The security guards stood by while the employee lay on the ground bleeding and witnesses urged them to help. Some journalists took the injured employee to the hospital in one of their vehicles. He was released from the hospital but suffers constant pain in his head, shoulders, arms, and back from the heavy gate falling on him.
The following week, SECEdH’s executive committee, including the injured officer, received letters of termination dated January 10, 2014.
A new report from USAID’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) found that a U.S. government program to build thousands of new homes in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 is woefully behind schedule and over budget, reports the Associated Press. The report’s findings echo those made by the Government Accountability Office in June 2013. USAID’s housing program was also the subject of an investigation published in the Boston Review in January 2014 by HRRW contributor Jake Johnston.
The IG’s audit found that USAID “did not achieve its goals” of providing permanent housing for Haitians and that “the mission had substantially completed construction of only 816 of the planned 4,000 houses—21 percent of the goal.” To compensate for the shortfalls, USAID increased funding for the project from $55 to $90 million and extended the deadline from December 2012 to October 2014. Still, the IG report found that, “it is unlikely that USAID will be able to meet its original goals even by the new target dates.” USAID mission director John Groarke told the AP that USAID “will now try to build homes through the use of mortgages.”
The IG’s audit takes USAID to task for failing to monitor quality control and environmental mitigation plans put forward by the contractors tasked with carrying out the project. The IG found that, for example, cement testing was improperly documented and that USAID “personnel did not review the contractor’s quality control procedures.” This could lead to “the use of substandard material in USAID-funded construction projects, affecting structural integrity,” according to the IG.
The IG also found that while the contractor tasked with monitoring environmental mitigation, CEEPCO, consistently found faults with the work of Thor Construction, tasked with building 750 of the new homes, USAID staff failed to follow up or adequately address the concerns. While CEEPCO, “issued citations” to Thor, the IG found that USAID “did not do detailed follow-up” on the problems identified.
Despite the project being over budget and behind schedule, the IG found that USAID had failed to even conduct basic performance evaluations of any of the four contractors involved in the program. Per contracting regulations, the evaluations were due between July 2012 and April 2013, yet had still not been completed by the time of the IG’s audit.
The audit from the IG is the latest to find that USAID has failed to adequately monitor its contractors and grantees in Haiti, resulting in substandard outputs. Responding to these findings, in December 2013 the House of Representatives passed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which calls for greater accountability and transparency in USAID’s programs in Haiti. The bill is currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
By Jake Johnston
USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) has recently been in the news after a covert “Cuban Twitter” program “aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government,” was revealed last week by the Associated Press. As my colleague Dan Beeton has written on CEPR’s Americas Blog, this is not the only time OTI has been implicated in destabilization campaigns in Latin America.
OTI has also been extremely active in Haiti since the earthquake in 2010. Two private companies, Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) began operations on the ground in Haiti, with USAID OTI funding, within a week of the earthquake. When the project came to a close this past November, the total spending through OTI totaled nearly $150 million, making it the largest post-earthquake U.S. government funded program in Haiti. And yet, very little is known as to the exact nature of how that money was spent, despite multiple USAID Inspector General reports showing delays, improper oversight and other associated problems.
The OTI website is explicit in describing the difference between it and other branches of USAID:
While humanitarian aid is distributed on the basis of need alone, transition assistance is allocated with an eye to advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives and priorities.
The website adds:
OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform. In short, it acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will. In most cases, a key event occurs - an election, a peace accord, or the rise of a nonviolent protest movement - that signals a fundamental realignment of power or direction. Before initiating a new country program, OTI analyzes the extent to which the ingredients for success are in place.
OTI Will “No Longer Post Monthly Written Reports From Our Partners.”
As OTI explains on its website, in “exchange for the flexibility granted OTI, Congress demands and deserves complete, accurate, and real-time information” concerning its activities. To this end, OTI posted monthly, quarterly and annual reports from its various programs on its website. It even explicitly states this on its website, noting that, “OTI posts reports on its website at least monthly for its country programs.” However, according to an e-mail from OTI today, the office will “no longer post monthly written reports from our partners.” The e-mail added that the website will be changed accordingly. The website was indeed updated today, however no changes to that specific language were made.
In reality, at least in the case of Haiti, these reporting requirements had not been posted publicly for multiple years. Even when they were posted, they often contained contradictory information. Following inquiries from HRRW into discrepancies between two quarterly reports in late 2011, I was copied on an e-mail intended for an OTI employee’s superiors. It stated, bluntly:
Given the recent CEPR blog on Haiti and Chemonics, do you think I should follow up with Jake below, or refer him to LPA [Legislative and Public Affairs]?
The e-mail came just days after I had posted the final installment of a three-part blog series on some of USAID’s largest contractors in Haiti, including Chemonics. I was referred to LPA. [Side note: The employee who sent that e-mail previously worked for Chemonics.]
Last month, the U.N. Independent Expert of Human Rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallon, released his first report since taking over his post. As the BBC reports, Gallon called for “full compensation” for those who have been victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti. Gallon added that, “The diplomatic difficulties around this question have to be resolved to stop the epidemic as soon possible and pay full compensation for suffering experienced,” adding that “It is advisable to shed light on what really happened and to punish those responsible, whoever they may be.” Finally, Gallon stated that the U.N. “should be the first to honor” these principles. As the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), points out, Gallón has become “first to make the demand [for compensation] in a publicly available official UN document.”
However, while the human rights expert Gallón encouraged compensation, the U.N. itself has continued to evade responsibility. After the U.N. dismissed claims against it brought on behalf of over 5,000 cholera victims, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), IJDH and civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt filed a lawsuit in October 2013 against the U.N., MINUSTAH and two officials on behalf of the victims. In a press release concerning Gallón’s report, IJDH notes that:
Gallón’s report comes as the deadline to answer the lawsuit has lapsed for MINUSTAH and the individual defendants. The UN itself has failed to respond to a motion that service of process is complete.
“The defendants’ failure to accept service or to respond to the lawsuit continues the UN’s pattern of avoiding justice despite its clear-cut responsibility for the epidemic,” said plaintiffs’ co-counsel and IJDH Staff Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom. Amidst reports that the UN has asked the U.S. government to defend its position, the United States is currently weighing whether to take a position in the lawsuit by their March 7 deadline.
When the U.N. was asked about Gallón’s report, the response from Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was typical of the way the U.N. has handled media requests on the cholera epidemic:
The Human Rights Council-appointed special rapporteurs and other special advisers of various kinds are independent and they are not appointed by the Secretary-General and I don’t have anything further to say on that.
The U.N. has also sought to deflect criticism and separate the legal issues from the current response on the ground. In a long interview by former AP correspondent Jonathan Katz, the U.N. Senior Coordinator for the Cholera Response in Haiti, Pedro Medrano stated:
[W]e have two things here: I am not dealing with the legal issue; I am dealing with the response. We will have plenty of opportunities to continue to discuss the legal issue. But at this stage … when we have an epidemic like this, which is the largest in the whole hemisphere, we need to deal with the response.
It has been 10 years since the February 29, 2004 coup d’etat that ousted the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. Paramilitary groups – including many former members of Haiti’s disbanded army and/or CIA-funded death squads – had engaged in a campaign of violence directed against supporters of the government, and the Haitian National Police (HNP), for years before. Supported by the Dominican government and advised by groups based in Washington, they unleashed a wave of terror, killing innocent civilians including children and women, assaulting and brutalizing others, and burning down police stations and other government buildings. In the end, however, these groups seem to have realized they could not mount a successful incursion into Port-au-Prince, and it was a U.S. plane that flew Aristide out of the country.
As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote after the coup, Washington also directed international financial institutions to withhold funds from the Aristide government (some of which were designated for potable water – their being withheld helping to create the conditions for the cholera epidemic several years later):
[T]he Administration has been working on toppling Aristide for the past three years, plunging the country into chaos in the process.
The major international financial institutions (IFI's) -- including the IMF, World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, supported the administration's destabilization efforts by cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in credit to one of the most desperately poor countries in the world.
The pretext was a dispute over the election of seven senators of Aristide's party in 2001. Aristide offered every possible solution but it didn't matter. With Washington and the IFI's backing them, the opposition refused any agreement short of Aristide's resignation.
In the end, Aristide did not resign – although the Bush administration claimed he did. Aristide himself claimed instead that he was the victim of a “kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat.” His account is verified by witnesses, as Randall Robinson has pointed out in his account of events related to the coup. Bundled onto a plane, he and First Lady Mildred Aristide were flown to an unknown destination, what turned out to be the Central African Republic.
An Interview with Ricardo Seitenfus by Dan Beeton and Georgianne Nienaber
[Excerpts of this interview were originally published by Dissent Magazine on February 24, 2014. The full interview follows.]
The title of Brazilian professor Ricardo Seitenfus’ book, HAITI: Dilemas e Fracassos Internacionais (“International Crossroads and Failures in Haiti,” to be published in Brazil by the Editora Unijui (Universite de Ijui) dans la Serie Globalisation et Relations Internationales) appropriately opens with a reference to existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Camus’ third great novel, The Fall, is a work of fiction in which the author makes the case that every living person is responsible for any atrocity that can be quantified or named. In the case of Haiti, the January 2010 earthquake set the final stage for what amounted to what Seitenfus says is an “international embezzlement” of the country.
The tragedy began over 200 years ago in 1804, when Haiti committed what Seitenfus terms an “original sin,” a crime of lèse-majesté for a troubled world: it became the first (and only) independent nation to emerge from a slave rebellion. “The Haitian revolutionary model scared the colonialist and racist Great Powers,” Seitenfus writes. The U.S. only recognized Haiti’s independence in 1862, just before it abolished its own slavery system, and France demanded heavy financial compensation from the new republic as a condition of its honoring Haiti’s nationhood. Haiti has been isolated and manipulated on the international scene ever since, its people “prisoners on their own island.”
To understand Seitenfus’ journey into the theater of the absurd, it is necessary to revisit the months after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As the Organization of American States' (OAS) Special Representative in Haiti, Seitenfus lost his job in December 2010 after an interview in which he sharply criticized the role of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the devastated country. But it appears that the author also had insider information about international plans for a “silent coup d’etat,” electoral interference and more.
On the Ground in Haiti: October - December 2010
It was not yet one year since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed 220,000 or more, left infrastructure in chaos, and 1.5 million people homeless. Accusations were rampant in October international press reports that the United Nations mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) had introduced cholera into Haiti’s river system; the resulting epidemic would kill over 8,500 and sicken over 696,865 by the time of this writing. Ground zero for the outbreak was negligent sewage disposal at the Nepalese Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp. The malfeasance was first documented by the Associated Press and ultimately provided crucial proof of the U.N.’s guilt. Thousands were infected and the number of dead rose exponentially. On November 28, the national election was contested in what can only be termed an electoral crisis. Hundreds of thousands of voters were either shut out of the electoral process or boycotted the vote after the most popular party in the country – Fanmi Lavalas – was again banned from competing. Many of those displaced by the earthquake were not allowed to vote, and in the end less than 23 percent of registered voters had their vote counted.
Eyewitness testimony on election day reported numerous electoral violations: ballot stuffing, tearing up of ballots, intimidation and fraud. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, responsible for overseeing elections, announced that former first lady Mirlande Manigat won but lacked the margin of victory needed to avoid a runoff. An OAS “experts” mission was dispatched to examine the results. Even though it was indeterminate that he should advance, due to the OAS’ intervention, candidate and pop musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly was selected to compete in the runoff instead of the governing party’s candidate Jude Célestin.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) subsequently released a report showing that there were so many problems with the election tallies that the OAS’ conclusions represented a political, rather than an electoral decision.
The leader of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), Daniel Dorsinvil and his wife Girldy Lareche were killed Saturday in Canapévert, Haiti. POHDH is an association of 8 leading Haitian human rights groups. The Associated Press reports today that Haitian police spokesman Gary Desrosiers “held back on citing a motive for the killing, though he acknowledged reports that they were either killed in a robbery or targeted.” President Martelly released a statement, “deploring” the murder and called on the police to be more vigilant in combatting all forms of crime.
Antonal Mortimer, the executive secretary of POHDH, told the Haitian press that the couple had not visited a bank, as had been reported, but “even if that were the case, that is not a reason why someone should be killed.” Mortimer referred to the murder as an “attack against the human rights sector” and a “political crime.” Human rights lawyers André Michel and Louis Newton St Juste also released a statement, condemning the murder and noting that reports that Dosinvil and his wife were returning from a bank “in no case should be put forward to guarantee impunity and hide the true nature of the crime.” Further, Michel and St Juste recall that “it is a political crime to intimidate the human rights sector that is considered an inconvenience for the powers that be.”
This is not the first time that human rights activists in Haiti have faced violence and intimidation while carrying out their jobs. In October 2012 it was revealed that Mario Joseph, the director of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, was facing constant death threats as well as “harassment and intimidation” from the National Police. In November, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) “requested that precautionary measures be adopted in favor of Patrice Florvilus and the members of the organization “Défense des Opprimés” (DOP). The IACHR request notes that:
The request for precautionary measures alleged that these persons were in a situation of risk, due to a series of threats, harassment and persecution in retaliation of the activities they carry out in defense of human rights in Haiti. On October 2, 2013, the IACHR requested information from the State, but did not receive a response.
Joseph was also granted precautionary measures from the IACHR. From Canada, where he has been staying since the increased threats, Patrice Florvilus released a statement, calling for a thorough investigation:
DOP demands that an investigation be opened and that public action be taken against the authors and co-authors of this hideous crime, regardless of their socio-political background. Given the position of Mr. Dorsainvil, it's important that every lead be explored in the framework of any serious judicial inquest. It is important too that security measures be taken in favor of the entire team at PODHDH and all of the members of their families. We certainly can't rely on Haitian authorities with regard to security, but it is their duty to protect all Haitian citizens.
Radio Kiskeya reports on comments from Pierre Esperance, the director of RNDDH, one of the human rights groups that make up POHDH:
Pierre Esperance can't reject the hypothesis of a direct attack on the human rights sector. Given that there was no struggle and that the Dorsinvil complied with the orders given by the aggressor, the thesis that this was merely an act of banditry is unsustainable. "This is nothing less than an execution arising from impunity", he added, before demanding that justice and the police assert their responsibilities.
The Haitian government’s efforts against Human Rights activists was acknowledged in the U.S. State Department’s 2012 report on Haiti:
There were reports of governmental efforts to restrict or otherwise suppress criticism by human rights activists. Some human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, criticized the Martelly government for intimidating and harassing human rights activists. In September human rights lawyers alleged they had received numerous death threats and that their homes, offices, and movements were being monitored. They said the threats and harassment came in response both to their efforts to have former president Jean Claude Duvalier prosecuted for human rights violations and to their calls for an investigation into possible misappropriation of public funds by the Martelly family. After being dismissed in September, Port-au-Prince Prosecutor Jean Renal Senatus claimed CEP president and presidential advisor Josue Pierre-Louis instructed him to arrest three human rights lawyers, noting that doing so would please the Martelly family.
The murder occurred just after President Martelly returned from the United States, where he met with President Obama and members of congress. In a joint statement, President Obama said he was “looking forward to hearing where we can help in other reforms that I know he cares about -- such areas as human rights, prison reform, the judiciary…”
The Associated Press reports today:
President Barack Obama is hosting Haitian President Michel Martelly for talks on Haiti’s economic and political future.
Martelly will be at the White House on Thursday, a day after he met with Secretary of State John Kerry. It’s the first official sit-down between Obama and Martelly.
As the AP and Miami Herald report, Martelly met yesterday with Secretary of State John Kerry as well as with key members of the House of Representatives. At the top of the agenda, reports the Miami Herald, is the holding of long overdue legislative and local elections, originally scheduled to take place in April 2011 and May 2012. White House Assistant Press Secretary Jonathan Lalley told reporters that the U.S. wants to see elections “that are free, fair and transparent, that allow Haitians to express their views as part of the political process, and that provide the political stability that is critical for Haiti’s continued progress.”
Kerry, meanwhile, praised Martelly for “the enormous commitment that he has made to transition from reconstruction into a long-term development program. And under his leadership, elections are now on the horizon, which could for the first time provide the filling out of all of the electoral positions to Haiti.”
2014 is now the third straight year that the Haitian government has pledged to hold elections, with similar pledges in 2012 and 2013 proving hollow. The last election in Haiti, conducted within the first year after the devastating 2010 earthquake, was plagued by low turnout, political parties being prevented from participating and serious problems with voter registration, among other issues. On election day, 12 of the 19 presidential candidates called a press conference to denounce the election and call for their annulment. Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional law professor and Martelly, the two highest profile candidates to denounce the election each received a call the day afterward from the head of the U.N. military contingent in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Edmond Mulet. Mulet, desperately trying to keep the electoral process moving, told each of them that they were ahead in the race. They both quickly walked back from their statements from the previous day.
The Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released its “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” [PDF] for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today. The assessment’s section on Haiti is longer this year, due to concerns that the DNI apparently has regarding what it sees as a need for an ongoing foreign military presence there, support for which is waning internationally. The assessment cites chronic factors such as poverty and “weak institutions” as reasons why foreign military intervention is still warranted:
Stability in Haiti will remain fragile due to extreme poverty and weak governing institutions. Meaningful long-term reconstruction and development in Haiti will need to continue for many years. Haiti remains vulnerable to setbacks in its reconstruction and development goals due to the possibility of natural disasters. Food insecurity, although improving, also has the potential to be a destabilizing factor. Periods of political gridlock have resulted due to distrust between President Michel Martelly, in office since May 2011, and opponents in Parliament. Martelly is generally still popular, but politically organized protests, possibly violent, might occur before the elections, scheduled for 2014.
While the assessment claims (as it also did last year) that Martelly “is generally still popular,” no evidence is provided. Indeed there have been protests and other signs of public discontent with his administration in recent months. Contrary to what the assessment says, there are as yet no elections scheduled; the delay in elections has been a key issue behind the demonstrations.
The long delay in scheduling the elections has also contributed to “donor fatigue” among countries that contribute to MINUSTAH – something the assessment acknowledges apparently for the first time:
During the next decade, Haiti will remain highly dependent on assistance from the international community for security, in particular during elections. Donor fatigue among contributors to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), however, will likely lead to reductions in force, evident by the 2013 mandate which calls for consolidating and downsizing forces.
Writing in Boston Review yesterday, CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston looks back at the international community's efforts to provide housing to those displaced by the earthquake, finding that:
By September 2013, nearly four years after the earthquake, only 7,500 new homes had been built and 27,000 repaired—an incredibly small achievement when set against the billions of dollars and grand plans put together by the international community in the wake of the catastrophe.
The number of displaced persons is down to 200,000 from its 1.5 million peak, according to the U.N. But only 25 percent of that decrease has anything to do with official programs to provide housing. Many were given a paltry subsidy and evicted from their camps. The highest profile and most visible camps were closed down, but those tucked in alleys, out of the view of the convoys of aid workers' vehicles, remain forgotten. Fifty-five thousand Haitians who moved to areas known as Canaan, Jerusalem, and Onaville were recently removed from the "official" list of Internally Displaced Persons camps. Though those who were pushed out of the camps simply returned to their old homes, the international community claims progress....In fact, if another quake happened today, they'd be more likely to die than they were living under tents in clearings.
But how this came to be wasn't simply "the problems of reconstruction in a poor country," but rather what happens when political priorities are put before the needs of those on the ground. The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, led by Bill Clinton, was formed to coordinate all the various aid projects and ensure they were aligned with the Haitian government's goals, but instead, Johnston writes:
The commission's formation was handled not by the Haitian government, but by the staff of the Clintons, mainly Cheryl Mills and Laura Graham, as well as a team of U.S.-based private consultants. The commission's bylaws were drafted by a team from Hogan Lovells, a global law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. A team from McKinsey and Company, a New York based consultancy firm, handled the "mission, mandate, structure and operations" of the commission. Eric Braverman, part of the McKinsey team, later went on to become the CEO of the Clinton Foundation.
According to Jean-Marie Bourjolly, a Haitian member of the commission, the body's "original sin" lay in concentrating the decision-making power in the Executive Committee of the Board, made up of Bill Clinton and then–Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.
Six months after its formation, Bourjolly wrote to Clinton and Bellerive, warning that by "vesting all powers and authority of the Board in the Executive Committee, it is clear that what is expected of us [the rest of the Board] is to act as a rubber-stamping body." Another commission staffer told Johnston that many projects were approved by the commission simply because "they were submitted by USAID and State" and "that as long as USAID is submitting it and USAID is paying for it," it should be approved.
(See also "Haiti by the Numbers, Three Years Later.")
Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300
Number of people in Haiti killed by the U.N.-caused cholera epidemic: 8,531
Number of people who died from cholera, on average, every day over the past six months: 2
Number of people in Haiti sickened by the U.N.-caused cholera epidemic: over 696,865
Budget for U.N., the U.S. CDC and the Haitian and Dominican governments’ plan to eradicate cholera (launched over a year ago): $2.2 billion
Percent of cholera eradication plan budget committed or pledged so far: 10
Percent of cholera eradication plan budget pledged by the U.N.: 1
Annual budget for the U.N.’s mostly military and police mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH): $577 million
Days since cholera was introduced in Haiti without an apology from the U.N.: 1,179
“Number of international actors engaged in cholera response efforts,” according to the U.N., in 2011: 120
“Number of international actors engaged in cholera response efforts,” according to the U.N., in 2013: 43
U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) funding appeal for 2014: $169 million
Percent of last year’s OCHA appeal that was actually funded: 42
Budget for Caracol industrial park: $300 million
In a positive step towards greater transparency of U.S. aid programs in Haiti and worldwide USAID has released new data on its use of local country systems. However, the content of the data itself also raises questions about USAID’s commitment to greater local procurement in Haiti and the speed at which the agency is achieving its goals.
In 2010, USAID launched USAID Forward, an ambitious reform agenda which called for increasing the use of “partner country systems” in order to strengthen local capacity and to raise the “percentage of total dollars through direct contracts with local private businesses.” In Haiti, however, previous CEPR research has shown that an extremely low percentage of funds have gone to local institutions since the earthquake: less than 1 percent out of the $1.3 billion obligated. Despite this, in September 2012, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah told the Miami Herald that the goal is to have 30 percent of USAID funds going to local Haitian organizations by 2015.
The newly released data from USAID, though only covering the 2012 fiscal year, reveals just how far the agency still has to go to reach its goal. In 2012, USAID obligated nearly $210 million for programs in Haiti, but according to its own data, just 5.4 percent of this went directly through local country systems. This compares unfavorably with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as with the rest of the world. Overall, USAID obligated just over 14 percent of its funds through local systems while the figure for Latin America and the Caribbean was 11.3 percent.
In his interview with the Miami Herald, Shah also stated that prior to the earthquake, less than 9 percent of USAID funds were going through local systems, but that “we’re over the pre-earthquake level now.” The data released by USAID seems to directly contradict this.
USAID has since lowered their goals for local procurement in Haiti. In October Beth Hogan of USAID testified during a Congressional hearing concerning U.S. foreign assistance to Haiti. In response to questions from Rep. Barbara Lee about why so little of USAID’s funds go to Haitian organizations, Hogan acknowledged that “It's much too low” but that USAID has “a target of getting to 15 percent. And even getting to 15 percent is going to be difficult because of the low capacity.” Hogan added that while “very little of our money goes directly… to Haitian institutions” USAID has “spent 50 million (dollars) through grants and subgrants and subcontracts to Haitian institutions.” Yet, there has been no systematic reporting of subcontracts and subgrants on the part of USAID. That may soon change.
Amnesty International reports:
On the morning of 7 December, a justice of peace (juge de paix) from the municipality of Croix-des-Bouquets accompanied by 17 police officers and a group of men armed with machetes and sticks forcibly evicted around 60 families from an informal settlement in Titanyen on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The residents stated that the justice of the peace did not present an eviction order and that they had no prior notice of the eviction and therefore had no opportunity to appeal against it. The armed men began to tear down their dwellings without allowing the residents time to collect their belongings. These belongings were then stolen as police fired their weapons in the air in order to intimidate the residents. According to the residents over a dozen people were assaulted, including a woman who is four months pregnant. They were told that the remaining families living on the site (approximately 100) would also be forced off the land.
The aftermath of the eviction was caught on tape by documentary film-maker Jon Bougher. Bougher previously released a short film about the camp, its prior eviction from the Delmas neighborhood and the move to Canaan.
Amnesty describes the area where the residents were located:
Titanyen where they now live is part of an area commonly known as Canaan, a large tract of land which the then government declared for “public use” (utilité publique) two months after the earthquake in March 2010. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake have subsequently relocated there, but many face eviction from people claiming ownership of the land.
The threat of forced evictions in Canaan is occurring at a time when residents on the land have lost their status as “official” internally displaced persons (IDPs). In October, the International Organization for Migration, at the request of the Government of Haiti, removed 54,000 individuals from their official IDP registration because it was deemed that the area showed “characteristics” of “new neighborhoods needing urban planning” and “not of IDP sites.”
As HRRW reported in October, the Haitian government had requested millions of dollars from the international community to build infrastructure and conduct urban planning, yet thus far the money has not materialized.
This latest eviction and other, prior evictions indicate that the residents of Canaan and the surrounding areas are very much still in need of the protections afforded to them as IDPs. According to the U.N.’s Refugee Agency, IDPs “legally remain under the protection of their own government,” however the presence of government officials and police during the eviction of Camp Mozayik highlight the urgent need for the international community to protect those who remain in tent camps and other informal settlements, nearly four years after the earthquake. Since the IOM no longer considers these families to be part of a displaced community, will the organization turn a blind eye to their violent eviction?
In late October, Uruguayan president José Mujica announced that he planned to withdraw his country’s troops from Haiti, where they make up 11 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Citing the long delayed legislative elections, Mujica told the press:
One thing is to try to help the Haitian people build a police force that is in charge of security. That's fine… Another thing is being there indefinitely with a regime that we think is at least dubious in terms of a continuity of democratic renewal.
MINUSTAH, as the U.N. mission is known, has been in Haiti since 2004 following the coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In October the mission’s mandate was extended by the U.N. Security Council for another year, though a gradual drawdown of troops was also agreed. After his initial statements, Mujica traveled to Brazil where he met with President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil leads MINUSTAH and is the largest troop-contributing country, accounting for 16 percent of the personnel.
After the meeting, Mujica stated that he and Rousseff agreed that the mission should not become a “Praetorian Guard” to protect a government that was not moving forward democratically. On November 20, the U.N. spokesperson for the Secretary General acknowledged that “preliminary and informal discussions have taken place with the Uruguayan representatives in New York regarding the planned withdrawal of a part of their troops,” but that “no formal notification has as yet been exchanged.”
On November 25, before travelling to Haiti for a meeting with President Martelly, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro met in New York with Brazilian and U.N. officials to discuss MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti. Almagro stated that while Uruguay would only gradually withdraw its troops in line with the Security Council resolution, if “autocratic” tendencies in the Haitian government continued, they would immediately withdraw. Specifically, Almagro conditioned continued Uruguayan support to MINUSTAH on the holding of the overdue legislative elections.
In June 2012, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met to discuss MINUSTAH and agreed to form a working group “for the purposes of elaborating a scheme on the strategy, form, conditions, stages, and timeline of a Plan of Reduction of Contingents of the Military Component of the Mission.” Though there has been little movement since then, the recent actions by Uruguay may change that.
Rick Westhead of the Toronto Star reports:
One of Canada’s largest garment companies [Gildan Activewear] has promised to ensure that thousands of workers who make its clothing in Haitian factories are paid at least $7.22 per day, the country’s minimum wage.
The move followed revelations that some labourers making apparel for Gildan Activewear were paid so little they had no money for food.
In addition to Gildan, Fruit of the Loom also agreed to ensure their contractor’s compliance with the minimum wage, according to Scott Nova, an official with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The statements from the two companies comes after a report (PDF), authored by the WRC found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.” The WRC found that “over three quarters of the workers who were interviewed reported that they were unable to pay for three meals per day for themselves and their immediate family.”
As we previously described, the WRC noted that “tacitly complicit” in this wage theft were large North American brands such as “Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart,” which all source clothing from Haiti. The WRC report called for these brands to ensure their third-party contractors comply with the minimum wage as well as compensate employees for their previous underpayment.
In a public statement, Gildan also called for “an industry-wide meeting and other combined efforts, involving brands, retailers and worker representatives similarly committed to ensuring compliance, in order to bring a common resolution to this issue in a manner which will appropriately address the working conditions in the apparel industry.” Gildan added that “we understand that one issue that will be on the table for discussion will be remedies for past non-compliance.”
Better Work Haiti, an international monitoring organization run by the International Labor Organization and funded by the World Bank and U.S. Department of Labor, has consistently reported massive non-compliance with Haiti’s minimum wage law. In their latest report, released in October, Better Work reported 100 percent non-compliance in the 23 factories covered in the report, but Better Work added that:
In the Minimum Wage Law there are two applicable wage requirements in exporting apparel factories in Haiti: the minimum wage of reference, currently set at 200 Gourdes per day (article 1 of the law), and the production wage (Minimum Wages: Piece Rate), currently set at 300 Gourdes per day (article 2.2 of the law). The production wage refers to a legal requirement for the employer to set piece rates in a manner such that a worker can earn 300 Gourdes during eight regular hours of work per day.
The Haitian government and Haitian manufacturers have advocated for an interpretation of the law which mandates only the lower of the two wages be paid, but Fruit of the Loom, in a public statement, acknowledges that, “It is our view that the clear intent of Haiti’s minimum wage law is for production rates to be set in such a manner as to allow workers to earn at least 300 gourdes for 8 hours of work in a day. Based on our independent investigation, we concur with the WRC that the garment industry in Haiti generally falls short of that standard.”
“The commitments from Gildan and Fruit of the Loom will put substantial pressure on other buyers,” Nova told the Toronto Star.