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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CEPR Research Associate, Jake Johnston, reports in Al Jazeera America on US government funding to Mouvement Tét Kale, a political organization with close ties to President Michel Martelly, during the 2010-11 elections: 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.S. Agency for International Development gave nearly $100,000 to a Haitian political movement with close ties to President Michel Martelly in the country’s 2010 elections, documents obtained by Al Jazeera show. The money was allocated shortly after Washington helped overturn the election results to thrust Martelly into power.

On the afternoon of Haiti’s Nov. 28, 2010, elections, 12 of 18 presidential candidates took the stage at the glamorous Karibe Hotel, high up in the mountains that surround the capital. The elections were a fraudulent mess, they told the gathered press, and the only way out was to cancel the poll and start over. Chaos soon engulfed Port-au-Prince and other cities, as thousands of young Haitians, many clad in the pink synonymous with Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, took to the streets to simultaneously denounce electoral fraud and herald the victory of their candidate, many days before any official results would be announced.

In the midst of the mayhem, key international actors mobilized. At an emergency meeting at the home of the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, Edmond Mulet, leading diplomats pushed then-President René Préval to accept their offer of a plane to take him out of the country and avoid further confrontation. Mulet also approached the front-runners, including Martelly, telling them they had secured a spot in the second round and to cease calls for the election’s cancellation. Days later, when the electoral council announced preliminary results that did not have Martelly advancing to the runoff, the streets were once again taken over by largely pro-Martelly protesters. The U.S. Embassy released a statement questioning the announced results, fueling the demonstrations in Port-au-Prince.

The pressure of these pro-Martelly demonstrators — on the day of the elections and during the following weeks — was a key factor in convincing the U.S. and other international actors to intervene in Haiti’s elections and force the electoral authority to change the results of the first round, so as to ensure that Martelly remained on the ballot.

According to numerous firsthand accounts, Mouvement Tét Kale (MTK), a political organization with close ties to Martelly, was active in these street mobilizations. Now documents through Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that the U.S. government later provided nearly $100,000 in support to MTK, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

To read the complete article, click here. The document showing the support to Mouvement Tét Kale from the for-profit contractor Chemonics has also been posted online and is available here

Democrats and Republicans may not see eye to eye on much these days, but one thing a number of them do strongly agree on is the need for greater accountability and transparency around U.S. assistance to Haiti. Last year, Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ed Royce joined senior Democrats from the Senate and the House of Representatives in supporting the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act (APHA), a bill originally introduced by progressive California Democrat Barbara Lee. In a rare display of constructive bipartisanship, the bill was quickly passed by both houses of Congress last July and signed into law by President Obama in early August. 

Now, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are again working to try to ensure that the APHA is properly implemented.  In a July 6 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 12 House representatives called for the APHA to be implemented “in accordance with both the spirit and the letter of the legislation” and requested that the State Department make a number of significant improvements to the APHA-mandated annual reports on the “status of post-earthquake recovery and development efforts in Haiti.”

The letter cannot be easily ignored by the State Department. It is signed by some of the most senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including its chair, Ed Royce (R-Calif.); its ranking member, Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.); and other top-ranking members like Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).  It is also signed by nearly every Congressional Black Caucus member who is focused on Haiti, including Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).

The annual report that the congressional members want to see improved is the centerpiece of the Assessing Progress Act. It includes reporting requirements designed to provide policymakers and the public with a clear picture of exactly how U.S. funds are used in Haiti aid programs and what progress is being made toward meeting pre-defined objectives and benchmarks. Having written extensively about the glaring lack of transparency around U.S. aid programs, we were supportive of the passage of the APHA and pleased to see that its reporting requirements took into account a number of our recommendations.

When the State Department’s first report was made public in January of this year, we noted that it provided a lot of useful information for researchers to work with but that often the information provided was incomplete and that there were “instances where State’s reporting may formally comply with the letter of the law, but not with its clear intent of providing lawmakers and the public with a better idea of the concrete results of U.S. Haiti assistance.”

In September 2013 the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruled that those born to undocumented foreigners would not be able to maintain citizenship, mainly impacting Dominicans of Haitian descent. The deadline to formalize one’s legal status passed in June, with many thousands left unable to do so because of a lack of documentation. Already nearly 40,000 have “voluntarily” self-deported to Haiti, fearing a looming crackdown in the country many of them have never left. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) Wednesday, Haitian foreign minister Lener Renauld accused the Dominicans of leaving Haitians at the border “like dogs.”

But just three months after the court’s ruling, before the world’s attention turned to the island of Hispaniola and the humanitarian crisis on the border, the Dominican Republic hired a D.C.-based lobbying firm to assist with “consolidating and strengthening the image of the Dominican State in the eyes of the [sic] international public opinion,” according to documents filed as part of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The documents show that the Dominican Republic paid the lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson over $820,000 between January and August of 2014. The relationship appears to be ongoing however, and it is likely that those costs have only increased with the spotlight now firmly on the Dominican Republic and the firm bringing in hourly rates of around $1,000.

DR Lobby 1

Image: Talking points distributed by Steptoe & Johnson to congressional and executive offices

Lobbyists for Steptoe & Johnson distributed copies of talking points (image above) to congressional and executive offices, describing the migration policy as “modern and transparent” and as a means of protecting the “fundamental rights” of everyone living in the Dominican Republic. Between January and May 2014, the lobbyists met with the offices of at least 24 members of congress, including key players on the foreign affairs committee. In addition to interactions with congress, the contract between the Dominican Republic and Steptoe & Johnson describes a number of other actions, including placement of “interviews, features, opinion pieces in U.S. mainstream media.”

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

On Sunday, July 5, an employee of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Wikenson Bazile, was shot and killed in the busy Delmas 32 neighborhood. Bazile worked in the office of Jaccéus Joseph, the representative of human rights groups to the CEP. The spokesperson for the CEP, Frantz Bernadin, told Alterpresse on July 6, “We have no interpretation of what happened, we leave the judiciary and the police to do their job and we wait for the results of the investigation [in order] to have more information.”

The electoral advisor, Joseph, however was quick to point out that it was likely an assassination attempt. Joseph explained that there was no indication that Bazile had been robbed, and also pointed to threats he has received. “Taking into account the threats which I am the object of and assassination attempts during my presence in the CEP, I do not take this action lightly,” Joseph told the Nouvelliste, while adding that he would leave it to the police to do its job. Jaccéus Joseph stated that he believed the threats were a result of the neutrality shown by the electoral council.

In a radio interview last week, another CEP member, Nehemy Joseph, alleged that a group of disqualified candidates paid $5,000 USD to “a few assassins whose mission was to kill [CEP member] Jaccéus Joseph, myself and other councilors.” The allegation was quickly denied by Jonas Coffy, a representative of the group, who alleged that Nehemy Joseph had solicited bribes from excluded candidates for their reinstatement.

In May, Professor Emmanual Gouthier, Vice Director at the Ministry of the Interior was shot and killed. Gouthier was tasked with investigating potential candidates. There has been no further information released on the status of the investigation.

Today, the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary General and head of the U.N. troop contingent in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, condemned the killing of Bazile and called on the police to conduct a prompt investigation into the circumstances. Honoré reiterated a call for all Haitians to reject violence, especially during the electoral period. 

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

The Organization of American States (OAS) signed an accord with the Haitian government to send international observers to monitor elections in 2015. In 2010, the OAS election observation mission was considered highly controversial due to its role in certifying the presidential elections. Haitian Foreign Minister Lener Renauld believes this accord “reaffirms the determination of President Martelly . . . to support the electoral calendar,” and indicates the commitment of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to administer elections on schedule. Nevertheless, there has been considerable speculation and doubt over whether elections will be administered on time.

Presidential candidates Jacky Lumarque and Francois Levelt were disqualified by the CEP over the weekend. Lumarque, running under the VERITE party of former President René Préval, was disqualified for failing to have a décharge. Levelt, running under the Party for the Haitian Diaspora for Haiti, was disqualified after prior felony convictions came to light. Earlier in the week, a coalition of 17 political parties sent an open letter to the CEP urging for Lumarque’s disqualification due to his failure to secure a décharge, and calling on the CEP not to engage in double standards. Although CEP President Pierre Louis Opont previously stated that the presidential candidate list was final, he later said the CEP would continue to review the eligibility of presidential candidates.

The CEP put out an informational video on enhancing women’s political participation in the upcoming local elections. The one-minute video, currently broadcast on local television and radio, calls on political parties to include more female candidates and party representatives. The Haitian constitution and Electoral decree both mandate a 30% quota for women in public office, though the current rate of female representation is around 5%.

Former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe criticized the CEP for the unjustified exclusion of political candidates. On Wednesday, June 17, Lamothe issued a strongly worded statement alleging that the electoral process has been “forever tainted” by the CEP’s arbitrary exclusion of candidates. Although Lamothe was disqualified for the same reason as many other candidates, he has nevertheless called on the international community to “understand the kind of elections that will transpire in Haiti if nothing is done to restore my candidacy. It has allowed and even seemingly encouraged this process to unfold; it now should also play a role in redirecting the course before once again Haiti faces major political turmoil.”

In February, USAID suspended Thor Construction, one of two contractors responsible for designing and building 750 houses in Haiti’s north, in Caracol. In March, the second contractor, CEEPCO, was also suspended. As previous HRRW reporting revealed, the houses were found to be of poor quality, with numerous structural deficiencies including the use of substandard concrete. USAID is currently investigating and putting together a potential legal case against the contractors; however, they continue to downplay the problems and their own role in them.

HRRW has obtained an internal assessment of the Caracol-EKAM housing development, performed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers last year. The report directly contradicts USAID’s public comments on the housing development.

On its website, USAID has a “fact sheet” on the project, explaining: “To address natural disaster concerns, the 750 houses are designed to International Building Code earthquake and hurricane safety standards, and constructed with reinforced concrete masonry.” The webpage says it was updated in February 2015, nearly a year after USAID first began investigating. There is no mention of any problems with the houses in the “fact sheet.”

Turning to the Army Corp of Engineers report, it makes clear that from the very beginning, International Building Codes were ignored. The report “found no evidence that a formal internal or external review” of the housing design was conducted and further, that “the project was designed with inconsistent application of code and latest design criteria,” despite the contract mandating compliance with the International Building Code. The lack of any oversight provided at this crucial early stage is a clear indictment of USAID’s own role in the project’s failure.

USACE Summary Caracol EKAM
Summary of Findings from US Army Corp of Engineers Technical Assessment

USAID also maintains that the houses are built with “reinforced concrete masonry” and are built to hurricane and earthquake safety standards. Not so fast, says the Army Corp of Engineers: “The project was constructed with significant variances from the contract plans and specifications. These variances could result in major damage from a hurricane or seismic event and excessive maintenance requirements if left uncorrected.”

The following is cross-posted from the Haiti Elections Blog, which was created to help promote the free access to information and accountability within the electoral process. The blog is co-managed by several non-governmental organizations who work with and within Haiti. 

On Friday, the CEP published the final list of approved presidential candidates for the upcoming election scheduled to take place October 25, 2015. Of an initial 70 candidates, the CEP accepted 58. Among those excluded from the race was former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe as well as former government ministers Thierry Mayard Paul and Josefina Gauthier. Among the 12 excluded candidates, 9 were excluded for lacking the proper discharge certificate. Radio Kiskeya provides a brief biographical description of each of the 58 candidates, while Le Nouvelliste provides a description of what they describe as the 12 leading candidates. Both Le National and Le Nouvelliste discuss the potential for political alliances in the run-up to elections. Le National points out that the “Lavalas movement is well represented” by a number of candidates but risks splitting the vote if they do not reach some sort of alliance. 

The “Core Group” released a statement on Friday welcoming the CEP’s publication of the list of presidential candidates. The statement reads in part: “The publication of the list of presidential candidates constitutes an important step in the implementation of the electoral process. The ‘Core Group’ reiterates its full support to the work of the Council and the ongoing organization of elections. The Group invites all stakeholders to continue to participate constructively in the 2015 electoral process. The ‘Core Group’ salutes the efforts of the Government of the Republic towards the continued strengthening of democracy in Haiti. The members of the Core Group emphasize the importance of building on the current momentum and supporting the CEP, the Government and people of Haiti, including the political parties, in the conduct of fair, transparent and inclusive elections in a climate of serenity.”

Many political parties are still questioning the electoral schedule provided by the CEP, reports Alterpresse. Legislative elections scheduled for August 9, despite assurances from the CEP that they will be held on time, are being questioned by leaders of Fusion, OPL and MOPOD among others. Secretary General of Fusion, Ramon Pradel, told Alterpresse that, “we do not believe that the elections will take place on that date," due to logistical questions that have yet to be worked out. Fusion and OPL have 97 and 93 candidates in the legislative race respectively, while MOPOD has 23. A key issue has been a significant funding shortfall in the electoral budget, but U.S. Haiti Special Coordinator Tom Adams stated over the weekend that the U.S. would increase their financial contribution. Adams has previously publically expressed his opinion that the August election should be delayed and incorporated into the October 25 presidential election as a way to save money, a position which is supported by many political parties in Haiti.  

Caracol Flood houses
Image of flooding at Caracol EKAM Shelter site from internal USAID document. Caption reads: “Site flooding due to improper drainage”

Despite USAID allocating some $1.7 billion for the reconstruction effort in Haiti, its projects have exhibited varying levels of success and face serious sustainability challenges, according to a report [PDF] released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO analyzed 23 USAID projects across all eight sectors of USAID’s portfolio. Each program was allocated at least $10 million. The GAO report found that because of delays, USAID has extended its Haiti strategy for three more years, through 2018.

According to USAID officials, the factors leading to cost overruns, delays and poor results were a “lack of staff with relevant expertise, unrealistic initial plans, challenges encountered with some implementing partners, and delayed or revised decisions from the Haitian government.”

The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles reports:

The release of the report by the GAO, which works for Congress, came a day ahead of a visit to Haiti by U.S. congressional staffers from the House Foreign Affairs committee. Led by Eddy Acevedo, senior policy advisor to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the delegation plans to visit some of the projects, including empty housing plots, where work stalled because the agencies that were supposed to build the homes on behalf of USAID pulled out.

The GAO report found that five of USAID’s six major infrastructure projects had to reduce planned outcomes and “encountered delays in 4 of these activities.” Non-infrastructure activities also faced delays and reduced outcomes, but to a lesser extent. The various delays have led USAID to extend its time frame for Haiti work by three years, through 2018.

Though results varied across sectors, the GAO report revealed that in the 17 non-infrastructure projects analyzed, not a single one met or exceeded all of its performance indicators. In the case of infrastructure projects, the results were even worse. The auditors report that during a site visit to the Caracol EKAM shelter program:

we observed unresolved concerns such as blocked drainage pipes and ditches that led to flooding in the settlement after heavy rains, and blocked and crushed sewage pipes. We also observed open water catchment tanks adjacent to some houses that had become breeding areas for mosquitoes.

The report notes that the original plan was to prepare 15,000 lots and build 4,000 homes, but that “The mission had reduced the planned number of plots to 2,013, or by 87 percent, with 906 of the houses to be built by USAID, a reduction of 77 percent.” Meanwhile, costs per house increased, for an original plan of $8,000, on average, to over $24,000 by September 2014. Unmentioned in the GAO report, however, is that the two contractors responsible for the program have been suspended from receiving further government contracts and are under a legal investigation for using shoddy materials and disregarding contractual obligations.

But above and beyond the missed timelines and reduced outcomes, perhaps the most damning part of the GAO report focuses on USAID policies around the sustainability of its projects.

(Updated June 4, 2015, 11:34 a.m. to include references to NPR's report.)

ProPublica’s Justin Elliott and NPR’s Laura Sullivan have published damning new exposés on the American Red Cross’ work in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake (ProPublica's here; NPR's here). The reporting not only validates much of the criticism previously leveled at the ARC for its questionable priorities, slow pace of spending and short list of accomplishments; it offers some stunning new revelations – some of them coming from internal ARC communications.

One of the clearest failures is embodied in the ProPublica article’s headline. While the ARC itself says that it spent 35 percent of its funds raised for Haiti on shelter, and that it “has helped 132,000 Haitians to live in safer conditions—ranging from providing temporary homes and rental subsidies to repaired and new homes,” it has, ProPublica and NPR report, delivered only six new, permanent houses.

The article begins:

In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor [neighborhood of Campeche], which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the program — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.

Today, not one home has been built. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.

The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars.

The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six.

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

Last week, in a conversation with Haitian journalists in Washington, D.C., Thomas Adams, the Haiti special coordinator at the State Department, said the U.S. would be in favor of Haiti holding two elections this year instead of the planned three. The electoral timetable announced in March by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) called for the first round of legislative elections to be held August 9, followed by a first-round presidential election and second round of legislative elections on October 25. Finally, the second round of the presidential election and local elections would be held in late December.

In an interview this past weekend with Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald, Adams explained:

there’s some discussion about going to two rounds of elections instead of three. The pros and cons of that, I think they’ll decide fairly soon whether they want to do that. That would give a little more time to the CEP and it would also save some money if they want to go that route. That is an option.

Moving the first round of the legislative election to the same day as the presidential election would save an estimated $30 million, according to Adams. But while the proposed changes have some support from political parties in Haiti, the CEP has remained steadfast that it is determined to follow the electoral calendar that was announced.

According to Alterpresse, Alix Richard, the vice president of the FUSION party commented that the party had “always sought the election in two stages,” and recommended a discussion between the executive, the CEP and political parties to reach a decision. Both the Patriotic Movement of the Democratic Opposition (MOPOD) – the party of former presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat – and the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL) refused to comment directly on the proposal, saying that they were ready for elections at any time. However Pierre Étienne Saveur, director of OPL, criticized the manner in which Adam’s comments were received. He said that his recommendations would have been better served going through diplomatic channels as opposed to a public statement to the press.

Moise Jean Charles, of the opposition platform Pitit Dessalines, came out in favor of the reduction to two elections. Charles also noted that the change would save the CEP millions of dollars – the electoral body is currently facing a funding shortfall to the tune of over $20 million. Donor countries, including the U.S., have stated that they are ready to provide additional financing, but are waiting for steps to be taken by the Haitian government and electoral council before any disbursements are made.

The New York Times reported Monday on the lack of accountability for sexual abuse on the part of U.N. peacekeepers around the world, focusing on recent allegations that French soldiers “forced boys to perform oral sex on them” in the Central African Republic. The article notes that the U.N. “does not have the legal authority to prosecute or punish a country’s soldiers,” and cites a recent internal audit that found that despite the organization’s “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual abuse, its enforcement “is hindered by a complex architecture, prolonged delays, unknown and varying outcomes and severely deficient assistance.”

The Times reports that U.N. officials responded by pointing to the U.N.’s response to a case in Haiti, in which Pakistani troops were accused of abusing an underage boy, as a “model of accountability.” HRRW reported on the case in 2012, pointing out a likely cover-up, and in January journalist Kathie Klarreich expanded:

Take the case of the Pakistani contingent of MINUSTAH. In January 2012, several Pakistani soldiers reported to their commanding officer that contingent members were sexually abusing a mentally handicapped 13-year old boy in the town of Gonaives, some 50 miles north of the Port-au-Prince, since he was eight years old, passing his name from contingent to contingent for five years. Following the chain of command, the Pakistani commander should have reported the abuse to MINUSTAH, but he decided to handle it himself, hoping it seems, that it would disappear, since he was also abusing the boy.

UN police quickly ascertained that the Pakistani military had hired two local boys to take the victim away from the town without his mother’s knowledge or permission. They found the boy unharmed: one of the kidnappers escaped but the second, Alexandre Vladimir, was arrested and jailed. Vladimir admitted that the MINUSTAH commander from Pakistan had asked him to remove the boy from the area, and that the Pakistanis had come to his home bearing gifts for his mother: $12 and a sack of rice.

Early Friday morning, Haiti’s electoral authority posted online the final list (PDF) of approved candidates for legislative elections scheduled to be held in August. Over 2,000 candidates registered, representing some 98 different political parties. The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) rejected 522 candidates – 76 for the Senate and 446 for the lower house – leaving 1,515 candidates to compete for 138 open seats.

Candidate senate deputy

The CEP, in announcing the rejection of over one-quarter of registered candidates, provided no rationale for individual cases. CEP member Lucie Marie Carmelle Paul Austin told Le Nouvelliste that the list is final: “The CEP did its work in a completely equitable manner and in compliance with the law.” She added that in many cases candidates were rejected because they did not have proper paper work proving their Haitian nationality.

All the leading parties saw a significant number of candidates rejected, with Martelly’s Pati Hatien Tet Kale (PHTK) having the most rejected: 31. Still, PHTK had registered the most candidates, and other parties had a higher percentage of their candidates rejected, such as Platfòm Pitit Dessalines and Renmen Ayiti. After the CEP’s rejections, VERITE, the new party created by former president René Préval and former prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive, has the most candidates in the upcoming election, with 97 followed by PHTK with 94.

candidates byparty

Although the CEP has said the decisions are final, political parties have expressed their frustration with the lack of transparency in the process. The coordinator of Fanmi Lavalas, Dr. Maryse Narcisse, told the press that the party had requested an explanation from the CEP, adding, “I think the right of all has to be respected and if there are people who have been unfairly rejected, we will present ourselves to the CEP, we will begin a legal process so that they do justice to those they unjustly rejected,” according to Haiti Libre.

After the publication of the list by the CEP on Friday, the Haiti Press Network reported that some candidates led protests against the decisions. Supporters of German Fils Alexandre, a candidate for deputy in Petit Goâve under the VERITE ticket, blocked National Highway #2, while in the Central department PHTK Senate candidate Willot Joseph threatened to block elections from happening unless the CEP decision was reversed.

The rejection of First Lady and PHTK Senate candidate Sophia Martelly had already been announced, but with seven other candidates for Senate rejected, PHTK can no longer field a candidate in every department. The only political party that is fielding senate candidates in all 10 departments is Fanmi Lavalas, which has been excluded from participating in past elections. In response to the CEP’s decision, the PHTK party released a statement “strongly challenging” the rejection of their candidates and calling on supporters to remain calm.

Nevertheless, some of the rejections could hardly come as a surprise. These included former Senator Rudolph Boulos, of the PHTK party. He had previously been forced from his post after it was determined that he held a U.S. passport, making him ineligible to hold office in Haiti.

While rejections made the headlines, some interesting names did make the cut. Jacqueline Charles reports for the Miami Herald:

Among those who will be vying for one of those empty Senate seats is Guy Philippe, a former Haitian police officer who led the 2004 coup that toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Over the years, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents have tried — and failed — on at least three occasions to arrest Philippe, who has been wanted in the United States since 2005. This will be Philippe’s third try at elected office in Haiti.

The registration period for presidential elections is ongoing.

UPDATE 5/26: On Sunday, May 24, the CEP released a list of candidates who had originally been rejected but have been reinstated. No rationale was provided. Overall, the CEP allowed an additional 47 candidates for the Senate to participate and 294 candidates for Deputy. There are now a total of 233 candidates for the Senate and 1,624 for Deputy. After the CEP's decision, VERITE still has more candidates than any other party, with 115. PHTK has 110. With the reinstatements, PHTK and Fanmi Lavalas had the highest percentage of their candidates rejected with 12% and 10.8%, respectively. This compares to an overall rejection percent of 8.9. 

On Friday, April 24, VICE on HBO aired a segment entitled “The Haitian Money Pit,” which focuses on the impact of aid to Haiti, now over five years after the earthquake. The episode takes a critical look at the billions in relief and reconstruction pledged to Haiti, finding that much of it went to U.S.-based contractors with little reaching those most in need.

In the episode, VICE on HBO correspondent Vikram Gandhi travels to Caracol, in the north of Haiti, home to the international community’s flagship reconstruction project, the Caracol Industrial Park. Gandhi visits a police station, which cost over $2 million as well as soccer field and cultural center. As Gandhi states, “when we looked at the costs of many other projects, we noticed the same contractor kept coming up.” Chemonics.

In an interview aired during the episode, I explain that Chemonics was the largest recipient of post-quake U.S. disaster relief and in fact, is one of the largest aid contractors in the world. A topic that we have covered on this blog for years.  In a response to the episode, Chemonics claims the “segment does not provide a complete or accurate picture of Chemonics’ work in Haiti over the past five years.”

Chemonics continues:

As part of our USAID-funded Haiti Recovery Initiative, which ended in 2013, both the soccer field and the cultural center were designed to build a greater sense of community in the north of Haiti. Taken separately, these community projects may seem random. However, they were part of a larger strategy to stimulate growth in the region.

While this may be true, it does not address the main issue which VICE raises: that so much post-quake aid went to a community that wasn’t impacted by the quake. Further, the priority for Chemonics in implementing a USAID program was to provide support to the industrial park. Chemonics also funded the public relations firm for the inauguration of the park, paid for billboards that dot the area declaring it “open for business,” as well as other efforts aimed at promoting the park. This very well may be what Chemonics was asked to do by USAID, but it doesn’t mean it was a good use of aid dollars.

Vikram Gandhi, VICE on HBO correspondent travelled to Haiti to see just what happened with the $10 billion in aid pledged after the earthquake that occurred more than five years ago. The episode aired at 11 PM EST 4/24/15.

In a sneak peek, Gandhi goes to the site of a housing expo held in 2011. Organized by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission led by Bill Clinton, the expo was meant to showcase model homes that could be built across the country. With more than a million made homeless, and hundreds of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, providing new housing was seen as key to “building back better.”

A new opinion poll, reported on Wednesday by Jacqueline Charles of The Miami Herald, reveals that while Haitian President Michel Martelly’s personal approval rating remains high, more than 50 percent of respondents thought the country was “headed in the wrong direction.” The Herald reports:

Martelly, who will begin the final year of his five-year term in May, got a 57 percent job approval rating. But it’s an open question whether his popularity will give his choice of presidential candidate the win. Martelly is barred from running again, and Haitians are waiting to see which candidate gets his support.

More than half of Haitians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, while nearly 70 percent do not believe things are going well today.

Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University who conducted the poll (PDF), told the Herald that “members of the private sector” funded the poll and had contracted him to do a number of polls over the past few years. Gamarra was also an advisor to the Government of Haiti, contracted by the Ministry of Planning, until August 2014.

Given Gamarra’s previous relationship with the government, and the contradictions in the poll (such as Martelly having high approval, despite a majority believing the country is moving in the wrong direction and that their personal situations are worse than a year ago), questions have arisen about the methodology of the survey. Further, some 60 percent of respondents reported having voted in the last presidential election, though the official turnout was only about 20 percent. Either the sample was not representative, or a significant portion of the respondents were not completely honest.

In a conversation with HRRW however, Gamarra defended the survey and noted that the only reason it had been published was because the most pro-government findings had previously been leaked.

While Gamarra acknowledged that using cell phone numbers to obtain the survey sample could introduce a bias to the results, he noted that largely as a result of Digicel’s presence, market penetration of cell phones has reached unprecedented levels and that the results are consistent with prior face-to-face polling he had done in Haiti.

“A lot of people are surprised by the contradictions,” Gamarra said, but “this is typical in Haiti.” Haitians, he said, are not generally critical of the government, despite that the majority feel their situation is getting worse.

Earlier this week, Haiti’s electoral authority published the final list of 166 political parties that have successfully registered for planned elections later this year. With elections delayed for over three years and such a large number of parties participating, the election is seen as wide open.

While the headline number looks good for Martelly, Gamarra urged caution, pointing to the results in the important west department, home to nearly 30 percent of Haiti’s population and a key base of support for Martelly earlier in his term. “The government faces its greatest opposition in the west….as a result, I believe that the elections are wide-open,” he added. Indeed, the poll shows Martelly faring worse on almost every indicator in the department. Whereas his national approval rating is 57 percent, in the west department, it is just 38 percent, some 15 percentage points lower than in any other department.

Caracol flood
Image from internal USAID document, caption reads: “Site flooding due to improper drainage”

On March 25, 2015, USAID suspended CEEPCO Contracting – which had been working on shelter programs in Haiti –from receiving further government contracts, pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation. CEEPCO joins Thor Construction, which was suspended in early February. The investigation concerns faulty construction practices related to 750 houses built in Caracol, Haiti by USAID. CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston reported in February for VICE News:

CEEPCO's CEO is Harold Charles, a Haitian-American who was formerly one of the Haitian government's representatives to the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), run by Bill Clinton and meant to be in charge of the $10 billion in earthquake relief. The IHRC had initially approved the USAID shelter program back in December 2010.

Charles also enjoys a close, personal relationship with Haitian President Michel Martelly. In an interview in 2013, Charles said, "I do know and have very close friends up through the highest ranks of government," adding, "Martelly is a childhood friend of mine." One former government official in Haiti said in an interview, "this was seen as a deal that would please Martelly."

Despite the initial assessment in August, 2014 that revealed the construction problems, USAID extended CEEPCO's contract for work at other shelter sites in Haiti this past January. CEEPCO’s contract for the Caracol site was awarded without competition. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the justification document is ongoing. A FOIA request for the initial assessment documenting the problems with the houses was recently responded to, but USAID withheld the entire document that was sought, citing the ongoing legal investigation.

Though the investigation continues, many thousands of Haitians continue to live in the poorly constructed houses. A contracting document from November, 2014, stated that repairs must be “carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents.” But it is unclear if meaningful remediation efforts have taken place.  An internal document reveals that many of the identified problems would require serious structural work to the houses.

In November, Tetra Tech, another U.S.-based firm, received a $5 million contract to oversee the repair efforts. The firm has been performing structural evaluations of the houses in anticipation of a future legal suit. One draft document, prepared by Tetra Tech and obtained by HRRW, details 29 instances “of material substitutions, field design changes, lack of quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) and lack of quality workmanship.”

During a meeting yesterday at the Hotel Karibe Convention Center, the CEP presented a draft electoral calendar to political parties present. The proposal would have the first round of legislative elections on August 9, the second round of legislative elections and first round of presidential elections on October 25 and finally the second round of presidential elections and local elections on December 27. The electoral decree, which provides the legal basis for the election, was approved by the president on March 2.

A key date in the electoral process will be March 23, when the CEP will publish the list of registered political parties. Registration will open on March 16 and parties will have 5 days to register. This will be looked at as a key indicator of the inclusiveness of elections, as in past elections key political parties have been excluded from participation.  Some opposition political movements were not present at yesterday’s meeting, including MOPOD, RDNP and Petit Dessalines, according to Alterpresse. For his part former Senator Moise Jean Charles of Petit Dessaline explained they would not attend, “…because conditions have not been met. The electoral environment is part of the context of the crisis.”

INITE, which joined the Martelly government as part of a political deal in January, was supportive of the proposed calendar. Paul Denis expressed his party’s support for the holding of three elections, while adding that some continue to not want elections at all. “No one should come with pretexts for not organizing elections so as to generate trouble in the country,” he said. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, former INITE Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive indicated his intention to run, at some level, in the elections.

Fanmi Lavalas and Fusion both expressed concern with the calendar, preferring to have the election in two-rounds as opposed to three. Le Nouvelliste reported that according to Dr. Louis Gérald Gilles of Lavalas, “neither political parties nor the country will have the necessary economic resources to participate in an electoral process that stretches from March 16 to December 27 2015.” Lavalas was excluded from participating in the 2010 elections. In an interview earlier this week with the Haiti Press Network, Prime Minister Evans Paul stated that, “an important sum will be made available to the various political organizations to run in the presidential elections.”

While there are concerns over the proposed timetable, the bigger issue appears to be in the formation of the Bureaux electoraux départementaux (BED) and Bureaux electoraux communaux (BEC). These institutions play a key oversight role as their members are responsible for communal and departmental dispute resolution. According to Le Nouvelliste, “Most political parties considered that the CEP should have first resolved the issue of the members of the BEC and BED before focusing on the electoral calendar.”  Gilles of Lavalas added that, “the BED and BEC constitute the basis for credible elections in the country.”

In response to the questions raised about the BED and BEC, Nehemy Joseph, a member of the CEP, stated they lacked control over financial resources and were unable to travel the country and ensure that the local institutions are being formed properly. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, the head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Sophie de Caen, announced that the electoral fund had over $38 million at its disposal. But, while the Haitian government is the largest single contributor, control of those funds rest with the international community and the UNDP in particular. Le Nouvelliste reported that, “certain political party leaders have roundly denounced the fact that the UNDP controls more than $38 million for the country’s elections, while the relevant body for the organization of elections, the CEP, functions with very limited economic resources.”

A final decision on the electoral calendar will be made in the coming days. 

CEPR Research Associate and lead HRRW blogger, Jake Johnston, published the following piece on VICE news today:

After the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, the US government responded with an ambitious plan to build 15,000 new houses in the country. But the ensuing program to put roofs over the heads of displaced Haitians has included a boondoggle of epic proportions at one $35 millionhousing development, where shoddy construction practices and faulty sewage systems are currently the subject of an ongoing investigation.

On February 3, the US-based company Thor Construction was suspended from receiving government contracts because of its work in Haiti. Another contractor with close ties to the Haitian president has so far escaped punishment.

As the relief effort's flagship housing project comes under increased scrutiny, interviews with involved parties and an analysis of contract documents, independent reports, and congressional testimony reveals that the problem is far from a simple case of contractor malfeasance. Rather, USAID, the government agency responsible for administering foreign civilian aid, simply failed to provide meaningful oversight of its contractors and ensure adequate results for US-taxpayer financed projects.

In April 2012, Thor received $18.4 million to build 750 houses at a site on Haiti's northern coast called Caracol-EKAM, part of the international community's high-profile reconstruction project at the Caracol Industrial Park. At a star-studded inauguration of the park in October 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured the new buildings and spoke of "affordable homes with clean running water, flush toilets, and reliable electricity... built to resist hurricanes and earthquakes."

In June 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the initial target of 15,000 total houses in Haiti had been reduced to just 2,600 while at the same time costs increased from $53 million to more than $90 million. USAID Assistant Administrator Beth Hogan explained to Congress that the high costs were "because of the requirements" that the contractor "meet international building codes, that it comply with federal building standards," and "that these materials would be disaster- and hurricane-proof." Hogan added that she was "very happy with the quality" of the houses.

But a year and a half later, Hogan's story is coming apart at the seams. In November, USAID awarded a $5 million no-bid contract to US-based Tetra Tech to provide remediation services for the Caracol houses. An independent assessment conducted in August 2014 "revealed numerous deficiencies," with the houses, including roofs not being fastened, use of "sub-specification" materials, and "other structural and drainage issues," according to a contract document. Given the location's susceptibility to hurricanes and other extreme weather events, the document noted repairs must be "carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents."

Read the rest here. For more background, see here, here and here.

In December, Rep. John Conyers and 76 other members of congress wrote to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urging the U.N. to provide a settlement mechanism for cholera victims and their families and lays out the reasons why the UN should be legally obliged to provide such a mechanism.  The members of Congress add that, “while we applaud the UN’s efforts to secure more funding for cholera treatment….we wish to respectfully remind you that these efforts do not absolve the UN of its obligation to receive legal claims from victims of the epidemic and provide remediation for the affected communities.” 2 months later, Ban Ki-moon has finally sent the members of Congress a lengthy response which the defenders of Haiti’s cholera victims have characterized as “untenable as a matter of law and logic.”

In a letter, dated February 19, 2015, Ban Ki-moon responds to the 76 members of congress. Most of the letter is dedicated to outlining all the work the U.N. has done to combat cholera in Haiti.  The U.N. has indeed issued calls for cholera funding, but the Haitian government’s 10-year cholera eradication plan remains woefully underfunded. Just 18 percent of the $2.2 billion required has thus far been pledged, with less than 13 percent actually disbursed, according to the most recent data [PDF]. A donor conference in October failed to secure significant additional pledges of support.

Only at the end of the letter does Ban actually respond to the members of Congress’ request for a settlement mechanism for the victims of cholera.  After initially rejecting the claims of the victims in a terse statement with little explanation, Ban provides perhaps the most thorough explanation to date for why the U.N. will not hear the claims:

Claimants invoked Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946 (the "General Convention") and paragraph 55 of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Government of Haiti, which implements Section 29(a) of the General Convention in the agreement with Haiti.

Section 29(a) is limited by its terms to the consideration of private law claims.  In the practice of the Organization, disputes of a private law character have been understood to be disputes of the type that arise between private parties, such as, claims arising under contracts, claims relating to the use of private  property in peacekeeping contexts or claims arising from motor vehicle accidents. The Organization has regularly received and provided compensation for such claims arising out of acts attributable to its peacekeeping missions and personnel.

I wish to assure you that, in the present case, the claims were thoroughly and carefully considered. After a review of the claims and the history and implementation of Section 29(a) of the General Convention, the claimants were informed that the claims were not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the General Convention. As the claims in question raised broad issues of policy that arose out of the functions of the United Nations as an international organization, they could not form the basis of a claim of a private law character and, consequently, the claims did not fall within the scope of Section 29(a) of the General Convention. For the same reason, it was determined that these claims were not of the type for which a claims commission is provided under the SOFA, since the relevant provision of the SOFA also relates to claims of a private law character.

To read Ban’s full response, click here. Unfortunately, while this may be the most words a U.N. official has said about the legal case, it leaves much to be desired. Bruce Rashkow, a former high-ranking official in the U.N.’s Office of Legal Affairs wrote last year that the U.N. stance that cholera claims were “not receivable” was unprecedented. “Indeed, as the head of the UN legal office that routinely handled claims against the Organization for some ten years, I did not recall any previous instance where such a formulation was utilized in regard to such claims,” Rashkow wrote.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which is representing Haitian cholera victims in their legal battle, provided the following response to Ban’s letter:

The Secretary-General’s assertion that the claims of Haiti’s cholera victims are an exception to the UN’s legal obligation to compensate people harmed by its negligence is untenable as a matter of law and of logic.  The Secretary-General fails to cite a single authority supporting the view that the cholera claims are not “disputes of a private law character.”  To the contrary, dozens of the world's leading experts in international law -- including many who have held positions in the UN -- have reviewed the cholera victims’ claims against the UN in conjunction with the UN's legal obligations. These experts agree that the cholera claims are private law claims, and that the UN had an obligation to settle them. The experts’ findings have been presented in a vast number of legal blogs, court briefs, and media articles, and are as applicable today as they were when the UN first dismissed the claims.

A complaint from Haitian communities and supported by New York University’s Global Justice Clinic and Accountability Counsel has been rejected by the World Bank on technical grounds. The groups had asked for the Bank’s Inspection Panel to review whether assistance the Bank is providing to the Haitian government follows Bank guidelines relating to transparency and environmental safety.

Since 2013, the World Bank has provided technical assistance to the Haitian government in rewriting its mining laws, leading to a new mining law being drafted in 2014. Though Haiti has not seen large-scale commercial mining for decades, the government awarded multiple concessions in 2012 over opposition protests. In 2013, following a forum on mining sponsored by the World Bank, then Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe declared that to advance Haiti’s development, “we are counting heavily on the contribution of the mining sector.”

The Haitian communities’ complaint [PDF] states:

Complainants fear that, due to the government’s weak capacity and the law’s inadequacies, this increased investment in the mining sector will result in serious social and environmental harms, including contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law. Further, Complainants fear that the government of Haiti lacks the capacity to regulate and monitor mining company activity.

In its response, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel says that it “has decided not to register the case.” The Panel acknowledged that the issues raised were “serious and legitimate,” and agreed that the new mining law could “have significant and considerable adverse environmental and social consequences.” However, because the World Bank support was provided through a technical assistance mechanism, “policies and procedures applicable to design, appraisal and implementation of a project, including the safeguard policies, were not applied to the Haiti Mining Dialogue.” The mechanism is not subject to the World Bank’s safeguard policies and therefore the Inspection Panel refused to hear the complaint.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, members of the CEP put forth their proposal for an electoral calendar leading up to presidential elections by the end of 2015. CEP president Pierre Louis Opont said they were considering holding legislative elections, including 20 of 30 Senate seats and the entire 99-member Chamber of Deputies, in July. The second round of the legislative elections would be held alongside Presidential elections on October 25, 2015 with the second round of the presidential race and local elections taking place sometime in January.

In a press release on February 9, the CEP said they had circulated a draft electoral decree to political parties for comment and would send it on to the executive by Friday, February 13 to be officially published (Laurette Backer posted a version of the draft electoral decree here).  Political parties, civil society and other stakeholders were given until 4 PM Wednesday to submit their comments to the CEP, however many political groupings have stated they were not consulted prior to the CEP’s announcement.  

Announcement Gets Mixed Reaction from Political Parties 

The Fusion political party, which supports the government, denounced the CEP’s announcement. “I think the CEP was misguided to take such a decision without consultation. It’s a clumsy move, which could plunge the country into more difficulties,” a Fusion representative told Alterpresse. Fusion stated they had sent a letter to the government about their concerns with the CEP’s actions and reiterated their proposal of holding a single election in 2015 for all positions. Rosemand Pradel of Fusion told Le Nouvelliste that “Political parties are important actors in the electoral process, the CEP cannot define an electoral calendar on its own.”

Sauveur Pierre-Etienne, coordinator of OPL, stated that the CEP had yet to make contact with political parties and that he saw “shenanigans” in the announcement from the CEP. “The proposed electoral calendar is completely absurd,” Pierre-Etienne told Le Nouvelliste, “How do you organize elections spread out over a six-month period?“ According to Le Nouvelliste, he suggested that this could be a strategy aimed at “ruining” the opposition defined by the CEP and those in power.

John Henry Ceant of Renmen Ayiti pointed to the political agreement signed January 11 at the Kinam hotel, which stated that the CEP would find consensus between the presidency and political parties around the formation of the electoral law and timetable. “The CEP has put the cart before the horse,” Ceant told Le Nouvelliste.

Responses were relatively muted from opposition groups. MOPOD coordinator Jean André Victor told Alterpresse, “No, we have not yet considered the issue. We remain, for the moment [focused on] demonstrations supporting the departure of Michel Martelly from power.” Fanmi Lavalas, which was prevented from participating in the previous election, said in a statement to Alterpresse that the executive committee was “studying the situation.” In comments to Le Nouvelliste, Dr. Maryse Narcisse of Fanmi Lavalas said the organization had yet to receive the draft electoral decree that the CEP said was sent to political parties last week. No political party can handle “the social and material costs of several elections in one year,” she added.  

Role of International Community

In January, President Martelly called for legislative elections to be held by May, according to Haiti Libre, noting that, “According to some experts…we should wait at least 5-6 months to have the elections, which brings us to July-August. When we think to two rounds, each time, we must wait for the results, challenges, that brings us to October. So I feel that at this point, those proposing elections in six months are talking about one turn.” Among those that have advocated for legislative elections in July is U.S. Ambassador Pamela White, who reportedly relayed this preference to some of the remaining 10 Senators still in office at a meeting last week. In private meetings in Washington D.C., U.S. officials have continually stated a preference for one single election to take place in 2015, given the problems with logistics and funding.