From January through August of 2014, 69 Haitians died from cholera and some 8,628 fell ill, a 76 percent drop from the previous year, the United Nations reported. In October, at a high-level donor conference convened to raise money to help fight cholera, World Bank director Jim Kim told the assembled diplomats that the reduction in cases was “an achievement of which Haiti and its development partners can be proud.” The U.N. decreased their projections for the number of new cases in 2014 to 15,000 from 45,000 and proudly stated that the “case fatality rate is below the 1 per cent target rate set by the World Health Organization.”
But the last few months have shown the optimism to be premature, at best. As heavy rains have hit Haiti, so too has a resurgence of cholera. With data through November 21, 2014 [PDF], the number of cases in 2014 has already shot past the 15,000 estimate to over 20,000. More worryingly, since the beginning of September, 135 Haitians have died from cholera, nearly twice as many as had died over the first 8 months of the year. Further, the much-watched case fatality rate stands at 1.3 percent over that time period, above the 1 percent target.
Yesterday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which has treated nearly 30 percent of those sickened by cholera in Haiti, warned that the response capacities inside Haiti were severely limited and unable to cope with the recent increase. “We have tried to refer patients to other cholera treatment centers, but we soon realized there were not enough beds,” explained Olivia Gayraud, MSF medical coordinator in Haiti. “The Martissant center was quickly overwhelmed by the number of patients, as national health structures are poorly prepared to react to cholera outbreaks, despite them being predictable during the rainy season,” she added.
According to documents from USAID, 750 houses built by USAID near the new Caracol industrial park, were found to be of poor quality and will take millions of dollars to repair. The houses are part of USAID’s “New Settlement Program,” which was the subject of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in October 2013 as well as a USAID Inspector General (IG) audit in April 2014.
The GAO report found that USAID had initially planned on building 15,000 houses but that the number had been reduced to just 2,600. At the same time costs skyrocketed, from $53 million to over $90 million. At the time of the report, just 900 houses had been built across Haiti. (For more on the housing project, and how these estimates changed, see “Outsourcing Haiti” from earlier this year in Boston Review.)
Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in October 2013, Beth Hogan, an Assistant Administrator at USAID, explained how those cost increases occurred:
Again, it's because of the requirements that we put into our solicitation document that it meet international building codes, that it comply with federal building standards, that these materials would be disaster- and hurricane-proof.
Hogan went on to say that she was “very happy with the quality” with which the contractors were building the houses. David Gootnick, the author of the GAO report and the Director of International Affairs and Trade at the agency, echoed Hogan’s remarks, telling Congress that, “they are excellent homes that are built to a very high standard.”
However, last month, USAID quietly awarded a contract worth up to $4.5 million to an American-based firm, Tetra Tech, to provide a remediation plan for the Caracol houses. The seriousness of the deficiencies was great enough for USAID to bypass normal contracting procedures and award the contract without receiving other bids. The justification document, required when normal procedures are not followed, explains that an independent assessment was performed in August 2014, which “revealed numerous deficiencies” including “missing roof fasteners, sub-specification roof materials and concrete reinforcement, and other structural and drainage issues.”
“Haitian people are all too familiar with the court expressing sympathy to their plight but closing doors to them,” concluded Muneer Ahmad, Clinical Professor of Law at Yale Law School, at today’s federal District Court hearing concerning the U.N.’s immunity for introducing cholera to Haiti. “That need not be the case here,” said Ahmad.
For one day, at least, the Southern District federal court in New York did open their doors, as Judge Oetken heard oral arguments in the case George et al. V. United Nations et al. The question before the court today was whether or not the U.N. and its officers should have immunity from claims arising from the introduction of cholera into Haiti by U.N. troops in October 2010.
“It is not seriously disputed that the U.N. is responsible for causing this devastating epidemic,” stated Beatrice Lindstrom, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and counsel for the thousands of Haitian cholera victims represented in the suit. The U.N. did not appear in court but rather it was U.S. government attorney Ellen Blain who spoke in defense of U.N. immunity, citing the U.S.’s obligation as host nation to the U.N.
Lindstrom argued that the U.N.’s immunity, as called for in Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [doc] (CPIUN) did not need to be expressly waived by the U.N., because it had failed to provide an alternative dispute mechanism, as called for in Section 29 of the CPIUN. Lindstrom stated that these two sections were “two-sides of the came coin” and that the convention must be interpreted “in whole.” By failing to live up to its obligations under Section 29, the U.N. would not be able to then claim immunity under Section 2. U.S. attorneys argued that there was no link between the two sections and pointed to previous cases where U.S. courts have upheld immunity.
However, in those previous cases, the plaintiffs argued, the U.N. had provided an alternative dispute mechanism, and the question was over its adequacy. This was the first case before U.S. courts where the U.N. had failed entirely to live up to its obligations under Section 29, according to the plaintiffs as well as international law scholars, who filed amicus curiae with the court.
Like a Matryoshka doll, inside each cholera elimination initiative for Haiti one will find another and inside that, yet another. At the two-year anniversary of the earthquake, in January 2012, organizations launched a “call to action” for the elimination of cholera. Almost a year later, in December 2012, the U.N. launched a “new” initiative designed to “support an existing campaign.” Then in February 2013, the Haitian government and international partners announced a 10-year elimination plan. When funding was slow to come, the U.N. and other partners began raising funds for a two-year emergency response. In March of 2014, another “high-level” committee was formed and then in July, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Haiti to launch a “Total Sanitation” campaign within the “context” of the cholera elimination plan. Since that first announcement in 2012, 1,600 Haitians have died from cholera. Today, in a “high-level” donor conference sponsored by the World Bank, the Haitian government presented yet another plan.
“We have a plan, it’s a $310 million plan for three years,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the crowded 13th floor conference room in the World Bank headquarters here in Washington, DC. Lamothe urged those in attendance to “take action” and “fast-track this process” in order to “protect the lives of millions of people” and “ensure the most vulnerable of the society are protected against water-borne diseases.” But the 2.5-hour conference ended up short on pledges and long on pleas, with only the event’s sponsor, the World Bank, contributing substantial funds.
Cholera, which scientific studies have found was introduced to Haiti by United Nations troops in 2010, has so far killed at least 8,614 and sickened over 700,000. While no speakers at the conference mentioned how the disease was imported to Haiti, Lamothe did play a short video, in which the narrator explains that, “based on press reports, it [cholera] originated on a Nepalese camp of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.” Later in the video, a Haitian explains how he blamed the U.N. for cholera’s introduction. Meanwhile, lawyers and human rights groups continue to press for U.N. responsibility through the courts. A federal court in New York will hear oral arguments on the U.N.’s immunity on October 23.
“The UN has a binding international law obligation to install the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to control the cholera epidemic, as well as compensate those injured,” said Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, who is representing cholera victims in their case against the U.N. “MINUSTAH has spent far more than $2 billion since cholera broke out on other things. It is a question of priorities.”
While the U.N. has refused to accept responsibility for the disease’s introduction or take direct remedial actions, in December 2012 Ban pledged to “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds for cholera elimination and has since cited the U.N.’s “moral obligation” to respond to cholera. Despite the support, actors have thus far failed to raise an adequate amount of funds for the eradication plan. At the conference, Ban stated that “as of today, the $2.2 billion 10-year national plan is just 10 percent funded. While a lot has been done, there is clearly much more to do.”
At the United Nations Security Council meeting last week, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power did not mince words regarding who was to blame for Haiti’s electoral impasse. Power, speaking to the assembled members, stated bluntly [PDF]:
But a group of six senators seems intent on holding elections hostage to partisan concerns, even going so far as to prevent a debate on the electoral law.
Legislators in a democracy have a responsibility to defend their constituents’ rights. But when elected officials take advantage of democracy’s checks and balances to cynically block debates and elections altogether, they stand in the way of addressing citizens’ real needs.
It wasn’t just the U.S. referencing the so called “Group of 6.” The head of MINUSTAH, the U.N. mission in Haiti, also blamed a “group of Senators opposed to the El Rancho Accord.” Today, in a separate action, 15 U.S. members of Congress wrote to the Senate president Simon Desras. As the Miami Herald reports, the lawmakers wrote that:
“We are deeply concerned that the Haitian Senate has been unable to pass the requisite legislation to authorize elections this year….We believe that Haitians deserve better than to have this fundamental democratic right continually delayed.”
But, the Herald continues, “[i]n addition to the senators, several large political parties in Haiti are also opposed to the agreement and were not part of the negotiations [the El Rancho Accord]. In addition to raising constitutional issues, Martelly opponents have also raised questions about the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) tasked with organizing the vote. Many feel that it is currently being controlled by the executive.”
Opposition leader Mirlande Manigat, a conservative who lost to Martelly in a run-off election in 2011 and is a constitutional scholar, responded to the comments from the U.S. and the U.N., saying it was unreasonable to overlook the role that Martelly has played in the delay:
“For three years, he refused to call elections. A large part of this is his fault…It is unfair to accuse the six senators for the crisis.”
As we have noted previously, there are legal and constitutional reasons behind the oppositions’ electoral stance. 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.”
Fanmi Lavalas leaders report that the police that have guarded former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s residence since he returned to Haiti in 2011 were removed around 1:00 a.m. this morning. It is unclear who ordered the removal of the state security agents, but Agence Haitienne de Presse is reporting that Haitian National Police deny giving the order, and that a “pro-government source” says the orders came from the National Palace. This news conflicts with reports yesterday that Aristide is being placed under house arrest. While Judge Lamarre Belizaire reportedly issued an order for “agents of the prison administration, known as APENA” to be placed around Aristide’s house in Tabarre (according to the Caribbean Media Corporation) and “agents of the Central Department of the Judicial Police” to guard the perimeter of his residence, witnesses on the ground say it appears that law enforcement agencies have ignored Belizaire’s order. Under Haitian law, house arrest has no legal basis.
Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, whose sister organization the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux’s Managing Attorney Mario Joseph represents Aristide, sees the withdrawal of security as retaliation against Aristide for exercising his civil rights. Specifically, Aristide’s lawyers’ are seeking the recusal and dismissal of Judge Belizaire, who is already barred from practicing law for 10 years after he leaves his position as judge.
Concannon says that the message is that “If you assert your civil rights, we’re going to expose you and your family to being killed.” He sees it as a clear signal from the Haitian government that “the police will not come to Aristide’s aid if something happens.” The secretive way in which the security was pulled, in the dead of night, is worrying, he notes.
Aristide continues to have many enemies in Haiti. He was twice ousted in violent coups, in 1991 and 2004. Some of the people involved in the coups and in the killing of Fanmi Lavalas members and other Aristide supporters continue to walk free in Haiti. Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier – who was ousted in a popular uprising by the grassroots movement that later provided the base for Aristide’s party – also lives freely in Haiti despite the various human rights atrocities committed during his rule and the diverting of hundreds of millions of dollars from the government for his family’s personal use.
Education remains one of Haiti’s lasting challenges. Illiteracy remains high (more than half of the total population), but since the great majority of schools are private, families usually pay for school expenses such as uniforms, meals, books and fees. This means that many children cannot afford school, while many other families struggle to come up with the money. The AP’s Danica Coto reported this week:
Haiti's education system has suffered for decades due to poverty, political instability and the devastating 2010 earthquake. An estimated 30 percent of young people are illiterate, and only about half of all children can afford to attend primary school, according to UNICEF, the U.N.'s children's agency. Fewer than a quarter go to secondary school.
The education ministry recently announced that it has invested some $13 million in books and school supplies for this year — though many students still must pay for all or part of their textbooks — and also launched a school meal system that will help 800,000 children.
Another challenge that Haitian school children face is that much of the teaching has been done in French, the country’s traditional language, but one which is spoken by only a (mostly higher-income) minority. In recent years, reformers have sought to expand Creole education, as the AP has also reported:
In a sign of growing interest in Creole's educational potential, the U.S. Agency for International Development last fall awarded a $12.9 million contract to the North Carolina nonprofit group, RTI International, to create a basic reading curriculum that includes the language.
Last month, USAID’s Office of Inspector General released an audit of the 2-year, 4-month Research Triangle Institute (RTI) contract, which was also intended “to help the Haitian Ministry of Education develop and test an instructional model to improve the reading skills of children in first through third grades in Haiti’s development corridors,” including by “provid[ing] curricula that meet international standards for best practice and respond to Haiti’s culture and students’ educational needs.”
The audit’s conclusions can, unfortunately, be interpreted as a failing grade for RTI’s performance. It found that:
A judge in Haiti has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, saying that Aristide failed to appear for questioning following a summons issued earlier in the week. While some outlets reported that Aristide is facing “charges relating to acts of corruption, money laundering, misappropriation of public funds, criminal conspiracy,” as the Miami Herald noted on Tuesday, Aristide’s attorneys said that their client had not been summoned:
Haitian media, quoting unnamed sources, said that Aristide and at least 30 others have been barred from leaving the country by Judge Lamarre Belizaire and that arrest warrants have been issued for some supporters.
Belizaire could not be reached for confirmation, but a government source said Aristide was served to appear in court.
Mario Joseph, Aristide’s Haiti lawyer, denied that the former president was served. And both he and Aristide’s U.S. lawyer Ira Kurzban said no formal notice of a travel ban had been imposed. The ramblings, they said, are politically motivated.
“It is solely motivated by the upcoming potential elections in Haiti and, like all other allegations against President Aristide, has no basis in fact or reality,” Kurzban said.
Joseph said the reports are aimed at distracting the public from [suspected kidnapper Clifford] Brandt’s “organized” release from jail.
“President Aristide has not received any mandate,” Joseph said. “After Brandt’s planned freedom from prison, they are looking for anything that makes noise and distracts people from the real issues.”
The AP reports that Joseph went to the court session on Wednesday in an attempt to learn more about the summons, but Belizaire did not appear; Joseph’s colleagues with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti relayed the same account of events in a conference call today with reporters.
More than four-and-a-half years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. Congress passed legislation on Friday demanding greater accountability and transparency in U.S. relief and reconstruction efforts. “[W]e need to provide more accountability of our efforts to rebuild Haiti as we work to produce sustainable local capacity and strengthen democratic institutions,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), in a press release praising the bill’s passage.
In April 2013, CEPR published “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Aid Transparency and Accountability in Haiti.” The report concluded that “the lack of real transparency around U.S. assistance to Haiti makes it much more difficult to identify problems and take corrective measures.” Among the recommendations made in the report, many have been included in the recent legislation, such as: reporting sub-award contract data, prioritizing local procurement and the involvement of local civil society, releasing data at the project level and including benchmarks and goals, and increasing the amount of information published in Haitian Creole.
The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, as the bill is known, will require the Secretary of State to submit to Congress a report every 6 months detailing the U.S. government strategy in Haiti, including program goals and outcomes. Crucially, the bill also requires reporting on “amounts committed, obligated, and expended on programs and activities to implement the Strategy, by sector and by implementing partner at the prime and subprime levels,” making it far easier to track where the money goes and who is the ultimate recipient.
It has been U.S. policy to increase local procurement worldwide as part of an ambitious reform program called USAID Forward. However, the new bill will ensure that the U.S. carries this out in its Haiti policy, something that has taken on extra importance as recent data released by USAID shows the level of local procurement actually decreased in 2013 from 2012.
Local procurement data recently posted (XLS) on the USAID Forward website reveals that just over $4 million, or 2 percent of all USAID spending went to local companies or organizations in Haiti. This is down from $11.3 million (5.4 percent) in 2012. Overall expenditures for Haiti decreased from $209.5 to $198 million, according to the database. Worldwide, the level of local procurement actually increased, from 14.3 to 17.9 percent, showing just how far behind U.S. policy in Haiti is.
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.