Haiti: 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.
An Interview with Ricardo Seitenfus by Dan Beeton and Georgianne Nienaber
[Excerpts of this interview were originally published by Dissent Magazine on February 24, 2014. The full interview follows.]
The title of Brazilian professor Ricardo Seitenfus’ book, HAITI: Dilemas e Fracassos Internacionais (“International Crossroads and Failures in Haiti,” to be published in Brazil by the Editora Unijui (Universite de Ijui) dans la Serie Globalisation et Relations Internationales) appropriately opens with a reference to existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Camus’ third great novel, The Fall, is a work of fiction in which the author makes the case that every living person is responsible for any atrocity that can be quantified or named. In the case of Haiti, the January 2010 earthquake set the final stage for what amounted to what Seitenfus says is an “international embezzlement” of the country.
The tragedy began over 200 years ago in 1804, when Haiti committed what Seitenfus terms an “original sin,” a crime of lèse-majesté for a troubled world: it became the first (and only) independent nation to emerge from a slave rebellion. “The Haitian revolutionary model scared the colonialist and racist Great Powers,” Seitenfus writes. The U.S. only recognized Haiti’s independence in 1862, just before it abolished its own slavery system, and France demanded heavy financial compensation from the new republic as a condition of its honoring Haiti’s nationhood. Haiti has been isolated and manipulated on the international scene ever since, its people “prisoners on their own island.”
To understand Seitenfus’ journey into the theater of the absurd, it is necessary to revisit the months after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As the Organization of American States' (OAS) Special Representative in Haiti, Seitenfus lost his job in December 2010 after an interview in which he sharply criticized the role of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the devastated country. But it appears that the author also had insider information about international plans for a “silent coup d’etat,” electoral interference and more.
On the Ground in Haiti: October - December 2010
It was not yet one year since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake killed 220,000 or more, left infrastructure in chaos, and 1.5 million people homeless. Accusations were rampant in October international press reports that the United Nations mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) had introduced cholera into Haiti’s river system; the resulting epidemic would kill over 8,500 and sicken over 696,865 by the time of this writing. Ground zero for the outbreak was negligent sewage disposal at the Nepalese Mirebalais MINUSTAH camp. The malfeasance was first documented by the Associated Press and ultimately provided crucial proof of the U.N.’s guilt. Thousands were infected and the number of dead rose exponentially. On November 28, the national election was contested in what can only be termed an electoral crisis. Hundreds of thousands of voters were either shut out of the electoral process or boycotted the vote after the most popular party in the country – Fanmi Lavalas – was again banned from competing. Many of those displaced by the earthquake were not allowed to vote, and in the end less than 23 percent of registered voters had their vote counted.
Eyewitness testimony on election day reported numerous electoral violations: ballot stuffing, tearing up of ballots, intimidation and fraud. Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, responsible for overseeing elections, announced that former first lady Mirlande Manigat won but lacked the margin of victory needed to avoid a runoff. An OAS “experts” mission was dispatched to examine the results. Even though it was indeterminate that he should advance, due to the OAS’ intervention, candidate and pop musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly was selected to compete in the runoff instead of the governing party’s candidate Jude Célestin.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) subsequently released a report showing that there were so many problems with the election tallies that the OAS’ conclusions represented a political, rather than an electoral decision.
The leader of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), Daniel Dorsinvil and his wife Girldy Lareche were killed Saturday in Canapévert, Haiti. POHDH is an association of 8 leading Haitian human rights groups. The Associated Press reports today that Haitian police spokesman Gary Desrosiers “held back on citing a motive for the killing, though he acknowledged reports that they were either killed in a robbery or targeted.” President Martelly released a statement, “deploring” the murder and called on the police to be more vigilant in combatting all forms of crime.
Antonal Mortimer, the executive secretary of POHDH, told the Haitian press that the couple had not visited a bank, as had been reported, but “even if that were the case, that is not a reason why someone should be killed.” Mortimer referred to the murder as an “attack against the human rights sector” and a “political crime.” Human rights lawyers André Michel and Louis Newton St Juste also released a statement, condemning the murder and noting that reports that Dosinvil and his wife were returning from a bank “in no case should be put forward to guarantee impunity and hide the true nature of the crime.” Further, Michel and St Juste recall that “it is a political crime to intimidate the human rights sector that is considered an inconvenience for the powers that be.”
This is not the first time that human rights activists in Haiti have faced violence and intimidation while carrying out their jobs. In October 2012 it was revealed that Mario Joseph, the director of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, was facing constant death threats as well as “harassment and intimidation” from the National Police. In November, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) “requested that precautionary measures be adopted in favor of Patrice Florvilus and the members of the organization “Défense des Opprimés” (DOP). The IACHR request notes that:
The request for precautionary measures alleged that these persons were in a situation of risk, due to a series of threats, harassment and persecution in retaliation of the activities they carry out in defense of human rights in Haiti. On October 2, 2013, the IACHR requested information from the State, but did not receive a response.
Joseph was also granted precautionary measures from the IACHR. From Canada, where he has been staying since the increased threats, Patrice Florvilus released a statement, calling for a thorough investigation:
DOP demands that an investigation be opened and that public action be taken against the authors and co-authors of this hideous crime, regardless of their socio-political background. Given the position of Mr. Dorsainvil, it's important that every lead be explored in the framework of any serious judicial inquest. It is important too that security measures be taken in favor of the entire team at PODHDH and all of the members of their families. We certainly can't rely on Haitian authorities with regard to security, but it is their duty to protect all Haitian citizens.
Radio Kiskeya reports on comments from Pierre Esperance, the director of RNDDH, one of the human rights groups that make up POHDH:
Pierre Esperance can't reject the hypothesis of a direct attack on the human rights sector. Given that there was no struggle and that the Dorsinvil complied with the orders given by the aggressor, the thesis that this was merely an act of banditry is unsustainable. "This is nothing less than an execution arising from impunity", he added, before demanding that justice and the police assert their responsibilities.
The Haitian government’s efforts against Human Rights activists was acknowledged in the U.S. State Department’s 2012 report on Haiti:
There were reports of governmental efforts to restrict or otherwise suppress criticism by human rights activists. Some human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, criticized the Martelly government for intimidating and harassing human rights activists. In September human rights lawyers alleged they had received numerous death threats and that their homes, offices, and movements were being monitored. They said the threats and harassment came in response both to their efforts to have former president Jean Claude Duvalier prosecuted for human rights violations and to their calls for an investigation into possible misappropriation of public funds by the Martelly family. After being dismissed in September, Port-au-Prince Prosecutor Jean Renal Senatus claimed CEP president and presidential advisor Josue Pierre-Louis instructed him to arrest three human rights lawyers, noting that doing so would please the Martelly family.
The murder occurred just after President Martelly returned from the United States, where he met with President Obama and members of congress. In a joint statement, President Obama said he was “looking forward to hearing where we can help in other reforms that I know he cares about -- such areas as human rights, prison reform, the judiciary…”
The Associated Press reports today:
President Barack Obama is hosting Haitian President Michel Martelly for talks on Haiti’s economic and political future.
Martelly will be at the White House on Thursday, a day after he met with Secretary of State John Kerry. It’s the first official sit-down between Obama and Martelly.
As the AP and Miami Herald report, Martelly met yesterday with Secretary of State John Kerry as well as with key members of the House of Representatives. At the top of the agenda, reports the Miami Herald, is the holding of long overdue legislative and local elections, originally scheduled to take place in April 2011 and May 2012. White House Assistant Press Secretary Jonathan Lalley told reporters that the U.S. wants to see elections “that are free, fair and transparent, that allow Haitians to express their views as part of the political process, and that provide the political stability that is critical for Haiti’s continued progress.”
Kerry, meanwhile, praised Martelly for “the enormous commitment that he has made to transition from reconstruction into a long-term development program. And under his leadership, elections are now on the horizon, which could for the first time provide the filling out of all of the electoral positions to Haiti.”
2014 is now the third straight year that the Haitian government has pledged to hold elections, with similar pledges in 2012 and 2013 proving hollow. The last election in Haiti, conducted within the first year after the devastating 2010 earthquake, was plagued by low turnout, political parties being prevented from participating and serious problems with voter registration, among other issues. On election day, 12 of the 19 presidential candidates called a press conference to denounce the election and call for their annulment. Mirlande Manigat, a constitutional law professor and Martelly, the two highest profile candidates to denounce the election each received a call the day afterward from the head of the U.N. military contingent in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Edmond Mulet. Mulet, desperately trying to keep the electoral process moving, told each of them that they were ahead in the race. They both quickly walked back from their statements from the previous day.
The Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released its “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” [PDF] for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today. The assessment’s section on Haiti is longer this year, due to concerns that the DNI apparently has regarding what it sees as a need for an ongoing foreign military presence there, support for which is waning internationally. The assessment cites chronic factors such as poverty and “weak institutions” as reasons why foreign military intervention is still warranted:
Stability in Haiti will remain fragile due to extreme poverty and weak governing institutions. Meaningful long-term reconstruction and development in Haiti will need to continue for many years. Haiti remains vulnerable to setbacks in its reconstruction and development goals due to the possibility of natural disasters. Food insecurity, although improving, also has the potential to be a destabilizing factor. Periods of political gridlock have resulted due to distrust between President Michel Martelly, in office since May 2011, and opponents in Parliament. Martelly is generally still popular, but politically organized protests, possibly violent, might occur before the elections, scheduled for 2014.
While the assessment claims (as it also did last year) that Martelly “is generally still popular,” no evidence is provided. Indeed there have been protests and other signs of public discontent with his administration in recent months. Contrary to what the assessment says, there are as yet no elections scheduled; the delay in elections has been a key issue behind the demonstrations.
The long delay in scheduling the elections has also contributed to “donor fatigue” among countries that contribute to MINUSTAH – something the assessment acknowledges apparently for the first time:
During the next decade, Haiti will remain highly dependent on assistance from the international community for security, in particular during elections. Donor fatigue among contributors to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), however, will likely lead to reductions in force, evident by the 2013 mandate which calls for consolidating and downsizing forces.
Writing in Boston Review yesterday, CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston looks back at the international community's efforts to provide housing to those displaced by the earthquake, finding that:
By September 2013, nearly four years after the earthquake, only 7,500 new homes had been built and 27,000 repaired—an incredibly small achievement when set against the billions of dollars and grand plans put together by the international community in the wake of the catastrophe.
The number of displaced persons is down to 200,000 from its 1.5 million peak, according to the U.N. But only 25 percent of that decrease has anything to do with official programs to provide housing. Many were given a paltry subsidy and evicted from their camps. The highest profile and most visible camps were closed down, but those tucked in alleys, out of the view of the convoys of aid workers' vehicles, remain forgotten. Fifty-five thousand Haitians who moved to areas known as Canaan, Jerusalem, and Onaville were recently removed from the "official" list of Internally Displaced Persons camps. Though those who were pushed out of the camps simply returned to their old homes, the international community claims progress....In fact, if another quake happened today, they'd be more likely to die than they were living under tents in clearings.
But how this came to be wasn't simply "the problems of reconstruction in a poor country," but rather what happens when political priorities are put before the needs of those on the ground. The Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, led by Bill Clinton, was formed to coordinate all the various aid projects and ensure they were aligned with the Haitian government's goals, but instead, Johnston writes:
The commission's formation was handled not by the Haitian government, but by the staff of the Clintons, mainly Cheryl Mills and Laura Graham, as well as a team of U.S.-based private consultants. The commission's bylaws were drafted by a team from Hogan Lovells, a global law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. A team from McKinsey and Company, a New York based consultancy firm, handled the "mission, mandate, structure and operations" of the commission. Eric Braverman, part of the McKinsey team, later went on to become the CEO of the Clinton Foundation.
According to Jean-Marie Bourjolly, a Haitian member of the commission, the body's "original sin" lay in concentrating the decision-making power in the Executive Committee of the Board, made up of Bill Clinton and then–Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.
Six months after its formation, Bourjolly wrote to Clinton and Bellerive, warning that by "vesting all powers and authority of the Board in the Executive Committee, it is clear that what is expected of us [the rest of the Board] is to act as a rubber-stamping body." Another commission staffer told Johnston that many projects were approved by the commission simply because "they were submitted by USAID and State" and "that as long as USAID is submitting it and USAID is paying for it," it should be approved.
(See also "Haiti by the Numbers, Three Years Later.")
Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300
Number of people in Haiti killed by the U.N.-caused cholera epidemic: 8,531
Number of people who died from cholera, on average, every day over the past six months: 2
Number of people in Haiti sickened by the U.N.-caused cholera epidemic: over 696,865
Budget for U.N., the U.S. CDC and the Haitian and Dominican governments’ plan to eradicate cholera (launched over a year ago): $2.2 billion
Percent of cholera eradication plan budget committed or pledged so far: 10
Percent of cholera eradication plan budget pledged by the U.N.: 1
Annual budget for the U.N.’s mostly military and police mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH): $577 million
Days since cholera was introduced in Haiti without an apology from the U.N.: 1,179
“Number of international actors engaged in cholera response efforts,” according to the U.N., in 2011: 120
“Number of international actors engaged in cholera response efforts,” according to the U.N., in 2013: 43
U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) funding appeal for 2014: $169 million
Percent of last year’s OCHA appeal that was actually funded: 42
Budget for Caracol industrial park: $300 million
In a positive step towards greater transparency of U.S. aid programs in Haiti and worldwide USAID has released new data on its use of local country systems. However, the content of the data itself also raises questions about USAID’s commitment to greater local procurement in Haiti and the speed at which the agency is achieving its goals.
In 2010, USAID launched USAID Forward, an ambitious reform agenda which called for increasing the use of “partner country systems” in order to strengthen local capacity and to raise the “percentage of total dollars through direct contracts with local private businesses.” In Haiti, however, previous CEPR research has shown that an extremely low percentage of funds have gone to local institutions since the earthquake: less than 1 percent out of the $1.3 billion obligated. Despite this, in September 2012, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah told the Miami Herald that the goal is to have 30 percent of USAID funds going to local Haitian organizations by 2015.
The newly released data from USAID, though only covering the 2012 fiscal year, reveals just how far the agency still has to go to reach its goal. In 2012, USAID obligated nearly $210 million for programs in Haiti, but according to its own data, just 5.4 percent of this went directly through local country systems. This compares unfavorably with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as with the rest of the world. Overall, USAID obligated just over 14 percent of its funds through local systems while the figure for Latin America and the Caribbean was 11.3 percent.
In his interview with the Miami Herald, Shah also stated that prior to the earthquake, less than 9 percent of USAID funds were going through local systems, but that “we’re over the pre-earthquake level now.” The data released by USAID seems to directly contradict this.
USAID has since lowered their goals for local procurement in Haiti. In October Beth Hogan of USAID testified during a Congressional hearing concerning U.S. foreign assistance to Haiti. In response to questions from Rep. Barbara Lee about why so little of USAID’s funds go to Haitian organizations, Hogan acknowledged that “It's much too low” but that USAID has “a target of getting to 15 percent. And even getting to 15 percent is going to be difficult because of the low capacity.” Hogan added that while “very little of our money goes directly… to Haitian institutions” USAID has “spent 50 million (dollars) through grants and subgrants and subcontracts to Haitian institutions.” Yet, there has been no systematic reporting of subcontracts and subgrants on the part of USAID. That may soon change.
Amnesty International reports:
On the morning of 7 December, a justice of peace (juge de paix) from the municipality of Croix-des-Bouquets accompanied by 17 police officers and a group of men armed with machetes and sticks forcibly evicted around 60 families from an informal settlement in Titanyen on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The residents stated that the justice of the peace did not present an eviction order and that they had no prior notice of the eviction and therefore had no opportunity to appeal against it. The armed men began to tear down their dwellings without allowing the residents time to collect their belongings. These belongings were then stolen as police fired their weapons in the air in order to intimidate the residents. According to the residents over a dozen people were assaulted, including a woman who is four months pregnant. They were told that the remaining families living on the site (approximately 100) would also be forced off the land.
The aftermath of the eviction was caught on tape by documentary film-maker Jon Bougher. Bougher previously released a short film about the camp, its prior eviction from the Delmas neighborhood and the move to Canaan.
Amnesty describes the area where the residents were located:
Titanyen where they now live is part of an area commonly known as Canaan, a large tract of land which the then government declared for “public use” (utilité publique) two months after the earthquake in March 2010. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake have subsequently relocated there, but many face eviction from people claiming ownership of the land.
The threat of forced evictions in Canaan is occurring at a time when residents on the land have lost their status as “official” internally displaced persons (IDPs). In October, the International Organization for Migration, at the request of the Government of Haiti, removed 54,000 individuals from their official IDP registration because it was deemed that the area showed “characteristics” of “new neighborhoods needing urban planning” and “not of IDP sites.”
As HRRW reported in October, the Haitian government had requested millions of dollars from the international community to build infrastructure and conduct urban planning, yet thus far the money has not materialized.
This latest eviction and other, prior evictions indicate that the residents of Canaan and the surrounding areas are very much still in need of the protections afforded to them as IDPs. According to the U.N.’s Refugee Agency, IDPs “legally remain under the protection of their own government,” however the presence of government officials and police during the eviction of Camp Mozayik highlight the urgent need for the international community to protect those who remain in tent camps and other informal settlements, nearly four years after the earthquake. Since the IOM no longer considers these families to be part of a displaced community, will the organization turn a blind eye to their violent eviction?
In late October, Uruguayan president José Mujica announced that he planned to withdraw his country’s troops from Haiti, where they make up 11 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Citing the long delayed legislative elections, Mujica told the press:
One thing is to try to help the Haitian people build a police force that is in charge of security. That's fine… Another thing is being there indefinitely with a regime that we think is at least dubious in terms of a continuity of democratic renewal.
MINUSTAH, as the U.N. mission is known, has been in Haiti since 2004 following the coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In October the mission’s mandate was extended by the U.N. Security Council for another year, though a gradual drawdown of troops was also agreed. After his initial statements, Mujica traveled to Brazil where he met with President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil leads MINUSTAH and is the largest troop-contributing country, accounting for 16 percent of the personnel.
After the meeting, Mujica stated that he and Rousseff agreed that the mission should not become a “Praetorian Guard” to protect a government that was not moving forward democratically. On November 20, the U.N. spokesperson for the Secretary General acknowledged that “preliminary and informal discussions have taken place with the Uruguayan representatives in New York regarding the planned withdrawal of a part of their troops,” but that “no formal notification has as yet been exchanged.”
On November 25, before travelling to Haiti for a meeting with President Martelly, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro met in New York with Brazilian and U.N. officials to discuss MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti. Almagro stated that while Uruguay would only gradually withdraw its troops in line with the Security Council resolution, if “autocratic” tendencies in the Haitian government continued, they would immediately withdraw. Specifically, Almagro conditioned continued Uruguayan support to MINUSTAH on the holding of the overdue legislative elections.
In June 2012, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met to discuss MINUSTAH and agreed to form a working group “for the purposes of elaborating a scheme on the strategy, form, conditions, stages, and timeline of a Plan of Reduction of Contingents of the Military Component of the Mission.” Though there has been little movement since then, the recent actions by Uruguay may change that.
Rick Westhead of the Toronto Star reports:
One of Canada’s largest garment companies [Gildan Activewear] has promised to ensure that thousands of workers who make its clothing in Haitian factories are paid at least $7.22 per day, the country’s minimum wage.
The move followed revelations that some labourers making apparel for Gildan Activewear were paid so little they had no money for food.
In addition to Gildan, Fruit of the Loom also agreed to ensure their contractor’s compliance with the minimum wage, according to Scott Nova, an official with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The statements from the two companies comes after a report (PDF), authored by the WRC found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.” The WRC found that “over three quarters of the workers who were interviewed reported that they were unable to pay for three meals per day for themselves and their immediate family.”
As we previously described, the WRC noted that “tacitly complicit” in this wage theft were large North American brands such as “Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart,” which all source clothing from Haiti. The WRC report called for these brands to ensure their third-party contractors comply with the minimum wage as well as compensate employees for their previous underpayment.
In a public statement, Gildan also called for “an industry-wide meeting and other combined efforts, involving brands, retailers and worker representatives similarly committed to ensuring compliance, in order to bring a common resolution to this issue in a manner which will appropriately address the working conditions in the apparel industry.” Gildan added that “we understand that one issue that will be on the table for discussion will be remedies for past non-compliance.”
Better Work Haiti, an international monitoring organization run by the International Labor Organization and funded by the World Bank and U.S. Department of Labor, has consistently reported massive non-compliance with Haiti’s minimum wage law. In their latest report, released in October, Better Work reported 100 percent non-compliance in the 23 factories covered in the report, but Better Work added that:
In the Minimum Wage Law there are two applicable wage requirements in exporting apparel factories in Haiti: the minimum wage of reference, currently set at 200 Gourdes per day (article 1 of the law), and the production wage (Minimum Wages: Piece Rate), currently set at 300 Gourdes per day (article 2.2 of the law). The production wage refers to a legal requirement for the employer to set piece rates in a manner such that a worker can earn 300 Gourdes during eight regular hours of work per day.
The Haitian government and Haitian manufacturers have advocated for an interpretation of the law which mandates only the lower of the two wages be paid, but Fruit of the Loom, in a public statement, acknowledges that, “It is our view that the clear intent of Haiti’s minimum wage law is for production rates to be set in such a manner as to allow workers to earn at least 300 gourdes for 8 hours of work in a day. Based on our independent investigation, we concur with the WRC that the garment industry in Haiti generally falls short of that standard.”
“The commitments from Gildan and Fruit of the Loom will put substantial pressure on other buyers,” Nova told the Toronto Star.
The AP reported yesterday that, “the number of Haitians still displaced by the 2010 earthquake has dropped below 200,000… That marks an 89 percent decline since the camp population peaked in July 2010 at 1.5 million people.” According to official figures, the camp population currently stands at 171,974, compared to over 278,000 in June of 2013 at the time of the last report. The drop is the largest over a single reporting period in nearly three years.
Yet, looking closer, over 50 percent of this reduction since June is the result of a decision by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the entity which monitors the camp population, to remove three areas, Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville from the official camp list. Together, these three areas are home to an estimated 54,045 individuals. The IOM report states:
On July 11th 2013, the Government of Haiti represented by UCLBP (Unité de Construction de Logements et Bâtiments Publics), submitted a formal request to IOM to remove the three settlements from the DTM (i.e. from the list of IDP sites that exist in the country).
The UCLBP request is motivated by the observation that the characteristics of these settlements are those of “… new neighborhoods needing urban planning with a long term view …”, not of IDP sites.
But the situation facing those who reside in the three areas is far from secure. This week Amnesty International reported that:
Residents of the Lanmè Frape area of Canaan, an informal settlement in the municipality of Cabaret, on the northern outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, have had their simple dwellings repeatedly destroyed by police officers accompanied by armed men. The residents told Amnesty International that they have been the victims of attacks on more than 10 occasions over the last 18 months and several of them have also been arrested on unfounded charges for periods of up to a month. Two hundred families currently remain in the Lanmè Frape area, although as many as 600 lived there before the forced evictions began.
Amnesty continues, describing how the area came to be occupied:
The Lanmè Frape area of Canaan is part of a large tract of land which the then government declared for “public use” (utilité publique) two months after the earthquake in March 2010. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake have subsequently relocated there, but many face eviction from people claiming ownership of the land.
Beyond the previously “official” camp communities of Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville, it is believed that tens of thousands more families have moved to the surrounding area since the earthquake. Over the last year, the UCLBP has lobbied the international community for funding to make investments in urban planning for the area. According to minutes from the February 2013 Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) meeting (PDF), the head of the UCLBP, Odnell David, made a presentation requesting $15 million as part of a $50 million project to address the situation in Canaan-Jerusalem. The government “has a moral obligation to take care of these people and undertake investment,” David said. Yet, although donor countries all supported the use of HRF funds for investments in the Canaan area, when funding decisions were made this September, no resources were allocated for the project.
There were also other motives for addressing the displacement crisis in Canaan. According to the official minutes, the David explained that, “this area poses a threat to neighboring industrial and touristic development.” Two weeks later, at the next HRF meeting (PDF), he described how this “project is the starting point for the larger project of developing the entire northern area of the city of Port-au-Prince.”
Several new reports released in the past two weeks by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), Gender Action, and Better Work Haiti examine working conditions in Haiti’s garment factories and find that most workers are not being paid the wages they are legally owed, even as they are subject to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, sexual harassment, and other abusive treatment.
A new report [PDF] released this week by the WRC, an organization that monitors working conditions in apparel factories producing products sold in the U.S. market, finds that most Haitian garment workers are subject to wage theft. The New York Times’ Randal Archibold and Steven Greenhouse reported this week that
[t]he report …focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”
The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.
The WRC report states:
Tacitly complicit in this theft of wages are the major North American apparel brands and retailers, like Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart, that are buyers of garments from Haiti. Although most, if not all, of these firms are well-aware of this law-breaking, they continue with business as usual, profiting from the lower prices that they can obtain from factories that cheat their workers of legally owed wages.
In a development that has received much media attention, lawyers working on behalf of Haitian cholera victims brought a class action lawsuit against the United Nations on Wednesday over U.N. troops’ role in introducing the cholera bacteria to Haiti three years ago. The suit was filed in a federal court in New York on behalf of five named victims by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the law firm of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt, with more plaintiffs expected to join. Since it is a class action complaint, the amount of damages sought is unspecified, although it does include $2.2 billion in order to provide full funding for the Haitian and Dominican governments’ cholera eradication plan, which was created with the U.N. but is only about 9 percent funded some 8 months after it was unveiled.
The IJDH warned the U.N. in May that such a lawsuit would be forthcoming if the organization continued to dodge responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti. This Friday, October 19 will mark three years since the first cholera case was reported in Haiti in over a century.
"Haiti today has the worst cholera epidemic in the world," said Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, who announced the lawsuit at a joint news conference with the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).
"Before these events, Haiti did not know of cholera for 100 years. Cholera was brought to Haiti by U.N. troops," Kurzban said.
Asked to comment on the suit, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said: "We don't discuss claims brought against the U.N."
The United Nations was working on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to those affected, he added. It was committed to do all it can do "to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic," Haq said.
Although the U.N. has yet to admit responsibility for the epidemic that has killed over 8,300 people and sickened over 675,000, at least 10 scientific studies have linked the outbreak to U.N. troops from Nepal. As IJDH explains in a press release
On September 19, in an event attended by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White, USAID and Haitian government officials, the U.S.’ largest post-earthquake program came to its official close. According to Ambassador White, the $155 million Haiti Recovery Initiative (HRI) “is among the U.S. Government’s biggest earthquake response programs, and throughout its entire lifetime, the program has remained committed to helping Haitians rebuild their communities and work with national and local leadership to prioritize and respond to community needs.” But, as the program comes to a close, there remain more questions than answers as to what was accomplished.
In the first days after the earthquake in Haiti, USAID awarded contracts to Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), each with a value of up to $50 million dollars. The contracts were awarded through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, which aims to support "U.S. foreign policy objectives…in priority countries in crisis,” according to their website. Chemonics’ contract with USAID, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, explains that “OTI seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests.” Further, while noting that “OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy,” they can “identify and support key individuals and groups…In short, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will.”
A press release from USAID announcing the end of the program lists a number of interventions taken by OTI: provision of emergency materials to those displaced, removal of rubble, cash-for-work programs and rehabilitation of government infrastructure, among others. While the press release contains few details, quarterly and annual reports on the OTI website are supposed to provide greater detail -- yet there hasn’t been an update posted in over a year-and-a-half. When asked about the lack of disclosure in December 2012, a USAID official responded that “Due to USAID's website overhaul, more information will be available in the New Year.” No such information has been posted.
USAID Refuses to Release Info to Prevent “Demonstrations”
What information has been made public about OTI’s operations in Haiti has called into question the efficiency and performance of OTI’s contractors. In October 2012, the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an audit on the HRI program, finding that the program was “not on track” to complete its projects on schedule. The audit also found that Chemonics was operating with little to no oversight on the part of USAID. Performance indicators were “not well-defined” and only one performance evaluation was completed despite the contract stating that “they should be conducted between two and four times a year.” A previous USAID OIG audit found that OTI was not performing internal financial reviews, despite the contractors “expending millions of dollars rapidly…in a high-risk environment.”
Documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by HRRW have redacted cost information, and the contractually mandated report on to whom Chemonics distributed funds has not been released either. After HRRW appealed the redactions, USAID responded in July, upholding their decision and in fact going even further, reissuing the document that had previously been released, with the entire Statement of Work redacted (the previous version had redacted just part of it). As can be seen in the highlighted section of the image, below, USAID justifies the lack of transparency by stating that “if the information is released, we believe that the information will be used selectively and out of context,” and that “to release the information in such a way could willfully stir up false allegations about the HRI and cause strife within target communities.” Finally, USAID notes that the “release of the information in the Statement of Work would likely instigate demonstrations and create an unsafe environment in which to implement and/or develop programs.” It is unclear how or why the projects listed in their press release would lead to such a violent reaction.
The Organization of American States (OAS) will send electoral monitors to Haiti despite the election having not been scheduled, reports AFP. According to Frederic Bolduc, the OAS Special Representative to Haiti, the observers “intend to arrive several months in advance to help authorities register voters and then count votes.” Bolduc pointed out that setting the date of the election was up to the Haitian government and that the “OAS will not decide on a date.”
Elections, which were supposed to be held in November 2011, have yet to be scheduled as conflicts between the president and parliament over the electoral law continue. The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, told the U.N. Security Council (PDF) in late August that the “delay in the holding of long-overdue partial senatorial, municipal and local elections is of increasing concern and poses a series of risks to the stabilization process.” If elections are not held by January 2014, the terms of many parliamentarians will end, potentially shutting down an entire branch of Haiti’s government and allowing President Martelly to rule by decree.
On a trip to Washington D.C. last week, Haitian Senator Steven Benoit put the blame for the electoral delays squarely on Martelly. Benoit noted that “after two years of hide and seek” with the electoral reforms, formation of the electoral council and submission of the electoral law, there will not be time to reach an agreement before the terms of parliamentarians come to an end. Noting that Martelly told a crowd the previous week that for the next two years he would “run Haiti as he saw fit,” Benoit warned that “having President Martelly run Haiti without a Congress and without holding elections” would ensure a return to “political instability and turmoil.”
As with previous elections, the international community is footing the bill. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project, funded by the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the E.U. and others has already disbursed over $401,000 and has estimated the cost of holding elections to be over $32 million. The UNDP project aims to “strengthen the technical and strategic capabilities” of the Haitian electoral council, but the council itself has come under increasing scrutiny. Last week Benoit accused Martelly of having “done all he could to have a hand-picked electoral council.” According to AFP, the involvement of the OAS “elicited numerous complaints by opposition parties, which feel Haiti should determine its own ability to hold elections.” The reaction of the opposition may be a result of the OAS’s role during Haiti’s last election.
The United Nations mission in Haiti, already facing a credibility crisis over its introduction of cholera, is facing new allegations that one of its troops raped an 18-year old woman this past weekend in the town of Leogane, according to police inspector Wilson Hippolite. In an e-mailed statement, the U.N. acknowledged that they “are aware of the allegations made against a military staff member” and noted that a “preliminary investigation has been launched to determine the facts of the case.”
According to Metropole Haiti, the alleged assault occurred off National Highway #2 on Saturday when the 18-year old woman was approached by a Sri Lankan U.N. military officer. A Justice of the Peace, conducting a preliminary investigation, visited the site of the alleged assault on Sunday and found a used condom. Further tests are being conducted, according to the report. The accused has been moved to a different MINUSTAH base in another part of the country as the investigation unfolds. As of July 30, Sri Lanka had over 860 troops stationed in Haiti, making it the third largest troop contributing country to the 9 year-old mission.
This is but the latest in a string of sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the U.N. mission in Haiti. And it’s not the first time Sri Lankan troops have been involved; in 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan members of MINUSTAH were repatriated after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls.” In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, on a trip to Europe to ensure continued donor support, was asked by France 24’s Marc Perelman about the ongoing cholera epidemic and U.N. responsibility. Perelman notes that “all the scientific evidence up to date points to the U.N.” but questioned Lamothe as to why the Haitian government has “never pushed for a public apology.” Lamothe stressed that the government has tried to address the issue through “direct dialogue” with the U.N., but also noted that the U.N. has an obvious “moral responsibility” to address the epidemic.
The U.N., in addition to not issuing an apology, has never accepted responsibility for the deadly epidemic that has killed over 8,260 and sickened over 675,000 in the last three years. A U.N.-backed cholera elimination plan has been unable to raise the required funds to adequately address the issue, despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s assurance in late 2012 that he would “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds. A high-level donor meeting to raise funds for the plan, scheduled for early October in Washington, has now been postponed until 2014. It had been expected that Mr. Ban, as well as World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, would attend. The plan, which requires some $450 million over its first two years, remains less than half funded.
In the meantime, cholera continues to ravage the country as the response capabilities of national actors diminish. In a bulletin earlier this week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that “resources for cholera response, including funding and staff, have been in steady decline since 2012.” OCHA concludes by stating that “if this trend continues, it would be virtually impossible to effectively and efficiently respond to the epidemic in the event of sudden outbreaks.” The lack of adequate resources also means that detailed data on where cholera outbreaks are occurring and how many are dying is becoming harder and harder to come by. The actual toll of this imported disease could be much higher than the official numbers indicate.
In late August, members of the U.N. Security Council and countries contributing to MINUSTAH met to discuss the extension of the mission’s mandate. Not a single country (PDF) raised the issue of U.N. responsibility for cholera, though many praised the Secretary General’s efforts to eliminate it. MINUSTAH’s proposed budget for 2013/2014 is $576,619,000, more than enough to fully fund the cholera elimination plan over its first two years.
In light of continued U.N. denials of responsibility, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux continue to seek legal redress on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims. An earlier claim brought to the U.N. was dismissed as “not receivable” in February. A recent Al Jazeera Fault Lines documentary by Sebastian Walker takes a detailed look at the evolution of the epidemic, its impact on rural communities and the responsibility of the U.N. In it, Walker interviews Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General Eduardo Del Buey. After Del Buey reads, verbatim, the U.N. press release from February, Walker pressures him to explain the decision:
Human rights defenders in Haiti are reporting new death threats, and seem to be openly persecuted by powerful individuals and groups, as Mark Snyder and Other Worlds describe today. In an article posted on Huffington Post, Snyder profiles the case of attorney Patrice Florvilus and the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed. Snyder writes:
"Those before you were strong. Now they're all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you."
Those were the words delivered to Frena Florvilus, Director of Education and Advocacy of the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), early on the morning of August 11 by one of four unidentified men who attempted to enter DOP's office. The threat echoed numerous others that have been leveled against the DOP office and its staff since they took on the case of a young man who died in police custody within hours of his April 15 arrest, his body left covered with bruises and wounds inflicted by a severe beating. DOP has also been targeted for its work to support displaced peoples who face violent eviction from their camps, by the government and private landowners who are determined to rid the country of camps.
Among the latter may be former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier himself, as
Reynald Georges, a lawyer representing Haiti's ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has brought formal accusations of arson and "association with wrongdoers" (conspiracy) against DOP's founder and director, Patrice Florvilus, and five others. The accused received criminal court summons for Monday, August 19. Their lawyers filed an objection and request that the charges be dropped, but the prosecutor's office has reissued the summons for Thursday, August 22.
On Monday, hundreds from the displacement camps and community organizations in Port-au-Prince marched to the courthouse together to show their support. A second march will occur Thursday.
(This post was revised on August 14, 2013 to add additional references to cholera studies suggested by reader feedback.)
Yet another study [PDF] has determined that the U.N. is responsible for having caused Haiti’s deadly, ongoing cholera epidemic. The new report written by Rosalyn Chan MD, MPH, Tassity Johnson, Charanya Krishnaswami, Samuel Oliker-Friedland, and Celso Perez Carballo and published by the Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health, in collaboration with the Haitian Environmental Law Association (Association Hatïenne de Droit de L’Environment), concludes that “The United Nations inadvertently caused a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti, and has legal and moral obligations to remedy this harm.”
According to the press release accompanying the 58-page report [PDF], the results “directly contradic[t] recent statements by the U.N. Secretary-General that the organization did not bring cholera to Haiti, and has no legal responsibilities for the epidemic or its consequences.”
“The U.N.’s ongoing unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its obligations under international law,” Johnson said in the release.
A Washington Post editorial on Sunday once again called on the U.N. to take responsibility for the cholera outbreak, and on the international community to put up the funds needed to implement the cholera eradication plan designed by the Haitian and Dominican governments, the U.N., the Pan American Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
IT IS now all but certain that Haiti’s cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened more than 600,000, is directly traceable to a battalion of U.N. peacekeepers who arrived in the country after the 2010 earthquake.
A report from researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale Law School details the convincing epidemiological evidence, as well as the United Nations’ stubborn disavowal of responsibility. Initially, a panel of independent experts enlisted by the United Nations said that the evidence pointing to the peacekeepers was mainly circumstantial. Now the experts have reversed themselves, saying that the Nepalese peacekeepers were “most likely” the cause of the epidemic. Still, the United Nations refuses to accept legal, financial or moral responsibility.
Earlier this week, USAID posted financial information to the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard “in more detail than ever before,” according to the Agency. USAID posted data on 53,000 “transactions” from across the world, and as USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah commented, it “is just the latest in a series of important changes we have made to advance President Obama’s unparalleled commitment to transparency and our own USAID Forward reform agenda.”
USAID’s Forward reform agenda calls for a remaking of the way USAID does business, from an increasing focus on monitoring and evaluation to changing the procurement policies which favor large American companies over local organizations.
The move was widely praised by individuals and groups advocating for greater transparency in foreign aid. Tom Murphy, writing in Humanosphere, called the data drop a “significant forward step for transparency at USAID,” while the D.C.-based Center for Global Development also cheered the move. David Hall-Matthews, the director of Publish What You Fund, told Devex, “This is a great step towards financial transparency … [the] next step is to link this information to performance and project data.”
The new data released by USAID is certainly a positive step, yet in the case of Haiti there is still a long way to go, both in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of U.S. aid as well as in measuring progress toward USAID Forward. The release also comes up far short of what the U.S. Congress is asking the State Department and USAID to provide regarding their work in Haiti.
In September of 2012, Shah stated that prior to the earthquake, less than 9 percent of aid was going to Haitian organizations, but that “we’re over the pre-earthquake level now.” The Miami Herald noted that Shah “was not more specific.” Increasing the use of local partners is a hallmark of the reform agenda, with the goal being to channel 30 percent of aid directly through local partners. However the data released this week paints a starkly different picture, with just over 2 percent of the $150 million in obligations going directly to Haitian groups. This is consistent with previous data analysis, which has shown the vast majority of aid going to groups located in the so-called Beltway around Washington D.C.
Though the new data does reveal the names of certain local organizations which weren’t publically available previously; it still shows USAID is far short of its goal of increasing direct partnerships in Haiti. On the positive side, as USAID intends to continually update the Foreign Assistance Dashboard with this transaction data, it will become significantly easier to track the changes in USAID’s procurement policies over time.
A key piece of the puzzle, which is still missing, is any information on subcontractors. In “Breaking Open the Black Box: Increasing Transparency and Accountability in Haiti,” we noted that only about 1 percent of contracts have reported subaward information, despite legislation requiring them to do so having already come into effect. This new data doesn’t afford any clarity on where the funds given to USAID’s implementing partners end up, key information for determining the local impact.
As Hall-Matthews points out, the critical next step is putting this transaction data in the context of specific projects, including expected benchmarks and actual results. Fortunately, at least in regards to Haiti, this is what the U.S. Congress is beginning to ask for.
Following a recent GAO report which noted significant delays, cost overruns and other problems with USAID’s work in Haiti, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee stated, “the Haitian people, as well as the US taxpayer, deserve better answers about our assistance than we have received to date.” The increased calls for further transparency come after Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) recently reintroduced the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which, among other things, calls for the type of transactional data released by USAID, but also including the subprime level. The bill goes further, requiring a description of “goals and quantitative and qualitative indicators to evaluate the progress, or lack of achievement of such goals.” Recent language attached to the Senate Foreign Appropriations Bill includes similar requirements.
While the release of data by USAID is a welcome step toward transparency, it’s also a reminder of how much further there is to go.
The number of experts casting doubt on the likelihood of the U.N. having been the source of Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic is getting increasingly smaller. In what Foreign Policy’s Turtle Bay blogger Colum Lynch calls a “dramatic retreat,” a panel of independent U.N. experts who earlier had reported that the outbreak’s cause "was not the fault" of any "group or individual" and cited environmental factors – most notably Haiti’s lack of adequate sanitation – as being partly at fault, have now determined that U.N. troops from Nepal "most likely” were the cause.
Lynch goes on to write:
the four scientists -- Alejandro Cravioto, Daniele Lantagne, G. Balakrish Nair, Claudio F. Lanata -- who wrote the original report say that new evidence that has come to light in the past two years. While not conclusive, that evidence has strengthened the case against the United Nations.
The experts -- who no longer work for the United Nations -- also defended their initial findings, saying the "majority of evidence" at the time was "circumstantial." They added, that the "current strain Nepal strain of cholera was not available for molecular analysis" at the time.
The team's new report tracks the arrival in October 2010 of a contingent of Nepalese peacekeepers from Kathmandu to a U.N. encampment in the Haitian village of Mirebalais, which sits on the banks of the Artibonite River.
Lynch writes that
The report stated that the peacekeepers had constructed a series a "haphazard "system of pipes from the U.N. camps showers and toilets to the six fiberglass tanks. The "black water waste," which included human feces, was then transferred to an open, unfenced, septic pit, where children and animals frequently roamed. The system provided "significant potential" for contamination.