Ten Things Cheryl Mills May Prefer You Not Know About Haiti Today

January 12, 2012

In the weeks prior to the 2nd anniversary of Haiti’s January 12, 2010 earthquake, an unprecedented U.S. State Department public relations offensive has unfolded. On December 28 the U.S. State Department released 11 fact sheets, celebrating the achievements of the U.S. humanitarian and development assistance in Haiti in areas ranging from shelter to food security.  To make sure the message got through to journalists, on January 6th the U.S. government partnered up with UN entities and held a joint press teleconference on Haiti to discuss the “amazing” work done removing rubble and providing clean water and shelter to those made homeless by the quake.

The effort continued with an op-ed by Cheryl Mills, Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that appeared on January 9thin the Huffington Post.  The piece was then sent out widely by the State Department public affairs office. Finally, on the day of the anniversary, additional op-eds were published by Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Mark Feierstein, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID.  Shah and Feierstein appeared to have received the same memo: their talking points were strikingly similar and the two articles had nearly the same titles “Haiti Is on the Move” and “Haiti ‘a country undeniably on the move’”.

Clearly, there is heightened concern – within the U.S. foreign policy machine – about the perception of U.S. efforts in Haiti, given the increased press scrutiny generated by the 2nd quake anniversary commemorations.  A lot of money has been spent – $2.2 billion by the US alone according to their fact sheet on funding – and it’s important to show some results after two years.  And, apparently, there are plenty of results on display, as Cheryl Mills has emphasized in her piece, which rolls out ten impressive-sounding achievements.  But are these achievements real, and – if they are – do they really represent significant steps forward?   Let’s try to go beyond the hype by taking a closer look at Cheryl Mills’ article “Haiti – Two Years Post-Earthquake: What You May Not Know,” and providing the reader with a few additional facts that Mills and the U.S. State Department may prefer you not know: 

1. Cheryl Mills:  “Almost two-thirds of the estimated 1.5 million Haitians living in tent shelters after the January 2010 earthquake have left camps, many returning to houses that have undergone structural improvements or moving into temporary shelters and permanent homes.”

Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch:  Certainly a reduction in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) sounds like a positive development, but did you check to see where the folks who left the camps went, and why they left?   According to an International Organization of Migration (IOM) study from last March (by which time the vast majority of the IDP population reduction had already taken place) found that many people were leaving the camps for even more precarious living situations, not for new homes or T-shelters.  Between June 2010 and March 2011 over 230,000 people were evicted, accounting for much of the decline in the IDP population.

CM:  “The U.S. government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has completed more than 28,500 temporary shelters, housing approximately 143,000 people. The U.S. government has also funded repairs to more than 6,000 “yellow” structures — those that were deemed structurally safe if repairs are made. Today, more than 40,000 have returned to those homes.”

HRRW:  The so called temporary shelters – or “T-Shelters” – were originally meant to be completed before the first hurricane season, but as a recent independent evaluation found the plans have still not been completed and the shelters ended up costing $530 million, as compared to $187 million as originally planned. Additionally, the evaluation found that Haitians were generally excluded from the planning and implementation of temporary shelter solutions. As one interviewee told the evaluation team, “Affected people were not consulted nor their capacities considered, the response was what those with the [foreign] money decided.” As for the yellow houses, the fact that repairs have begun is a positive development, however, a USAID commissioned study found that 84,951 yellow buildings and an additional 73,846 buildings coded red and still in need of repair or demolition were being occupied by over one million Haitians.

2. CM:  “Over half of the estimated 10 million cubic meters of rubble created by the earthquake has been removed — almost 50 percent of which was removed through efforts of the U.S. government.”

HRRW:  Agencies have been pointing to the clearing of half the rubble as a sign of progress for months now, and – though it is undeniable that much has been removed – it may not actually be half. While the US Government, UN and many other agencies say 5 million cubic meters have been removed out of a total of 10, the World Bank estimates that 4 million cubic meters have been removed out of a total of 11. That’s closer to one-third than one half.

While rubble has been removed, the process has delayed efforts to provide shelter and move forward with the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince and outlying areas. A USAID Inspector General (IG) report on the provision of shelter found that debris was often an impediment. USAID officials told the IG that they had not foreseen the problems with rubble, despite previous warnings from grantees. As a result the IG found:

USAID/OFDA did not fund significant rubble removal activities in conjunction with its shelter grants. Some grants included funding for rubble removal through cash-for-work activities, which did not include heavy machinery. Only in November 2010 did USAID/OFDA sign a grant modification to the CHF shelter grant that incorporated the use of heavy equipment to remove rubble in conjunction with shelter construction in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood.

3. CM:  “In 2011, Haitians went to the polls and elected a new President, Michel Martelly, to succeed Rene Preval. This election marked the first democratic transfer of power from one democratically elected government leader to a member of the opposition.”

HRRW:  When we think back to Haiti’s last elections, a lot of words come to mind.  “Democratic” isn’t one of them.  As various organizations and U.S. members of Congress noted, the elections were deeply flawed before they even took place, as a result of the decision to exclude Haiti’s largest political party, Fanmi Lavalas.  Organized in haste, and near the peak of the cholera crisis, the election process itself had extremely low turnout and was rife with irregularities.  The U.S. made matters worse by forcing Haitian authorities to change the final results of the first round of the presidential elections, switching Celestin for Martelly, based on an arbitrary analysis. The bulk of the funding for these flawed elections came from the U.S.  But the U.S. seems to be in the habit of taking counter-intuitive positions on elections in the region.

4.  CM:  “For the first time in more than 25 years, Haiti is poised to have all three branches — executive, legislative and judiciary — of government in place. President Martelly has appointed three members of the Supreme Court, including the Court’s president — a position that was vacant for six years and is central to the judiciary’s oversight body.”

HRRW: Government positions may indeed be filled, however in addition to Martelly, the fatally flawed elections that occurred last November also brought many in the legislature into positions of power. Now this flawed process appears set to repeat itself. The disgraced electoral council has been disbanded by Martelly but it remains to be seen if Martelly will establish a Permanent Electoral Council as called for in Haiti’s constitution, or if like his predecessor, he will exercise significant control over the electoral authority. Martelly also has been consistently antagonistic in his relationship with the legislature, originally insisting on two candidates for prime minister that had little support in parliament.

5. CM: “The Haitian Ministry of Health, supported by the international community including USG through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USAID, led the international community’s response to prevent and treat cholera — bringing the case mortality rate below the international standard of one percent.”

HRRW: The overall mortality rate since the beginning of the epidemic is 1.3 percent, and even with the onset of the dry season lowering the current rate, the Pan American Health Organization recently referred to the epidemic as “one of the largest cholera outbreaks in modern history to affect a single country.” The Guardian wrote today, “Last year, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières, Unni Karunakara, said the human cost of the cholera outbreak in Haiti was ‘a damning indictment’ of the international aid system, as cholera is a disease that’s easily treated and controlled – and given the thousands of NGOs working in what is one of the world’s smallest countries.” Last year when cases dropped many NGOs pulled out of the field and donor funds dried up, only to see cases spike again with the onset of the rainy season. Health experts warn a similar situation could occur this year. To truly eradicate cholera from Haiti it will take serious investment in water and sanitation infrastructure, of which little has been thus far.

It is important to note that the U.S. blocked $54 million in Inter-American Development Bank loans for such infrastructure for several years during the 2000’s, out of political motives (it was opposed to the democratically-elected government at the time). Haiti’s hampered ability to improve its drinking water made the potential of a water-borne disease epidemic much more likely, as Paul Farmer and other experts have noted.

It’s also important to remember that the cholera epidemic – that has infected at least 520,000 and killed at least 7,000 – is a new phenomenon that was brought by the international community, in this case the MINUSTAH military peacekeeping force.  MINUSTAH – an entity that receives funding and strong political support from the U.S. – is unpopular in Haiti as a result of its responsibility for introducing cholera and the many abuses that its soldiers have committed over the years.  Many question why MINUSTAH is still in Haiti at all, given the low rate of violent crime and the many other pressing needs in the country.

6. CM: “According to the UN Special Envoy for Haiti’s website, of the 4.5 billion pledged for Haiti for 2010-2011, approximately 2.4 billion had been spent by December 2011. In October, the legislative mandate for the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) ended. During its tenure, the Commission approved 89 projects across 8 sectors valued at more than 3 billion dollars. Even in the absence of a legislatively mandated coordination mechanism, the 12 largest donors continue to leverage the relationships built through the IHRC to coordinate among themselves and work with the Government of Haiti through resident representatives.”

HRRW:  Of the $4.5 billion pledged over 2010-2011, only 53 percent has been disbursed (and not “spent” as Cheryl Mills asserts). What does disbursed mean? Donors have “disbursed” nearly $400 million to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, yet only $55 million of that has been spent. And while it’s true that the IHRC approved 89 projects worth over $3 billion, an April review found that only four had been completed and an additional 41 projects were either in the contracting or funding phase. Overall — although not all projects provided financial updates — just $117.7 million had been reported as spent out of the $3.2 billion in projects, a rate of just 3.7 per cent.

7. CM:  “The Government of Haiti, with the support of stakeholders, including the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is providing schooling to 260,000 elementary students for a total of 750,000 elementary students enrolled this school year.”

HRRW: President Martelly has made a lot of noise about his plan to send everyone to school for free; it’s hard to miss the billboards around Port-au-Prince letting you know. But the IDB program began under the previous administration of René Preval and has simply continued. Meanwhile, the Haitian government’s plan has so far come up empty, angering teachers and administrators who still have not received the government subsidies. As the Washington Post reported yesterday regarding the education plan, “the government hasn’t figured out how to pay for it.” Meanwhile the millions collected from international phone calls and money transfers meant to be channeled towards education remain clouded in mystery.

8. CM:  “The Government of Haiti is overhauling its state-owned electricity company, Electricite D’Haiti (EDH), which provides electricity to just 12 percent of the population and requires more than 100 million a year in government subsidy to operate. The Government of Haiti has appointed new Haitian leadership and an internationally respected turnaround management team funded by the U.S. government. In the first three months, the new management has helped the utility company improve its operations, its transparency and its fiscal efficiency, identifying more than 1.6 million in monthly savings. The new management will not only improve and expand services, but also help reduce the substantial government subsidy for EDH’s operations, freeing these resources up for other critical needs.”

HRRW:  EDH is badly in need of reform, and hopefully these measures will help improve the critical services this company provides without accelerating the march toward privatization that many outside actors, including the U.S. government, appear to support.  However, the company is – at the moment – on a financially unsustainable path as EDH’s Director, Garry Valdemar, has himself acknowledged.  According to a recent article on the on-line news site Defend Haiti, he stated the following: 

“Today, the revenues of EDH can cover about 30% of the operating budget, which includes wages, purchase of energy and fuel for power plants can operate […] the situation is that the EDH receives about 6 million U.S. dollars per month for expenses that are around 17 million, financially, the company is not sustainable.”

9. CM:  “The U.S. government is doing development differently in Haiti, consistent with the principles of the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development and its focus on catalyzing economic growth:

”Caracol Industrial Park: In November, President Martelly, President Clinton, and Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Moreno and more than a 1,000 members of the local community took part in an official ceremony laying the Park’s foundation, on track for its March opening. The speed and efficiency of implementation rivals the fast-moving construction schedules of industrial projects across the Americas, Europe and Asia. The 250-hectare Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti is a 300 million public-private partnership supported by increased U.S. trade preferences under the Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act and the coordination mechanisms created by the IHRC. The USG helped convene the GOH, the IDB and Korea’s largest apparel manufacturer, Sae-A, the Park’s anchor tenant. Sae-A has committed to create 20,000 direct jobs and invest 78 million over six years, one of the largest investments in Haiti’s modern history. With the arrival of other tenants, the Park has the potential to create 65,000 direct jobs, with additional opportunities expected for vendors, repair shops, farmers and other small businesses. USG investments will provide for electrification, new housing, and port facilities. IDB investments will provide for the construction of the park facilities and roads. The GOH is contributing the land and managing the project top to bottom with a team of Haitian professionals.”

HRRW:  The Caracol Industrial Park is one of USAID’s showcase projects in Haiti but many question whether apparel factories will really be a development model to provide sustainable livelihoods for Haitians.  The same week the cornerstone of the industrial park was laid, a report by Better Work Haiti (a project of the ILO funded in part by the US) found that a half-dozen factory workers had recently been fired in retaliation for their union organizing. Meanwhile, the minimum wage in the factories remains low, well below estimates as to what a true living wage should be.

Nevertheless, the U.S. government has also worked with factory owners and multinational companies to prevent a hike in Haiti’s minimum wage, as The Nation reported last year.

There are also problems with the industrial park’s location. As Haiti Grassroots Watch has pointed out in a detailed analysis of the project, among other faults, it is being built “steps from an area formerly slated to become a ‘marine protected area.’”

MC:  “Agriculture: Through USG investments in agriculture and food security, more than 9,700 farmers have benefited from improved seeds, fertilizer, technologies, and techniques. This has resulted in a 64 percent increase in rice yields, a 338 percent increase in corn yields, a 97 percent increase in bean crop yields and a 21 percent increase in plantain yields for these farmers. As a result of a full value chain approach, incomes are up over 50 percent for 8,750 small farmers.”

HRRW:  The agricultural sector certainly needs support, but the U.S. government has historically (and continues to this day) undermined Haitian agriculture through food aid. This is a point former President Bill Clinton made last year, discussing US food aid policies before the Senate, Clinton said, “It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” adding, “I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” Although some efforts by the World Food Program and France have increased the local purchases of food aid, helping to stimulate as opposed to undermine local production, the U.S. has lagged behind its peers.

There is some evidence that even the U.S. government support to the agricultural sector has been problematic. Jacob Kushner reported this week that many have rejected the USAID program:

Many Haitian farmers rejected the program, however, after they discovered that 475 tons of seeds were hybrids donated by Monsanto, the world’s largest developer of genetically modified seeds. Unlike traditional crops, hybrids do not produce new seeds that can be collected and planted the following growing season, meaning farmers in Haiti would need to begin purchasing the seeds from Monsanto or another company once donations stopped.

“In Haiti, people each year conserve their own feed for the next year. But USAID doesn’t want to promote this kind of agriculture,” Jean-Baptiste said.

10. MC:  “Haiti is experiencing continued and increasing international investment interest. A multi-day conference on business development opportunities in Haiti drew around 1,000 business leaders from the private sector as well as officials from 29 countries spanning the Americas, Asia and Europe. Marriot and Digicel announced the construction of a new 45 million Marriot hotel in Port-Au-Prince, with the construction by several developers of more than 750 hotel rooms in the pipeline — representing the largest growth in the industry for the Caribbean region, which includes popular tourist destinations in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

HRRW: Indeed the reconstruction effort has often seemed more geared towards business opportunities for international investors rather than the Haitian private sector. An analysis of USAID contracts awarded since the earthquake show that some 83 percent of the funds have gone to Beltway firms. On the other hand, direct contracts to Haitian firms account for just 0.02 percent of funds.

At the same time, support for the Haitian public sector has declined, in fact there was less direct budget support in 2011 than in 2009, before the earthquake.

UPDATE 1/16: This post has been edited slightly for clarity.

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