On Haiti, as the hurricanes arrive

Six months after the Haiti earthquake, only a trickle of the $10 billion in aid that had been pledged by dozens of countries and multilateral agencies has actually been delivered to Haiti. Reportedly, only a handful of countries – namely, Brazil, Australia, Estonia and Norway – have actually walked the walk on the aid they promised. Last week, Haitian President Rene Preval said that only $35 million had come into the coffers of the state.

Plainly inadequate, when Preval also estimates that the cost of clearing the rubble still covering the streets of Port au Prince would alone, amount to $120 million. Much the same thing has happened to the money donated for emergency aid by millions of people worldwide to international aid NGOs to help relieve the suffering. Reportedly, only about 25% of that money has been spent.

This week, the delay is likely to turn lethal once again, as the hurricane season bears down on the 1.7 million people in Haiti still living in tents. The tents have already been shown to provide inadequate protection against relatively mild winds:

About 344 tents were totally ripped apart in mere “windy conditions” even though they were the subject of intensive publicity by USAID as being “storm resistant.

The dysfunctional Preval government has just broken one logjam by announcing a new election date of November 28 – for a voting process that is expected to cost between $US30–40 million and which will somehow require the homeless to be registered in order to be able to elect a government that has so far, almost totally failed them. The main bottleneck in getting aid to the needy is occurring within the 26-member Interim Commission to Reconstruct Haiti (CIRH), co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. This body is stacked with members of the old elites:

Thirteen of the CIRH directors represent multilateral banks like the IMF, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank and donor nations like the U.S., France and Canada. The other thirteen members represent Haiti’s elite. The most prominent elite representative on the CIRH is Reginald Boulos, who heads one of the Haitian bourgeoisie’s most powerful families and backed both the 1991-94 and 2004-06 coups d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

These elites have been bickering over how best to tailor the new political system and the reconstruction effort to their own best advantage and maximum profit. The earthquake occurred in January. The CIRH met for the first time on June 17. Under the state of emergency that will last for the next 18 months, the CIRH can seize any land they see fit for the reconstruction effort. So far, they have dragged their feet.

The land on which the new housing and society will be built is the crux of the problem. Like everything else of value in Haiti, most of the suitable land is owned by a tiny group of rich families, and since the earthquake they have been employing goon squads to terrorise homeless Haitians off the lands near Port au Prince. So far, only one section – a barren tract called Corail Cesselesse – has been set aside as the site of a refugee camp for the displaced, as the elite families continue to argue within with CIRH over getting first crack at the aid money, by way of compensation for helping out the aid effort.

Corail-Cesselesse, has been built about 10 miles north of the capital, on a forbidding strip of sun-baked desert situated between Titayen and Morne Cabrit, two desolate zones where death-squads dumped their victims during the anti-Aristide coups. The 6,000 person camp is several kilometers from Route National One, where transport toward the capital runs.
Long-time democracy activist Patrick Elie told Democracy Now! on the quake’s six month anniversary that “the Haitian elites over centuries [have] appropriated land which […], especially after independence and the end of slavery, would have been common property…”

This appropriation process – some call it theft – is not ancient history. Some of Haiti’s best suited land for post-quake resettlements is located just north of the capital between the Freres Road and Tabarre. Over the past 25 years, Haiti’s bourgeoisie bought up large swaths of this fertile valley, where the Haitian American Sugar Company used to grow sugarcane. Now it is home to a Miami-style luxury home development known as Belle-Ville, an amusement park for rich kids , the Vorbe family car dealership, Brazil’s military base (Brabatt), and a giant new U.S. Embassy, among other things. “The elite paid the peasants pennies for the land not long ago, pushing them off,” Elie told Haiti Liberté. “Now they will look to sell it for a huge profit.”

Meanwhile, the international NGOs are largely sitting on their hands – and on the bulk of the money they were donated – until the land situation is cleared up. Everyone recognize the pressing need to build storm resistant houses, but action is not occurring at anything like the rate required.

The problem, Bekele Gelata, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross Societies said last week, is that the Haitian government has not provided open land on which to build large numbers of houses. “We have high hopes that the Red Cross will get a little land soon,” he said.

In this way, the Jan. 12 earthquake reveals that the principal fault-line in Haiti is not geological but one of class. A small handful of rich families own large tracts of land in suburban Port-au-Prince which would be ideal for resettling the displaced thousands. The lands are located near the city, often with water and some trees, and are largely undeveloped.

Until the plutocrats in the CIRH can agree on how to divvy up how they are to be re-compensated for the land that they have confiscated in the past, the homeless in Haiti will be left to the mercy of the elements, and to the hurricanes now barreling down upon them.

The political system remains captive to the same forces. On July 15, thousands of Haitians marched through Port au Prince to celebrate the birthday of Jean Bertrand Aristide, their elected leader who was kidnapped by the US in 2004 and sent into exile in South Africa – where he remains today, at considerable cost to the South African taxpayer.

Aristide remains the most popular political figure in Haiti, and is the only person who could mobilize the bulk of poor Haitians to believe that the earthquake reconstruction effort was being motivated by a concern for their welfare. However, the same families that run the CIRH also control the Preval government. Not surprisingly, Preval has announced that Aristide and his Fanmi Lvalas political party will be barred from taking part in the elections set to take place on November 28.

Preval did the same thing when barring Aristide’s followers from taking part in senatorial elections last year – and as a result, the turnout was only 20 % and the result was a legislature stacked with Preval cronies. Plainly, nothing that resembles proper voter registration can take place amid the current chaos – the electoral office, all of its records and 40 % of the entire public service is believed to have perished in the quake. Even if a credible election machinery could be created out of thin air over the next few months, Haitians would still be being prevented from voting for the one person they would freely choose to lead them.

The only surprising thing about this situation is that there has been some pressure from the Americans to include Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas in the elections. In June, Richard Lugar (the veteran US senator and most senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) issued a damning fact-finding report called “No Leadership – No Elections” about the Haiti reconstruction effort. In it, Lugar called for Aristide and his party to be allowed to participate in the elections. Preval has rejected that proposal.

Haiti’s misery is set to continue, until the elites can feel sure they can safely rebuild the country along the same exploitative lines as before.


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