By Teresa Albano
Although $5.3 billion in immediate aid was pledged to help Haiti after its Jan. 12 near-apocalyptic earthquake, only two percent, or $45 million, has been donated. Brazil was the first and only country to have donated — $40 million — to the reconstruction effort. It was joined by Norway – with $5 million — earlier this month.
The island is full of nongovernmental organizations and other assistance groups working diligently on the micro-level to help Haitians rebuild their country and lives. However, macro-reconstruction aid on the state-level is incredibly slow.
The Haitian government estimates more than 300,000 people died from the disaster. Millions are homeless at the start of hurricane season. This hard-to-imagine scenario is on top of pre-quake conditions of deep poverty, environmental disasters, political instability and decades of foreign invasion and interference.
Jacqueline Cherilus, a fourth-year medical student at Université Lumière in Port-au-Prince, is still sleeping under a tarp with her family. Cherilus said tents and tarps are insufficient.
“We need construction. You see how strong the rains are becoming? Tents can’t resist that rain. How long can we live in tents and tarps? You can’t live for two or three years under a tarp. We need houses. We’re going to have hurricanes soon and flooding,” she told Truthout authors Beverly Bell and Laura Wagner.
Last week, a U.S. Senate report painted a bleak picture of millions displaced from their homes, while rubble and collapsed buildings still dominate the landscape.
Construction is held up by land disputes, tropical storms and other delays, the reports says, while plans for moving people out of tent-and-tarp settlements remain “in early draft form.”
The report puts the blame on donor “disagreements” and Haitian government officials.
The United States seems to be part of the donor disagreements. The U.S. pledged some $1.2 billion in immediate aid at a UN conference in March, where $5.3 billion from a number of sources was pledged. Congress is now debating whether to release that aid.
Former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive are heading up the effort to raise the $5.3 billion. The World Bank is overseeing the effort.
But “rich” countries may be backing off their pledges for help because of the deep and long economic crisis. After the recent Group of 20 summit in Toronto, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that rich countries may attempt to balance their budget shortfalls on the “back’s of the poorest people.”
While nations may slash their deficits, Ban warned they still had to honor their commitments on Haiti.
On June 17, Clinton joined forces with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra to announce a mere $20 million investment fund that will finance Haitian small businesses. The fund will seek a “return on its investments,” which will be reinvested in the fund, according to reports.
At the same time, PM Bellerive trekked around South Florida drumming up investors and touting the opportunities in Haiti’s textile industry. He trumpeted Haiti’s Nov. 28 presidential and parliamentary elections, even though all voter infrastructure has been destroyed. He also took issue with the criticisms of the Haitian government in the U.S. Senate report.
Haitian union leaders have criticized the donor efforts, charging financial and foreign interests are calling the shots in reconstruction. Labor activists in Haiti, Canada and the United States also warn that donor money has to invest in good jobs – not back to sweatshop conditions so prevalent in the pre-quake days.
Truthout reports that much of the aid pledged may never arrive. “A lot of it has gone straight back to donor nations, as with the $.40 on every U.S. government aid dollar that paid for the U.S. military presence in Haiti for, at least, the first two months after the quake.”
The U.S. sent 20,000 troops to Haiti immediately after the quake. The troops have been cutback to 6,000 presently.
Meanwhile, Venezuela announced June 2 at a conference on Haiti in the Dominican Republic that it would cancel Haiti’s $395 million debt with Petrocaribe.
Petrocaribe is Venezuela’s program which offers discounted oil, to be paid back over long-term low-interest loans, to Caribbean and Central American nations.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said $198 million from the debt is available for direct investment in Haiti’s health and education projects.
Cuba has continued its medical assistance directly to Haiti. Both countries are critical of the World Bank-supervised donor effort.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez announced in March the socialist nation promised primary care for 2.8 million of Haiti’s 9.3 million people.
Since the earthquake, Cuba reports, 23 primary care health centers, 15 referral hospitals, and 21 rehabilitation facilities are “up and running.” Over 260,000 patients have been cared for, 7,000 operations performed, and 1,400 babies delivered.
Cuba promised a “Haitian National Specialties Hospital” to train Haitian doctors as their replacements.
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