By Ezili Danto, Charleston Gazette Op-Ed/Commentary
Haiti is suffering from misguided foreign aid.
The rains are coming in Haiti, but there are more homeless people in Haiti today than the day after the earthquake hit in January. More than 1.5 million Haitians are living under tattered tents, tarps and sheets, which will provide little protection during hurricane season.
Immediately after the earthquake, there were 20,000 U.S. troops and 14,000 U.N. troops in Haiti. But these troops didn’t help remove the earthquake rubble. Haitians themselves, using their bare hands, did almost all of the search and rescue. Today, 98 percent of the rubble remains, as Haitians have not received the heavy machinery needed to remove it.
Only a small fraction of the billions of dollars of international aid for Haiti has actually reached the quake victims. And much of the aid raised by U.N. envoy Bill Clinton is geared to small and medium-size businesses. But the quake victims are not small- and medium-size businesses. They are ordinary people who need a place to live in the city or who need tools to work their fields.
Instead of enabling the millions of small Haitian farmers to become food self-sufficient by growing rice, millet, corn and a variety of fruits and vegetables, however, Clinton has announced that Coca-Cola will be running a project to use Haitian fields to grow mangoes for a new drink.
In the last six months, a number of industrial parks have been built by foreign corporations to take advantage of Haiti’s $3-a-day minimum wage.
The “new Haiti” after the earthquake is not much different from the old Haiti the United States has been attempting to bring forth for two centuries: a place governed by business-oriented Haitian technocrats who take their marching orders from Washington.
Clinton and others in the international aid community opine that the slow disbursement of funds and rebuilding of the country is the fault of Haiti’s weak government. Ironically, it was the Bush administration that rendered Haiti weak by overthrowing in 2004 the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Members of the aid community also say Haiti doesn’t have the capacity to absorb the aid. But it was the World Bank and U.S. policies that destroyed Haiti’s food sovereignty, forced the government industries to privatize, and left basic services like education, water, sanitation and health care to the free market, which did not deliver.
The Obama administration and the international community had a choice to make right after the earthquake. They could help empower the Haitian people and the Haitian government to lead the relief and the rebuilding efforts with an eye toward Haitian self-sufficiency, not only in food but in other daily necessities and in manufacturing. Or they could run the efforts the old-fashioned way: top down, with the U.S. military, the United Nations and the nongovernmental organizations in charge, with an eye toward letting even more foreign corporations cash in on Haiti.
They chose the latter. And Haitians are suffering as a consequence.
Millions of Haitians seek the return of President Aristide. Millions of Haitians seek empowerment with community organizing, community policing, domestic manufacturing, fair-wage jobs and participatory democracy.
But like the relief aid, this is not materializing.
Instead, Haitians are being left more dependent than ever.
Danto is a playwright, performance poet and human rights attorney and founder of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network.
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