Venezuela's cooperative aid to Haiti

Issue 

In a February 17 article "Venezuela's Renegade Aid" in the US Huffington Post, freelance journalist Patrick Adams implied there is something counter-productive about Venezuela's aid effort in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Venezuela's main crime appears to be its non-participation in the United Nations coordinated "cluster system" that Adams argues "has worked fairly well".

Never mind that the UN has been an occupying force in Haiti since the United States engineered the overthrow of democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

Never mind that head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes heavily criticised the "cluster strategy" in an email leaked on February 16.

Adams argued that it is "one group — such as the National Armed Fores [sic] of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" that is creating "problems for everyone else".

Adams' main source for the allegation is Dr Tiffany Keenan, "founder and president of Haiti Village Health, which oversees the supply and distribution of private aid from its offices in the airport", in the port city of Jacmel.

It turns out Adams is "embedded" in Keenan's guesthouse in Jacmel (though he doesn't mention that in the article).

Respecting sovereignty

Adams quotes Keenan complaining that the "Venezuelans haven't showed up at a single meeting". She raised one example where other aid groups were not aware of Venezuelan movements.

However, as Adams later admits, the Venezuelans are coordinating their work directly with the Haitian government.

As one perceptive commentator on Adams' article wrote, "So they chose to work through the local government instead of the North American-run 'cluster' system. I guess that makes them renegades."

One problem for the Venezuelans participating in the "cluster system" is meetings are only conducted in French and English.

Occasionally, the facts break through in Adams' article: "When the Venezuelans first arrived, Pinchinat was a sea of makeshift huts assembled with sticks, bed sheets and scraps of plastic — whatever could be salvaged from the collapsed homes that many of its residents had fled.

"Within days, some fifty Venezuelan soldiers in forest green fatigues had erected more than a hundred 40-foot, green canvas tents with 'U.S.' stamped on the side."

But he goes on to list a string of complaints, including that the tents are hot and there are no floors.

Unlike the US, the Venezuelans haven't occupied the country militarily, blocked aid supplies from arriving at the airport or tried to impose unfair conditions on reconstruction loans.

Nor have they attempted to kidnap 33 Haitian children a la Laura Silsby and the Central Valley Baptists.

But ... their tents are hot!

Venezuelan aid

Venezuela has certainly taken a different approach to what Venezuelan foreign minister Nicholas Maduro described as "the hegemonic, abusive form in which U.S. military has sought to address the issue of Haiti".

After the disaster struck on January 12, Venezuela was the first country to send aid. An advance team of doctors, search and rescue experts as well as food, water, medical supplies, and rescue equipment arrived in Port-au-Prince on the morning of January 13.

On January 25, Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez announced the cancellation of Haiti's US$295 million debt to Venezuela.

Venezuela has also sent 225,000 barrels of diesel fuel and gasoline and Chavez has pledged "all the free fuel that Haiti needs".

The Venezuelan government has donated 30,000 tents and sent more than 10,000 tonnes of food to Haiti, and has pledge to continue sending more.

Collection points have been set up all around Venezuela for donations to ship to Haiti and the Chavez-led United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has organised dozens of concerts and fundraising events to help the Haiti reconstruction effort.

Venezuela's efforts are part of a broader collaborative approach taken by the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA), a cooperative, fair-trade bloc that also includes Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

ALBA countries have all cancelled Haiti's debt and pledged $120 million to help reconstruction efforts, with each country donating according to their GDP.

Venezuela has also set up three "community camps" that together house 3900 Haitians whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake.

The camps provide medical attention, trauma counselling, food, access to sanitation and adult literacy programs — as well as sports, education, music classes and other recreational activities for children.

Venezuela's ambassador to Haiti, Pedro Canino, said Venezuela's 520 aid personnel are also working directly with 219 grassroots social organisations in Haiti to distribute food aid and other supplies to the local communities.

The Venezuelans are also helping with reconstruction efforts — digging latrines, clearing rubble, and building houses and schools.

Rather than living in hotels or guesthouses like many other aid workers, the Venezuelans are living and working side by side with the Haitian people.

Jean Charles, executive director of AINDOH Inc, wrote of the Simon Bolivar camp in Leogane in Caribbean Net News on February 17: "The Bolivarian tent city is well organized, its a transitional model that should be replicated; the Venezuelan soldiers living with the refugees are social workers, teachers, cooks and community organizers."

The Venezuelan plan is to work with local communities to multiply the camps to extend access to thousands more people in need.

The approach of the Venezuelan aid effort is not to impose conditions or win lucrative reconstruction contracts, but rather to help provide Haitians with tools with which they can organise and empower their communities for their own sovereign development.

Solidarity

Of course, efforts can always be improved. More solidarity with the people of Haiti is urgently needed.

But Venezuela, a small underdeveloped country has attempted, in a spirit of internationalism, to meet the challenge to the best of its ability and resources. As Chavez said, "Venezuela's aid is modest but it is done with a big heart".

Rather than attacking the efforts of poor countries engaged in genuine solidarity to alleviate the suffering of the Haitian people, perhaps Adams could better spend his time questioning the imperialist intentions of his own country that has sent more than 15,000 soldiers to occupy Haiti.

He could also investigate where the billions of dollars in international aid is actually going, what conditions the International Monetary Fund is imposing on Haiti's reconstruction loans or what christian missionaries — who, as with all colonising projects, are an essential part of winning "hearts and minds" to maintain subordination to Western imperialist interests — are really getting up to.

Maybe he could even start with the christian relief and missions organisation, ORA International, of which Keenan's NGO, Haiti Village Health, is an affiliate.

The website Ministrywatch.com, whose stated aim is "educating and empowering donors to support Christian Ministries", said ORA International's "transparency grade" is "F".

The website posts a "Donor Alert" on the ORA International profile with a warning: "Non-Transparent Ministries: Are they Faithful in the Small Things?"

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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