“Nothing! Nothing! We’ve seen nothing!”, chanted a crowd of internally displaced people (IDP) on October 6. They were pursuing former US president Bill Clinton from his photo-op in their squalid camp on his way to the third Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC) meeting in downtown Port-au-Prince.
The crowd protesting against Clinton was from an IDP camp on the golf-course of the former Petionville Club, a bourgeois enclave created by US Marines when they first occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934.
Ironically, the camp is considered one of the capital’s best, thanks to the attention brought to it by actor Sean Penn.
The same chants came from another demonstration of about 200 IDPs on October 12 in front of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive’s offices, where the IHRC is based. At that action, exactly nine months after Haiti’s devastating earthquake, protesters delivered a letter demanding respect for their constitutionally guaranteed right to housing, a moratorium on forced expulsions, and an end to the “masquerade aid” of NGOs.
The IHRC, co-chaired by Clinton and Bellerive, is the body that decides how to spend money donated to rebuild Haiti after the January 12 quake. October’s meeting took place by teleconference, and journalists were invited to follow it by calling a US-based number.
This immediately excluded any Haitian who could not afford the three-hour international call.
Some journalists crowded into the PM’s press room to listen to the meeting over a small pod-like speaker that looked like an oversized video game joystick. The teleconference’s sound quality was poor, static-filled and at times unintelligible.
I was sitting closest to the speaker and craning to make out what was being said, but I couldn’t follow much of it.
All seven of the foreign white journalists in the room were seated around the conference table where the mini-speaker sat, but only three of about 20 Haitians present. The other Haitians were seated in chairs along the walls of the room, out of earshot of the muffled voices deciding their country’s fate.
As if to underscore this irony, most of the conference was conducted in English. French statements were translated into English, but not vice versa.
Nothing was presented in or translated into Kreyol, the national language, making it even harder for Haitians to know where all the millions are going.
The whole exercise seemed amateurish. The conference call plodded along, casual and faltering.
None of the IHRC board seemed too bothered by the frequent interruptions and confusion. It was as if voting on the investment of millions and Haiti’s fate was just a banal hobby.
Reginald Boulos, an industrialist from one of Haiti’s most powerful capitalist families and a staunch backer of the 2004 coup d’etat against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, insisted meetings should begin with a progress update on projects to ensure transparency and accountability.
This implied even IHRC board members have little information on the whereabouts of previously approved money. Boulos’s minor reservations and criticisms were later trumpeted by Clinton as “fierce debate and vigorous participation on the part of the Haitian members of the board” — representing the Haitian people’s interests, of course.
The session took place during Haiti’s “back-to-school” week, and at the press conference later Clinton claimed 80% of children who were in school before the quake are now back in class.
It was unclear how he obtained such a figure only two days into the new term, especially since many schools didn’t resume class until the following week.
At its last meeting in August, the IHRC approved US$94 million to get schools ready for the new academic year, a much needed investment. Haiti ranks alongside Somalia and Eritrea as one of the worst places on the planet to be a schoolchild.
Only half of Haiti’s children attended (mostly private) schools before the quake destroyed about 90% of those.
Only $26 million of the $94 million has appeared. There are fewer kids in class than ever, and Haiti’s education ministry says it still hasn’t seen any of the money.
There were also inconsistencies between the projects presented in the IHRC meeting and the press release given to journalists afterwards. The press release said UNICEF gave $100 million to “support the Haitian government and civil society in the fight against gender-based violence”.
But in the meeting, there was no mention of the UNICEF money, only concerns that a $10.6 million UN population fund for women and girls’ “gender equality impact is not yet approved”, said one of the board members.
It is unclear where UNICEF’s $100 million has gone. Merina Zuluanie of Women Victims Stand Up (Favilek), a grassroots organisation that has been providing medical, legal and moral support for women and children victims of sexual abuse and violence for more than 15 years, said her group has not received any IHRC or UNICEF funding.
I spoke with Malia Villard Appolon, the coordinator of Commission of Women Victims for Victims (Kofaviv), a coalition of raped women.
Kofaviv members have taken charge of their own security in camps, organising escorts to protect women going to the toilets, handing out whistles to women at risk, raising awareness and organising groups of men to take shifts patrolling their areas.
Before the quake, Kofaviv had an office with a clinic, doctor, nurse, psychologist, laboratory and everything in place to help rape victims. That was all destroyed on January 12 but since then, Appolon said, “we have received nothing from UNICEF”.
Meanwhile, Dr Claude Surena, the head of the Haitian Medical Association, and regional health director, said he has an 18-month strategy to get the health sector back on its feet, but they can’t move ahead with anything until donor funds arrive.
The IHRC website said $17 million was approved and funded on August 17. But Haiti’s General Hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince looks much as it did in the quake’s aftermath: hallways and pharmacies are still full of rubble; people wait outside for treatment; operations are conducted in tents; the pediatrics unit is still damaged beyond repair.
So why is the place still a shambles?
“I think we’re making progress with the road reconstruction and agriculture sectors”, said Clinton, without going into specifics. The IHRC website said $464.8 million of road construction and rehabilitation projects were funded in August.
The site said $211.3 million of the $240.3 million earmarked for agriculture has been funded and $200 million was going to a techno-jargon-obscured project to “increase farm income in targeted areas and reduce expected losses in infrastructure by improving agricultural value chains, agriculture intensification, technology adoption among small farmers, and land tenure regularisation”.
In contrast, the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s more down-to-earth $29 million project to “support 1) food crop production 2) local seed production, 3) urban and suburban agriculture, 4) creation of jobs in the livestock sector, 5) fisheries, and 6) local response capacity to hurricanes” has received no funding.
Clinton has not lobbied for reversal of the neoliberal trade policies his administration pushed when he was US president, despite him verbally renouncing them in March. These policies decimated Haiti’s rice crops by flooding the market with heavily subsidised Arkansas rice.
Imported food still dominates any Haitian market one visits.
Capitalists on the IHRC have funded themselves with $24.5 million of $35 million over five years to “establish a partial credit guarantee fund for enterprise development”, the IHRC site says.
Meanwhile, the same IHRC board has released none of the $65 million earmarked over the next 12 months for “job creation” to “create 300,000 temporary jobs across the country, focusing on populations touched by the earthquake”.
The project to “assess public buildings in the 10 departments”, just $1 million over five months, has also not been funded. Only $13.4 million has been provided for housing, Haiti’s most critical need.
When asked “what of the IHRC funding is being given to help people in the camps” at the post-meeting press conference, Clinton interrupted the journalist, dodged the question and spoke of the need to implement a mortgage system.
This reveals why Clinton heads the IHRC. His priorities are to facilitate banks providing mortgages, capitalists finding credit, and businesses having roads to bus in their workers and ship out their sweatshop-assembled garments and electronics.
Job-creation and housing for Haiti’s 1.5 million homeless suffering in squalid camps will just have to wait.
[Isabeau Doucet is a freelance journalist and works with the Office of International Lawyers in Port au Prince, Haiti. This article is reprinted from HaitiLiberte.com.] http://www.haitiliberte.com/