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There have been promises to help Haiti in the past, whether the pledges were motivated by natural disasters, like deadly floods in recent years, or political problems, like the ouster of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, the gap between the promise and its fulfillment has been a wide one.
As the first Black Republic struggles to right herself, the American government, the international community and the nonprofits fulfilling many functions that should be the work of government must be held accountable—the old days of promise today and forget tomorrow cannot be allowed to repeat.
It was France, America and Europe that held Haiti at gunpoint at her independence in the 18th century and made her pay reparations to her former master worth billions of dollars with payments that weren't completed until the 20th century.
In the face of questions about corruption and a lack of capacity, the Haitian government has ceded delivery of food, tents, water, medicine and other material support to nonprofit and international groups. Therefore any failures must be placed at the feet of these same organizations and international leadership. That means these groups and nations are responsible for the timely and efficient delivery of services and assistance.
While Ambassador Lewis Lucke, appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee the humanitarian mission here in Haiti, told the press Feb. 10 that food and water distribution was going well, interviews on the street in Port-Au-Prince revealed Haitians are still having trouble getting food and water. With tickets for emergency food given to women, one man told The Final Call he begs for food to keep from stealing and committing crime.
The ambassador also failed to give a clear answer for why three cents for every dollar spent in Haiti is going back to the U.S. army in what would be called a kickback if Haitian officials had a military performing services and did the same thing.
The ambassador also didn't have a ready answer to a Final Call question about whether Haitian-American groups—many of whom have been engaged in projects inside their country for years—had been an underutilized resource. Haitian doctors and Black doctors have said the White House instructed them to stand down in the early days of the crisis, a decision the ambassador chalked up to the need for coordination given a tidal wave of offers to help.
The wave is receding now and it would make sense for the U.S. government to utilize Haitian Americans to help with this crisis and perhaps using such on the ground connections could increase the flow of aid to still suffering Haitians. The same goes for Black doctors, nurses and others who are ready to go save lives. Help cannot solely be left to the Red Cross and similar organizations.
Besides, could it be that some aid is slow because some in these groups fear going into sprawling tent cities of Black people and among these so-called “violent” Haitians?
Past corruption in Haiti is not just a problem of those who may have pilfered funds but also of the governments that allowed the theft. During the days of Duvalier family rule, the U.S. cared nothing for human rights violations or any problems with corruption so long as its clients delivered access to the country for U.S. businesses and stuck to a script penned by American officials and a script that met American, not Haitian, needs.
Dr. Ron Daniels, of the Haiti Support Project, said in an interview that a transparent mechanism that includes non-governmental groups could be one way to help ensure proper use of funds and delivery of services and aid to the Haitian masses. He added that there haven't been allegations of corruption lodged against President René Préval.
The question is who is fit to monitor money and help protect the interests of the Haitian people. Certainly not the U.S., unless there is a drastic and major change. As writer Ted Rall noted in a January piece on www.commondreams.org, “Earthquakes are random events. How many people they kill is predetermined. In Haiti this week, don't blame tectonic plates. Ninety-nine percent of the death toll is attributable to poverty.
“So the question is relevant. How'd Haiti become so poor?
“The story begins in 1910, when a U.S. State Department-National City Bank of New York (now called Citibank) consortium bought the Banque National d'Haïti—Haiti's only commercial bank and its national treasury—in effect transferring Haiti's debts to the Americans. Five years later, President Woodrow Wilson ordered troops to occupy the country in order to keep tabs on “our” investment.
“From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. Marines imposed harsh military occupation, murdered Haitian patriots and diverted 40 percent of Haiti's gross domestic product to U.S. bankers. Haitians were banned from government jobs. Ambitious Haitians were shunted into the puppet military, setting the stage for a half-century of U.S.-backed military dictatorship.
“The U.S. kept control of Haiti's finances until 1947.
“Still—why should Haitians complain? Sure, we stole 40 percent of Haiti's national wealth for 32 years. But we let them keep 60 percent.
If accountability and transparency are good things and protect the public interest, aid agencies and international groups should welcome more scrutiny.
(Reprinted from the Final Call.)
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