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Haiti: and when democracy fails?

By: Alan Murdock

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 13, 2013 06:00 am

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Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ Haiti on Dec. 6, 1492. About one million inhabitants were living off agriculture and fishing when he landed. Fifty years later they were gone. African slaves were brought in and created a rich French colony exporting sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo. In 1894 Napoleon granted independence. His appointee declared himself emperor-for-life and slaughtered the white colonists. He was assassinated. The island was split in two – French Haiti and Spanish Dominican Republic.

Bloody political wars followed until 1915 when the United States invaded and set up an occupational government. By 1936, the country was rebuilt and debt free. Americans left and an era of blackmail, terror and corruption followed, highlighted by the Duvalier father and son’s Tonton Macoutes terror squads, and then the Aristide-Preval cabal, which collapsed. In 1994 a United Nations mandated multinational force was dispatched to restore civilian authority. Aristide left and Preval was back in charge. Ten years later, the UN dispatched troops from the U.S. Canada, France, Chile and Brazil to stabilize the country once again. Preval was again back in power and the troops left.

In January 2010 an earthquake hit – destroying Port au Prince, killing 230,000 people and leaving 1,300,000 homeless. Almost immediately, $13 billion in aid was pledged. The UN Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti has now reported that almost 50 per cent of the money has been spent. This includes $477 million of Canada’s pledged $1 billion.

Canada’s strong support to Haiti began before the earthquake. You will recall when, in 2009, Canadian foreign aid to many needy countries was cut back or stopped (Africa was the worst hit). Canada embarked on an “aid effectiveness strategy.” Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, was selected by Canada as a “country of focus.”

Indeed, the report from CIDA on what we have done with our money since 2009 looks very impressive. Canada targeted children and youth, food security, economic growth, humanitarian assistance and governance. The money has gone to universal childhood immunizations; establishing sustainable farms, funding large scale school lunch programs, setting up savings and credit cooperative networks, and providing emergency and temporary housing along with rebuilding schools.

But then, just as one thought everything was going fairly well, Canadian aid was cut off. Had the Haitian community in Montreal voted PQ in the Quebec election? Was it related to the change in the tenant at Rideau Hall? Had Georges Laraque joined the NDP? Or had we found out that we didn’t know where the money really went?

An analysis of the data from the UN Special Envoy for Haiti was recently published in the Guardian newspaper. The report, supported financially by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, showed that 94 per cent of humanitarian funding went to the donor countries’ own civilian and military entities, UN agencies and international NGOs. Unfortunately about 60 per cent of funds disbursed are “not specified.” (Canada’s figure is 67%.). The UN Envoy doesn’t know where two thirds of our money has gone, CIDA notwithstanding.

Eighty per cent of Haitians still live in poverty. Half the country drinks polluted water. Four hundred thousand children are in slave labour. We don’t know where our money is going. Preval is recently gone, but Haiti’s governmental and social services infrastructure barely exists. The call from the new president, musician ‘Sweet Mickey’ Martelli, to give him the money to manage is political arrogance even with Bill Clinton’s support.

There here are times when U.S. imperialism has its merits.

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.


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