Stolen Haitian Relief Money

Stephen Lendman

Following Haiti's catastrophic January 12, 2010 earthquake, billions of dollars in relief aid were raised. Suffering Haitians got virtually none of it. Hundreds of thousands remain homeless. A cholera emergency still exists.

On June 19, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent said:

"There is a significant probability of a major cholera emergency in Haiti in the coming months but resources have been severely diminished."

Increased numbers of cases were reported in the Artibonite, Nord-Ouest, Nord-Est, Ouest, Gonave island, and homeless camps in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) estimates another 170,000 new cases by end of 2012. Haiti's problems are severe. Deep poverty, deprivation, and unemployment torment millions. Earthquake devastation compounded them. Little relief came. It was stolen for commercial development. It's common practice to divert relief aid to private developers.

In 2004, a second tsunami struck Sri Lanka. The first one took 250,000 lives and left 2.5 million homeless throughout the region. Coastal areas were scrubbed clean. Everything was gone. Sri Lankans living there lost everything. New rules prohibited rebuilding homes where they once stood. Buffer zone restrictions insured it. Beaches were off-limits to people who once lived there. Displaced Sri Lankans were shoved into temporary grim inland camps. Soldiers prevented them from coming home.

At issue was developing coastal areas for profit. Luxury destinations were planned. Formerly occupied land was sold to commercial buyers. Privatization was the new game. Displaced residents were entirely left out. What they lost, they never got back. Land grab money making became policy.

Tsunami victims in other ravaged countries suffered the same fate. The pattern repeated everywhere. People were prohibited from rebuilding where they once lived. What nature wrought, corporate developers and corrupt politicians compounded by stealing their land for profit.

New Orleans Katrina victims suffered the same way. Blank became beautiful. Erased communities were replaced with upscale condos and other high-profit projects on choice city real estate. Residents who once lived there were forced out. Politicians conspired with developers to assure they didn't come back.

History not only rhymes, as Mark Twain once said, a lot of times it repeats. Haitians now suffer like Sri Lankans, other East Asian tsunami victims, and Katrina displaced New Orleans residents.

Haitians are no strangers to adversity and anguish. For over 500 years, they suffered severe oppression, slavery, despotism, colonization, reparations, embargoes, sanctions, deep poverty, starvation, unrepayable debt, and natural calamities. They included destructive hurricanes and numerous magnitude 7.0 or greater regional earthquakes.

The last major one came in 1946. A magnitude 8.1 quake struck adjacent Dominican Republic. Haiti was also affected. Earlier catastrophic ones were in 1751 and 1770. Both devastated Port-au-Prince. In 1842 Cap-Haitien was destroyed.

In 2004, Washington militarized Haiti after ousting Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After January 2010, in came the marines.US marines are gone. MINUSTAH shock troops remain. For years, they've committed murders, kidnappings, extrajudicial detentions, rapes, non-sexual assaults, physical threats, and other type abuses. They're enforcers for political and corporate crime bosses.

After its worst catastrophe in nearly 170 years, Haitians [now] need food, housing, medical care, clean water, and other vital services, not military forces confronting them repressively. They still do.

Haiti always was open for profit and exploitation. Earthquake devastation created new opportunities. The country was declared open for business. Washington and other Western predators took full advantage.

So did hundreds of for-profit NGOs. They skim most relief aid donations for themselves. So do corporate developers and other profiteers. They steal private donations and pledged amounts freely. Haiti's pseudo-government then and now acquiesces.

No one helped Haitians like Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Two coups ousted him. Exile followed each time. He's back but out of politics. Electoral manipulation installed Washington's man. Stealth Duvalierist Michel (Sweet Micky) Martelly became president. Most Haitians despise him. It hardly mattered. They had no say in preventing his illegitimate elevation to the nation's highest office. Haitian suffering continues.

In January, Bill Quigley and Amber Ramanauskas headlined "Where the Relief Money Did and Did Not Go - Haiti after the Quake," saying:

Despite billions in pledged and donated aid, "Haiti looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years."

Rarely does this news get covered. Over half a million people then remained homeless. They still do. Most debris lay where it fell. Cholera was killing thousands. It's still out of control because too little is done to stop, control, and treat it. Instead of relief going to help Haitians, it's given to profiteering companies and NGOs. Haitians then and now ask where did the money go? It hasn't helped them.

Washington diverted the largest amount. Instead of helping, it sent in the marines, let contracts for corporate predators, and funded well-connected profiteering NGOs. Haitians got hardly anything. They're still waiting for desperately needed aid. Their government got 1% of the money. Little went to Haitian companies or local NGOs. Private companies specializing in disasters got funding. Much of what was pledged never came. It happens every time. Other funds received weren't spent. Quigley and Ramanauskas are human rights lawyers. They said:

"Respect, transparency and accountability are the building blocks for human rights." "Haitians deserve to know where the money has gone, what the plans are for the money still left, and to be partners in the decision-making for what is to come."

Once relief aid stops, they'll be responsible entirely for solving problems so far not even addressed. On July 5, The New York Times headlined "Earthquake Relief Where Haiti Wasn't Broken." It provided a rare mainstream glimpse at how Haitians have been harmed and cheated.

"On the first anniversary of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, in a sleepy corner of northeast Haiti far from the disaster zone, the Haitian government began the process of evicting 366 farmers from a large, fertile tract of land to clear the way for a new industrial park." [They didn't] "understand why authorities wanted to replace productive agricultural land with factories in a rural country that had trouble feeding itself."

Many other troubling incidents followed. Haitians are virtually helpless to stop it.

Bill Clinton co-chairs the so-called Haiti recovery commission. He celebrated the Caracol Industrial Park project by "cementing an agreement with the anchor tenant - Sae-A-Trading." Wife Hillary helped seal the deal. Sae-A is a South Korean clothing manufacturer. It's a major supplier for Walmart and other large retailers.

They, like other local manufacturers, want to exploit Haitians lucky to have work no matter how poorly they're paid and treated. They get below poverty wages. They're treated little better than slaves. This and other commercial developments benefit profiteers, not Haitians.

"Caracol Industrial Park is hardly reconstruction in the strictest sense." Two and a half years after the quake, "Haiti remains mired in a humanitarian crisis." Hundreds of thousands are homeless. They're largely on their own to survive.

Its developers downplay labor and environmental concerns. They came to make money, not help Haitians. Sae-A has an odious reputation. It closed its Guatemala factory over troubled labor relations.

The AFL/CIO urged Haiti's government not to accept them. A detailed memo described "egregious antiunion repression." It includes "acts of violence and intimidation." Guatemalan monitor Homero Fuentes called Sae-A "one of the major labor violators."

Worker Rights Consortium executive director Scott Nova calls the company "a big player in a dirty industry with a track record that suggests a degree of ruthlessness even worse than the norm."

Other critics expressed concerns about its Guatemalan labor and criminal law violations. Company executives used every dirty tactic imaginable to squeeze out profits. Manufacturing is conducted amidst intimidation, death and other threats on workers. Nonetheless, Bill and Hillary Clinton welcomed Sae-A with open arms.

Caracol Bay contains Haiti's most extensive mangrove reserve and valued coral reef. Better suited sites were bypassed. Haiti's Audubon Society head Arnoud Dupuy called doing so "heresy."

Environmental considerations were ignored. Despite objections, development went ahead as planned. It includes a heavy fuel oil power plant, a dense housing project, and port on a soon to be lost pristine bay. Instead of promised "building back better," profits superseded environmental and people concerns. Local backers and US officials downplayed the enormous damage done.

Haitians won't be helped. They'll be ruthlessly exploited for profit. Caracol's mayor, Landry Colas, wasn't consulted. He'd have picked a different site, he said. This one is vast. It comprises nearly a square mile. It's in Haiti's north, south of Cap-Haitien. It's bisected by the Hole of the North River and fed by the Massacre Aquifer. Land was cleared last year. Small farmers were evicted. The tract resembles "a gravelly lunar landscape. Its perimeter is fenced, and outside the gate, a banner drapes a church, proclaiming ‘Sae-A Loves You.’ "

It reminds some of Orwell's "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."

Sae-A executives see Caracol Bay as a blank slate to develop and exploit as they wish. Haitians have a much different view. Land chosen has a history of foreign exploitation and agrarian struggle. Peasants alternated between occupation and eviction.

In 1986, residents reclaimed the land after Baby Doc Duvalier fell from power and fled to France. They divided it into hundreds of small farms. Many paid yearly rent to squat. The land's replete with "collective memory."

Bill and Hillary Clinton added more. Aggrieved Haitians won't forget or forgive. The William J. Clinton Foundation and Inter-American Development Bank lured hundreds of potential investors to Haiti. Big profits were promised. The industrial park was bait. Away from Haiti's devastated south, it was ideal. Ravaged areas remain troubled by slow rubble removal, problems securing land, and institutional ones.

Export processing zones aren't new in Haiti. Choosing the best sites are prioritized. Professor Laurent Dubois calls developing industrial parks a "tired" idea, saying:

"The way I see it, in a deep, long, historical way, Haiti was founded by ex-slaves who overthrew a plantation system and people keep trying to get them to return to some form of plantation." "There have been cycles of (these) type project(s), where the idea is that foreign investment will modernize the country. But things have gotten progressively worse for Haitians."

A local bank manager called developing a garment maquiladora zone a last resort idea. Free land, slave wages, extensive infrastructure development, and other investment incentives lured Sai-A. In return, it's spending a modest amount.

Environmentalists were shocked that the company would anchor a giant industrial park. Before Haiti's quake, they designated Caracol Bay to become the country's first marine protected site.

Development imperils conservation. Haiti's government chose the site. Washington's heavy hand made the difference. It has valued soil and water resources. It's ideal for farming.

Environmental impact studies weren't done. After the fact, concerns were raised. It was too late. Caracol's mayor Colas worries that his city will become another Cité Soleil slum. He added that he feels like he's being used. Signing ceremony attendees stop by City Hall, he said. They greet him, but there's no relationship or involvement in planning or deals signed. Foreigners know more about what's going on than he does, he complained.

Millions of Haitians have known nothing but brutal exploitation and numbing poverty for hundreds of years. Caracol Bay and other commercial development projects change nothing. Haitian suffering continues.

Stephen Lendman: I was born in 1934 in Boston, MA. Raised in a modest middle class family, attended public schools, received a BA from Harvard University in 1956 and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of PA in 1960 following 2 years of obligatory military service in the US Army. Spent the next 6 years as a marketing research analyst for several large US corporations before becoming part of a new small family business in 1967, remaining there until retiring at the end of 1999. Have since devoted my time and efforts to the progressive causes and organizations I support, all involved in working for a more humane and just world for all people everywhere, but especially for the most needy, disadvantaged and oppressed. My efforts since summer 2005 have included writing on a broad range of vital topics ranging from war and peace; social, economic and political equity for all; and justice for all the oppressed peoples of the world like the long-suffering people of Haiti and the Palestinians. Also co-hosting The Global Research News Hour, occasional public talks, and frequent appearances on radio and at times television. I also am a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. I live in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit my blog site and listen to The Lendman News Hour on Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening. My new book "How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War" can be ordered HERE.

Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times


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