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After Three Years, Haiti Earthquake's Lingering Victim: 'Justice'

'Foun­da­tion of jus­tice' the missing ingredient for true progress, say critics of reconstruction efforts

Three years after a violent earthquake left over 200,000 dead and more than two million homeless in Haiti, many critics believe that the largest destructive force that lingers is the degree to which Haitian self-determination and progress have been limited by outside forces that undermine local institutions.

“Haiti can be built back bet­ter," said Mario Joseph of the Port-au-Prince-based Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux (BAI), "but only if it is built back more justly, with the Hait­ian peo­ple involved in the choice, the plan­ning and the exe­cu­tion of the projects.”

One of the key ongoing issues in Haiti is the homelessness triggered by the earthquake.

It is tragic because it is easy to see how this could all be done differently.

According to the BAI, instead of tar­get­ing the cause of the prob­lem, using avail­able legal pro­ce­dures such as emi­nent domain and work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively with dis­placed per­sons, the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity and Hait­ian gov­ern­ment have tar­geted camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) through ille­gal evic­tions and short term pay­offs, with­out pro­vid­ing viable hous­ing for such fam­i­lies.

“These are band-aid solu­tions to a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem,” said Brian Con­can­non from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the international arm of the BAI. “The prob­lem of IDP camps sit­ting where jour­nal­ists will see them is being solved; the prob­lem of earth­quake sur­vivors with no homes is not.”

Since the earthquake, according to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of people have been forced from the camps. The International Organization for Migrations reported that nearly 80,000 more people living primarily in camps set up on private land are currently at risk of eviction – 21 per cent of the total camp population.

“As if being exposed to insecurity, diseases and hurricanes were not enough, many people living in makeshifts camps are also living under the constant fear of being forcibly evicted,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, says that the responsibility for the ongiong and woeful conditions in Haiti can be placed at the feet of a misguided reconstruction effort by international agencies.


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“The numbers are an indictment of how the international community has once again failed Haiti, in this case in its time of greatest need,” Weisbrot said. “The housing effort has been abysmal, people are facing a food crisis, and even worse, some of the very people supposedly in Haiti to help — U.N. troops — caused a cholera epidemic that has killed almost 8,000 people."

“Despite all of these urgent needs, the international community has disbursed only half of the $13.34 billion allocated by bilateral and multilateral donors for Haiti’s reconstruction,” he added.

Expanding on this idea, in an interview on Democracy Now!, Jonathan Katz, author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, told host Amy Goodman:

The problem [in Haiti] has... has been the problem that... affects foreign aid all over the world, in which donor countries avoid local governments, they avoid local institutions, they fund through their own agencies, their own NGOs, their own militaries, and that weakens institutions. And as a result, the institutions were already weak coming into the earthquake, so they had a very, very hard time responding on their own.

This idea was echoed by BAI/IJDH, who affirmed that "that progress in Haiti is achiev­able if Haitians are involved at all stages and the build­ing is done on a foun­da­tion of jus­tice."

Weisbrot condemned what has long been seen by many aid experts as one of the most damaging aspects of U.S. aid to Haiti: the circumvention of the Haitian government. “Despite vows to the contrary, the Haitian government has been further weakened through the rebuilding bonanza that followed the earthquake. The Haitian government was side-stepped as usual, getting just 1 percent of relief money, and Haitian contractors were also excluded, getting just 1.2 percent of USAID contracts.”

“It is tragic because it is easy to see how this could all be done differently,” Weisbrot said. “Hire local people and use local contractors as much as possible; buy products – including food – from within Haiti rather than importing them. Make the Haitian government a central partner in the effort, and always prioritize the needs of the Haitian people over everything else.”


Democracy Now!'s full interview with Jonathan Katz can be viewed here:


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