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The Business of Disaster: Where's the Haiti-Bound Money Going?

"A sweeping exercise in nation-building on a scale and scope not seen in generations," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the international donors conference on March 31 in New York, where foreign nations and other international institutions pledged $5.3 billion toward Haiti over the next 18 months, of which $1.15 billion comes from the U.S. government. Mr. Ban continued, "Today, we have mobilized to give Haiti and its people what they need most: hope for a new future."

In an informal survey of citizens' views of the international communities' plans for their nation, taken over the past two months in urban and rural Haiti, not one expressed ‘hope' or a similar perspective for the plans of the foreign powers. Their experience of ‘nation-building' under foreign powers has not been positive, either in process or in result. 

Twenty-two Haitian organizations, representing religious, conflict resolution, women, human rights, development, and other sectors, had this to say about the three recent international donors' meetings: "[T]he process is characterized by a near-total exclusion of Haitian social actors and a weak and non-coordinated participation by representatives of the Haitian state... We need an alternative process which can define a new national project which incorporates strategies to counteract exclusion, political and economic dependence, and poverty."

Meanwhile, where are the billions in foreign aid money going?businessofdisaster_haiti_0.jpg

Of the U.S. money, 40 cents on every dollar goes to the U.S. military, according to sources gathered from USAID and the U.N. and compiled by the Associated Press. Less than one cent goes to the Haitian government. U.S. government contracts, paid for by citizen's tax dollars, are being given out to private U.S. corporations for post-earthquake work including damage assessments, security guards, military "mission support," shipping of supplies, clean-up, construction, long-term planning, "monitoring food security," and much more. 

In early March in Miami, corporations gathered for a "Haiti Summit" to discuss post-earthquake contracting possibilities. The meeting was put together by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), whose members are predominantly from the security industry. They include Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater's contract in Iraq. IPOA's director came up with the idea for the "Haiti Summit" in the midst of their recent "Afghanistan Reconstruction Summit."

A few of those who have already received post-earthquake contracts in Haiti include:

*The GEO Group, Inc: Formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the GEO Group is a private prison corporation that contracts with government agencies around the world and relies on the U.S. federal government for about 40% of its contracts. The GEO Group recently received a $260,589 contract for "guard services" from the Department of Homeland Security. GEO Group currently runs 61 facilities worldwide, including the Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operation Center, which serves as a U.S. immigrant detention center. This January GEO agreed to pay more than $40 million to settle a lawsuit concerning a beating death in one of their facilities. In 2007, GEO paid a $200,000 settlement to the family of a woman who alleged that she had been raped and beaten after being locked in a cell block with male inmates.


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Although full details are not available, the newly awarded GEO contract for Haiti mandates, "extend period of performance and add fund for Haiti surge" indicating possible augmentation of their current contract for the Migrant Operations Center. Guantánamo is going to be an enormously valuable asset as we go through this," a spokesman for the State Department recently told reporters regarding U.S. efforts in Haiti.

The U.S. Congress recently granted Haitians who had already been living in the U.S. at the time of the earthquake the opportunity to apply for Temporary Protective Status, allowing them to stay in the U.S. an additional 18 months. The new bill does not protect anyone trying to flee Haiti after the earthquake.

On March 31st the New York Times reported that in the chaos following the earthquake at least 30 survivors were waved onto U.S.-bound planes by Marines. Upon their arrival they were locked up at a detention center in Florida, and they remain in custody more then 2 months later. This detention center is also run by GEO Group on a long-running contract from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Legal advocates have been trying to convince officials to release those detained to family members in the U.S.. Lawyers at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center have said they have received little to no mental health care.

*Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI): DAI received a $50 million contract from USAID a few weeks after the earthquake, according to the Miami Herald. The contract was given through the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives, whose mission is to "support U.S. foreign policy...[providing] assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs." According to the New York Times, DAI works closely with State Department "in disbursing funds around the world." 

The New York Times reported that in Venezuela, USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives used DAI to channel funds it was disbursing to groups critical of the Chavez government throughout 2005 and 2006, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. Earlier this year, a DAI employee working under contract in Cuba was accused by the president of the Cuban National Assembly of working for U.S. intelligence services.  The Washington Post linked the employee to "a controversial democracy-promotion program -- which had ballooned under the Bush administration -- to provide communications equipment to break the Cuban government's ‘information blockade.'"

* Fluor: Fluor received a $50,000 post-earthquake contract to "coordinate base operations and logistics support" for the U.S. military force in Haiti. Fluor is a FORTUNE 200 company which, according to their website, has a "global footprint" in 60 countries. One of their major program areas is "worldwide military support operations" including "logistics, base camp construction, housing, transportation, fuel, meals, laundry, recreation, and other support services." 

Fluor has held contracts for military support in both Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast. USA Today reported that Fluor paid $3.2 million to settle allegations that they padded their bills for clean-up work after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, as well as an $8.5 million settlement in 2001 for charging the government for work done for other clients.

Beverly Bell

Beverly Bell

Beverly Bell is the founder of Other Worlds and more than a dozen international organizations and networks, Beverly is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Beverly has worked for more than three decades as an organizer, advocate, and writer in collaboration with social movements in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S.   She is the author of  "Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance," and "Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti's Divide."

Tory Field

Tory Field is Research and Education Coordinator for Other Worlds. Tory is an organizer living in Massachusetts. She worked for many years as a community organizer with Arise for Social Justice, a multi-issue community justice organization in Springfield, MA. where she now serves on the Board of Directors.


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