One Year After Haiti Earthquake, Corporations Profit While People Suffer

One year after an earthquake devastated Haiti, much of the promised
relief and reconstruction aid has not reached those most in need. In
fact, the nation's tragedy has served as an opportunity to further
enrich corporate interests.

The details of a recent lawsuit, as reported by Business Week,
highlights the ways in which contractors - including some of the same
players who profited from Hurricane Katrina-related reconstruction -
have continued to use their political connections to gain profits from
others' suffering, receiving contacts worth tens of millions of dollars
while the Haitian people receive pennies at best. It also demonstrates
ways in which charity and development efforts have mirrored and
contributed to corporate abuses.

Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International
Development (US AID) was named US special coordinator for relief and
reconstruction after the earthquake. He worked this job for a few
months, then immediately moved to the private sector, where he could
sell his contacts and connections to the highest bidder. He quickly got a
$30,000-a-month (plus bonuses) contract with the Haiti Recovery Group
(HRG).

HRG had been founded by Ashbritt, Inc., a Florida-based contractor
who had received acres of bad press for their post-Katrina contracting.
Ashbritt's partner in HRG is Gilbert Bigio, a wealthy Haitian
businessman with close ties to the Israeli military. Bigio made a
fortune during the corrupt Duvalier regime, and was a supporter of the
right wing coup against Haitian president Aristide.

Although Lucke received $60,000 for two months work, he is suing
because he says he is owed an additional $500,000 for the more than
20-million dollars in contracts he helped HRG obtain during that time.

As
Corpwatch has reported, AshBritt "has enjoyed meteoric growth since it
won its first big debris removal subcontract from none other than
Halliburton, to help clean up after Hurricane Andrew in 1992." In 1999,
the company also faced allegations of double billing for $765,000 from
the Broward County, Florida school board for clean-up done in the
aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

Ashbritt CEO Randal Perkins is a major donor to Republican causes,
and hired Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's firm, as well as former
US Army Corp Of Engineers official Mike Parker, as lobbyists. As a
reward for his political connections, Ashbritt won 900 million dollars
in Post-Katrina contracts, helping them to become the poster child for
political corruption in the world of disaster profiteering, even
triggering a congressional investigation focusing on their buying of
influence. MSNBC reported in early 2006 that criticism of Ashbritt "can
be heard in virtually every coastal community between Alabama and
Texas."

The contracts given to Bush cronies like Ashbritt resulted in local
and minority-owned companies losing out on reconstruction work. As
Multinational Monitor noted shortly after Katrina, "by turning the
contracting process over to prime contractors like Ashbritt, the Corps
and FEMA have effectively privatized the enforcement of Federal
Acquisition Regulations and disaster relief laws such as the Stafford
Act, which require contracting officials to prioritize local businesses
and give 5 percent of contracts to minority-owned businesses. As a
result...early reports suggest that over 90 percent of the $2 billion in
initial contracts was awarded to companies based outside of the three
primary affected states, and that minority businesses received just 1.5
percent of the first $1.6 billion."

Alex Dupuy, writing in The Washington Post, reported a similar
pattern in Haiti, noting that "of the more than 1,500 US contracts doled
out worth $267 million, only 20, worth $4.3 million, have gone to
Haitian firms. The rest have gone to US firms, which almost exclusively
use US suppliers. Although these foreign contractors employ Haitians,
mostly on a cash-for-work basis, the bulk of the money and profits are
reinvested in the United States." The same article notes that "less than
10 percent of the $9 billion pledged by foreign donors has been
delivered, and not all of that money has been spent. Other than
rebuilding the international airport and clearing the principal urban
arteries of rubble, no major infrastructure rebuilding - roads, ports,
housing, communications - has begun."

The disaster profiteering exemplified by Ashbritt is not just the
result of quick decision-making in the midst of a crisis. These
contracts are awarded as part of a corporate agenda that sees disaster
as an opportunity, and as a tool for furthering policies that would not
be possible in other times. Naomi Klein exposed evidence that within 24
hours of the earthquake, the influential right-wing think tank the
Heritage Foundation was already laying plans to use the disaster as an
attempt at further privatization of the country's economy.

Relief and recovery efforts, led by the US military, have also brought a further
militarization of relief and criminalization of survivors. Haiti and Katrina also served as
staging grounds for increased involvement of mercenaries in
reconstruction efforts. As one Blackwater mercenary told Scahill when he
visited New Orleans in the days after Katrina, "This is a trend. You're
going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations."

And
it's not just corporations who have been guilty of profiting from
Haitian suffering. A recent report from the Disaster Accountability
Project (DAP) describes a "significant lack of transparency in the
disaster-relief/aid community," and finds that many relief organizations
have left donations for Haiti in their bank accounts, earning interest
rather than helping the people of Haiti. DAP director Ben Smilowitz
notes that "the fact that nearly half of the donated dollars still sit
in the bank accounts of relief and aid groups does not match the urgency
of their own fundraising and marketing efforts and donors' intentions,
nor does it covey the urgency of the situation on the ground."

Haitian poet and human rights lawyer Ezili Danto has written,
"Haiti's poverty began with a US/Euro trade embargo after its
independence, continued with the Independence Debt to France and
ecclesiastical and financial colonialism. Moreover, in more recent
times, the uses of US foreign aid, as administered through USAID in
Haiti, basically serves to fuel conflicts and covertly promote US
corporate interests to the detriment of democracy and Haitian health,
liberty, sovereignty, social justice and political freedoms. USAID
projects have been at the frontlines of orchestrating undemocratic
behavior, bringing underdevelopment, coup d'etat, impunity of the
Haitian Oligarchy, indefinite incarceration of dissenters, and
destroying Haiti's food sovereignty essentially promoting famine."

Since before the earthquake, Haiti has been a victim of many of
those who have claimed they are there to help. Until we address this
fundamental issue of corporate profiteering masquerading as aid and
development, the nation will remain mired in poverty. And future
disasters, wherever they occur, will lead to similar injustices.