In-Depth Reporting from Haiti Brings More Disturbing News

As one of the co-founders of the Sustainable Haiti Coalition, I’ve been feeling guilty lately about how little time I’m able to spend on sustaining our initiatives in Haiti. The demands of the local situation, especially after Hurricane Sandy, and following several financially-disastrous years for many of us, have diminished the hope of leading a group of students on a study tour of Northern Haiti, and many other projects have fallen by the wayside.

There are some bright spots: we’ve supported the Partners Worldwide 100,000 Jobs initiative, which is gaining ground. MTB Ayiti, working with Travelcology, have pulled off the mountain biking event we first cooked up with them in 2011. We’ve also provide support to a group looking to help with growing more bamboo in Haiti, as we originally proposed in early 2012. But in practical terms we’re stymied, which is the problem for many cause-related efforts these days.

Now comes Amy Wilentz’ latest “Letter from Haiti,” in the January 28, 2013 issue of The Nation, and the picture remains bleak for the country. To begin with, there are still more than 350,000 people living in increasingly-squalid camps in an around Port-au-Prince. And the resettlement process itself was done in a way that caused animosity and in many cases inappropriate outcomes.

Moreover, of the money that has flowed into Haiti since the earthquake — of course merely a fraction of what was “promised” — much of it has gone into fundamentally misguided and poorly executed projects, such as the new luxury Royal Oasis hotel, the industrial park at Caracol, and the brand-new University of King Henri Christophe in Limonade.

Wilentz writes of the first of these:

The “five-star” Royal Oasis is a violation of human decency. Not because it’s big and luxurious in a desperately poor country, although it is that: it has 128 rooms, five restaurants, five bars, a conference center, an art gallery and an upscale shopping mall. But the indecent, depraved thing about it is that — amazingly, astoundingly — its construction was financed in part by grants from organizations ostensibly providing post-earthquake reconstruction funds: $7.5 million from the Wrold Bank’s International Finance Corporation wen to the Oasis project, as well as $2 million from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, the recovery group headed by former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The leaders and staff of these organizations should be ashamed of the extent to which they have once again failed the Haitian people.

We know a little about this: we wrote policy papers for these groups, urging them to establish a foundation for sustainable growth through permaculture and community development; and we submitted a proposal to establish sustainable business incubators throughout Haiti. Admittedly, our proposal had some flaws. But they were not damaging to the ecology and the economy, as the $220 million Caracol Industrial Park is likely to be, with its massive giveaways, its location in a sensitive area, and its No. 8 fuel-oil power plant.

Finally, the creation of a new exurban university — competing with one of the same name that has existed since the 1930s in Cap Haitien — is surely to be welcomed, but it has failed to attract sufficient faculty, and the quality and relevance of the programs to Haiti’s needs remains to be seen.

And for the majority of the Haitian people little or nothing has changed. Almost everything is imported, as costs well beyond those that the average Haitian can afford; and 70 per cent of the population remains illiterate, impoverished, and marginalized. The cholera epidemic is ongoing. Much of the topsoil is gone, and the traditional methods of agriculture and fishery lost. There are rumors of gold, silver, and copper to be mined by foreign conglomerates.

What’s remarkable is that many people still have not given up hope, and continue to work every day for a better future for Haiti. We salute these people, and continue to offer the Coalition as a vehicle for bringing sustainable solutions to task of long term ecological, economic, and cultural regeneration of the Haitian nation.

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