Amid Offi cial Mea Culpas:
Port-au-Prince and Washington Tussle Over Reconstruction Leadership
By: Kim Ives

In recent days, the U.S. mainstream press, spoon fed by White House handlers, has berated the Haitian government for foot dragging on setting up new sites to relocate the 1.2 million people living in about 460 “spontaneous” camps in Port-au-Prince, Gressier and Léogane. The battle here is for control Haiti’s reconstruction, which could net quasi-offi cial Pentagon-linked contractors like Halliburton, Dyncorp, and Brown & Root billions of dollars. When Haitian offi cials say they want to guide Haiti’s reconstruction, they are getting in the way. They don’t know what’s good for them.

But, again, this is the Obama age. So there is plenty of dissimulating going on. Let’s take Mulet for instance. He and others have noted how weak the Préval government is. But Haitian offi cials have pointed out that Washington and the UN have sabotaged the Haitian state for decades, and, again according to the AP, “the top U.N. offi cial in Haiti said the country’s leaders are right: For half a century, the international community has kept Haiti’s government weak and unable to deal with disaster by ignoring offi cials and working with outside organizations.”We complain because the government is not able to (lead), but we are partly responsible for that,” said [...] Mulet. Worse, the patchwork of roughly 900 foreign and thousands more Haiti-based NGOs do not coordinate, take on too many roles and swarm well-known neighborhoods while leaving others untouched — doing what Mulet called ‘little things with little impact.’”

But really the prize for dissimulation has to go to the pioneer of the modern political double-speak, Bill Clinton. As the AP again notes, Clinton “publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti’s rice production. Clinton in the mid-1990s encouraged the impoverished country to dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice. ‘It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,’ Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10. ‘I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.’”

Despite this soul-baring, Clinton is still peddling factories, not fi elds. Playing a role similar to that of Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, the radical French commissioner sent to oversee the rebellious French colony of St. Domingue, Clinton has been very careful to posture as a servant of Haitian authorities rather than a proconsul. So, during his Mar. 22 visit to Haiti with former President George W. Bush, Clinton payed lip-service to “revitalizing Haitian agriculture,” but the centerpiece of his Haitian recovery strategy is the HOPE II legislation, that will make it easier for US companies to assemble and export products from Haiti tax free. Clinton claimed the HOPE II will generate 100,000 new jobs in the medium term future. This was the same promise made and strategy used 30 years ago when Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was Haiti’s President for Life.

“Many of us believe that immigration reduces the number of jobs available for U.S. citizens, while the same people often swallow the idea that building new industrial parks in Port-au-Prince will magically create jobs for Haitians,” explained long-time activist journalist David L. Wilson in an article in the Monthly Review’s March edition debunking the “sweatshop path to development” myth. “The reality is exactly the opposite. If Haitian immigrants were stitching garments in New York or Los Angeles at jobs with standard wage rates, they and their dependents would be able to pay for decent housing and staples like food and clothing. This would stimulate job creation, and the new jobs would make up for the jobs the immigrants had taken -- as in fact happened in the past when the United States produced its own apparel in union shops. But if the same Haitians work in assembly plants in Port-au-Prince or in the FTZ near the Dominican border in Ouanaminthe, they have to accept wages at about one-twentieth the rate they would get in the United States. These workers are barely able to scrape by; their spending can do little to stimulate job creation either in Haiti or in the region as a whole.

In short, Préval’s new-found courage and squeaks of protest are unlikely to develop into any signifi - cant resistance. However, he may pay consequences if he doesn’t match his words with actions. This past week the National Network of Multiplying Organs of the Lavalas Family (RONMFL) issued a statement calling for Préval and Bellerive to step down and be replaced by a provisional state council representing all national sectors. The group also called for a new provisional electoral council. Thus Préval is feeling heat from both above and below. The weeks ahead will tell with which camp he will seek refuge: Washington or the Haitian people.

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Haïti Liberté  Vol. 3 No. 36 • Du 24 au 30 mars 2010