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

Perhaps this is the way it is now in the age of Obama, where the words sound terrifi c, but reality is something else entirely. Talk of peace means more war. Talk of reigning in medical insurance companies means making mandatory payments to them. Talk of dismantling the Bush/Cheney security apparatus means more arrests, more surveillance and new prisons. So in Haiti, people are trying to decipher what is the difference between words and reality coming from President René Préval, his prime minister, and a host of foreign offi cials.

In recent weeks, Préval and other Haitian offi cials have made pointed statements complaining about being sidelined, ignored or bullied by foreign governments and so-called “non-governmental” organizations (NGOs) coming to “help” Haiti.

“Leaders including Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive are not happy with the way the aid money is being delivered,” reported the AP’s Jonathon Katz on Mar. 5. “‘The NGOs don’t tell us ... where the money’s coming from or how they’re spending it,’ he told The Associated Press. ‘Too many people are raising money without any controls, and don’t explain what they’re doing with it.’”

A few days earlier, Préval had called on the U.S. to “stop sending food aid so that our economy can recover and create jobs,” alluding to how Haitian farmers are ruined when their produce is undercut by free or low-cost surplus grains dumped on Haiti as a “gift from the people of the United States,” as many USAID-packaged food sacks read.

These comments came after Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, as the acting president of the South American alliance UNASUR, declared on Jan. 30 in Port-au- Prince: “There is a lot of imperialism among the donors. They donate fi rst, but most of it goes back to them.” Préval stood smiling at his side.

All of these remarks depart from Washington’s script. Préval may not be a threat like Venezuela’s Chavez or Bolivia’s Morales, but he appears to be acting up. The U.S. response, to both bring Préval back into line and to neutralize his timid bid to “lead” Haiti’s reconstruction efforts, has been to accuse Préval government of being to corrupt

On Mar. 11, just one day after Préval traveled to Washington to meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the State Department issued its 2009 Human Rights Report, where Préval’s government received rather poor marks, including “failure to hold timely parliamentary elections, alleged unlawful killings by HNP offi cers, HNP participation in kidnappings, overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons, arbitrary threats and arrests, prolonged pretrial detention, an ineffi cient judiciary subject to signifi cant infl uence by the executive and legislative branches, severe corruption in all branches of government, violence and societal discrimination against women, child abuse, human traffi cking, and ineffective enforcement of worker rights.”

Préval justly retorted that the report was “arrogant,” but the part that really bugged him was the bit about “severe corruption in all branches of government.”

“I don’t pretend that there is no corruption in Haiti,” he responded peevishly, “but I don’t accept that they say that it is the government, that is the executive, the chief of state, the prime ministers, the ministers who are corrupt.”

To conclude, Préval pointed to his good conduct in following foreign economic dictates: “Either the international community and the fi nancial institutions don’t know what their doing or else they are complicit with the Haitian government when they decide to reward Haiti with debt relief” for its “responsible” austerity measures of cutting state jobs and privatizing state enterprises. Furthermore, Préval, a former agronomist, said he wants to see most reconstruction aid go to rebuilding the infrastructure for reinvigorating Haitian agriculture, which has dramatically shriveled over the past two decades of neoliberal assault. However, people like Guatemalan diplomat Edmund Mulet, the acting head of the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), has pooh-poohed such notions. Mulet has insisted that emphasis must be put on building assembly industry sweatshops around Haiti where U.S. manufacturers can take advantage of Haiti’s $3 a day minimum wage. (Once again, Préval may feel betrayed because he took the political hit for vetoing the $5 daily minimum wage and ramming through the $3 one.)

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