"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."[i]
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.
Some of the advice for how Haiti ought to rebuild after the earthquake sounds hauntingly familiar. There are echoes of the same bad development advice Haiti has received for decades, even before the nation faced its current devastating situation. To avoid repeating past failures, we would be wise to review how previous aid models led down the wrong path.
Twelve years ago, Grassroots International released a study entitled "Feeding Dependency, Starving Democracy: USAID Policies in Haiti." Offering an in-depth examination of USAID development policies in Haiti, the study concluded that official aid actually damaged the very aspects of Haitian society it was allegedly trying to fix. The aid was undermining democracy and creating too much dependency.
"The epicenter is in the ground, therefore there shouldn't be a tsunami," was the navy's response at 5:20 a.m. to President Michelle Bachelet, almost two hours after an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale shook Chile. Ten minutes later, the tsunami alarm that had been issued at 3:55 a.m. was deactivated.1 Before and after that time, several gigantic waves battered the southern coast of Chile. Of the more than 800 deaths, half were caused by the tsunami.
Posted on New America Media
Chile is experiencing a social earthquake in the aftermath of the 8.8 magnitude quake that struck the country on February 27. “The fault lines of the Chilean Economic Miracle have been exposed,” says Elias Padilla, an anthropology professor at the Academic University of Christian Humanism in Santiago. “The free market, neo-liberal economic model that Chile has followed since the Pinochet dictatorship has feet of mud.”
Chile is one of the most inequitable societies in the world. Today, 14 percent of the population lives in abject poverty. The top 20 percent captures 50 percent of the national income, while the bottom 20 percent earns only 5 percent. In a 2005 World Bank survey of 124 countries, Chile ranked twelfth in the list of countries with the worst distribution of income.
Yesterday was the Oscars. Last year's Best Actor Sean Penn made the morning's headlines, donating a million dollars to Haiti's relief / reconstruction effort. Collectively U.S. citizens have donated $1 billion so far. Two questions arise: one, which I and many others have asked numerous times, where is this money being spent, how, and what plan? A second, related question is where Haiti will get the funds for the rest of the effort conservatively estimated at $16 billion.
Private charitable donations can only go so far. Where is the rest of the reconstruction coming from? What is the plan of these other actors? Generally speaking there are two sets of actors: the "public sector" and the "private sector." I put both in quotes because there is considerable slippage between governments and private, for-profit investors or companies, in the U.S. as in Haiti. Both sets of actors have a planning conference coming up, one in Miami and the other in New York.
Last week started with a conference in Montreal, called by a group of governments and international agencies calling themselves Friends of Haiti, to discuss the long and short term needs of the recently devastated Caribbean nation. Even as corpses remained under the earthquake's rubble and the government operated out of a police station, the assembled "friends" would not commit to cancelling Haiti's $1bn debt. Instead they agreed to a 10-year plan with no details, and a commitment to meet again – when the bodies have been buried along with coverage of the country – sometime in the future.
A few days later in Washington, Timothy Geithner, the US treasury secretary, came before the house oversight committee to explain why he paid top dollar for $85bn worth of toxic assets when he bailed out the insurance company AIG. Geithner said he was faced with a "tragic choice". "The moral, fair and just choice is to protect the innocent," he said.