solidarity in haiti

November 7, 2010

With the arrival of Hurricane Tomas, I think we've all started to wonder about Haiti. AOL contributor Emily Troutman wrote the following, today:

She listed a series of disasters: First the poverty, then the earthquake, then the cholera, now hurricanes." She finishes with an ironic, "Just waiting on the locusts, etc."

But are we?

Sometimes it feels like it.

It's got me wondering - is Haiti fading out again, and if so - why?

I believe that Troutman hit the nail on the head, this weekend. I think the question, for years, has been whether or not Haiti can change. The United States asked whether it was worth a continued operation. The U.N. continues to report over and over again, that it is going to extend it's stay in Haiti.

Even the sexy, aid-enamored Obama administration is questioning aid to Haiti. According to Troutman:"The U.S. government hasn't yet given its share of the $5.3 billion the world promised Haiti at the United Nations in February. As The Associated Press reported, bureaucratic hurdles in Congress are stalling an effort to give $1.15 billion. The State Department would like to further analyze the situation, to ensure the money isn't squandered by corruption.

But ordinary Americans have already contributed hundreds of millions of dollars for the humanitarian response effort. And Haiti has long been a recipient of international aid. Many were shocked this week, to see how ill-prepared the country was for another disaster."

In July, CNN started discussing why it seemed Haiti's aid wasn't making a difference. Sean Penn commented that he thought Haiti was losing it's romance. In the same interview, he noted that, "Haiti's government has nothing to be corrupt with."

So what does this mean?

In truth, I think it means that even $5.3 billion isn't going to help, unless it goes to into something sustainable.

Troutman reported the stories of several locals that feel that foreign aid has failed them. Among them was George Wensy, 20, and a man who proves my point.

"They need to do something for us. They need to create jobs," Wensy said. "I've never worked a day in my life. I feel uncomfortable about it. I can't help my family. I do nothing all day. I brush my teeth in the morning and sit down here with friends."

In May, Scott Weinstein of the Winnipeg Haiti Action Group said he feels that charity alone is not enough. And, perhaps, judging by the stories of Haitians like Wensy, he has a point. "I hope to show that there is an option to provide ethical, solidarity aid as opposed to the more common charity aid," Weinsten writes.

He listed several reasons that aid in Haiti hasn't, in fact, been used to it's full potential:

  • Most of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on Haiti in the first month after the earthquake was spent outside of Haiti, including salaries to non-Haitians
  • Donated medical supplies for Haiti either enriched the foreign manufacturers who sold them, or they got a tax break for donating them.
  • The doctors and nurses paid by organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders were from North America or Europe. They provided essential health aid to Haiti BUT their mission does not extend to helping Haiti build a sustainable health
  • The Quebec government will spend millions of dollars on Haiti reconstruction projects -- but that money will go to Quebec, not Haitian, construction firms.
  • The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is spending millions to build healthcare and education infrastructure, and helping the government re-establish itself. Why, that looks like exactly what we are advocating, so what's the problem? Well, this is the same Canadian government that previously helped overthrow the Aristide government that was attempting to do the same. The 2004 coup installed a government more beholden to the neo-liberal policies of the Western nations. So this CIDA aid package is a total contradiction to what Canada's real Haiti policy is -- and at best propaganda. CIDA is not providing credit to Haitian businesses or farmers to produce sustainable products and food.
  • Foreign investments are setting up foreign-owned sweatshops in Haiti, not sustainable local enterprises.

Weinstein advocates for solidarity, rather than just charity. He gives several examples here, underneath the heading, "Solidarity aid Defined."

His guidelines for supporting humanitarian organizations include NGOs that:

  • Spend money in the places they operate in.
  • Have an organizational plan that is democratically decided by the affected people.
  • Have a plan to work themselves out of their job by training local people to acquire the skills needed to take over the local organization.

Seven founder Michael Fairbanks similarly reported, "Even though humanitarian aid helped to lift the country out of crisis, it will never create prosperity for the average person."

Perhaps, if we were to reconsider where aid to Haiti is going, Troutman would be reporting an entirely different story.

photo via Emily Troutman.