December 8, 2010

Pulling Out of Haiti’s Death Spiral

Although the massive 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in January was immediately recognized as a disaster of untold proportion, the simultaneous belief followed that an opportunity had just opened. Ignored by the West despite the hemisphere’s worst living conditions - or more likely ignored because of these conditions - Haiti’s earthquake thrust it back into the spotlight as the international community raced to the island.

But, as many expected while still hoping otherwise, the international community hasn’t capitalized on the emergency to restore a sense of normality to the country. Rather, the strong are doing what they’ve always done in Haiti: exploit the weak.

Depressing as the latest news is, 2011 holds the potential to dip the country into new lows. Roughly 5% of the 25 million tons of rubble has been cleared from Port-au-Prince. Nearly all of the one million displaced remain in squalid camps, both fearful of and irate at the cholera epidemic plaguing the countryside. And while both problems require vast sums of aid and personnel, funds are trickling in at embarrassing levels.

Last week UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly that an emergency appeal for $164 million has only reached 20%. Of the $2.12 billion that international donors (not including humanitarian agencies) pledged to Haiti in 2010, only $897 million of it has been disbursed as of late November, according to the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti.

The $1.15 billion pledged by the U.S. government remains frozen in Congress.

At first the lack of funds appears rational. Like Afghanistan, there’s no use pumping billions into an environment that won’t retain its investments. Except the West’s narrative in Haiti is false to the core. When the earthquake struck, U.S. officials completely ignored Haiti’s history of foreign intervention, so insensitive to this history that they tapped George Bush and Bill Clinton to act as Washington’s public face.

And they were the perfect representatives - two presidents who routinely distorted Haiti’s political and economic system in pursuit of U.S interests. Little surprise, then, that Washington’s humanitarian assistance has lacked direction from the beginning.

However the U.S. government has a clear policy when it comes to Haiti’s democracy. The consensus is that international donors are waiting out a new government, and that more aid will flow into the country once the election’s dust settles. This theory is accurate in a vacuum. Yet some diplomatic officials and analysts are under the impression that Washington wants to replace current president Rene Preval, when the situation indicates the opposite.

One of WikiLeaks’ newest cables, dated June 2009, disclosed that Preval is trying to "orchestrate" a political transition through his hand-picked successor, Jude Celestin. By pushing elections through numerous obstacles, the West also appears bent on putting the democratic process behind it. Haiti is indefinitely unprepared for an election, goes the argument, so there’s no reason to delay. U.S. and UN officials compared Haiti to Afghanistan - as if this analogy provided any real comfort.

Ki-moon would eventually admit, "While some violence and disruptions on election day are not exceptional in Haiti, the irregularities now seem more serious than initially thought.”

The first red flag, and still one of the largest, was the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, chaired in exile by former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The White House ignored pleas from the Democratic majority to include Fanmi Lavalas, all the more revealing by a lack in Republican concern. The common belief in Haiti - which might as well be reality - is that the State Department and U.S. embassy maneuvered to block Aristide's potential return, having been suppressed by Clinton and exiled by Bush. Consequently, Washington and the corporations behind it are thought to be pulling strings on Celestin to ensure a continuation of the Preval government.

Fear has become reality, as Celestin just displaced popular musician Michel Martelly in the final runoff with Mirlande Manigat. Unofficial estimates had Manigat at 30% percent of the vote, Martelly at 25% and Celestin at 20%, leading many locals and observers to foretell chaos in the event of Celestin’s advance. Celestin was officially pegged 1% ahead of Martelly.

"If they don't give us Martelly and Manigat, Haiti will be on fire," said a protester, Erick Jean.

Protests have indeed broken the night, leaving the U.S. embassy no choice except to finally question the results. An e-mailed statement read: "The Government of the United States is concerned by the Provisional Electoral Council's announcement of preliminary results... that are inconsistent with the published results of the National Election Observation Council.”

Haiti is getting the Egyptian treatment over Côte d'Ivoire's.

It’s far past time for the international community to get its act straight in Haiti, but recent events are threatening to generate even more appalling conditions. The situation demands rapid adaptation. As the first of many actions, Washington must intervene if Celestin qualifies for a runoff without the votes - and the UN must act if America refuses to. The reputation and functionality of its despised peacekeeping force inhabits an all-time low, with health officials closing in on UN troops (Nepalese or not) as the cholera source.

Without political and economic progress, the UN force is nothing more than a white elephant. Now would be a good time for the UN to do something useful.

Although cash isn’t likely to come flooding in after a successful election, there is some truth to the expectation. But only if the international community oversees a credible runoff after forcing a corrupt election on Haitians. Otherwise their future is shockingly depressing.

In the absence of true allies, says Ban Ki-moon, "Haiti has no sustainable future, no hope for a better future.”

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