April 2017        

Haiti’s Hibernian haven

Robert Navan

Reflecting on his country and its problems, the nineteenth-century Mexican president Porfirio Díaz is credited with the remark “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.”
     Haiti is certainly suffering from the latter part of this curse, particularly in the last few decades. Throw in the not-so-benign “assistance” of the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States, and earthquakes seem like the least of Haiti’s problems.
     Haiti won its independence in 1804 after defeating Napoleon’s armies, establishing the world’s first black republic. In 1825 the French king, Charles X, demanded that Haiti pay an “independence debt” to compensate the former colonists for the slaves who had won their freedom. With warships stationed along the coast to back its demand, France insisted that Haiti pay its former coloniser 150 million gold francs—ten times the fledgling state’s total annual revenue. It took Haiti until 1947 to pay off this debt and its associated interest.
     The US-backed Duvaliers, father (Papa Doc) and son (Baby Doc), ruled Haiti continuously from 1957 to 1981. Their brutality shocked even their American sponsors. Baby Doc fled Haiti in a US Air Force plane in 1985 following a rebellion. Since then the United States has interfered in every election in Haiti, even to the extent of supporting the coup that overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president.
     Following pressure from the United States, Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s largest political party and a supporter of Aristide, was illegally excluded from the country’s Senate elections in 2009. Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State—despite warnings from forty-five members of the US Congress—supported what were generally seen as illegal and flawed presidential and general elections in Haiti in 2010.
     In 2010 UN peacekeeping troops from Nepal introduced cholera to Haiti, leading to the death of more than 6,000 people and the infecting of 440,000 more in a mere ten months. More than two hundred UN soldiers in Haiti have been withdrawn to their home countries following allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct, mainly involving under-age girls. A UN investigation found that, “in exchange for sex, the children received small amounts of money, food, and sometimes mobile phones.”
     The UN mission in Haiti has absolutely no legitimacy and is purely there at the behest of the United States, after the Bush government orchestrated a coup in 2004 against Haiti’s democratically elected president.
     Then there is American “assistance” to Haiti. Wikileaks has revealed that in 2008 a former US ambassador to Haiti, Janet Sanderson, described the UN mission as “an indispensable tool in realizing core US government policy interests in Haiti.”
     The Clintons, Bill and Hillary, are examples of US “interests” in Haiti. Bill Clinton has served as UN special envoy for Haiti since 2009. Hillary Clinton’s involvement began before the 2010 earthquake, and the country soon became the centrepiece of State Department policy under her leadership. In 2009 she worked with the Haitian elite and American transnationals, such as Hanes and Levi, to block an increase in the legal minimum wage (from 27 to 61 cents an hour) which had been passed by the Haitian parliament. She succeeded, using pressure from the US State Department on the Haitian government, in lowering the rate to 31 cents an hour.
     An early Clinton “initiative” was the building of a factory to produce sweatshirts. An investigation by the American television channel ABC News found that this factory—paying its workers a wage of $3 a day—was built with $400 million of global aid. It is owned by a South Korean firm that became a donor to the Clinton Foundation.
     After the 2010 earthquake $13.3 billion (£10.9 billion) was pledged by international donors for Haiti’s recovery. Bill Clinton was appointed joint chairman of the “Interim Haiti Recovery Commission,” along with the Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive. Nearly 90 per cent of the money collected went to organisations outside Haiti; the bulk of it went to UN agencies, international aid groups, private contractors, and donor countries’ own civilian and military agencies.
     Associated Press documented in January 2010 the fact that 33 cents of each American dollar for Haiti was in fact given directly back to the United States as reimbursement for the US military sent to Haiti. The country was actually invoiced for American soldiers sent to hand out bottled water and keep order on the streets of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. The Associated Press report found that less than 1 cent out of each dollar of American aid went to the government of Haiti.
     Up to 2015 Haitians were still protesting outside the offices of the Clinton Foundation in New York, claiming that the Clintons mismanaged hundreds of millions in American taxpayers’ money through the “Reconstruction Commission.” A close friend of the Clintons, the Irish businessman Denis O’Brien, has chaired the Haiti Action Network since 2009. This organisation is connected to the Clinton Global Initiative.
     The American Red Cross is also in the dock over Haiti. In 2011 it received half a billion dollars in donations for building new houses in one of Haiti’s poorest areas. This area, called Campeche, was one of the worst-hit by the earthquake. As late as 2015 not one permanent dwelling had been built. Up to today only six permanent houses have been identified as built by Red Cross money; but $125 million has disappeared in Red Cross expenses.
     Haiti, in spite of (or maybe because of) this American and European “assistance,” remains one of the poorest countries in the world. There are only ninety miles of sea between Cuba and Haiti, but the countries are a million miles apart as far as health, education and living standards are concerned. Haiti remains one of the strongest arguments against Cuba adopting a western-imposed development model.
     In a piece of irony worthy of Jonathan Swift, an organisation in Ireland called Haven organises a Haiti Week. Ireland’s “great and good” get to flash their wealth at “charitable” events such as the Gala Concert, held this year in the Dublin Convention Centre. A highlight of the week is the Haiti Ball, held this year on 21 January in the Intercontinental Hotel. To quote their publicity for the event, “a standout moment of each year’s event comes with the presentation of the William Jefferson Clinton Goodwill for Haiti Award.”
     Haven describes itself as an Irish NGO that is committed to empowering the people of Haiti to build a strong and sustainable livelihood. One might ask who has been most empowered. Was it ordinary Haitians, or the not-so-ordinary Clintons?

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