Event Announcement: Haiti Human Rights Reformer to MN

March 30, 2012

Haiti’s central challenges revolve around rights violations. On one level, political and business elites abuse the rights of Haiti’s poor majority. On another, the international community routinely ignores Haiti’s rights as a sovereign state. These mutually reinforcing dynamics have consistently exacerbated poverty and inequality in the country.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) is at the forefront of the fight to help Haitians exercise their rights in pursuit of a better future. It is thus with great pleasure that the Haiti Justice Alliance will host Brian Concannon, director of IJDH, from Apr. 10-12 for a series of exciting events in Minnesota.

This post introduces IJDH’s work on several rights-related issues, highlighting the unique virtues of their approach. Also included is the event schedule for Mr. Concannon’s visit.

The UN’s Cholera Crimes

Most prominent in the headlines of late is IJDH’s joint campaign with its Haitian affiliate, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), to sue the UN on behalf of cholera victims.

The UN mission in Haiti (known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH) failed to properly screen its peacekeepers from Nepal, where an active cholera outbreak was taking place, before sending them to Haiti. Subsequently, it failed to properly dispose of waste from the Nepalese peacekeepers’ camp, allowing fecal matter (which spreads cholera) to be dumped into Haiti’s longest and most important river, the Artibonite.

The UN argues that what “really caused” the outbreak was lack of sanitation, even as it acknowledges a UN soldier introduced the disease. With this defense, it seeks to dodge responsibility for its actions.

However, buying this argument requires a bit of amnesia. Prior to the cholera outbreak, the UN urged foreign actors to exercise additional caution given Haiti’s post-quake vulnerability. Now they’ve changed their tune, using an argument that boils down to: “Haiti’s vulnerability means we’re off the hook no matter how much damage we did.”

In this instance, the damage amounts to more than 7,000 reported deaths and half a million infections, making Haiti home to the world’s largest cholera outbreak. As does any victim of gross, criminal negligence, the people of Haiti deserve compensation. Or at the very least, they have the right to a fair hearing about whether such compensation is merited.

IJDH-BAI is spearheading the effort to overcome UN stonewalling, and provide Haitian cholera victims with a path to justice. If successful, this lawsuit will be the first time the UN itself has been held legally accountable for its actions in a fragile state.

At their core, UN abuses in Haiti (which also include pervasive sexual assault and extra-judicial killings) return to issues of sovereignty. MINUSTAH only came to be under the repressive US-imposed interim regime that followed the 2004 US-backed coup against Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Thus, on one level, the UN cholera lawsuit reasserts Haiti’s sovereign rights in the face of foreign oppression enacted by a peacekeeping force the people of Haiti don’t want in their country in the first place. Mr. Concannon is one of the primary driving forces behind this unique and complex international human rights law case.

Rights of Victims, Rights of the Imprisoned: Holistic Judicial Reform

Through his work with IJDH and BAI, Mr. Concannon is also deeply involved in reforming the judicial system in Haiti. Two examples: improving access to legal services for survivors of sexual assault, and ending the backlog of inmates who have been imprisoned without so much as being formally charged.

The IJDH-BAI approach is a model of grassroots community engagement. In contrast to the top-down methods used by many foreign actors, IJDH-BAI use a “victim-centered approach,” which “com­bines tra­di­tional legal strate­gies with empow­er­ment of vic­tims’ orga­ni­za­tions and polit­i­cal advo­cacy.”

As such, Mr. Concannon is not just an international law expert and an accomplished judicial reformer. He’s also a pioneer when it comes to using law for the direct empowerment of citizens. By helping the people of Haiti exercise their own rights, Mr. Concannon’s work has a lasting impact that overcomes the political vicissitudes of individual institutional reforms.

 

Join Us To Learn From Brian Concannon’s Expertise and Experiences

This introduction only just begins to capture the scope of Mr. Concannon’s work through IJDH and BAI. Other efforts include a high-profile case to prosecute Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former dictator of Haiti, as well as work to secure housing rights for those displaced after the earthquake.

Mr. Concannon’s full schedule of public events can be found by clicking here. Additionally, we will be screening a compelling new documentary that provides background about the effect of the cholera outbreak. This film will air at Carleton on Mon, Apr. 2 at 7:00 PM in the Weitz Center and at St. Olaf on Tue, Apr. 3 at 7:00 PM in Viking Theater.


The Anniversary of President Aristide’s Overthrow

February 29, 2012

This is a personal reflection from Paul Miller, the director of the Haiti Justice Alliance.

President Jean Bertrand Aristide

I remember very well where I was when I learned that President Aristide had left Haiti in the early morning hours of February 29, 2004.  It was my “where were you when you heard JFK was shot” moment, although I have that memory, too.  It was at Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, Minnesota and my friend, who had traveled with me to Haiti in December of 2003, 3 months earlier, informed me that news reports were saying that Aristide had left Haiti.  “Left Haiti?  No way,” was my first thought. I didn’t think that Aristide would ever abdicate his presidential term in Haiti by his own choice after the 1991 coup against him and his 1994 return. Stunned and devastated would accurately describe how I received this most depressing news.

The facts would come to show that my instincts were right.  President Aristide had no intention of leaving Haiti on that night or on any night during the remaining time of his presidency.  Clearly he did not leave that night of his own volition.  You can choose to believe whatever you want to believe about US actions on this or any other given day.  However, if you choose to value the truth, then you must accept that the facts show that Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed by US force/s as yet another coup d’état took place in Haiti.  The only evidence offered of an alternative scenario are self-serving statements from those at the top of our government, chiefly George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the sycophantic Colin Powell.

It’s not ancient history, like a lot of our nefarious actions towards Haiti.  It was 8 years ago.  Monday it was announced that President Aristide is being investigated for drug violations. Our hypocrisy really knows no bounds.  What a coincidence that once again we are asked to question Aristide’s integrity and ethics rather than to be reminded that a US-sponsored coup undermined Haiti’s hope for democracy and stability on this day, 8 short years ago.


MINUSTAH’s Deadly Denials

February 16, 2012

…Violent abuses are MINUSTAH’s (the UN Haiti Mission’s) basic modi operandi for protecting US & other Western economic interests by targeting poor Haitians…

-Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A UN Security Council delegation is currently in Haiti to “review its mandate” and “evaluate” its efforts in the country. At the conclusion of this 4-day trip, the delegation will report on its findings. Given that the UN formally denies responsibility for the cholera outbreak ravaging the country, it won’t tally the 7,000 cholera deaths as part of its impact.

In light of this, it’s tempting to review yet again the “mountain of evidence” proving the UN’s fault for the outbreak. But there’s no need. The only remaining question about UN culpability is not whether they’re to blame for introducing cholera to Haiti, but whether the tools of international law will work on behalf of justice or on behalf of the powerful.

Instead, this post provides historical context for evaluating MINUSTAH’s public statements about the ongoing cholera crisis. Specifically, we compare similar public statements about a previous scandal to internal documents that only came to light years after the fact.

For those who aren’t familiar with the UN Mission’s history in Haiti, this post will show that MINUSTAH has used public denials not just to deflect responsibility, but to provide cover for continuing its “violent abuses.”

Read the rest of this entry »


The Caracol Industrial Park: A Misguided Approach To Economic Development

December 8, 2011

The big Haiti news last week was all about the Invest in Haiti forum. Predictably, chatter about the event has segmented into two camps. On one side are business enthusiasts who see the forum – and the headline-grabbing business park being built in Caracol – as a sure source of jobs and growth. On the other are those concerned with social justice, who point out that textile manufacturing in Haiti has historically been plagued by wage and union suppression.

Construction begins on a new industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.

For the most part, these groups aren’t in dialogue with one another because they focus on different factors. The pro-investment group – Bill Clinton, President Martelly, and Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe – don’t discuss worker’s rights and distributive justice issues.

Rather, they assume that “growing the economic pie” is sufficient for now: if problems exist with how the pie is divided, those can be addressed later. Meanwhile, those who do focus on justice issues continue to point out (rightly) the historical pattern of industry and investment only benefiting a few is clear.

In this piece, we take a different approach to critiquing the industrial development vision represented by the Invest in Haiti forum. The stated goal of those supporting the industrial park in Caracol, as reflected by Bill Clinton’s quote (see below), is to create jobs that will lead to economic growth and development.

“We are here to build a modern economy… and in the process, give Haitians the means to build a modern state.” – Bill Clinton, Nov 30, 2011

The question behind this post is: even if the distributional and justice-related concerns are ignored for the time being, does the vision they’ve outlined stand up to macro-economic scrutiny? The answer is, unfortunately, a resounding “no.” The remainder of this post explores the macro-economic reasons why this is the case.

 

Building a Modern Economy?

Backward and Forward Linkages

This unwieldy macro-economic term actually describes a simple concept, best illustrated by example. The ultimate case study of successful backward and forward linkages is the tire industry in Brazil (PDF). The production of tires in Brazil was a huge boon to rubber plantations (backward linkage). Eventually, Brazil’s status as a tire manufacturer attracted auto manufacturers (forward linkage), and the three industries grew together – resulting in huge growth rates in Brazil.

So what are the prospects for linkages in Haiti?  Again, Bill Clinton’s speech is instructive on this point:

 

I want to say a special word of thanks to Sae-A and to Chairman Kim for… not only bringing 20,000 jobs to Haiti. But… there were once 100,000 people assembling clothes in Haiti, but they never even had their own textile mill. They’ll have their own textile mill for the first time now. – Bill Clinton, Nov 30, 2011

 

The fact that Haiti will now have a textile mill differentiates this round of investment from past textile manufacturing efforts. That’s because previously, Haiti had to rely on imported textile materials for assembly and immediate re-export. In other words, the mill opens up the possibility for a backward linkage with cotton growers. However, this would first require revitalizing Haiti’s cotton production, which peaked before the reign of the Duvaliers and has fallen steadily since.

As for forward linkages, there’s not much on the horizon. A 2008 Overseas Development Institute paper entitled, “The Role of Textile and Clothing Industries in Growth and Development Strategies” (PDF) only discusses backward linkages, with one exception. They vaguely suggest that “business support systems” that develop around the garment industry “may facilitate the transition into higher value added activities.” In other words, unlike with tires, clothing doesn’t lead to anything of higher value – which is traditionally how emerging industries spark growth – except for by fostering business culture.

Integration into Global Value Chains

The global value chain is, quite simply, the chain of economic relationships that constitute a production process. On one end of the value chain is a cotton grower; on the other, a person wearing a finished clothing product.

It’s important to consider “integration” into these chains because there’s lots of research suggesting global value chains are “sticky.” That is, once buyers and sellers at different links in the chain develop relationships, they’re not prone to go shopping around for new relationships to replace them. This phenomenon is described by a recent World Bank paper entitled, “Clothing and Export Diversification: Still a Route to Growth for Low Income Countries?” (PDF):

These chains initially emerged in the clothing sector in the 1950s and 1960s as buyers in developed countries contracted out production to low-wage developing countries. Over the past 4 decades these chains have matured and the sourcing networks have spread over a large number of countries… The mature global chains of today restrict the opportunities that the clothing sector offers developing countries for diversification and growth.

In other words, prospects are at best uncertain that Haiti can capture a larger share of textile value chains than it currently commands. While favorable trade preference arrangements may assist Haiti in the short-term gain access to US markets, even that isn’t a sure bet. In the past, duty-free and other tax-exempt statuses haven’t been adequate to lure many manufacturers to Haiti.

 

Realistic Expectations for the Industrial Park

This is not going to modernize Haiti’s economy. Without forward linkages, there’s no real prospect for diversifying into higher-value sectors. But even if it’s unlikely for Haiti to break into established global value chains, it already has a place in several in the textile industry. Therefore, enhancing the sector could have a positive welfare effect – if the benefits are distributed in an equitable fashion. And this, of course, brings us back to the political factors discussed earlier.

 

A Better Economic Model?

There are, however, other models. Costa Rica, for instance, is one case of a small island nation that achieved a foothold in a higher-value industry despite its low-income status. That transition is described in the paper, “Costa Rica’s Development Strategy Based on Human Capital and Technology: How It Got There, the Impact of Intel, and Lessons for Other Countries” (PDF).

The point isn’t to suggest that this is the right model for Haiti. Rather, the point is that there are models besides from the low-wage, textile-driven development envisioned by Martelly and Clinton, which has a proven track record of failure.

Photo Credit: Flickr/USAID_Images


Words vs. Action in US Haiti Policy

September 14, 2011

This guest post from our director, Paul Miller, builds on an important idea we’ve discussed before: that there’s a large disconnect between US policy toward Haiti and the statements of US policymakers. Paul writes passionately and persuasively about the consequences on this disconnect, and about the policies that HJA supports instead. 

The US aid model, which is subservient to US foreign policy goals, is not designed to strengthen Haiti’s governance or even to provide economic stability to Haiti.  Hand-wringing aside, US foreign aid – by design or by default – perpetuates a system of dependency that is exacerbated by the United States’ intentional undermining of democratic movements. The majority of large NGOs in Haiti contribute to this cycle (see Hallward, Damming the Flood).

The Haiti Justice Alliance (HJA) attempts to enlighten the Cheryl Mills of the world to the irony of their egocentric questions given the reality of their position of dominance.  While Hillary Clinton’s denunciation of Haiti’s government response to the earthquake is ridiculous, it nonetheless persists in the minds of the American public.  Her words perpetuate the sense that Haiti cannot function because of its corrupt government – and, by inference, its inept population.

Hillary Clinton at a press conference with President Martelly

Read the rest of this entry »


USAID’s Assault on Haitian Agriculture

June 21, 2011

The US Agency for International Development unveiled the “WINNER” Program¹ in October of 2009, 3 months before the earthquake. The plan was ecological in focus: WINNER would enhance watershed management and conservation, and promote reforestation.

The goals of WINNER shifted, however, in the post-earthquake contractor “gold rush.” With an agenda dominated by Monsanto and DC contractors, the revised WINNER program sold out Haiti’s agriculture. The new focus was on providing hybrid Monsanto seed to Haitian farmers to address a non-existent seed emergency. The following discussion highlights why WINNER is ill-conceived, poorly managed, and likely to hurt Haitian farmers.

WINNER’s Corporate Makeover: Wrong Contractor, Wrong Focus, Wrong Process

USAID hired the notorious firm Chemonics International to implement WINNER

By focusing on subsidized seeds, USAID acted irresponsibly, willfully ignored Haiti’s Needs

WINNER Bypassed Haitian Government

An Unhealthy, Unsustainable Program

Chemically-treated seeds are bad for farmers, environment

Ironically, Monsanto’s donation is setting the stage for a seed crisis in 4 years

  • WINNER will break Haitian seed distribution networks, leaving Haiti dependent long after the program ends. Here’s how:
    Farmers are enticed to buy Monsanto seeds because they’re offered at a 10% the market seed price. Yet, farmers can’t breed and save Monsanto’s hybrid seeds as they do with local varieties. Thus, WINNER disrupts local seed distribution networks as seed suppliers become Monsanto buyers. When WINNER expires in 4 years, Haitian farmers will no longer have subsidized hybrid seeds, but they also won’t have seeds saved up for local markets. The result? A genuine seed crisis.

Why is USAID doing this? Final word goes to ICTA’s head researcher, Louise Sperling: “humanitarian actors… see delivering seed aid as easy and they welcome the overhead [i.e. low administrative costs] – even if their actions may hurt poor farmers.

¹ The terribly cumbersome, seldom used full name is: Watershed Initiative for National Natural Environmental Resources.

 

by Nathan Yaffe

DENYING ECONOMIC SOVEREIGNTY: US Interference in Haitian Oil Deals

June 14, 2011

The US government has a deplorable history of colluding with US and international business interests to undermine Haitian political and economic sovereignty. Knowing this history is crucial for understanding why it’s so bad that US firms received $98.40 out of every $100 in reconstruction contracts. More broadly, it illustrates why it’s vital to support Haitian-led organizations: because they not only promote local (rather than imposed) solutions, but they also genuinely have Haiti’s best interests at heart.

As the following story illustrates, this is not the case with US policy in Haiti.

 
US Efforts to Block Haiti-Venezuela Oil Deal

From 2006-2008, the US cajoled and bullied the government of Haiti to prevent it from signing a breakthrough oil deal with Venezuela. Under the terms of the deal, Haiti would join Venezuela’s oil alliance, PetroCaribe, and buy oil from their neighbor at low prices with a measly 1% interest rate. These favorable terms were further sweetened by the offer of an aid package that included building several power plants and giving Haiti 2 million high-efficiency light bulbs that would save money and 60 MW of electricity every year.

The ideologically driven, inhumane US response to this deal is detailed in the Nation article entitled The PetroCaribe Files. Led by a recent Bush appointee, Ambassador Janet Sanderson, the US Embassy in Haiti spearheaded an effort to make sure the deal failed – despite internally acknowledging the benefits to the people of Haiti.

In a series of frustrated cables, she stated: Préval faces “increasing pressure to produce immediate and tangible changes in Haiti’s desperate situation,” but despite the fact Haiti “would save USD $100 million per year” under the deal, Préval “is aware that a deal with Chavez would cause problems with us.” Over several meetings with Préval and other Haitian government officials, Sanderson reports that she stressed the consequences of “the larger negative message [the deal] would send to the international community.”

Later cables make explicit why the US opposed a deal that would so obviously benefit the Haitian people. After meeting with senior Préval adviser Fritz Longchamp, Sanderson wrote that he “betrayed a common trait among Haitian officials in misjudging the relative importance that U.S. policy makers attach to Haiti versus Venezuela.” That is, the US Embassy agreed that this would help Haitians, but prioritized scoring political points in the war of influence against Hugo Chavez over improving lives in Haiti. While the US has every right to make that choice in its own policy, these cables reveal a willingness to coerce the Haitian government into doing so as well. When Préval so much as met with Chavez, Sanderson ranted that he was “off parading with Chavez’ rogues’ gallery.”

In addition to exerting political pressure and issuing veiled threats, Ambassador Sanderson “encouraged” the four US oil companies pumping the gas in Haiti to voice their discontent over the deal to the Haitian government. When it seemed that negotiations between Préval and the US oil companies in Haiti were going to resolve quickly, the Embassy encouraged them to stonewall and drive a hard bargain. The fact that the US oil companies signed on to the deal further suggests that US pressure accounted for some of the reluctance to negotiate.

 
In Favor of a Haitian-Led Reconstruction

This story demonstrates why the US has no moral legitimacy to oversee the $10.2 billion reconstruction budget: they’re willing to sacrifice improving Haitians’ lives for the sake of political grandstanding and the profit of US firms. Moreover, it should make clear what a US-led reconstruction effort, such as the Interim Haiti Relief Commission, entails: the patronizing denial of Haitian self-determination based on our political priorities.

The US’ persistent unwillingness to let Haiti determine its own future continues to be one of the largest hurdles to reconstruction efforts today. Let this story be a reminder of US priorities in Haiti, and of the need to safeguard Haitians’ rights to formulate their own solutions.

by Nathan Yaffe


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers