FREEZING AID TO HAITI: False Narratives of Reconstruction

Speaking in Canada, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatened to freeze aid to Haiti on Monday. She expressed her “growing frustration… that there hasn’t been the kind of coordinated, coherent response from the government of Haiti that is called for.” She was followed by Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon who vented that the international community “cannot do everything” in Haiti.

Unfortunately, they criticized the wrong parties.

As detailed by Paul Farmer in this month’s Foreign Policy, the Haitian government has commanded “a mere 0.3% of the more than $2 billion in humanitarian aid pledged.” Nearly all of the $732.5 million that reached Haiti was under the control of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (co-chaired, incidentally, by former president Bill Clinton) and other international actors.

Thus we can’t blame poor reconstruction efforts on a lack of coordination by the Haitian government. The ones who deserve our criticism are the ones who control the resources: USAID, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, and the Interim Commission (all run in whole or in large part by Americans).

Sec. Clinton has given us the diagnosis – the reconstruction effort isn’t working. We simply need to apply that diagnosis to the right party, which in this case is the international community.

Looking forward, our first priority should be to stop dis-empowering the Haitian government by depriving them of funds (see more on the history of this in my earlier post on denying Haiti water rights). The idea that freezing aid will send a lesson to the Haitian government is based on a false narrative of the reconstruction effort that allows us to shift the blame for our gross mismanagement to Haitians. What’s needed is not to freeze aid but to stop micro-managing it from abroad.

Paul Farmer concludes better than I could:

The international community doesn’t know best. Local people do. NGOs like the one that I am lucky to work with cannot replace the state — nor can the United Nations or anyone else. We don’t have the expertise, and we won’t stay forever. We don’t have the same stake in building a community that the locals themselves have. And if aid is to work, it can’t fall apart when the expats leave.

On this, almost everyone agrees. But the opposite approach has characterized Haiti relief… Until the government has the resources it needs, Haiti will remain the republic of NGOs.


(h/t to Haitian-Truth for the link to the original article)

-Nathan Yaffe

2 Responses to FREEZING AID TO HAITI: False Narratives of Reconstruction

  1. […] political leaders themselves. One example is when Sec. Clinton and Canadian Foreign Minister Cannon chastised and threatened the Haitian government for squandering reconstruction money. Ironically, their speech came one week after Paul Farmer […]

  2. […] guest post from our director, Paul Miller, builds an important idea we’ve discussed before: that there’s a large disconnect between US policy toward Haiti and the statements of […]

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