Just before 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon Jan. 12th 2010, the crowded busy streets of Port-au-Prince Haiti was shaken by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake leaving thousands of buildings and homes in the aftermath and as the anniversary approaches years later, not much progress in rebuilding has been made. In the wake of the destruction, $12.4 billion in developmental and humanitarian aid pledged by the international community has yet to be disbursed. Over 50 countries and different international organizations reportedly came to the aid of the poorest nation in the Caribbean and according to the United Nations, 80 percent of the aid has been disbursed so far. The US Government Accountability Office quoted a lower percentage after audits.
Haiti, referred to officially as the Republic of Haiti, first gained its independence in 1804 by revolt, led by former slave Toussaint L’Ouverture, who also became the first black general of the French army. Haiti became the only slave colony to successfully fight off the British, Spanish, and French. L’Ouverture was succeeded by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, his lieutenant, who began a bid to declare Haiti’s sovereignty. That same year, European powers in coordination with the United States orchestrated diplomatic isolation of the island country in retaliation.
In a desire to be recognized by the world bodies, President Boyer signed an agreement with France in 1825 leaving the country indebted to its former occupiers in the sum of 150 million francs. The price of freedom crippled the economy leaving France in control of the country’s finances for decades. The country was later invaded by the United States and in 1917; the U.S. rewrote the Haitian Constitution allowing foreigners to own Haitian land.
In the last five years after the Haiti earthquake, organizations like USAID have pledged and reportedly raised millions of dollars in assistance for the island nation. Some funds have been disbursed directly to residents but widespread corruption runs rampant under the guise of aid. The U.S. Government Accountability Office published a scathing report of USAID’s mismanagement back on June 18 2013.
According to the report, more than 55 percent of the pledged aid was still hidden away in government coffers. The Center for Global Development revealed that less than 60 percent of pledged aid had actually been disbursed by the United States. After auditing three USAID funded projects, the GAO reported through displacement, the government supported decentralizing economic growth outside of the capital by increasing the stock of housing near Caracol Industrial Park.
A misappropriation of funding has not been the only variable hindering the rebuilding process. Troops sent to the island by the United Nations introduced cholera to a healthcare system sparse in supplies and lacking in capabilities. Unsanitary conditions led to the outbreak killing 8,100 people and infecting 650,000 more.
Thousands of Haitians affected by the outbreak filed a lawsuit against the United Nations but were denied justice Friday when Judge J. Paul Oetken dismissed it on the grounds that the UN had immunity which only the international body could waive. Human rights lawyers said they would appeal the decision.
A seedy underbelly has also risen in the streets with an increase in missing person reports. The US Embassy in Port-au-Prince issued a release stating that the country was a prime source for human trafficking of men, women, and children. Many women in the tent camps that sprung up after the earthquake were raped and forced into prostitution or domestic servitude. For the third consecutive year, Haiti was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List. The country enacted legislation in 2014 criminalizing human trafficking, saving it from being placed on the Tier 3 Watch List. While hundreds of victims of trafficking are identified each year, the Haitian government has yet to convict a perpetrator.
Much is to be said about a country that once produced 75 percent of the world’s sugar cane. Since the earthquake, a gold rush sprung as land quickly became property of foreigners and corporations. The country’s very own resources have been disseminated among several companies digging pit mines in Haiti. The companies have been working with little oversight according to Dieseul Anglade, former director of Haiti’s mining company. Haiti’s 1976 legislation banning drilling without a signed mining convention has been overlooked as private interests stake hold in Haiti.
Five years after Haiti’s earthquake, the country still strives to overcome the additional hardships placed on an already strained nation. Political unrest and a bankrupt economy have given the country little hope of climbing out of the void the ongoing unrest and foreign interests created. The country’s legislatures’ terms is set to expire as opposition senators refuse to negotiate with President Michel Martelly, elected back in 2011. If long-overdue elections aren’t held before their term expires, Parliament will be dissolved and Martelly will run the country with no oversight. Haiti’s struggling democracy will be jeopardized and reconstruction efforts will be stifled if an agreement is not reached.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by United Nations Development Programme – Flickr License