Art for Change, Change for Art
 
Shelburne Falls, Mass.

 
I have followed a path similar to that of Antonino D’Ambrosio in valuing the role of creativity in helping us contend with the world around us [“We Own the Future,” Jan. 28]. I came to see creativity more broadly, and became focused on workable models of social and economic justice that move us beyond critique into constructive response and responsibility. So it was exciting to see mention of the Mondragón cooperatives. Mondragón, though, is just the tip of the cooperative iceberg. The United Nations designated 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, which brought them to the attention of activists. Around the world, more people are members of co-ops than directly own stock in publicly traded corporations, enabling millions to have more control over their economic destiny. But you won’t find mention of this in business schools. As the International Co-operative Alliance launches its “Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade”—a vision for co-ops to become the fastest-growing type of enterprise by 2020—I hope The Nation will cover it.

ERBIN CROWEL, executive director,
Neighboring Food Co-op Association;
National Cooperative Business Association


Bend, Ore.

It was a pleasant surprise to see my father, Frederick Schuman, quoted in “We Own the Future.” Perhaps he seemed so “cynical” in January 1941 because he had been predicting World War II since he wrote The Nazi Dictatorship in 1935. It was followed by Europe on the Eve and Night Over Europe, and still the American people did not wake up to the coming conflagration. (I remember Max Lerner, too. He and my dad were pretty good friends, although they sometimes disagreed.)

In November 1942, my dad was working for the State Department and predicted that the Nazis would lose at Stalingrad. He was roundly criticized for this prediction. The following February it came true, whereupon he was investigated by the Dies Committee, the predecessor of HUAC, because it was thought that to make that prediction, he must have had access to secret Soviet intelligence. He did not. He simply saw that Goebbels was preparing the German people for a defeat.One could say my father’s prediction of the demise of democracy has come true, since we are now a plutocracy.

DON SCHUMAN


Haiti: Hotels or Houses?

Washington, D.C.

Amy Wilentz’s “Letter From Haiti: Life in the Ruins” [Jan. 28] contains some inaccuracies and misrepresentations regarding the Royal Oasis Hotel in Port-au-Prince. We at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) know there are no simple answers when it comes to helping Haiti rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake. However, we believe that job creation offers the surest path out of poverty. Supporting local businesses, like the Oasis, that provide much-needed employment is one way to begin breaking the cycle of aid dependence that Wilentz describes. The hotel created 800 jobs during construction and now directly employs 250 people. It will help support another 1,000 indirect jobs by sourcing food and other supplies from local businesses.

Had Wilentz contacted the IFC, we would have clarified that Oasis was supported by approximately 100 Haitian investors. This group runs the gamut from Haiti’s pension company and local business people to members of the diaspora, local schoolteachers and middle-class Haitians, some of whom invested as little as $1,500.

The earthquake halted construction of the Oasis for months. In July of that year, IFC offered financial and technical support to help resume construction. We committed $7.5 million, sending a signal of confidence to Haiti’s business community when the country was still reeling from the earthquake. This helped attract commercial funding, which ultimately put the IFC’s own financing on hold. Had Wilentz contacted us, she would have learned that the IFC does not provide grants, as she says, but commercially priced loans.

The purpose of the IFC, as the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, is to catalyze sustainable and inclusive private sector development. In Haiti we have provided financing for a power plant to help ensure electricity in Port-au-Prince’s homes, businesses, hospitals and schools. We have helped train more than 3,000 entrepreneurs and managers to grow their small and midsize businesses. We helped Grupo M, a garment manufacturer, create 7,000 jobs—3,000 of them after the earthquake. These are just a few examples of a multi-pronged approach that aims to create jobs and opportunities for Haitians.

ADRIANA GOMEZ, Latin America and the Caribbean International Finance Corporation


Wilentz Replies

New York City

I like the idea of using earthquake reconstruction money for job creation. How about considering using those funds to help Haiti recover from the earthquake while also providing jobs for Haitians? How about spending earthquake recovery money on rebuilding neighborhoods and the roads, bridges and government structures that came down in the 2010 earthquake? How about making grants or expanding loans to actual Haitians to rebuild their destroyed houses, rather than to Haitian investors to build luxury hotels? While we’re at it, let’s include the Haitian government in making decisions about how best to spend those funds, while of course continuing to monitor and prevent corruption.

In December 2012, I spent five hours driving from Gonaïves to Cap Haitien—a trip that should have taken two hours—because of the gutted road. How about fixing that road with World Bank loans to Haitian construction companies that would employ Haitian construction workers?

Such funds have been loaned to developers of the Royal Oasis Hotel to accommodate potential investors and development officials who could equally well stay in the Karibe, the Kinam, the Montana, the Plaza or the Villa Creole, to name only a few of the many good hotels in the Port-au-Prince area. By the way, the few employees I saw at the Royal Oasis seemed to be Dominicans; at any rate, they spoke Spanish among themselves. Meanwhile, Haitians are looking for work in their own country.

The Royal Oasis may have “approximately 100 Haitian investors,” but my concerns are not so much with Haitian investors as with Haitians still living in camps over three years after the earthquake, when the international community has spent more than $1 billion “fixing” post-earthquake Haiti. 

Why would the World Bank and the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund choose to spend millions of earthquake dollars on, of all things, a luxury hotel? This decision reeks of corruption, connections and a gross disregard for the situation on the ground.

AMY WILENTZ


Bright Star

Boston

A quick note of appreciation for “Irritable Reachings,” James Longenbach’s fantastic review of the new John Keats biography [Jan. 28]. I liked the book more than he did, but either way, I loved the review.

STEVE DONOGHUE