More than four years after Port-au-Prince crumbled to the ground, last month’s meeting with a delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce seemed to mark Haiti’s steady new pathway to recovery. Business elites posed for photo-ops and affirmed President Michel Martelly’s goal to “make Haiti an emerging country by 2030.”
Elsewhere on the island, tens of thousands had yet to emerge from the ruins of the 2010 earthquake and were clustered in makeshift encampments, still frozen in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
It was on behalf of these Haitians that human rights activist Antonal Mortime paid a visit to Washington, DC, the same week that the AmCham shmoozed in the Haitian capital. In collaboration with the American Jewish World Service, he came to tell US activists that Western aid efforts had harmed far more than they had helped. More than four years since Haiti was flooded by aid money, the chaotic rebuilding effort has widened the country’s social rifts, bringing the first emancipated black republic under the yoke of a new kind of imperialism.
In an interview with The Nation, Mortime, executive secretary of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), described the social disaster that had unfolded under the banner of humanitarian aid.
The money that has trickled down has been absorbed in large part by a phalanx of NGOs jostling chaotically for international grant money. Despite some good intentions, many of these groups, Mortime argues, have funneled money into ill-planned projects with little oversight or accountability, leading to waste and profiteering that have likely impeded the country’s long-term development.
For many of the countless NGOs that have mushroomed post-disaster, Mortime says, “I think it was important for them to go and help Haiti. But the way they went about it was not the right way.” Because some NGOs had haphazardly delivered services in a way that displaced indigenous institutions and local services, he adds, “humanitarian aid actually contributed to a weakening of the state and also to the weakening of local organizations.”
Independent audits have revealed that the groundswell of international assistance efforts, ranging from missionary aid enterprises to ad hoc home building projects, have operated with little coordination, despite efforts by the United Nations OCHR, along with an international coordinating body, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by Bill Clinton, to centralize the distribution and deployment of recovery funds. The international “partnerships” have unraveled amid cost overruns and massive mismanagement. And Haiti’s government, historically tethered to streams of foreign aid and debt and cheap export trades, remains saddled with a shattered infrastructure and tattered public services. Today, 100,000 remain “internally displaced”, with ramshackle shanties standing as a sad epitaph to false promises.