Disaster Capitalism in Haiti – Two Years after the Quake

“We also know that our longer-term effort will not be measured in days and weeks, it will be measure in months and even years” – President Obama, speech announcing the establishment of the ClintonBush Haiti Fund, January 16th 2010

Okay, so it’s almost two years now. Let’s take a look at the long-term effort.

If anyone was in any doubt that the Haitian earthquake was going to be a goldmine for the disaster capitalists,  a recent article at Counterpunch – which accounts for where the money raised for disaster relief and reconstruction ‘did and did not go’ – makes for a sobering, and frankly depressing read.

‘Two years later, over half a million people remain homeless in hundreds of informal camps, most of the tons of debris from destroyed buildings still lays where it fell, and cholera, a preventable disease, was introduced into the country and is now an epidemic killing thousands and sickening hundreds of thousands more.  Haiti today looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years.’

Here are some of the starker facts figures about where the money went and who was consulted about it:

  • 33% of every dollar of US aid went to the US military
  • only 1% of the $3.6 billion raised by donors went to the Haitian Government
  • less than 1% of the $412 million in US funds allocated for infrastructure reconstruction in Haiti has been spent by USAID and the US State Department
  • international aid coordination meetings were not translated into Kreyol
  • the Haiti Neighborhood Return and Housing Reconstruction Framework drafted by the Interim Haiti Redevelopment Commission (IHRC) which was supposed to guide reconstruction, was not published in draft form in Kreyol so local people could review it
  • of the 1490 contracts awarded by the US government only 23 contracts went to Haitian companies
  • two US based private companies with strong US government connections – CHF International and Project Concern International – received an $8.6 million joint contract for debris removal in Port-au-Prince
  • at a meeting of governments in Montreal in January 2011 the international community decided it was not going to allow the Haiti government to direct the relief and recovery funds
  • an official report into the operations of the IHRC revealed that it failed to direct funding to projects prioritized by Haitians

Haiti Liberte was one of the first news sources to report the disaster relief ‘goldrush’ after secret cables by U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten were released by wikileaks in February last year.

Here is an example of the promotional material for one of the companies that won out in the scramble for contracts after the earthquake, United for a Sustainable America:

The horror. Renzo Martens eat your heart out.

The Haiti Liberte article also reported the story of Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) who was named US special coordinator for relief and reconstruction after the earthquake. After a few months on the job he moved to the private sector, where he could sell his contacts and connections to the highest bidder. He quickly got a $30,000-a-month (plus bonuses) contract with the Haiti Recovery Group (HRG).

‘But in December 2010, Lucke sued AshBritt and its Haitian partner, GB Group (belonging to Haiti’s richest man, Gilbert Bigio) for almost $500,000. He claimed the companies “did not pay him enough for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy,” according to the Associated Press. Lucke had signed a lucrative $30,000 per month agreement with AshBritt and GB Group within eight weeks of stepping down, helping them secure $20 million in construction contracts.’

According to an article written one year after the earthquake by Jordan Flaherty  Gilbert Bigio made a fortune during the corrupt Duvalier regime and was a supporter of the right-wing coup against Haitian President Aristide. According to an article on Haiti Action Net, in 2007, after having doubled his fortunes since the ousting of Aristide, Bigio began building factories secured by armed guards and UN patrols in one of the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince, Cité Soleil.

A photograph from the GB website is uncannily similar to those bought by the plantation owner in Renzo Martens’ challenging exposé of the ethical paradoxes of global aid, photojournalism and contemporary art in the moral labyrinth of humanitarian aid work in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Enjoy Poverty III.


‘What can we do?’…use the ‘R’ word

The Counterpunch article ends its dismal inventory of aid relief and reconstruction failures for post-earthquake Haiti with a less than inspiring proposal of what can be done.

‘The UN Special Envoy to Haiti suggests the generous instincts of people around the world must be channelled by international actors and institutions in a way that assists in the creation of a “robust public sector and a healthy private sector.” Instead of giving the money to intermediaries, funds should be directed as much as possible to Haitian public and private institutions. A “Haiti First” policy could strengthen public systems, promote accountability, and create jobs and build skills among the Haitian people.’

Most of these proposals were made by many – including the author of the current article – immediately after the earthquake. Why would they be headed any more now than then? It’s also very worrying to see the ‘R’ word used in this context. It does not bode well.

The sudden ubiquitous use of the ‘R’ word in the language of British politics and social policy reached a peak during the summer riots here last year with politicians, newsreaders and political commentators all proclaiming the need for robust policing, robust sentencing and robust responses. It was a kind of memetic mania. How this word managed to find its way into so many mouths is a mystery. I random google search of ‘Robust UK Politics’ brings up calls from David Milliband for Labour to be ‘robust on Europe’, calls for a ‘robust voluntary sector work program‘, a ‘robust debate over jobs’ , a ‘robust climate change policy’, a ‘robust demand for gold bullion’,  ‘robust Christmas sales’ and, my favorite, a ‘robust UK research climate’ .

Interestingly most of these uses occurred in 2011. A few, notably with reference to Gordon Brown’s ‘robust bullying’  and ‘robust survey of deaths in Iraq’ occurred a year or so earlier.

Isn’t ‘robust’ a meaningless, jargonistic,  contemporary political euphemism for pretending to be doing something significant when actually you haven’t got a clue what to do? Or is there something more sinister at work here?

I can’t help being reminded of President Obama’s first statement following the Haitian earthquake: “I have directed my administration to act with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort, to save lives”. Aggressive effort to save lives?

I will be discussing alternative approaches to what can be done about the situation at two events taking place at Occupy LSX next weekend. The first is an event taking place at the Bank of Ideas on Saturday January 14th about The Corporate Occupation of the Arts where I will be discussing protest pedagogy and the second an event organised by the London Occupy Economics Working Group called ‘Beyond Capitalism?’ on Sunday January 15th.

Haiti: Six Months Later

There seems to have been a flurry of media reports about Haiti commemorating the 6th month anniversary of the earthquake.

The general picture is one in which only a small fraction of the millions of dollars donated by the general public and charity organizations has been converted into concrete assistance for the people of Haiti. Continue reading “Haiti: Six Months Later”

The Situation in Haiti

I will be posting updated information and commentary about the unfolding situation in Haiti here.

We have put out a call to groups, collectives and individuals to attend an emergency meeting to discuss collective action in response to the situation in Haiti. Please send a representative of your group if you can, or email us so we can keep you informed of further action / meetings.

Sunday 24 January 2009
2.00 – 4.00 pm at the Do you remember Olive Morris? exhibition that has meeting space available.
Gasworks, 155 Vauxhall Street, London SE11 5RH (tube: Oval / Stockwell)

I am currently working on a brief historical overview of the situation in Haiti and information about how best to get charity to the right places most effectively and most immediately. I should have this done for the meeting on Sunday and will post it here.

I’ve also uploaded some video footage from the Ghetto Biennale here. It shows Grand Rue artist Alex Louis interviewing the toy Tap Tap makers during the opening event.

I have also posted some images from the Ghetto Biennalehere.

And I just uploaded a clip of Reggie Jean Francois here telling the story of how Sri Lankan troops in the UN mission to Haiti performed a ceremonial ritual on the sculpture of a boar in Port-au-Prince in 2004.

Please feel free to use and circulate.

Donations to Organizations active on the ground in Haiti

Given that the social sector of Haiti is now run almost entirely by NGO’s these are the organizations that are likely to be delivering aid and assistance on the ground there. However the massive involvement of international NGO’s has the long term effect of undermining Haiti’s powers of democratic self-determination.

For people wishing to get their donations directly to the communities in most urgent need I suggest the following organizations, most of which are run largely by Haitians in Haiti:


PAZAPA staff, who survived the quake, indicate that there is an immediate need for food, clean drinking water, shelter and medical care.  They describe virtually no distribution of emergency food (with much of the disaster relief efforts centred in Port au Prince) and have stated that the primary work of emergency relief agencies in that community has focused on search and rescue.  The price of food is rising and water and fuel is becoming dangerously scarce.  They need our help with funds to immediately purchase essential food supplies such as rice, beans and oil, that can be distributed to the centre’s children and families most effected by the quake. PAZAPA staff are working, despite suffering their own losses, to locate and assess the needs of the centre’s children who will be terribly affected by this tragedy.  For more information about the centre, link to a recent video , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OKK1T-zgdA.

2) Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY

Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY (Working Together for Haiti) strengthens existing organizations, builds national networks, creates relationships between individuals and organizations in the U.S. and Haiti, and and supports collaboration and the sharing of technology and expertise. KONPAY focuses on Haitian solutions to environmental, social and economic problems and provides training and funding to grassroots and community-based projects.


3) Honor and Respect for Bel Air, a big community-based network in Port-au-Prince, and Coordination Régionale des Organisations de Sud-Est (CROSE), which brings together some of the most active community groups in the south (via Avaaz.org)

4) The Lambi Fund of Haiti

The Lambi Fund’s mission is to assist the popular, democratic movement in Haiti. Its goal is to help strengthen civil society as a necessary foundation of democracy and development. The fund channels financial and other resources to community-based organizations that promote the social and economic empowerment of the Haitian people.

5) Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA)

PAPDA is a coalition of nine Haitian popular and non-governmental organizations which work with the Haitian popular movement to develop alternatives to the neo-liberal model of economic globalization. When the Haitian government moved to privatize certain industries, PAPDA worked with the unions and the business community to create strategies that would improve production and minimize cost without privatization.

6) The Haiti Emergency Relief Fund


Fonkoze is Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor. In fact, it is a family of three institutions working together shoulder-to-shoulder towards a single compelling mission: building the economic foundations for democracy in Haiti by providing the rural poor with the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. This mission is reflected in our name, Fonkoze, which is an acronym for the Haitian Creole phrase “Fondasyon Kole Zepòl” meaning “Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation.”

8 ) Partners in Health

PIH has been working on the ground in Haiti for over 20 years. We urgently need your support to help those affected by the recent earthquake. Partners In Health (PIH) works to bring modern medical care to poor communities in nine countries around the world. The work of PIH has three goals: to care for our patients, to alleviate the root causes of disease in their communities, and to share lessons learned around the world.

I await news from Leah Gordon who is now in Port-au-Prince about what is the most effective way to get aid working on the ground.

According to a CNN report from Sunday one of the few working hospitals in Port-au-Prince is La Paz hospital.

This hospital is being run by Cuban medics supporting the strong argument for more Cuban-US cooperation in the aid mission.

Here is a video report from MediaHacker Ansel on the ground in Haiti the day after the quake in which local citizens express their anger at the absence of assistance from either UN or US forces.

Activists and citizens both in and outside of Haiti are concerned with what they see as a lack of response by the UN authorities in Haiti and by recurrent stories of immanent violence on the part of the Haitian people which we fear may be used to justify violent intervention by both the UN and US forces against the Haitian people. Articles like Tim Padgett’s Will Criminal Gangs Take Control in Haiti’s Chaos and Mark Lander’s Clinton, in Visit to Haiti, Brings Aid and Promises Support‘ set the tone for this kind of ideological scare-mongering. Lander warns that As Haitian and international officials try to coordinate an effective relief response to what is probably the worst disaster to ever hit the western hemisphere’s poorest country, they’ll need to be mindful of the human rats that come out of the capital’s woodwork at times like these”.

He goes on to say that “unless the international community can exert some semblance of street-level law enforcement in the coming days and weeks, gangs are likely to lay down the law in its place”.

Outside the mainstream media reports from the ground tell a very different story, such as this one from Dave Belle, director of the Cine Instute there.

Regarding the historical politics of debt and aid in Haiti this article by Richard Kimin The Nation is one of the most thorough and informative, exposing precisely that ‘history’ which Bill Clinton, in his speech accepting the job of coordinating the US aid mission in Haiti, said that Haiti was on the verge of ‘escaping’.

Clinton’s complicity in UN Human Rights abuses in Haiti is discussed here.