Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch

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Analysis and news on relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti.
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Secretary General in Haiti for Cholera “Photo-op” as Transparency Questions Continue to Dog the UN

July 23, 2014 - 13:44

Last week, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon travelled to Haiti to raise awareness of the ongoing cholera epidemic that scientific studies have continually shown the U.N. troops in Haiti to be responsible for introducing. In an interview before his trip, Ban told Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald that the U.N. and international community had a “moral responsibility” to help Haiti eradicate the disease, already the world’s worst cholera epidemic having killed over 8,500 and sickened more than 700,000. Also last week, the U.N. quietly posted a document online (PDF) which provides information on its follow up to the Independent Panel of Expert’s recommendations, made in May 2011. The U.N. convened the panel in the aftermath of cholera’s introduction to study how it was introduced, how it can be stopped and efforts to prevent future epidemics.

In Haiti, during remarks at a church service in Las Palmas, the Secretary General told those present that, “I know that the epidemic has caused much anger and fear. I know that the disease continues to affect an unacceptable number of people.” Ban later ensured the Haitian people that, “You can count on me and the United Nations to do our part.”

But the visit by the Secretary General also put the spotlight on the U.N.’s own efforts to evade responsibility for cholera’s introduction, the subject of multiple lawsuits. "It is an insult to all Haitians for the Secretary-General to come to Haiti for a photo-op when he refuses to take responsibility for the thousands of Haitians killed and the hundreds of thousands sickened by the UN cholera epidemic," said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and one of the leading lawyers working to hold the U.N. accountable for cholera’s introduction to Haiti.

In December 2012, Ban pledged to “use every opportunity” to raise funds for an ambitious $2.2 billion ten-year cholera eradication plan. Yet over a year-and-a-half later, the plan remains woefully underfunded. According to the U.N. Office of the Secretary General’s Coordinator for Cholera Response in Haiti, at the current rate of disbursement, it “would take more than 40 years to fund the water, sanitation and hygiene” sectors of the elimination plan. Even the $485 million needed for the critical first two years of the plan, now nearing its end, is only 40 percent funded.

As part of the Secretary General’s trip, Ban launched a “Total Sanitation Campaign.” While it was presented as another new effort, according to the Office of the Secretary General’s Coordinator for Cholera Response in Haiti, it “is part of the sanitation component of the overall elimination plan.” Further, the U.N. itself has committed just 1 percent of the funds needed for the eradication plan. Meanwhile, since the earthquake, the U.N. troops that introduced cholera have cost the international community well over the $2.2 billion needed to fully fund the plan.

The Independent Panel’s Recommendations

In October 2010, the U.N. appointed an independent panel of scientific experts to study the introduction of cholera to Haiti. The panel concluded that it occurred as “a result of human activity,” and likely began in a river near a U.N. troop base, but that the “outbreak was caused by the confluence of circumstances” and that no single party should be blamed. Two years later, after additional scientific research was published, the authors followed up with a report that determined the U.N. was the “most likely” source.

As part of the Independent Panel’s original report, the author’s offered seven recommendations for the U.N.: using prophylactic antibiotics or screening U.N. personnel deployed from cholera endemic regions, use of antibiotics or the cholera vaccine when deploying personnel to locations with concurrent epidemics, improving on-site treatment of fecal waste at U.N. installations, taking the lead in improving case management, prioritizing programs to provide piped drinking water and sanitation, investigating the potential of cholera vaccines and increasing the use of advanced microbial techniques to improve surveillance and detection of cholera.

Upon the report’s release in May 2011, Ban announced that he would convene another task force to review the report and “ensure prompt and appropriate follow-up.” The Task Force was made up of senior U.N. officials from various agencies, including personnel from the UN Haiti team. However there has been little information as to what has been implemented in the intervening three-years, at least until a nine-page fact sheet was posted online last week by the U.N.

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Despite Flawed Electoral Process, International Community Support Continues Unabated

July 9, 2014 - 08:45

While Haitian President Michel Martelly has unilaterally scheduled long-delayed elections for October 26, 2014, the composition of the electoral council continues to cause controversy in Haiti. The current problems stem from the deeply flawed electoral process in 2010 that saw Martelly emerge victorious after the intervention of the international community. There have yet to be elections since then, with one-third of the 30 member Senate having their terms expire in 2011 while some 130 local mayors have been replaced by Martelly appointments. Another one-third of the Senate and the entire lower house will see their terms expire in January 2015 if elections are not held. In a “frequently asked questions” document released last week, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) provides a legal analysis of the reasons behind the delays and why the current electoral council is unconstitutional. In an accompanying press release, IJDH notes:

According to Mario Joseph, managing lawyer for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, “Prompt elections are much needed, but elections will only remedy Haiti’s political crisis if they are run fairly by a constitutionally-mandated electoral council. President Michel Martelly has delayed elections for three years because he does not want to lose the political control he has enjoyed without full parliamentary oversight.”

Joseph explains that “The current Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) put into place by President Martelly per the El Rancho Accord is unconstitutional.” The El Rancho Accord, which rules the government’s plan for elections, has not been approved by Parliament and the procedure for selecting a CEP conflicts with the Haitian Constitution. The CEP only has seven of the required nine members due to these legitimacy concerns. Parliamentarians and political opposition call the El Rancho Accord a political coup d’état.


Despite the problems associated with the “El Rancho Accord,” the international community has been supportive of the process. After praising the accord in March, the U.N. issued a statement in early May, co-signed with the “Friends of Haiti” grouping of countries, warning “that certain important decisions to advance toward the holding of the elections have yet to be made.” Days later Martelly announced the formation of the electoral council, unilaterally. In early June, the date of October 26 was announced by the government, even though the electoral body is tasked with scheduling elections. Last week, after meeting with Martelly, the Secretary General of the OAS committed “to back the holding of free and fair elections, in a process planned for October.” The OAS also said they would send an electoral observation mission.

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Head of OAS Electoral Mission in Haiti: International Community Tried to Remove Préval on Election Day

June 6, 2014 - 09:25

Speaking in early May at the “Who ‘Owns’ Haiti?” symposium at George Washington’s Elliot School of International Affairs, Colin Granderson, the head of the CARICOM-OAS Electoral Mission in Haiti in 2010-2011 confirmed previous accounts that the international community tried to force then-president Réné Préval from power on election day.

That the international community had “offered” President Préval a plane out of the country during Haiti’s chaotic first-round election in November 2010 was first revealed by Ricardo Seitenfus, the former OAS Special Representative to Haiti. Seitenfus subsequently lost his position with the OAS, but Préval himself soon confirmed the story, telling author Amy Wilentz:

“At around noon, they called me,” he said in an interview at the palace recently. “‘It’s no longer an election,’ they told me. ‘It’s a political problem. Do you want a plane to leave?’ I don’t know how they were going to explain my departure, but I got rid of that problem for them by refusing to go. I want to serve out my mandate and give the presidency over to an elected president.”

Despite accounts of the story from three different high-level sources who were there, the story has gained little international traction in the media.

In filmmaker Raoul Peck’s documentary “Fatal Assistance,” Préval revealed that it was the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti at the time, Edmond Mulet, who made the threat. (Seitenfus recently offered his recollection of discussions with Mulet and other high-level officials that day in an exclusive interview with CEPR and freelance Georgianne Nienaber.) For his part, Mulet categorically denied the event, telling Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star:

“I never said that, he never answered that,” Mulet told the Star when asked about Préval’s allegation. “I was worried if he didn’t stop the fraud and rioting, a revolution would force him to leave. I didn’t have the capability, the power or the interest of putting him on a plane.”

The election, plagued by record-low turnout, problems with voter registration and massive irregularities, was in doubt on election day when, around noon, 12 of 18 presidential candidates held a press conference calling for the election to be cancelled. Speaking at last month’s symposium, Granderson discussed what happened next (just past the 11 minute mark in this video):

The international community intervened, working with representatives of the private sector, and managed to get two of the candidates to reverse themselves, to renege on their commitment, and this rescued the electoral process.

But what I think was most unsettling, was that following this attempt to have these elections cancelled, was the intervention of certain members of the international community basically calling on President Préval to step down.

This wouldn’t be the end of the international community’s intervention in the electoral process. After first-round results were announced showing Mirlande Manigat and Préval’s successor Jude Célestin moving on to the second round, a team from the OAS was brought in to analyze the results. Despite having no statistical evidence, and instead of cancelling the elections, the OAS team overturned the first round results, replacing Célestin in the second round with Michel Martelly. Seitenfus has described in detail how this intervention was carried out, in his recent interview with CEPR and in his forthcoming book, International Crossroads and Failures in Haiti.

A Failure Foretold: USAID’s Plans to Build a Port in Northern Haiti

May 8, 2014 - 11:36

Last month Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported that the U.S. government had changed its plan for the development of a new port in support of the Caracol industrial park in Haiti’s north. The Herald report began:

After months of unsuccessfully trying to get private investors to cough up millions of dollars for the construction of a new, multimillion dollar port in northeastern Haiti, the U.S. government is scratching its plans and will instead revamp the existing port in the city of Cap-Haitien.

“The private sector was markedly unenthusiastic about investing in a new port,” said a U.S. government official familiar with the decision, but not authorized to speak publicly.

The new Fort Liberté port would have cost between $185 million and $257 million, and the U.S. government had committed to investing $70 million. A new port was viewed as being critical to the success of the nearby $300 million Caracol Industrial Park because the park’s five companies mostly ship out of ports in the neighboring Dominican Republic, a loss of valuable dollars to the Haitian treasury.

But while the Herald report points to a lack of private sector enthusiasm for the project as a key reason for its failure, an analysis of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports and contractor documents reveals that this project has been plagued by a lack of in-house expertise and planning from the beginning.

It began in September 2011 when USAID awarded a contract to MWH Americas to conduct a feasibility study for port infrastructure in northern Haiti. MWH had previously been found by the New Orleans inspector general to have overcharged the city on reconstruction contracts related to hurricane Katrina. As HRRW reported in February 2013, “Within two weeks of receiving the $2.8 million contract, MWH Americas turned around and gave out $1.45 million in subcontracts to four different firms, all headquartered in Washington DC or Virginia.” The contract was extended multiple times, with the overall cost increasing to over $4.25 million. Still, the GAO later found that further studies “still need to be performed,” because the USAID “did not require the contractor to obtain all the information necessary to help select a port site,” according to the GAO.

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Martelly Appoints Duvalier Lawyer to Oversee Elections

May 6, 2014 - 13:41

Two weeks after the Associated Press reported that the “old political party founded under the Duvalier dictatorship says it plans to enter candidates in Haitian elections,” President Martelly issued an executive decree naming one of Duvalier’s lawyers, Frizto Canton, as a member on the body overseeing said elections.

The holding of local and legislative elections, now more than two years overdue, continues to cause controversy and political gridlock in Haiti and consternation for the international community.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of MINUSTAH, Sandra Honore recently warned in a press release, co-signed by the so-called “Friends of Haiti” group of countries, “that certain important decisions to advance toward the holding of the elections have yet to be made” and that the “inability to hold elections in 2014 could lead to the dissolution of Parliament in January 2015 which would engender yet another political crisis, with unpredictable consequences for the future of Haitian democracy.” This followed visits by members of the U.S. Congress, U.S. State Department representatives and the Club de Madrid, ostensibly to push elections forward.

The gridlock between the senate and the president stems from the composition of Haiti’s electoral body, tasked with organizing and overseeing the electoral process. The international community and President Martelly have continually referred to the “El Rancho Accord,” which was the result of negotiations brokered by the Catholic Church, as outlining the composition of the electoral council. However, the president of the Senate, Simon Dieuseul Desras recently stated, as reported by Haiti Liberté, that, “the El Rancho Accord has no binding force and cannot override either the Constitution or the Electoral Law.” Desras added that a “trusted electoral council of consensus would not take one week to set up.”

Martelly, apparently frustrated by the Senate’s position, decided to move unilaterally today. The AP reports:

Haitian President Michel Martelly announced Tuesday he has appointed a new council to oversee legislative and local elections that are two years overdue, an important step to organizing a vote whose tardiness has frustrated many.

In a posting on his Facebook page and in a separate email, the leader said that the newest member of the council is Frizto Canton, a high-profile attorney who is defending former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier against human rights abuse and embezzlement charges.

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New Report Details Persecution of Public and Private Sector Union Activists in Haiti

April 17, 2014 - 14:31

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its Haiti-based partner Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) have released a report outlining recent cases of persecution of organized workers in Haiti as well as Haitian government complicity in allowing illegal attacks against, and terminations of labor activists to occur without judicial consequences.  The report, titled “Haitian labor movement struggles as workers face increased anti-union persecution and wage suppression,” documents attacks and firings of union organizers by both public and private sector companies. 

In mid-December of 2013, garment workers staged a walkout and demonstrations to protest the low wages and subpar working conditions in Haiti’s garment factories.  As Better Work Haiti revealed in its 2013 Biannual Review of Haitian garment companies’ compliance with labor standards, only 25 percent of workers receive the minimum daily wage of 300 Haitian gourdes (equivalent to $6.81). They also found a 91 percent non-compliance rate with basic worker protection norms.  The BAI/IJDH report explains that on the third day of the December protests, “the Association of Haitian Industries locked out the workers, claiming they had to shut the factories for the security of their employees.”  In late December and January, IJDH/BAI documented “at least 36 terminations in seven factories throughout December and January in retaliation for the two-day protest, mostly of union representatives. The terminations continue.”

The report notes that union leaders at Electricity of Haiti (EDH) - Haiti’s biggest state-run enterprise – have also been illegally terminated and even physically attacked.   As BAI/IJDH describe,

On January 10, 2014, the leaders of SECEdH [Union of Employees of l’EDH] held a press conference at EDH, as they had countless times over the last several years. The purpose of the January 10 press conference was to allege mismanagement and corruption at EDH. At the last minute, EDH management refused to let journalists in the building, although they had given permission for the press conference the day before. SECEdH’s leaders joined journalists on the street outside EDH’s parking lot gate to convene the press conference. EDH security guards pushed down the metal gate onto the crowd, hitting SECEdH’s treasurer in the head and knocking him unconscious. The security guards stood by while the employee lay on the ground bleeding and witnesses urged them to help. Some journalists took the injured employee to the hospital in one of their vehicles. He was released from the hospital but suffers constant pain in his head, shoulders, arms, and back from the heavy gate falling on him.

The following week, SECEdH’s executive committee, including the injured officer, received letters of termination dated January 10, 2014.

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Inspector General: USAID Project to Provide Housing Comes up Short

April 16, 2014 - 09:41

A new report from USAID’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) found that a U.S. government program to build thousands of new homes in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010 is woefully behind schedule and over budget, reports the Associated Press. The report’s findings echo those made by the Government Accountability Office in June 2013. USAID’s housing program was also the subject of an investigation published in the Boston Review in January 2014 by HRRW contributor Jake Johnston.

The IG’s audit found that USAID “did not achieve its goals” of providing permanent housing for Haitians and that “the mission had substantially completed construction of only 816 of the planned 4,000 houses—21 percent of the goal.” To compensate for the shortfalls, USAID increased funding for the project from $55 to $90 million and extended the deadline from December 2012 to October 2014. Still, the IG report found that, “it is unlikely that USAID will be able to meet its original goals even by the new target dates.” USAID mission director John Groarke told the AP that USAID “will now try to build homes through the use of mortgages.”

The IG’s audit takes USAID to task for failing to monitor quality control and environmental mitigation plans put forward by the contractors tasked with carrying out the project. The IG found that, for example, cement testing was improperly documented and that USAID “personnel did not review the contractor’s quality control procedures.” This could lead to “the use of substandard material in USAID-funded construction projects, affecting structural integrity,” according to the IG.

The IG also found that while the contractor tasked with monitoring environmental mitigation, CEEPCO, consistently found faults with the work of Thor Construction, tasked with building 750 of the new homes, USAID staff failed to follow up or adequately address the concerns. While CEEPCO, “issued citations” to Thor, the IG found that USAID “did not do detailed follow-up” on the problems identified.

Despite the project being over budget and behind schedule, the IG found that USAID had failed to even conduct basic performance evaluations of any of the four contractors involved in the program. Per contracting regulations, the evaluations were due between July 2012 and April 2013, yet had still not been completed by the time of the IG’s audit.

The audit from the IG is the latest to find that USAID has failed to adequately monitor its contractors and grantees in Haiti, resulting in substandard outputs. Responding to these findings, in December 2013 the House of Representatives passed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which calls for greater accountability and transparency in USAID’s programs in Haiti. The bill is currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Transparently Untransparent – USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives

April 7, 2014 - 14:48

By Jake Johnston

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) has recently been in the news after a covert “Cuban Twitter” program “aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government,” was revealed last week by the Associated Press. As my colleague Dan Beeton has written on CEPR’s Americas Blog, this is not the only time OTI has been implicated in destabilization campaigns in Latin America.

OTI has also been extremely active in Haiti since the earthquake in 2010. Two private companies, Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) began operations on the ground in Haiti, with USAID OTI funding, within a week of the earthquake. When the project came to a close this past November, the total spending through OTI totaled nearly $150 million, making it the largest post-earthquake U.S. government funded program in Haiti. And yet, very little is known as to the exact nature of how that money was spent, despite multiple USAID Inspector General reports showing delays, improper oversight and other associated problems.

The OTI website is explicit in describing the difference between it and other branches of USAID:

While humanitarian aid is distributed on the basis of need alone, transition assistance is allocated with an eye to advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives and priorities.

The website adds:

OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform. In short, it acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will. In most cases, a key event occurs - an election, a peace accord, or the rise of a nonviolent protest movement - that signals a fundamental realignment of power or direction. Before initiating a new country program, OTI analyzes the extent to which the ingredients for success are in place.

OTI Will “No Longer Post Monthly Written Reports From Our Partners.”

As OTI explains on its website, in “exchange for the flexibility granted OTI, Congress demands and deserves complete, accurate, and real-time information” concerning its activities. To this end, OTI posted monthly, quarterly and annual reports from its various programs on its website. It even explicitly states this on its website, noting that, “OTI posts reports on its website at least monthly for its country programs.” However, according to an e-mail from OTI today, the office will “no longer post monthly written reports from our partners.” The e-mail added that the website will be changed accordingly. The website was indeed updated today, however no changes to that specific language were made.

In reality, at least in the case of Haiti, these reporting requirements had not been posted publicly for multiple years. Even when they were posted, they often contained contradictory information. Following inquiries from HRRW into discrepancies between two quarterly reports in late 2011, I was copied on an e-mail intended for an OTI employee’s superiors. It stated, bluntly:

Given the recent CEPR blog on Haiti and Chemonics, do you think I should follow up with Jake below, or refer him to LPA [Legislative and Public Affairs]?

The e-mail came just days after I had posted the final installment of a three-part blog series on some of USAID’s largest contractors in Haiti, including Chemonics. I was referred to LPA. [Side note: The employee who sent that e-mail previously worked for Chemonics.]

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