Posted on 01/12/11
As Haitians mark the anniversary on Wednesday of the earthquake that flattened much of the capital Port-au-Prince, hopes that a better nation could rise from the rubble have given way to a crushing sense of bitterness and despair.
Reconstruction work has barely begun despite billions of dollars in pledged aid, profiteering by Haiti’s tiny and notoriously corrupt elite has reached epic proportions, and a national cholera epidemic has added to the misery of a country where the magnitude 7 quake killed about 250,000 people and left more than a million homeless.
Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, was in bad shape before the quake. But promises from the international community to “build Haiti back better” now ring hollow to many of the country’s most vulnerable.
Banks, schools and government offices were ordered closed for the anniversary and a national day of mourning was to kick off with a service offered by the papal envoy to Haiti at the quake-shattered remains of the National Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the special U.N. envoy for Haiti who heads its main disaster management body, was due to attend the service along with a host of officials including outgoing Haitian President Rene Preval.
Clinton, in an interview with NBC News’ Mara Schiavocampo, said he was not satisfied with the rate of progress, but remained optimistic that this would change.
“Everyday there’s hope and there’s frustration, but I’d say the hope still outweighs the frustration,” he said. “I think there has been some real progress. We got 60 percent of the pledges for the first year distributed.”
Schiavocampo, noting that some of the additions to the tent camps to make them more livable — such as concrete structures and latrines — also made them easier to rely on as permanent housing, asked Clinton if he expects them to still be in use in the next several years.
“If they’re here in five years, I’ll be really diasppointed,” responded Clinton, who co-chairs the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission with Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. “But I have to tell you, I didn’t think we’d get a third of the people out in a year because we knew couldn’t do any comprehensive block-by-block building.”
Clinton continued, saying that those who have left the camps were able to clear rubble from
their existing homes, or get into temporary housing.
“So, where actually that’s the one area where there are more people out of those camps than what I thought would be, but I want to really see a lot of rapid movement.”
‘Continuing spirit’ of Haitians
He said between 40 to 60 exhibitors were expected at a housing expo in spring and the Haitian government would then choose which of them were eligible for aid.
“Then I’ll be surprised if we don’t really start going to town on the housing,” Clinton said. “I think you’ll see big time movement and there’ll be employment and there’ll be new businesses as a result of it. So, we’ll do better on housing this year.”
He said he was “most encouraged by the fact that I can’t find any donor who has given up,” but also by the the “continuing spirit of the people of Haiti.”
Clinton has faced pointed criticism for painfully slow progress in relief and rebuilding efforts so far. He acknowledged disappointment with the commission’s work in remarks to foreign reporters on Tuesday.
“Nobody’s been more frustrated than I am that we haven’t done more,” he said.
In his interview with Schiavocampo, Clinton said he was asked “a lot” by donors about what their money had been spent on.
“If someone wants to know how was their money spent and was it well spent, how do you answer that question?” he said. “Well, I think first of all, to answer how it was spent, I have to know to whom they gave it.
In Champs Mars, Port-au-Prince’s central plaza where thousands of families made homeless by the quake live in a sweltering tent city, residents said the official ceremonies and renewed pledges of aid and progress for Haiti from foreign officials, were like something taking place in another world.
Hundreds of thousands are still living in such camps and are falling victim to the cholera that has already taken some 3,750 lives since mid-October.
A political impasse since a disputed presidential election on November 28 has fueled further instability in the Caribbean country.
“I hear about aid on TV but us in Champs Mars, we’ve never seen it. We have no way to get out,” said 55-year-old Ginelle Pierre Louis.
“The diplomats pass through in the air, in helicopters, but they never come through here on the ground,” said Hyacinthe Mintha, 56, a resident of Champs Mars, which overlooks the heavily damaged presidential palace.
Mintha’s daughter, Hyacinthe Benita, 39, lives in a metal and wood shack with a frayed tarp roof and a thin pallet as the only bed for herself and her four children.
“We are still here in misery,” she said of the quake anniversary. “I hope this year brings serious change because 2010 was hell for us,” she added.
“The president’s right over there,” said Benita, gesturing toward the annex where Preval, who is deeply unpopular, works behind the presidential palace. “He’s never done anything for us, he’s never come to see us at all. They look at us like animals,” she said.
The new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said Tuesday that real recovery and development in Haiti depended on accountability and strong leadership by the Caribbean country’s government.
“Leadership that is not there,” she said after returning to Miami International Airport. “It will be crucial, critical, necessary for Haiti’s next leader to take every step necessary to institute the needed changes to bring transparency, trust and credibility back to this nation.”
Ros-Lehtinen said future U.S. and international support for Haiti depended on concrete eff orts to curb corruption and graft. The congresswoman said she planned to reintroduce legislati on to increase oversight of U.S. funding to Haiti.
Cheryl Mills, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chief of staff, has said the U.S. could support throwing out the disputed results of Haiti’s first-round presidential election in November, if that’s what is proposed by a 12-member election team from the Organization of American States.
A draft copy of the OAS report on the election, obtained by The Associated Press, said the disputed vote should neither be thrown out entirely nor recounted.
But it said enough fraudulent or improper ballots should be invalidated to drop ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin into third place and out of the second-round runoff.
Denis O’Brien, a supporter of Bill Clinton and chairman of the Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel that is Haiti’s biggest foreign investor, told Reuters in an interview this week that the former U.S. leader had a solid understanding of what needs to be done to get Haiti back on its feet.
But one of his big problems, according to O’Brien, is that most members of Haiti’s ruling class have done little to help, seeking only to profit on the back of their nation’s catastrophe.
“There’s very few of the elite families that are actually doing a lot for Haiti,” O’Brien said.
“They’re making massive profits on the importation of goods, products, services, everything … Profiteering at a major scale is going on here,” he added.
Jimmy Jean-Louis, a Haitian-born actor and performer who now lives in Los Angeles but has visited his homeland frequently since the quake, said the ruling class had always benefited from chaos and mayhem in Haiti.
“The more destabilization there is, unfortunately, the more money the elite makes,” he said.
Source (article): MSNBC
Source (picture): PURECASHMAGAZINE, OUTBLUSH