Today, as tensions rise between the Haitian government and the hundreds of thousands who continue to live in makeshift displacement camps in Port-au-Prince, many in Haiti and around the world are questioning both the impact and transparency of major NGOs, and specifically the Red Cross.
Several thousand marchers demonstrated against Haitian President Michel Martelly on Sunday, the anniversary of a bloody coup d’état that toppled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide 21 years ago. With posters and slogans denouncing the rising cost of living, the government’s authoritarianism and corruption, and also calling for Martelly to step down, demonstrators made their way to the ruins of the National Palace, crushed in the devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010.
“I am in charge of Haiti!” one excited former soldier in his fifties exclaims. The others laugh on cue, one of them holding a handgun casually by his side. Swinging around to pose for the camera, an older man in fatigues carelessly waves the barrel of his machine gun past me at chest height. Two hours north of Port-au-Prince, in the town of Saint-Marc, we’ve received our first introduction to the 3,000-strong band of military enthusiasts dubbed Haiti’s “rogue” army.
Earthquakes may be hard to predict, but it should have been easy to foresee the disaster that would result from the sort of quake that hit Haiti in January 2010. Haiti’s failure to recover in the two years since was just as predictable. The structural problems that turned a bad earthquake into a cataclysm go all the way back to Haiti’s colonial history, but the immediate causes are much more recent.
Mario Joseph (no relation), a prominent Haitian lawyer, told IPS, “In Haiti, one is a minor until age 18. That means that if a foreign soldier has sex with a minor, he is breaking Haitian law and the Haitian judicial system should judge him.” But under an agreement between MINUSTAH and the Haitian government, U.N. troops have immunity from the Haitian justice system and are supposed to be tried for transgressions in their home countries.
On May 23 and 25, police in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince destroyed camps where people homeless since the January 2010 earthquake have taken up shelter. During the raids, police and other municipal workers arrested and beat some of those living within the camps.
Perhaps the most frank admission of what the struggling Haitian people can expect in the coming years was summed up in Clinton’s praise for the joint effort between the U.S. and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to build a new industrial park close to Cap Haiten.
As the one-year anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake approaches, a brutally frank account of the plight of its people has been delivered by a highly placed diplomat. Ricardo Seitenfus, the representative to Haiti of the Organization of American States, delivered a hard-hitting assessment of the foreign role in that country in an interview published in the December 20 edition of the Swiss daily Le Temps.