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Haitians plead: `Where is the help?'

 Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz.
By Roger Annis

January 15, 2010 -- Evidence of monstrous neglect of the Haitian people is mounting following the catastrophic earthquake three days ago. As life-saving medical supplies, food, water purification chemicals and vehicles pile up at the airport in Port-au-Prince, and as news networks report a massive international effort to deliver emergency aid, the people in the shattered city are wondering when they will see help.

The BBC World Service reports that Haitian officials now fear the death toll could rise to 140,000. Three million people are homeless. BBC reporter Andy Gallagher told an 8 pm (Canadian Pacific Time) broadcast tonight that he had traveled “extensively” in Port-au-Prince during the day and saw little sign of aid delivery. He said he was shown nothing but courtesy by the Haitians he encountered. Everywhere he went he was taken by residents to see what had happened to their neighbourhood, their homes and their lives. Then they asked, “Where is the help?”.

“When the rescue teams arrive”, Gallagher said, “they will be welcomed with open arms.”

Canada's CBC Radio One’s As It Happens broadcast an interview this evening with a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross. He said he spent the morning touring one of the hardest hit areas of the city (the district was not named), in the hills that rise from the flat plain on which sits historic Port-au-Prince. “In three hours, I didn’t see a single rescue team.”

The BBC report contrasts starkly with warnings of looting and violence that fill the airwaves of news channels such as CNN and are being voiced by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. He was asked by media in Washington why relief supplies were not being delivered by air. He answered, “It seems to me that air drops will simply lead to riots.”

Gates says that “security” concerns are impeding the delivery of aid. But Gallagher responded directly to that in his report, saying, “I’m not experiencing that.” Describing the airport, Gallagher reported, “There are plenty of materials on the ground and plenty of people there. I don’t know what the problem is with delivery.”

Nan Buzard, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross, was interviewed on the same BBC broadcast about the problem with aid delivery. She implied that there were not, in fact, many supplies at the airport to be moved, that many of the planes that have been landing were filled with people, not supplies.

When pressed by the BBC host why aid was not being moved into the city, Buzard conceded she was “surprised” that it was not being airlifted in.

The BBC’s is not the only report to contradict exaggerated security concerns. The daily report on the website of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) one day after the earthquake said, “Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other. When they saw that I was from MSF they were asking for help, particularly to treat their wounded. There was strong solidarity among people in the streets.”

An emailed report received by the Canada Haiti Action Network describes a city largely bereft of international aid. “Thus far”, it reports, “the rescue teams cluster at the high profile and safer walled sites and were literally afraid to enter the barrios. They gravitated to the sites where they had secure compounds and big buildings.

“Meanwhile, the neighbourhoods where the damage appears to be much wider, and anywhere there were loose crowds, they avoided. In the large sites, and in the nice neighbourhoods, and where the press can be found, there would be teams from every country imaginable. Dogs and extraction units with more arriving, yet with 90% or more of them just sitting around."

“Meanwhile, in the poor neighbourhoods, awash in rubble, there was not a foreigner in sight. News crews are looking for the story of desperate Haitians that are in hysterics. When in reality it is more often the Haitians that are acting calmly while the international community, the elite and politicians have melted down over the issue, and none seem to have the remotest idea what is going on.”

The report says that most of the staff of the US embassy and US AID complex (located a stone’s throw from the oceanfront) have fled and buildings are largely empty, even though the streets in the area are clear.

On January 14, the BBC broadcast an interview with Mark Stuart, a director of an orphanage in Jacmel, a city of 50,000 on Haiti's south coast, 50 km south of Port-au-Prince. Aerial footage showed catastrophic damage. Stuart appealed for international relief, saying that food and water supplies would soon run out and no aid whatsoever had arrived.

An article on the website of a Chicago publication says a trickle of aid arrived today but the road between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel is impassable.

Aid authorities must be urged to speed up their efforts to flood the earthquake zone with food, water, supplies and medical personnel. A network of relief centres fanning out from the port and airport, including air lift and parachute drops, would seem to be an obvious step. Donations to relief efforts, especially to those already delivering services, such as Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders, are crucially important.

[Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network in Vancouver. He can be reached at rogerannis [at] hotmail.com.]

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Anger at US builds at Port-au-Prince airport

By Deborah Pasmantier (AFP) – January 16, 2010

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5guma2WKnHthswP2UVPiCIuLm_ocQ

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Anger built Saturday at Haiti's US-controlled main airport, where aid flights were still being turned away and poor coordination continued to hamper the relief effort four days on.

"Let's take over the runway," shouted one voice. "We need to send a message to (US President Barack) Obama," cried another.

Control remained in the hands of US forces, who face criticism for the continued disarray at the overwhelmed airfield.

Dozens of French citizens and dual Haitian-French nationals crowded the airport Saturday seeking to be evacuated after Tuesday's massive 7.0 earthquake, which leveled much of the capital Port-au-Prince.

But at the last minute, a plane due to take them to the French island of Guadeloupe was prevented from landing, leaving them to sleep on the tarmac, waiting for a way out.

"They're repatriating the Americans and not anyone else," said Charles Misteder, 50. "The American monopoly has to end. They are dominating us and not allowing us to return home."

The crowd accused American forces, who were handed control of the airport by Haitian authorities, of monopolizing the airfield's single runway to evacuate their own citizens.

The US embassy denied it was putting the evacuation of the approximately 40,000 to 45,000 American citizens in the country first.

Others waiting for a way out were taken aback by the chaotic scenes confronted them when they arrived at the Toussaint L'Ouverture airport.

"I haven't been able to tell my family that I'm alive. The coordination is a joke," said Wilfried Brevil, a 33-year-old housekeeper.

"I was at the Christopher Hotel," said Daniele Saada, referring to the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti, MINUSTAH.

"I was extremely shaken up. I was pulled out, the others weren't," added Saada, 65, a MINUSTAH employee.

"I decided to return to France. I have nothing and now I am stuck," she said, caught between fury at the chaos and sheer exhaustion.

The disorder even appeared to cause diplomatic ripples, with French Secretary of State for Cooperation Alain Joyandet telling reporters he had lodged a complaint with the United States over its handling of the Port-au-Prince airport.

"I have made an official protest to the Americans through the US embassy," he said at the Haitian airport after a French plane carrying a field hospital was turned away.

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry later denied France had registered protest, saying "Franco-US coordination in emergency aid for Haiti is being handled in the best way possible given the serious difficulties."

The US ambassador to Haiti defended American efforts at the small airport, which was up-and-running 24 hours after the massive quake, even though the air traffic control tower was damaged.

"We're working in coordination with the United Nations and the Haitians," said Ambassador Kenneth Merten, though he acknowledged some difficulties.

"Clearly it's necessary to prioritize the planes. It's clear that there's a problem."

Despite the chaos, a group of French citizens was eventually able to take off on Saturday, and the French plane carrying a field hospital landed safely around noon.

Still, with aid continuing to flood into the quake-stricken country, concern remains about the lack of coordination at the airport, and across devastated Port-au-Prince.

"The Haitians haven't been notified about the arrival of planes. And when they do land, there's no one to take charge and a large amount of goods are arriving without coordination," said Haitian government official Michel Chancy.

On Port-au-Prince's streets, the consequences of the coordination breakdown are clear, as traumatized and starving quake survivors approached passing foreigner and begged them for food.

Copyright © 2010 AFP.

US Nation:IMF to earthquake-stricken Haiti: Freeze public wages

posted by Richard Kim on 01/15/2010 @ 5:47pm

http://www.thenation.com/blogs/notion/517494/print

Since a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti on Tuesday--killing tens of thousands of people--there's been a lot of well-intentioned chatter and twitter about how to help Haiti. Folks have been donating millions of dollars to Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti (by texting "YELE" to 501501) or to the Red Cross (by texting "HAITI" to 90999) or to Paul Farmer's extraordinary Partners in Health, among other organizations. I hope these donations continue to pour in, along with more money, food, water, medicine, equipment and doctors and nurses from nations around the world. The Obama administration has pledged at least $100 million in aid and has already sent thousands of soldiers and relief workers. That's a decent start.

But it's also time to stop having a conversation about charity and start having a conversation about justice--about recovery, responsibility and fairness. What the world should be pondering instead is: What is Haiti owed?

Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters, its food shortages, poverty, deforestation and lack of infrastructure, are not accidental. To say that it is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere is to miss the point; Haiti was made poor--by France, the United States, Great Britain, other Western powers and by the IMF and the World Bank.

Now, in its attempts to help Haiti, the IMF is pursuing the same kinds of policies that made Haiti a geography of precariousness even before the quake. To great fanfare, the IMF announced a new $100 million loan to Haiti on Thursday. In one crucial way, the loan is a good thing; Haiti is in dire straits and needs a massive cash infusion. But the new loan was made through the IMF's extended credit facility, to which Haiti already has $165 million in debt. Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low. They say that the new loans would impose these same conditions. In other words, in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms.

For Haiti, this is history repeated. As historians have documented, the impoverishment of Haiti began in the earliest decades of its independence, when Haiti's slaves and free gens de couleur rallied to liberate the country from the French in 1804. But by 1825, Haiti was living under a new kind of bondage--external debt. In order to keep the French and other Western powers from enforcing an embargo, it agreed to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slave owners (yes, that's right, freed slaves were forced to compensate their former masters for their liberty). In order to do that, they borrowed millions from French banks and then from the US and Germany. As Alex von Tunzelmann pointed out, "by 1900, it [Haiti] was spending 80 percent of its national budget on repayments."

It took Haiti 122 years, but in 1947 the nation paid off about 60 percent, or 90 million francs, of this debt (it was able to negotiate a reduction in 1838). In 2003, then-President Aristide called on France to pay restitution for this sum--valued in 2003 dollars at over $21 billion. A few months later, he was ousted in a coup d'etat; he claims he left the country under armed pressure from the US.

Then of course there are the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank in the 1990s. In 1995, for example, the IMF forced Haiti to cut its rice tariff from 35 percent to 3 percent, leading to a massive increase in rice-dumping, the vast majority of which came from the United States. As a 2008 Jubilee USA report notes, although the country had once been a net exporter of rice, "by 2005, three out of every four plates of rice eaten in Haiti came from the US." During this period, USAID invested heavily in Haiti, but this "charity" came not in the form of grants to develop Haiti's agricultural infrastructure, but in direct food aid, furthering Haiti's dependence on foreign assistance while also funneling money back to US agribusiness.

A 2008 report from the Center for International Policy points out that in 2003, Haiti spent $57.4 million to service its debt, while total foreign assistance for education, health care and other services was a mere $39.21 million. In other words, under a system of putative benevolence, Haiti paid back more than it received. As Paul Farmer noted in our pages after hurricanes whipped the country in 2008, Haiti is "a veritable graveyard of development projects."

So what can activists do in addition to donating to a charity? One long-term objective is to get the IMF to forgive all $265 million of Haiti's debt (that's the $165 million outstanding, plus the $100 million issued this week). In the short term, Haiti's IMF loans could be restructured to come from the IMF's rapid credit facility, which doesn't impose conditions like keeping wages and inflation down.

Indeed, debt relief is essential to Haiti's future. It recently had about $1.2 billion in debt canceled, but it still owes about $891 million, all of which was lent to the country from 2004 onward. $429 million of that debt is held by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to whom Haiti is scheduled to make $10 million in payments next year. Obviously, that's money better spent on saving Haitian lives and rebuilding the country in the months ahead; the cancellation of the entire sum would free up precious capital. The US controls about 30 percent of the bank's shares; Latin American and Caribbean countries hold just over 50 percent. Notably, the IDB's loans come from its fund for special operations (i.e. the IDB's donor nations and funds from loans that have been paid back), not from IDB's bonds. Hence, the total amount could be forgiven without impacting the IDB's triple-A credit rating.

Finally, although the Obama administration temporarily halted deportations to Haiti, it hasn't granted Haitians temporary protected status (TPS), which would save them from being deported back to the scene of a disaster for as long as 18 months, allow them to work in the US and, crucially, send money back to relatives in Haiti. In the past, TPS has been given to countries like Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998 after Hurrican Mitch, but it has never been extended to Haitians, even after the 2008 storms, presumably because immigrations officials fear a mass exodus from Haiti.

But decency, as well as fairness, should trump those fears now. As Sunita Patel, an attorney with CCR, told me, "We have granted TPS to El Salavador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan following natural disasters. To apply different rules here would fly in the face of the administration's efforts to build good will abroad."

(UPDATE: It has just been announced that the Obama administration has granted Temporary Protected Status to Haiti. This is a great relief to Haitians in the US and a victory for those who pressured the administration to do so.)

US blocks Doctors Without Borders aid to Haiti

Doctors Without Borders Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org//press/release.cfm?id=4165&cat=press-release

Demands Deployment of Lifesaving Medical Equipment Given Priority

Port-au-Prince/Paris /New York, 17 January 2009—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges that its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material be allowed to land in Port-au-Prince in order to treat thousands of wounded waiting for vital surgical operations. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel.

Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.

A second MSF plane is currently on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital. If this plane is also rerouted then the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life saving treatment.

The inflatable hospital includes 2 operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material.

MSF teams are currently working around the clock in 5 different hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only 2 operating theaters are fully functional, while a third operating theater has been improvised for minor surgery due to the massive influx of wounded and lack of functional referral structures.

Sorry to slander the good Americans.. but

the American government is guilty of long term criminal repression in Haiti

therefore anything to do with Haiti must be handling with maximum PR in case real people start to understand the real situation

this explains why the Americans have to be always in front... to try to mimimise blowback from their past actions

pity the poor real people in America and the rest of the world... especially in Haiti at this time

if the American government went away we would all be better off

why is Obama not living up to our hopes?

why are the real American people not giving him backbone to do the right things for all of us?

US blocks Caribbean aid team from arriving in Haiti

CARICOM BLOCKED
...as US takes control of airport


 
 

THE CARIBBEAN Community’s emergency aid mission to Haiti, comprising Heads of Government and leading technical officials, failed to secure permission Friday to land at that devasted country’s aiport, now under the control of the United States.

Consequently, the Caricom ’assessment mission’, that was to determine priority humanitarian needs resulting from the mind-boggling earthquake disaster of Haiti last Tuesday, had to travel back from Jamaica to their respective home destinations..

On Friday afternoon the US State Department confirmed signing two ’Memoranda of Understanding’ with the Government of Haiti that made ’official that the United Stateas is in charge of all inbound and outbound flights and aid off-loading...’

Further, according to the agreements signed, US medical personnel ’now have the authority to operate on Haitian citizens and otherwise render medical assistance without having to wait for licences from Haiti’s government...’

Prior to the US taking control of Haiti’s airport, a batch of some 30 Cuban doctors had left Havana, following Wednesday’s earthquake, to join more than 300 of their colleagues who have been working there for more than a year.

Last evening the frustration suffered by the Caricom mission to get landing permission was expected to be raised in a scheduled meeting at Jamaica’s Norman Manley International Airport with US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding who was making arrangements for the meeting with Clinton, following her visit earlier in the day to witness the devasation of the capital Port-au-Prince, said he could not comment on details to be discussed.

He, however, told this correspondent: ’I appreciate the chaos and confusion at Haiti’s airport, where there is just one operational runway. But Haiti is a member of Caricom and we simply have to be facilitated and the truth is, there is hardly a functioning government in Haiti...’

Asked whether the difficuties encountered by the Caricom mission may be related to reports that US authorities were not anxious to facilitate landing of aircraft from Cuba and Venezuela, Prime Minister Golding said he could ’only hope that there is no truth to such immature thinking in the face of the horrific scale of Haiti’s tragedy...’

Golding, who has lead portfolio responsibility among Caricom leaders for external economic relations, had a personal first-hand assessment when he flew to Haiti on Thusday.

A contigent of some 150 members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF has since established a camp with medical facilities in the vicinity of Haiti’s airport.

Patrick Cockburn: The US is failing Haiti -- again

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/patrick-cockburn-the-us-is-failing-haiti-ndash-again-1869539.html

January 16, 2010

Patrick Cockburn: The US is failing Haiti - again

There is nobody to co-ordinate the most rudimentary relief and rescue efforts.

The US-run aid effort for Haiti is beginning to look chillingly similar to the criminally slow and disorganised US government support for New Orleans after it was devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Five years ago President Bush was famously mute and detached when the levees broke in Louisiana. By way of contrast, President Obama was promising Haitians that everything would be done for survivors within hours of the calamity.

The rhetoric from Washington has been very different during these two disasters, but the outcome may be much the same. In both cases very little aid arrived at the time it was most needed and, in the case of Port-au-Prince, when people trapped under collapsed buildings were still alive. When foreign rescue teams with heavy lifting gear does come it will be too late. No wonder enraged Haitians are building roadblocks out of rocks and dead bodies.

In New Orleans and Port-au-Prince there is the same official terror of looting by local people, so the first outside help to arrive is in the shape of armed troops. The US currently has 3,500 soldiers, 2,200 marines and 300 medical personnel on their way to Haiti.

Of course there will be looting because, with shops closed or flattened by the quake, this is the only way for people to get food and water. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. I was in Port-au-Prince in 1994, the last time US troops landed there, when local people systematically tore apart police stations, taking wood, pipes and even ripping nails out of the walls. In the police station I was in there were sudden cries of alarm from those looting the top floor as they discovered that they could not get back down to the ground because the entire wooden staircase had been chopped up and stolen.

I have always liked Haitians for their courage, endurance, dignity and originality. They often manage to avoid despair in the face of the most crushing disasters or any prospect that their lives will get better. Their culture, notably their painting and music, is among the most interesting and vibrant in the world.

It is sad to hear journalists who have rushed to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake give such misleading and even racist explanations of why Haitians are so impoverished, living in shanty towns with a minimal health service, little electricity supply, insufficient clean water and roads that are like river beds.

This did not happen by accident. In the 19th century it was as if the colonial powers never forgave Haitians for staging a successful slave revolt against the French plantation owners. US marines occupied the country from 1915 to 1934. Between 1957 and 1986 the US supported Papa Doc and Baby Doc, fearful that they might be replaced by a regime sympathetic to revolutionary Cuba next door.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic populist priest, was overthrown by a military coup in 1991, and restored with US help in 1994. But the Americans were always suspicious of any sign of radicalism from this spokesman for the poor and the outcast and kept him on a tight lead. Tolerated by President Clinton, Aristide was treated as a pariah by the Bush administration which systematically undermined him over three years leading up to a successful rebellion in 2004. That was led by local gangsters acting on behalf of a kleptocratic Haitian elite and supported by members of the Republican Party in the US.

So much of the criticism of President Bush has focused on his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that his equally culpable actions in Haiti never attracted condemnation. But if the country is a failed state today, partly run by the UN, in so far as it is run by anybody, then American actions over the years have a lot to do with it.

Haitians are now paying the price for this feeble and corrupt government structure because there is nobody to co-ordinate the most rudimentary relief and rescue efforts. Its weakness is exacerbated because aid has been funnelled through foreign NGOs. A justification for this is that less of the money is likely to be stolen, but this does not mean that much of it reaches the Haitian poor. A sour Haitian joke says that when a Haitian minister skims 15 per cent of aid money it is called "corruption" and when an NGO or aid agency takes 50 per cent it is called "overheads".

Many of the smaller government aid programmes and NGOs are run by able, energetic and selfless people, but others, often the larger ones, are little more than rackets, highly remunerative for those who run them. In Kabul and Baghdad it is astonishing how little the costly endeavours of American aid agencies have accomplished. "The wastage of aid is sky high," said a former World Bank director in Afghanistan. "There is real looting going on, mostly by private enterprises. It is a scandal." Foreign consultants in Kabul often receive $250,000 to $500,000 a year, in a country where 43 per cent of the population try to live on less than a dollar a day.

None of this bodes well for Haitians hoping for relief in the short term or a better life in the long one. The only way this will really happen is if the Haitians have a legitimate state capable of providing for the needs of its people. The US military, the UN bureaucracy or foreign NGOs are never going to do this in Haiti or anywhere else.

There is nothing very new in this. Americans often ask why it is that their occupation of Germany and Japan in 1945 succeeded so well but more than half a century later in Iraq and Afghanistan was so disastrous. The answer is that it was not the US but the efficient German and Japanese state machines which restored their countries. Where that machine was weak, as in Italy, the US occupation relied with disastrous results on corrupt and incompetent local elites, much as they do today in Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti.

Haiti and MSF

This article is very upsetting but very necessary as the real issues are being talked about here. I donate to MSF but would be very cautious about donating to others and no Government aligned non-independent charities and this would go for the UK and US particularly. I say this after the Tsunami, I wanted to donate more as the official donation streams on TV and radio stations were still claiming aid money was needed by many NGOs. But I discovered by accident that MSF had stopped taking money for Tsunami struck areas but other organisations continued to demand and take donations long after MSF declared the emergency need was over. I found out this information quite by accident but it was never reported in the so-called free western press. Even worse, the aid effort in Sri Lanka was non-existent and had infact been used as a way of displacing Tamil fishing communities who lived in beach areas to build luxury holiday developments on the once pristine beaches. It disturbs me to hear a Buddhist country hates people who are non-Buddhist and treats them this way. Many people particularly me wanted answers on why and how the aid money had not helped people Tamil or of whatever origin, many of whom were still homeless, without water and medication but I was bullied and called negative. It revealed to me that many NGOs do not speak for helping people at all and instead collude with corrupt Governments both in the West and elsewhere. Many of such Governments are actively involved in violently repressive and international war criminal activity if one looks at the history of Haiti. It is odd how pop stars never donate money but join these pointless charities to extract money but are never there when people want audits on how the money was used. In fact, it is not money but humanitarian efforts that are needed to stop repression, corruption and dictatorships planted by countries like the US. I am really pleased that MSF are there and this is the only charity I have any respect for and they are the only ones who offer hope.

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