Council on Hemispheric Affairs
1444 I Street, NW Suite 211
Washington, DC 20005
For Immediate Release
By Ignoring Island’s Suffering, U.S.’s Frivolous Haiti Policy Invites Approaching Catastrophe
* Haiti continues to sink further into poverty, as illustrated by the nation’s accelerated potable water and healthcare crises. Recent activity in Washington indicates a renewed urgency amongst congressional Democrats and international agencies to cope with its plight.
* H.C.R. 382, “New Partnership for Haiti,” sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, calls for an end to the aid moratorium and the termination of present U.S. policies steeped in negativity.
* $500 million in loans and grants to Haiti have been withheld by international banks due to the political polarization brought about by Washington’s Haiti policy, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid remaining in jeopardy. The international wing of the Republican Party (IRI) and Bush’s White House appear to be conspiring against the hemisphere’s poorest nation.
* The OAS begins yet another round of negotiations between the Haitian government and the loose Convergence coalition of IRI-backed opposition members, whose only power lies in its policy of non-negotiation and the proxy influence over Washington’s Aristide-bashers.
* The U.S. insists on elevated electoral and democratic standards for Haiti-a nation obviously unable to reach them-compared to what it asks of other, far less democratic, yet more favored nations, like Saudi Arabia.
* While Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and U2’s Bono traveled to the other side of the world to investigate the possible funding of poverty stricken nations worthy of U.S. help, the Bush administration continues to neglect abject poverty in Haiti, which lies in its own backyard.
* Haiti’s severe health problems will inevitably lead to another mass exodus from the island, like in the early 1990s, when thousands of Haitians headed for Florida, where they were greeted by a policy of instant interdiction and repatriation. Unlike the immigration arrangements that reflect the power of Miami’s influential Cuban-American community, there is no 20,000 annual immigrant quota established for Haiti.
As the world looks elsewhere, Haiti is fast running out of time. As every aspect of its nationhood unravels due to its empty larder, Washington continues its policy of economic denial, disguised to induce reform to the Aristide administration, but really aimed at discrediting its political stature, as well as that of the ruling Lavalas Family Party. The key players in this conspiracy have been Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich, the International Republican Institute, Senator Jessie Helms, U.S. operatives in the OAS, as well as the White House’s backdoor foreign policy fund-laundering operation, the controversial National Endowment for Democracy. Like its Cuba policy, the White House has been using a script first drafted by the Clinton administration, which unfortunately views President Aristide not as Haiti’s most precious political asset, but as a dangerous leftist rogue who must be contained and made to face viable putative political opposition where none, in reality, exists. While sedulously playing dirty politics itself, opposition members accuse Aristide’s followers of not abiding by the country’s constitution.
Water Crisis Marks a New Low Point in Haiti’s Breakdown
During May, Haitians experienced a new nadir in their free fall into famine and misery. In addition to the country’s routine political and economic woes, its people now struggle for survival on an island whose arability can be compared to that of the moon, as a lethal water shortage triggers a run on alarmingly short supplies. Meanwhile, another Jobian affliction has struck the island, as recent severe floods killed at least 20. Haiti’s natural habitat is fast turning into an expanse of desolate and eroded terrain that will soon become completely unfertile, leaving its people even more susceptible to unyielding destitution. As the Pan-American Health Organization reports, “No city has a public sewerage system, and there only are isolated wastewater treatment units throughout the country. Solid waste management is a serious problem; bad excreta disposal practices are polluting almost all 18 water sources supplying Port-au-Prince.” The leading cause of death in Haiti is disease spread through contaminated water. The water panic has worsened an already startling situation, forcing residents to spend, on average, nearly a tenth of their already appallingly meager income of $1 a day on such a fundamental staple as water. Because of its inflated price, less than half of Haiti’s population consumes potable water. Meanwhile, due to the U.S. Treasury Department’s virtual veto power on its board of directors, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) refuses to allocate a low-interest loan of $54 million meant to improve Haiti’s access to clean water, despite the fact that its charter specifically forbids political meddling.
H.C.R. 382: “New Partnership for Haiti”
During May 22-24, activists protested Washington’s anti-Haiti sanctions in demonstrations on Capitol Hill. On this occasion, critics of the administration’s current policy called for the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 382, entitled “New Partnership for Haiti,” which Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced to the House on April 18 on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)-whose members traditionally advocate a fair deal for Haiti. This resolution proposes a halt to the U.S.-orchestrated block on existing aid commitments to the island nation. The Caribbean regional body Caricom, as well as multiple human rights and healthcare organizations, already have passed similar resolutions calling for the immediate dispatch of assistance to the beleaguered nation. Only the U.S. Congress and the White House now stand in the way of lifting the virtual embargo against humanitarian aid to the languishing populace. Unfortunately, considering the fact that the resolution remains stalled in committee, and with Congress sharply divided along party lines, it is dubious that it will ever reach the floor of Congress, unless urgent action by the public is taken.
Statistics cited in this pending resolution help illustrate the hopeless straits of today’s Haitian society. Last April, only an estimated 40% of Haitians had access to potable water. Due to a lack of facilities and extreme erosion, even heavy rains have failed to increase water supplies, causing only damaging floods. Meanwhile, when Haitians inevitably become ill due to the steady intake of contaminated water, only 1 in 10,000 has access to a physician. Finally, as if the nation was not already in the most dire of conditions, HIV and AIDS infections are rapidly increasing to epidemic proportions, infecting over 300,000. According to one source, deaths as a result of such infections have led to an orphan population of more than 163,000.
A Web of Death: Poverty, Healthcare and HIV in Haiti
Dr. Paul Farmer, Harvard medical professor and celebrated director of Haiti’s Zanmi Lasante clinic, notes the close connection between poverty and the island’s cataclysmic HIV epidemic. As the flow of international funds has been cut to a drip, Dr. Farmer has seen the number of untreated patients in Haiti multiply at an unprecedented pace: “In the first 3 months of this year we saw over 28,000 patients in our clinic and I had worried about 60-70,000 for the year. Now it’ll likely be well over 120,000. The blocked loans are for health, water, and education. It’s insane for the richest country in the world to hold up financing of these projects in one of the poorest.”
A recent $66 million Global Fund contribution to NGOs in Haiti battling HIV does nothing for preventative healthcare, and a highly touted IDB aid package to fight AIDS was never even delivered. The island’s malnourished citizenry, Dr. Farmer argues, is too vulnerable to diseases of all kinds for HIV treatment funds to bring about profound effects. Only through investments in the countryside’s water, clinical and educational systems, such as those that the Lavalas Family Party government has initiated, will long-term healthcare goals be reached for the predominantly rural Haitian families.
The Ironic U.S. Role as Facilitator of Haitian Poverty
Huge sums of bilateral aid are now being denied Haiti due to the recalcitrance of the White House and other opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as well as by other U.S.-influenced donor nations. This is owing to Washington’s unremitting hostility to Aristide and his Lavalas Family Party rule. The Republicans leading the charge against him, in this rabidly partisan battle, argue that USAID already delivers sufficient, if minimum, funds to Haiti. Last year’s $73 million released to provide emergency rations for throngs of starving Haitians, however, is scheduled to be slashed this year to a trifling $20 million, based on remarks made by Secretary of State Colin Powell at June’s OAS General Assembly in Barbados. Moreover, the Quixote Center, a Haitian advocacy organization, maintains that U.S. assistance often ends up as consultancies to foreign nationals, in foreign financial accounts of U.S. venders or in accounts held by the tiny minority of wealthy Haitian nationals. A USAID official in Haiti recently told visitors that “79 cents of every USAID dollar worldwide is actually spent in the U.S.,” when such funds are eventually disbursed.
A total of over $500 million in approved international loans and grants have been blocked under the guise of demands made by Aristide’s enemies that they be frozen until a political consensus can be reached in Haiti between the legitimate, democratically-based administration and a loose, largely discredited coalition of oppositional factions, the Democratic Convergence. The real issue at stake, however, is the status of privatization of public facilities on the island. International financial institutions-true to their unbudging formulae-have conditioned all development assistance on the implementation of structural adjustment policies in order to open up Haiti’s economy and increase the exportation of raw materials such as sugar. While sugarcane grows in the island’s fields, starving families are forced to buy “Domino sugar,” processed duty free in the U.S. to support over-consumption and retard Haiti’s economy. The IDB claims that no loans can be sent to Haiti simply because the country is in arrears, but the State Department has made it clear that the noose will be loosened only if its agenda is met.
The IRI and the Convergence
At the root of this unforgiving policy, as well as the hard-hearted freezing of nearly $100 million in additional IDB funds, is the International Republican Institute (IRI) and its Hill allies. Under the philosophical guidance of Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), this rightwing operation, financed by the paper funds laundered through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has orchestrated a sweeping embargo of Western aid for the island. In January of 2001, Mr. Ira Kurzban, general counsel in the United States for the Aristide administration, claimed that the IRI facilitated the allocation of $3 million of NED funds to the Convergence. On February 2 of last year, The Washington Post reported, “The (Democratic) Convergence was formed as a broad group with help from the International Republican Institute . . . it includes former backers of the hated Duvalier family dictatorship and of the military officers who overthrew Aristide in 1991 and terrorized the country for three years.” Also, Haiti’s Ex-Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamp, in a 1999 interview with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, charged that the Convergence was “being coached by the Washington-based IRI, headed in Port-Au-Prince by a Haitian-born operative, whose family was closely involved with military strongman, General Cedras.”
By directing the Convergence to maintain the political stalemate on the island, the IRI has successfully manipulated the international financial and political institutions designed to protect and preserve impoverished nations such as Haiti. This goal has been attained by backing the Convergence, which many island specialists believe is responsible for sanctioning repeated acts of violence on the island, including the probable authorship of December 17’s attack on the National Palace. This offensive resulted in the death of several loyalist guards, but was repelled in an even more convincing fashion than was seen in the recent coup in Venezuela. The people’s fierce patriotism and devotion to Aristide, however, is facing the merciless test of hunger. Unless Haitians are thrown a lifeline, the democratic process could be sacrificed to Washington’s longstanding policy of propitiating the Convergence and their foreign overseer, the IRI. In effect, the IRI is granting the Convergence?a shrinking faction on the country’s political scene?de facto veto power over Aristide’s legitimate and constitutional authority, as well as the country’s political future. This strategy is designed to facilitate Aristide’s downfall through depriving the Haitian leader of sufficient resources to rule. Due to its members’ close working relationship with Washington, the Convergence’s directors are, in effect, co-rulers of the country, in spite of their lack of a popular base of supporters. The Convergence has delivered a virtual ultimatum-designed to prolong the already mired negotiations-calling for Lavalas senators who came to office in what they term a flawed election, to resign immediately. An American delegation led by Congressman John Conyers of the CBC, however, witnessed the May 2000 balloting, which it described as “a high turnout [with] very little election related violence . . . The democratic process worked exceptionally well.” Aristide attempted to compromise by forcing the resignation of those senators over a year ago, but the Convergence still refuses to negotiate, content to work on advancing its policy of economic asphyxiation against the Haitian president.
The Interminable OAS-sponsored Negotiations
As the Organization of American States (OAS) makes its twentieth visit to Haiti, few analysts see any grounds for predicting success. While the Convergence represents the IRI’s political objectives by deepening the country’s schism, the OAS and its weak Secretary General Cesar Gavaria falter as allegedly non-biased mediators, ending up simply pandering to U.S. mandates. In fact, one key OAS figure, U.S. ambassador Roger Noriega, was a former Helms staffer and a venerable and lethal opponent of Aristide’s.
Like Aristide, the OAS also has been unable to accomplish the goal assigned to it due to a lack of international assistance. Section nineteen of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report cites a lack of resources as the cause behind the non-functioning of Haiti’s inefficient judicial institutions. The paltry $20,000 in humanitarian aid that the OAS spared the island in response to its recent floods?scarcely enough to pay for the annual maintenance cost of Secretary General Gaviria’s chauffeured limo?will hardly launch the recovery process.
The White House’s Hypocrisy When it Comes to Haiti
As the Haitian populace becomes increasingly desperate, it is almost inevitable that a mass exodus to the U.S.-similar to that of the early 1990s-will reoccur. Although President Bush specifically vowed not to punish Haiti for its inability to effectively curb drug trafficking, he stands by while the State Department’s veteran Aristide-bashers dictate Caribbean policy. Bush’s lack of experience in regional affairs in the absence of a feel for Latin American policymaking-which is also the case with Secretary of State Powell-leaves him with neither an interest nor a comprehension of hemispheric complexities, except for simple-minded terrorism scenarios. In a June 3 interview during the OAS conference in Barbados, Powell acknowledged that Haiti “needs the assistance of the international financial community, the international financial institutions; but it is difficult to provide that kind of aid until there is political stability,” thus finding his reasoning trapped in a Cartesian circle, because it is his agency that prevents such stability to be achieved. Ironically, at the very same conference, the OAS issued a statement commending the Haitian government’s efforts in negotiations, and anticipated that Aristide could look ahead to the “resumption of normal economic cooperation.”
While the U.S. pours funds into achieving conflict resolutions in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, it holds unrealistically high, if dogmatic standards for Haiti, as if this star-crossed land were just another Sweden or Switzerland, rather than the epicenter of poverty in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, as the U.S. shuns any form of cooperation with the Aristide government over what, at most, must be seen as modest electoral blemishes rather than master scandals, the U.S. warmly embraces nations like Saudi Arabia, which do not even hold elections, but nonetheless command Washington’s petro-induced sympathies. Evidently, economic opportunism, rather than irrational ideology (as is the case when it comes to Haiti) is the main propellant of U.S. foreign policy, and not necessarily objective democratic standards.
Haitian Political Asylum Seekers Automatically Detained
Double standards characterize every aspect of U.S. policy towards Haiti. In contrast to other asylum-seeking Caribbean refugees, black Haitians are immediately interdicted on the high seas or detained once they set foot upon U.S. soil and then repatriated. Conversely, an earlier generation of Cuban expatriates now controlling Florida politics-as well as a radical rightwing cabal in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs lead by ultra-right Cuba exile ideologue Otto Reich-was able to secure a 20,000 annual U.S. quota for its refugees several years ago. On May 10, a boat carrying Haitians on a voyage across the Caribbean to Florida capsized, resulting in 30 refugees either dead or missing. Despite the clear danger of such a futile and lengthy journey, more islanders are sure to follow their deceased countrymen in a vain quest for refuge from the horrendous economic conditions on the island. In another development last month, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard rejected the case made by attorneys who had filed suit to challenge Bush immigration policy regarding Haitians, when she declared that the judiciary has no place in determining immigration matters. Already spurned by the judiciary and the executive branch of the U.S. government, Haitian advocacy groups are fast running out of time to bring an end to the U.S. moratorium on aid that is suffocating a nation already closing in on morbidity. If H.C.R. 382 fails to gain notice in Congress, the U.S. government will have waived perhaps its last chance to right the wrongs being perpetrated against the hemisphere’s poorest and most viciously manipulated nation. _____________________________________________________________
This analysis was prepared by Andrew Blandford, COHA research group. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policymakers.” For more information, please see our web page at www.coha.org; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 216-9261, Fax (202) 216-9193, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.