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Two percent for Haiti is not good enough

A fake Internet website caused a stir for at least 24 hours when it purported to be a government of France website announcing that the government “is repaying the historic debt of 90 million gold francs Haiti paid to France following the former’s independence at the dawn of the 19th century”.

Even the BBC was taken in, carrying the story on one of its official news websites before hastily withdrawing it.

More astute followers of French politics clearly wondered about the legitimacy of the announcement since it made the remarkable statement: “For too long, Haiti has been saddled with the burden of foreign debt. Her development crippled by foreign debt service payments, she has for too long staggered from catastrophe to catastrophe. The disaster that has befallen the Haitian people is clearly not merely the result of January’s earthquake. It is in part the result of long-term economic and social policies”.

No doubt it was such political commentators who alerted the French foreign ministry to the website causing the French government to denounce it immediately.

The reality is that the French government would know well that “the long term economic and social policies” of the Haitian government were severely constrained by the treatment of Haiti by the government of France and the government of the United States for over a century.

And, there was no way that any French government, however contrite about its brutality in its former colonies, would have exclaimed that “Bastille Day is a perfect occasion to celebrate the cherished values of our Republic -- values that were also a beacon to the Haitian people when they cast off the shackles of slavery, and founded the second republic of the Americas”.

Such a statement would have been so brass-faced that France would have been ridiculed all over the world. There would be few who would not know that far from welcoming the historic and courageous struggle of the Haitian revolution, successive French governments did everything they could to keep Haiti and its people shackled and oppressed.

It will be recalled that in February this year on the first visit of a French President to Haiti, Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged “the wounds of colonization” and said he knows well “the story of our countries on the question of debt”. At that time, he announced the cancellation of all of Haiti’s US$77 million debt to France and promised to provide aid of US$400 million over the next two years.

Official agencies have reported that France is one of several countries that have not followed through on their pledges.

What is certain is that while suffering in Haiti has dropped out of the world’s sight because for the most part, the international media have moved on to the next story, the plight of the majority of the Haitian people has not ended and, over the next three months, their situation could get worse if the predicted active hurricane season comes to pass.

After the January earthquake, the Inter-American Development Bank calculated that the rebuilding programme will cost US$14 billion and will take at least 10 years. A further natural disaster will cause the figure to escalate astronomically even though some rehabilitation work has taken place.

In terms of emergency work in Haiti, the World Bank has spent tens of millions of dollars since the earthquake. It has been necessary and welcome work, but insufficient.

Several international financial institutions have cancelled Haiti’s debt to them – that is useful, since it frees up revenue earned by the Haitian government for expenditure on delivering goods and services to the Haitian people. But, the donor community, that made pledges last March under the lights of television cameras, has not lived up to its promises so far.

At the United Nations Donor Conference US$5.5 billion was pledged for Haiti. And, specifically, US$500 million was promised for a Haiti Reconstruction Fund. But, to date only US$97.5 million has been delivered to the World Bank as the agent for the Fund, with Brazil (US$55 million) and Norway ($31.2 million) delivering the greatest part.

The sum of US$97.5 million adds up to only 2 percent of what was pledged and, it is not good enough.

The United States pledged US$1.15 billion at the meeting. It has paid nothing. Incidentally, Venezuela promised even more - US$1.32 billion. It has also paid nothing, although it has written off some of Haiti's debt.

In this connection, all praise to Brazil for being a caring neighbour, but even more praise for distant Norway which was not a colonizer and oppressor in Haiti.

The message in that false Internet website should sear the conscience of the French government and shame them into not only making reparation to Haiti, but also to honouring their more recent pledges of help.
As for the US, like France, it severely underdeveloped Haiti, entering Haitian waters with gunboats 24 times between 1849 and 1913, brutalising the society, crippling the economy, and forcing the country and its people to depend on the US. Since 1913, the US has done little for Haiti but destabilise elected governments, help to establish sweatshops for American manufacturers and decimate Haitian agriculture by flooding the island with cheaper products subsidized by the US government.

Despite all the US TV news coverage that conveyed the impression that the US was the sole mover and shaker in bringing order and relief to Haiti after the earthquake, the reality is that the US government has honoured only a small portion of its pledges.

The US State Department is reported to have said it has given about US$675 million through the US Agency for International Development, but quite how that money was spent has not been detailed and, therefore, it is difficult to determine how much of it was actually spent on projects that benefitted the needy and desperate in Haiti.

Granted the work of its military and official aid workers was important at the height of the crisis, but since then it has been a “2 percent” activity as Washington Post Columnist Dana Milbank pointed out. “Only 2 percent of promised reconstruction aid has been delivered. Only 2 percent of the rubble has been cleared. And not quite 2 percent of the dislocated have been moved into housing. Others live under fraying tarps and tents in a situation that Bill Clinton, spearheading the reconstruction campaign, calls "horribly frustrating."

Two percent is not good enough. Not from President of Chavez and the rhetoric of Bolivarism, and certainly not from the US and France who bear the responsibility for the desecration of Haiti and the ruination of its society.

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