‘Haiti Through Clear Eyes’

Introducing the new Working Papers section of Focus on Haiti. The first paper is ‘Haiti Through Clear Eyes,’ a recent presentation by Dr. Robert Maguire addressing the contemporary social and political context in Haiti. Following this initial paper, we hope to expand the use of this section to post ongoing papers from the Focus on Haiti team.

Working Paper posts, including ‘Haiti Through Clear Eyes,’ are available through the menu tab at the top of the webpage.

Cholera: The Epidemic Power of Vibrio cholerae

By Jeremy Akers, Danny Mays, Marc Siegel, MD, Visiting Focus Bloggers 

Cholera patients in Haiti. Source: Rapadoo Observateur

Cholera patients in Haiti. Source: Rapadoo Observateur

This is the first in a series of posts on cholera and its impact on Haiti. The first post is a discussion of the disease itself, and serves as an examination of medical and epidemiological factors that enabled cholera to be carried by Nepalese UN peacekeepers and spread throughout Haiti with deadly force.

Haiti’s cholera epidemic began in October of 2010. Since then, researchers have been investigating the origin of the infection, as it had not been seen on the island of Hispaniola in over a century. Scientists have performed biochemical tests and genetic analysis on the bacteria in Haiti, tracing the current outbreak to a strain of Vibrio cholerae that is widespread in cholera-endemic southern Asia. The CDC found evidence that human waste from a UN peacekeeping base staffed by Nepalese officers was contaminating tributaries of the Artibonite River that flowed through many of the tent cities housing displaced Haitians after the earthquake. Journalists and the public put two and two together, and outrage has ensued, and legal action is being taken against the UN on behalf of affected Haitians.

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The Invisible Walls of Aid

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

In order to prepare students for the aid industry, graduate and undergraduate institutions have designed degrees and concentrations in international development. Focusing on thinking critically about policy and procedure, students are ostensibly prepared so that previous errors will not be repeated again. But once one is ‘in’ the industry, is knowledge about ‘good policy’ enough?

Conducting research on international development aid most often involves examining a project or initiative, looking at both the implementer and recipient perspective, and using data to critically analyze the situation. Without going into a large literature review, suffice it to say this trail has been walked more than once.

A number of authors (Fechter and Hindman 2011, Lewis 2011), have followed aid workers themselves in an attempt to understand their realities, rather than basing criticism only on the bookends of written proposals and completed projects.

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Dr. Paul Farmer: Communities Should Lead Problem-Solving in Haiti

Democracy NOW! recently hosted Dr. Paul Farmer to discuss his work in Rwanda, Haiti and his latest book, To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation. Farmer decided to compile a collection of commencement addresses he has delivered to graduating college students over the past decade, through which he encourages them to face global challenges with a commitment to social justice and solidarity with the world’s poor.

As Democracy NOW! describes his appearance, Farmer discussed “why he thinks a community-based health approach can help fix the U.S. healthcare system, how Rwanda’s model has drastically improved the lives of its citizens, and how to tackle the massive health problems in post-earthquake Haiti.”

Watch the video here.

Haiti Advocacy Working Group Recent Events: Dialogues between Haitian Institutions and US Aid Groups

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

This past week, the Haiti Advocacy Working Group put together a gathering of representatives from Haitian NGOs, development aid workers, and a few members of Haitian and American governments. While I wasn’t able to attend the entire three day event, I was able to attend the panel on agriculture in Haiti.

The first presentation (by Kelly Geoghean of Environmental Justice Initiative of Haiti) presented the concept of a scorecard for aid institutions, which Mark Cohen (OXFAM) applied to the heavily criticized USAID  Winner program. Mr. Cohen raised issues presented by USAID’s interventions, how the organization had done little for agrarian reform, and examined the Winner program for both positive aspects and negative aspects of its implementation. While these first two presentations certainly did not provide glowing compliments of agricultural development in Haiti, they attempted to find successful themes within the existing aid paradigms.

These constructive spins on aid implementation were quickly opposed by Doudou Festil (RENHASSA/ Je nan Je), and Ricot Jean Pierre (Plateforme Haitienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développment Alternatif). Mr. Festil returned to the topic of the Winner program, noting that the millions spent supposedly on aid were for actually for bolstering Coca-Cola, and that in fact the Winner project is a threat to Haiti’s food sovereignty. He observed that while many times aid projects say that they will bring positive results, Haitian peasants do not understand it as such. His statements referenced the muted voices of farmers in the discourse of aid implementation. Ricot Jean Pierre followed and continued the criticism of USAID, making the accusation that in fact USAID is guilty of crimes against humanity. These incendiary comments raised eyebrows, and highlighted the ways that the policies of USAID (and aid interventions more broadly) concentrate more on the benefit of aid contractors and American economies than on the radical improvements needed in the Haitian countryside. [For more on critiques of the donor driven policies of agricultural aid in Haiti, see Shamsie, 2012]

Following these fundamental criticisms was Marie Yvette Michaud (MPP/Je nan Je) and finally Gene Philhouer from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Mr. Philhouer seemed shocked as he began his presentation, wondering if he had been doing the right thing as he directed USDA’s assistance programs to Haiti. His bridging comment was that despite disagreements we need to find common ground to work from. The presentation of the USDA’s work in Haiti was presented largely as a summary of the projects completed and in progress.

Unfortunately, the dialogue that I had hoped for did not occur. Time was up, and there was no room for questions. Two sides seemed to form, one trying to build on the positive aspects of aid, and the other, objecting fundamentally to the direction of aid in Haiti. Notably, the latter perspective was that of the Haitian invitees, and the former, that of American aid workers. Though the panel offered an opportunity for voices to be raised that otherwise do not make it to the US Capital, challenges to the perspectives of foreign aid and US government interventions seemed to hang in the air unresolved.

Haiti Advocacy Working Group & Haitian & Diaspora Partners meeting with Haiti Program Heads for USAID, US State Dept & CDC. Source: HAWG

Haiti Advocacy Working Group & Haitian & Diaspora Partners meeting with Haiti Program Heads for USAID, US State Dept & CDC. Source: HAWG