By MARTY GOODMAN
On June 19, a quickly called protest was organized against a glitzy award gala in Manhattan that featured a “Leadership in Education” award for the corrupt and repressive Haitian president, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly. On the same program, a “Lifetime Achievement Award” went to Martelly’s political patron, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, a prominent so-called “friend of Haiti.” Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, which killed as many as 230,000 and made 1.5 million homeless, Clinton has played a high profile role in the scandalously mismanaged international relief effort in Haiti.
Ray Laforest, a New York-based Haitian activist and member of the International Haiti Support Network, told the weekly Haiti Liberté, “Teachers are striking and students are marching to denounce how the Martelly government is strangling education in Haiti. Now the clueless glitterati are going to toast him for supposedly supporting education. It’s an outrage and a disgrace.” Protesters also called for the US/UN military occupation, begun under Bill Clinton in 1994, to “Get out of Haiti!”
Sponsors of the protest included Dessalines Coordination (KOD), Haiti Liberté newspaper, the International Support Haiti Network, the International Action Center, Socialist Action, and the Party of Socialism and Liberation.
The ruling-class shindig was sponsored by supermodel Petra Nemacova’s “Happy Hearts Fund” at the Cipriani Restaurant. Nemacova had narrowly escaped death in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 10 years ago. She is the girlfriend of Haitian Premier Laurent Lamonthe, who also attended, and is a long-time business partner of Martelly. The “non-profit” raised over $2.5 million through ticket sales and auction objects.
The egoistic strutting and posing for cameras by Manhattan’s power couples and the fashionista elite made a surreal contrast with the $2 a day average income of Haitians—who are shackled with an 80% unemployment rate, according to the World Bank.
The several dozen Haitian and other protesters hit Martelly’s corruption, which includes a $20,000 a day spending allowance and financial perks for his family. Martelly is well known for his close relations with former supporters of ex-dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier and has increased arrests, harassment, and spying in Haiti. Frequent protests there have called for Martelly’s resignation.
Wikileaks documents revealed crude U.S. government and corporate interference in the 2011 Haitian presidential election, which excluded the Fanmi Lavalas Party of the former elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. An interview with Brazilian OAS insider Ricardo Seintenfus, published by Dissent magazine (Feb. 24, 2014), reveals how Jude Celestin, a leading run-off candidate of the governing party of President Rene Preval, was eliminated by intense international, mostly U.S., pressure. Martelly was elected—Haitians say “selected”—with less than a 17% eligible voter turnout.
Martelly’s actual education policies merit no award—except for arrogance. A Feb. 13, 2013, report by Haiti Grassroots Watch, a non-profit research organization in Haiti, found that Martelly’s promise to “educate a million students a year” for five years was a sham. The two-month study found that “in addition to suspicions of corruption, the amount paid to the schools is clearly inadequate, the payments don’t arrive on time, and the professors are underpaid. Also, most of the schools visited by journalists had not received the promised manuals and school supplies, items crucial for assuring a minimally acceptable standard of education.”
Moreover, the report discovered that government figures given for the total number of students attending classes as well as the amount the government said it spent on schools was contradictory (see http://www.Haitigrassrootswatch.org).
Bill Clinton’s sordid role in Haiti
Protestors also chanted “Clinton, where’s the money?” The reference was to Clinton’s role as co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which coordinated international pledges of $11 billion in governmental and private donations over a period of five years. Clinton, who is also the UN special envoy to Haiti and Obama’s key advisor on Haiti, aggressively promoted a development model relying on the socially corrosive tourism industry and neo-liberal sweatshops.
The theme of the aid was to “Build Back Better,” which has come to mean very limited and haphazard housing construction. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) estimated in the summer of 2011 that over a million Haitians lived in damaged homes, and nearly half of them in “buildings that might collapse at any moment.” Yet by September 2013, only 7500 units had been built, despite billions in aid.
It is estimated that 60 percent of the $1.3 billion in USAID funds in Haiti goes to U.S. corporations, according to a February 2014 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., a liberal think tank. Seven out of the 10 largest USAID-funded projects went to Chemonics, a big U.S. Washington Beltway corporation. The report noted, however, that it is impossible to know exactly how the money was spent because of the lack of detailed reporting.
A mere 1 percent of international aid went to the Haitians themselves—that is, to the Haitian government, and Haitian businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Most of the aid went to international corporations and NGOs—often with lucrative salaries and little transparency.
Four and one-half years after the earthquake, 170,000 Haitians are still in “temporary” tents or shelters in miserable, unsanitary, and dangerous conditions in and around the Port au Prince capital.
Mary O’Grady, writing in The Wall Street Journal of May 18, said, “Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port au Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development (US-AID), allocated to the IRHC, are gone. Hundreds of millions more to the IRHC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mish-mash of low quality, poorly thought out development experiments and half-finished projects.”
A revealing new film by Raoul Peck entitled “Fatal Assistance” exposes the betrayal of promises made to the Haitian people by the imperialist governments, which includes a blatant racist disregard for Haitian initiative and input (see www.velvet-film.com).
The US/UN military occupation of Haiti, which, scientific studies have shown, was responsible for a cholera epidemic that has killed over 8,500 Haitians. Cholera, a preventable disease, is expected to take 2,000 more lives in 2014. The U.N. has, once again, arrogantly refused responsibility after two amicus curiae briefs were filed on May 15 by international law scholars and practitioners from Europe and North America.
Sweatshop bill backed by occupation
In Haiti today, textile sweatshop workers earn a mere $4.89 a day, in violation of Haiti’s own minimum of about $6.50 a day.
Violators include the bosses in the Caracol Industrial Park in the north, a sweatshop park promoted by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Caracol was subsidized by $124 million in U.S. tax dollars out of the $300 million total. Bill Clinton and Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended its opening ceremonies in October 2012, at which time President Martelly declared to the affluent guests, “Haiti is open for business, and we mean it!”
Wikileaks exposed U.S. corporate interference and political pressure on Haiti’s legislature to lower any new minimum wage proposals in 2009, despite mass protests for a meaningful increase. This took place in a country where the average daily income is $2 a day! The sinister plan worked. In August 2008, workers mobilized in the thousands for passage of a new minimum wage, only to be met with gunfire from the U.S./UN occupation force known as MINUSTAH.
Clinton proposed a World Bank economic starvation plan on Haiti’s poor in exchange for returning its deposed elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, accompanied by a U.S.-led UN military occupation. Aristide accepted the terms.
Before Aristide’s return, on Oct. 15, 1994, Clinton had increased a U.S. naval blockade around Haiti to intercept refugees in international waters fleeing a military junta, violating U.S. and international asylum law. In campaign speeches, Clinton called his predecessor, Bush I, “racist” for pursuing the same policy.
Clinton’s US/UN military occupation was reinforced in 2004 by Bush II’s support of yet another CIA-backed coup against Aristide by military and paramilitary thugs. In 2010, it was cynically reinforced yet again by President Barack Obama in the immediate earthquake aftermath, dispatching 20,000 U.S. troops bristling with weapons. It continues to this day, with Brazil now the largest force.
The failure of aid from the imperialist countries reflects the pro-corporate, neoliberal strategy of the major donors, and not merely poor planning. This is a direct result of the anarchy of a privatized relief, which seeks to generate corporate profits, as well as generating the competition among NGOs to obtain funds from well-heeled donors.
Haiti’s misery cries out for a socialist revolution. Haiti needs its own workers’ party—apart from the corrupt Martelly elite and the middle-class misleadership of Aristide’s “Lavalas” movement or its many remnants. A genuine workers’ movement, with Haiti’s peasant class as allies, can sweep away corruption, poverty, and imperialism.
NY protest of Dominican discrimination against Haitians
On June 11, some two-dozen Haitians and community activists picketed an election debate at Lehman College in the Bronx, which featured three Democratic 13th Congressional candidates.
Two of the candidates, Harlem-based Congressman Charlie Rangel and State Senator Asriano Espaillat, had praised Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina for his role in the passage of a May 15, 2014, law that white-washed a racist Dec. 23, 2013, Dominican court ruling. The court decision stripped citizenship rights from 210,000 people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic between the years of 1929-2007. Denied their rights as Dominicans are even those who were born in the DR and who have never set foot in Haiti, its neighbor on the island of Hispañola.
The law passed in May was an attempt to deflect international criticism of the court ruling and will impact only 13,000 persons of Haitian descent, according to the Dominican government’s own estimate. A statement released by New York rally organizers condemned the praise showered on President Medina by the two Democratic candidates as “an outrage [that] must be opposed.” Organizers called conditions for those of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic as “apartheid.”
Haitians in the DR have been subject to decades of racist harassment, murder, rape, and mass deportations. In 1937, up to 30,000 Haitians in the DR were slaughtered by the U.S. Marine-trained Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who saw Haitians as a threat to Dominican “whiteness.”
Socialist Action photo by Tony Savino: Protesters outside June 19 award gala in New York City, which featured Bill Clinton and Haitian President Michel Martelly.