Aid to Haiti examined: “Work with” as opposed to “Do for.” “


The motivations behind the assassination of the Haitian president remain obscure. But many Haitians say the corruption that escalated as billions of dollars crossed the country after a devastating earthquake more than a decade ago was almost certainly a factor behind its demise.

Yet at the same time, Haitian scholars say lessons have been learned from foreign aid. Perhaps the first of these is that the ingenuity and local knowledge of Haitians is more useful than top-down aid designed to serve the interests of a donor country.

Why we wrote this

Did billions of aid leave Haiti worse off? Some who know the country say that when top-down assistance was replaced by cooperation involving the resilience and ingenuity of Haitians, conditions improved.

“I compare the type of aid that generally arrived in Haiti after the earthquake to a series of ‘aftershocks’ that have deepened services and ministries, increased corruption, deteriorated security and, paradoxically, even increased security. violence against women, ”says Mark Schuller, an Expert in Haiti at the University of Northern Illinois.

“But that’s not all,” adds Professor Schuller, author of a 2012 study that recounts how official development assistance and NGO work have often undermined Haiti’s progress. “When the humanitarian impulse to for has been replaced by a focus on work with“He said,” and when the approach is one that emphasizes coordination and cooperation with Haitians, it has shown that it can work.

As Jeanne-Baptiste Vania stirred a huge pot of bubbling spaghetti in fish stock on her plot of a burgeoning homeless settlement in Port-au-Prince, she was already thinking beyond her own plight.

It was January 2010, and a few days earlier, the matriarch of a family of 17 had lost her home in the Haitian capital in a devastating earthquake that struck the Caribbean island nation as she was already down: the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. has long been viewed as a failed state.

In seconds, up to 2 million Haitians were displaced and several million more were left without essential services or a source of income.

Why we wrote this

Did billions of aid leave Haiti worse off? Some who know the country say that when top-down assistance was replaced by cooperation involving the resilience and ingenuity of Haitians, conditions improved.

But here is Mrs Vania in the homeless camp which, before the earthquake, had been the private gardens of the Prime Minister’s residence. As she spiced up her soup, she was determined not only to feed her own family, but to imagine how she could step up to help feed “many more desperate souls” as she called the shocked humanity around her. .

In the days following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, I thought of Ms. Vania and the many resilient and determined Haitians I had met to cover the aftermath of the earthquake.

The assassination spawned many stories and analyzes in the decade since the earthquake, with the widespread conclusion that an outpouring of some $ 13.34 billion in international aid between 2010 and 2020 has left Haiti no better, and probably worse, than before the horrific earthquake.

The motivations (and the actors) behind the assassination of Moses remain obscure. But many Haitians say the corruption that escalated as billions of dollars crossed the country, and the way in which earthquake aid concentrated power further among a few warring elites, have almost certainly been negative. factors at the origin of the violent disappearance of the president.

Yet at the same time, Haitian scholars who are not Pollyannas say that while they agree that much of the foreign aid has worked insidiously to make matters worse, they also see where there is progress. keys have been made.

Lessons have been learned, they say. Perhaps the first of these is that when top to bottom is changed to “tap”, conditions improve. In other words, international assistance was more effective when it was designed to cooperate with Haitians and probe their ingenuity, know-how and familiarity with the terrain than when it was provided from above and designed. to serve the interests of the donor nation.

Thinking back to Ms. Vania: if instead of just feeding her and her extended family, foreign aid agencies and non-governmental organizations tapped into her resilience, desire to serve and local knowledge, the mountains of help had a better chance of doing good. .

Melanie Stetson Freeman / Staff / File

A schoolgirl walks around the debris of a collapsed building in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in November 2010, about 10 months after the devastating earthquake. An influx of billions of international aid is believed to have intensified corruption in the country.

“I compare the type of aid that generally arrived in Haiti after the earthquake to a series of ‘aftershocks’ that have deepened services and ministries, increased corruption, deteriorated security and, paradoxically, even increased security. violence against women, ”says Mark Schuller, an anthropologist and recognized expert in Haiti at the University of Northern Illinois, who is also president of the International Association for Haitian Studies.

“But that’s not the whole story,” adds the author of “Killing With Kindness,” a 2012 study that tells how official development assistance and NGO work have often undermined Haiti’s progress. .

“When the humanitarian impulse to for has been replaced by a focus on work with“Says Professor Schuller,” and when the approach is one that emphasizes coordination and cooperation with Haitians, it has shown that it can work. “

As examples of this kind of success, he cites the Spanish government aid agency which works closely with local utilities and health activists to provide water and sanitation to large people’s camps. displaced persons and in the slum of Cité Soleil in the capital; and USAID’s collaboration with health agencies and local advocates to address the HIV / AIDS crisis and reduce infection rates.

Many experts point out that it is not only that foreign governments have compounded Haiti’s woes with top-down intervention, but that many large international NGOs have taken a similar approach that has undervalued local expertise and contributed to the deterioration of the Haitian state.

Studies have found, for example, that only 1% of post-earthquake foreign aid went to Haitian government ministries or agencies – while 99% went to NGOs. While some key ministries such as health were initially taken out of service by the earthquake, heavy reliance on international NGOs has only exacerbated Haiti’s deinstitutionalization, experts say.

“People cannot understand how Haiti deteriorated under such dire conditions, but it is important to realize that the way foreign actors interacted with Haiti really lacked basic humanization,” said Ellie Happel. , director of the Haiti project and assistant professor in New York. University Global Justice Clinic.

What the last decade has taught some organizations is that foreign involvement is ultimately only a factor of progress if the guiding principle is collaboration, and not “one-way top-down”. she says.

In the Global Justice Clinic’s work with Haitian rights advocates supporting workers in the emerging mining industry, for example, Professor Happel says, “We assume that those closest to the problem are best placed to deal with it. find solutions.

Mary Knox Merrill / The Christian Science Monitor / File

Five days after a magnitude 7 earthquake caused massive devastation in Haiti in January 2010, life returned to normal in a bustling open-air market in the Pétion-Ville district of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Many Haitian scholars claim that the United States’ emphasis on working with Haiti’s ruling elites – backing and backing Mr. Moïse even as he grew increasingly dictatorial over the past two years. before his death and relied on the country’s violent gangs to stay in power – further weakened Haiti. .

Professor Schuller has little positive to say about US aid to Haiti, noting that it is primarily aimed at advancing US foreign policy interests: for example, he says, providing quick fixes that stabilize the population. and avoid a massive migration of Haitians to America’s shores, but doing little to meet Haiti’s long-term needs.

And many critics say the United States is compounding the mistakes of the past by insisting that Haiti go to the election before the end of the year to fill the political power vacuum left by Mr. Moïse’s assassination.

“Free and fair elections are simply not possible in Haiti today, and the fact that the United States is doubling the elections will only perpetuate the problems that built up under Moses,” said Professor Happel, who lived in Haiti for six years.

At a congressional hearing last year, she said three main factors make rushed elections more of a problem than a solution: insecurity and increased gang control in recent years, an incomplete deployment of the system of ‘voter identification and widespread mistrust of the legitimacy of elections.

Many Haitians and experts on the ground say elections will soon be meaningless and could actually increase already high levels of violence, given several factors: branches of government are emptied and there are deep divisions over how to fill them out; before his death, M. Moïse reigned by decree; there is no functioning parliament; and the president of the Supreme Court died last month after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Instead, many members of Haitian civil society are calling for the creation of a transitional government to focus on immediate humanitarian needs and stabilize Haitian society ahead of national elections.

And Professor Happel advocates listening to the nascent Commission for a Haitian Solution, a group of more than 100 civil society, religious and labor organizations calling for Haitian society to focus first on an inclusive national dialogue aimed at find solutions to the country’s major problems.

“It would be a real effort to seek consensus,” she said, “bringing together all the actors in Haiti and based on the idea that those who are closest to the problems are best placed to find solutions.


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