|Buffeted by political and
humanitarian setbacks, Haiti’s hopes for a
lasting recovery from the devastating January
earthquake are in danger of withering away.
According to outgoing state Rep. Marie St.
Fleur, D-Dorchester, who recently led a
delegation of five Bay State lawmakers to the
island nation, red tape and funding bottlenecks
have hindered rapid rebuilding of the country in
spite of billions in pledged aid assistance.
With the Haitian parliament no longer
functioning, numerous political parties excluded
from upcoming elections, and power increasingly
concentrated in the executive branch and foreign
donors, trust in government is also eroding,
especially among civil society groups.
“The people we spoke to from women’s
groups, youth organizations and others want to
participate in the direction their country is
headed,” said St. Fleur. “But so far, they
feel excluded. The U.S. has to act as a useful
convener to bring lasting change to Haiti. If
not, 20 years from now we’ll be singing the
same song. It’s not too late, but I’m
concerned that the window of opportunity for
progress in Haiti created by the earthquake is
During their seven-day trip, the delegation
met with Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive,
visited relief sites around Port-au-Prince, and
inspected potential development projects in the
north, which escaped the 7.0 tremor relatively
“We could hardly see any evidence of the
money we’ve invested,” said St. Fleur,
expressing frustration at what she saw on the
ground as well as recent reports that of the
$14.9 billion donated since January to help
Haiti, just a fraction has been spent.
In one instance, a letter from the government
needed to authorize international forces to
clear donated land and lay down a bed of gravel
to build a transitional camp for about four
dozen Haitian orphans has been held up for
months by overwhelmed bureaucrats, she said.
“We need more visible progress to build
confidence,” added the Haitian-born lawmaker.
Much of the money donated to the impoverished
country is slated for such long-term
infrastructure needs as roads, schools,
hospitals, power plants and transmission lines.
But Haitians displaced by the earthquake are
increasingly impatient with conditions in
squalid encampments around the capital, with few
plans apparent for more permanent housing.
One of the largest tent cities they saw
surrounds the crumbled National Palace on the
historic Champs des Mars parade ground — a
teeming mass of thousands living in plastic
tents and open sewers with the rainy season
about to make conditions even more miserable.
Nearly half the country’s population of 10
million is jammed into the plains and
mountainsides of Port-au-Prince, seeking escape
from the degraded environment and poverty of the
rural interior. The January 12 quake caused the
immediate collapse of thousands of homes,
killing an estimated 250,000 people.
“Walking around Port-au-Prince and seeing
the poverty, seeing the destruction, seeing the
tent cities was a first-hand view of the
humanitarian crisis,” said two-term state Rep.
Sean Garbally, D-Arlington, who represents a
large Haitian community in West Medford.
“There are huge amounts of rubble still in
the city. The earthquake was in January. And
this is May. We were told that the tent cities
will be there for another 12 months. It’s
extremely frustrating,” he said.
State Rep. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, a
six-term legislator born in Cape Verde, said he
was moved to visit Haiti to show solidarity with
St. Fleur, a fellow immigrant, and the people of
her country. “I thought if we went to see the
conditions first-hand, I would have a better
idea of how we could help,” he said. “But as
bad as I thought it was, it’s even worse than
According to a CBS News report, enough money
has been raised to deliver a check for $37,000
to each of the 1.5 million homeless families,
but somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of funds
donated to international relief organizations
sits unspent in agency bank accounts.
The aid spent thus far has itself created
problems. Donated food flooding the country has
undermined local farmers, who are unable to
compete with free handouts. “We saw mangoes,
yams, and other food rotting in the markets,”
said St. Fleur. “We’re in danger of creating
a hand-out society and not a sustainable one.”
Meanwhile, legislative elections scheduled
for this spring have been cancelled and
presidential elections slated for December are
left up in the air.
As of May 10, President Rene Preval was the
country’s only functioning constitutional
officer and is barred from running for
re-election to a successive five-year term. The
99-member Chamber of Deputies was dissolved in
the absence of elections and only one-third of
the 30-member Senate remain in power.
Before adjourning, the parliament extended
Preval’s term so that he can leave office any
time between Feb. 7, 2011, the current
expiration date, and May 14, the latest date by
which officials hope presidential and
legislative elections will be held.
To help fill the intervening vacuum in
governance, an international consortium of major
donor countries, led by the United States, is
being convened to distribute aid dollars. A
Haitian populace long resentful of foreign
intervention in their national affairs has met
the solution, while practical, with skepticism.
Another source of popular discontent is a
recent electoral council decision to exclude 14
Haitian political parties from the ballot,
including Fanmi Lavalas, the grassroots movement
started by ousted Haitian President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The absence of Lavalas,
the country’s largest party, from the last
round of elections resulted in a boycott of the
polling by an estimated 80 percent of registered
Demonstrations calling for the resignation of
Preval and the return of Aristide from exile in
South Africa, where he has lived since fleeing a
coup in 2004, have become more frequent in
Port-au-Prince and other population centers. In
the byzantine factionalism of Haitian politics,
protesters from right-wing groups that pushed
for Aristide’s ouster have marched alongside
die-hard Lavalas supporters — opposites united
in their bid to end the international military
occupation, topple Preval and engineer their own
In an address on Haitian Flag Day, Preval
offered reassurances that he will leave office
next year. “This is the last May 18 I will
spend with you as president,” said Preval.
“Further destabilizing the government is
not the answer right now,” said St. Fleur, who
supports Preval’s term extension. “What’s
needed is to involve more people in the
According to Garbally, opportunities to
launch development projects should not wait for
the resolution of political squabbles. “Haiti
is a country that has been neglected for a long
period of time. We cannot turn the country
around without real economic development,”
said the lawmaker, citing projects like
potential tourist centers along the beaches of
the northern coast.
The delegation visited the northern city of
Cap-Haitien and toured the imposing 19th century
Citadelle La Ferriere, a mountain redoubt built
by Henri Christophe, who briefly ruled as
Haiti’s emperor after the 1791 slave rebellion
defeated Napoleon’s army and won independence
The largest military fortress in the western
hemisphere, La Citadelle and the nearby coast
receive just a fraction of the visitors who
crowd the resorts of the Dominican Republic just
to the east.
State Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Waltham, whose
district has a sizeable Haitian population, said
competing development visions between government
ministries and non-governmental organizations
for the use of aid dollars has stymied progress
in such areas as Cap-Haitien.
“I saw a great deal of frustration — with
the government, with the assistance,” he said.
“What was most impressive was the Haitian
people themselves — so much hopefulness in the
midst of hopelessness, so much compassion in the
midst of such misery.”