As the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, graphic artist Emory Douglas created striking visual images for the movement's publications and posters.
Victims of Haiti’s recent cholera epidemic are ramping up legal efforts against the United Nations, saying U.N. peacekeepers introduced the disease to the island nation in 2010. Meanwhile, doubts are growing about Haiti’s ability to conduct elections this fall, further complicating the country’s relationships with global institutions. Kojo explores what’s at stake for Haiti both internally and internationally.
- Roberson Alphonse Journalist, Le Nouvelliste (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
- Jonathan Katz Author, "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster" (Palgrave Macillian, 2013)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In so many ways, Haiti is still climbing out from underneath the literal and figurative rubble left behind by that devastating earthquake from four and a half years ago. But some of the biggest aftershocks the Haitian people are feeling now are related to the international institutions and foreign partners who rushed to Haiti in 2010 in the name of helping it to rebuild and recover.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe United Nations is still fending off lawsuits from Haitians who blame it bringing cholera there in 2010, epidemic that still has not been extinguished. Meanwhile, some foreign investors are now holding back from putting money into Haiti because of concerns about the strength of its government and internal institutions. Concerns that include a deepening fear that Haiti won't even be able to hold elections it has planned for the fall. Joining us to explore Haiti's path to recovery and where international partners stand to help and to flat out just stand in the way, is Jonathan Katz.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe is a journalist and author of "The Big Truck That Went By: How The World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." He worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. Jonathan Katz joins us from studios at WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Jonathan, thank you for joining us.
MR. JONATHAN KATZThanks. Always good to be here.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Haiti is Roberson Alphonse. He is a journalist with Le Nouvelliste newspaper in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Roberson Alphonse, thank you for joining us.
MR. ROBERSON ALPHONSEIt's my pleasure. Hello, Jonathan. How are you doing?
NNAMDII am doing well today. If you have questions or comments -- oh, you were saying hello to Jonathan. We're glad we could bring you two together like this.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have questions or comments for us. Jonathan, a few weeks ago, the actor Sean Penn, who's led one of the more active, charitable efforts inside of Haiti since the earthquake hit in January, 2010. Sean Penn wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, asserting that Haiti has made great progress since the disaster and that we, the media, are responsible for perpetuating a narrative that the country is dysfunctional. A narrative that's destructive to Haiti's future. You took issue with his assertion, particularly with -- the foreign -- where foreign and international partners fit into it. Why?
KATZWell, I think that there's a number of things going on. And I think that Mr. Penn has had personal animos toward the media for a lot of his career. So, I don't think it's too hard for him to draw on that when he's talking about the situation in Haiti. But I think what's also going on, what's a much bigger factor in that argument, is that it's an argument that's not only being made by him right now, it's also being made by the administration in Haiti. And it's also being made by the administration in the United States.
KATZThere was a recent speech, just a couple days ago, marking the fourth of July from the US Ambassador to Haiti, that was making sort of a similar case. And I think what they're trying to say is that Haiti has received criticism in the past, that there have been negative things said about the condition of the country, the condition of its institutions, the conditions that the people who live there have to deal with on a daily basis. And the idea is some sort of equation in which that criticism, or those descriptions of reality come in one end and then what ends up happening is that it ends up blocking these foreign investment projects from coming out the other.
KATZAnd I think that it's an interesting way of looking at the situation. And I think that there are elements of that that anybody can agree with, that Haiti often does have an unduly negative reputation in a lot of areas, and in a lot of conversations that take place about the country. But it also doesn't really make a lot of sense to me in a larger sense, because the question is, if there really are problems that are going on in the country, if there really are crises that need to be dealt with, it just makes sense to me, as a journalist, that it would be our job to talk about them.
KATZAnd the thing that I found most striking about what Sean Penn was saying in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal was that he actually wasn't shying away from talking about negative things that are going on, about problems that the country is facing. He just chose to highlight the problems that, I think, put the current administration in Haiti in its best possible light.
KATZAnd what was not disclosed fully or explored fully in that piece, or in the surrounding matter that was put in it in The Wall Street Journal is that Sean Penn, in addition to being an actor, in addition to being an aid worker, in addition to being somebody who has done a lot of good things in Haiti, is also a close personal friend of both the President and the Prime Minister. And somebody who is a credentialed ambassador of the Republic of Haiti and extremely personally invested, as is, by the way, the US government, in seeing this particular President and this particular Prime Minister of Haiti do well.
NNAMDIIn your piece for the New Republic, you took specific aim at what you felt was Sean Penn's position that the last great hope for Haiti's future is foreign investors. Where do you feel he's getting it wrong there?
KATZI think that it's sort of a -- I mean, maybe I'm being reductive about him being reductive, but I think it's sort of a -- it's a very reductive and very problematic way of looking at the situation. I mean, look, foreign investment is obviously an important thing. One of the descriptions of Haiti that a prominent, you know, former politician and very influential person in Haiti was telling me about when I was working on my book was he described it as a country that is capitalism without capital. Right? That it basically has all of the problems of capitalism, but it doesn't have the capital and the investment that are necessary to, at least, get some of the benefits, right? Where people are getting paid, people are able to build wealth, and people are able to improve their lives.
KATZAnd I'm trying to bulldoze over that, but just simply saying that foreign investment, as this concept as this wonderful, unalloyed good that's going to do nothing but positive things for peoples' lives is a very reductive and very simplistic way of looking at the situation. If you look at the history of Haiti, economically, over the last decades and centuries, but really, you know, only having to go back over recent years, there have been a lot of attempts, for instance, in the late 70s and the early 80s to build up these low wage garment factories. Some people will call them sweat shops that are producing for export to the United States.
KATZThat caused enormous problems in Haiti, and ultimately resulted in the desiccation of the economy and the creation of massive slums. And part of what's going on right now is that the major foreign investment push in Haiti is built very much along those same lines. The people who are undertaking that are aware of that problematic history.
KATZThey're trying to deal with it in different ways, and there are a lot of promises that this time is going to be different from before, but nonetheless, understanding that history and that background makes it very clear that simply saying the foreign investors are the good guys and the people who are pointing out the problems, that are in the country, by the way, including Sean Penn who pointed out a number of major crises that Haiti is dealing with in his own column, is not only overly-simplistic, it can actually, I think, be ultimately destructive.
NNAMDIRoberson Alphonse, do you get any sense for where on the ground in Haiti people tend to feel about the desire for more foreign investment or more specifically, about foreign investment as the key to the country's future development?
ALPHONSEIt must be one of the keys to help Haiti go rich a certain level of development. However, I do not understood you -- we not see yet investment in sectors which can help to attract those investors, especially on infrastructures, education and the law. We have a lot of obstacles to promote investment. Even if the government in the remote (unintelligible) are saying and keep saying since they get to the power, Haiti is open for business. But in fact, when you look at the numbers, when you look at the investment they did to build (unintelligible), and when you look at the numbers of investors, we attract, by this proposition, you can say they talk and when see the reality, you can see the difference.
NNAMDIWe're talking about Haiti with Roberson Alphonse. He's a journalist with the Le Nouvelliste newspaper in Port Au Prince, Haiti. He joins us by phone from Haiti. Joining us from studios in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is Jonathan Katz, journalist and author of "The Big Truck That Drove By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." Jonathan worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What responsibility do you think other countries and international organizations have for helping Haiti to keep recovery efforts from the 2010 earthquake on track?
NNAMDITo what degree do you think foreign partners have knocked those efforts off track? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jonathan, the first time we talked, you explored how hard it is to take stock in how far Haiti has come since January, 2010, if you don't know where it was before the quake. To what degree are people failing to do that right now, take into account where it was before the quake?
KATZI think that's -- I think it's an enormous problem. I mean, so many of the conversations that take place today about Haiti assume that the problems were created from the earthquake, or anything that you're seeing that's negative, you know, has only been going on since the earthquake. But you know, a larger issue than even that is, you know, just the economic questions that we were talking about before. Haiti has a long and complex economic history, and a lot of the things that we're seeing happen right now are either repeating events and strategies that have taken place before.
KATZOr are building on them in either positive or negative ways. And it can be very easy to, you know, point to, say the construction of the Caracol Industrial Park, which is basically an area that these garment factories are being built in the north of the country. And talk about it in terms of, you know, being a new day and this new concept that has come up, you know, only since the earthquake. But people who have been involved with Haiti and reporting on Haiti a long, and I know Roberson's one of them, know very well that, for instance, the garment factory strategy -- that came up actually when Bill Clinton was originally named US Special Envoy for Haiti in 2009, months before the earthquake even took place.
KATZAnd what that plan was drawing from was an economic model that the United States had for Haiti, that, like I said before, was very much in force and very much driving US policy to Haiti in the late 1970s, throughout the 1980s and then throughout the 1990s. And so, without understanding that this is a story that has been going on for a very long time, it's had its ups and downs, and there are things and lessons that we have to understand from that history, it's very hard to have a useful conversation. And I think that there's often too much stressed placed on a few very small, earthquake related metrics.
KATZSuch as, you know, the number of people who are living in what is officially recognized as displacement camps. That kind of obscures these bigger economic and social and historical and international stories that have been going on in Haiti for a very long time and are still continuing today.
NNAMDIRoberson, same question to you. To what extent are people failing to take into account where Haiti was before January of 2010, and what sense are Haitians as vulnerable now as they were before that earthquake hit four years ago?
ALPHONSEI have to say four years after the earthquake, the country has moved forward somehow. Because we have this amount of people living in tent cities. We don't have the same amount of people we need in a humanitarian assistance to live. Our world, when you look at the indicators, you still can ask yourself about the real improvement of the country. I do not understood you. We have facing for years and years ago, for decades, some politics which can be then brings development. And sadly, the international community has maintained the same police.
ALPHONSEIn the other hand, I have also to say to your listeners, Kojo, that somehow we cannot put the responsibility of our failures on the international community only. We have our part to do and we didn't do it properly. And that's one of the big reasons of what we are living now. But the question is, to have the opportunity to make decisions on different skill, on different level -- on different skill and different level, particularly we have to have back our autonomy. We have to do good direction and to make sure the guy or the woman who'd become president is not the guy of the U.S. of America or the guy of the UN. So that's a very important issue.
ALPHONSEOn the other hand, it's really important for us to change some (unintelligible) to move forward (unintelligible) economy, politics and intellectual should do what they have to do to make sure they bring back the (unintelligible) for the country. We cannot move forward that -- we cannot move forward without that concept. We have to take and to change (unintelligible) . So even if I am hard when I have critics against the intellectual community, I'm more harder on myself, on my fellow citizens to be clear with that.
NNAMDIJonathan Katz, I'd like to pursue that theme that Roberson was talking about there in terms of Haitians essentially being able to -- willing and able to take control of their future. How would you describe the relationship between the institutions that exist inside Haiti and the foreign partners that have worked inside the country and with the country -- well, some would say against it -- for so long? Haiti spent so much of the past century being torn apart by political instability, there was an American occupation, there's been international intervention. Jonathan?
KATZThe way I describe it is just a massive, massive disparity of power. I mean, you know, the issue is that I don't think anybody disputes that it would be impossible for Haiti to improve its situation for the economy to build up, for people's lives to improve without a substantial amount of work and leadership in Haiti itself. Not only from the national administration, not only from government at all levels but, you know, all across simple society and in people's individual lives.
KATZNobody disputes that. What's sort of funny about these conversations is that they often come down to kind o f a when people are pointing the finger at one another and the moments when people are shifting credit or blame, right. So in the immediate wake of the earthquake for instance, it was a horrible, just unimaginable disaster. It was looked at from the outside as Haiti was sort of this -- you know, this helpless empty vessel that just needed to be filled with the products and the intentions of the outside world.
KATZAnd people forgot immediately that people who were living on the ground, earthquake survivors themselves, as opposed to being obstacles to the immediate relief and recovery efforts needed to be part of them. And so instead of having outside responders work with the people who they had expressly come to help, the people who were living in the quake zone were often treated as, you know, criminals until proven innocent. You know, they were treated as potential looters. They were treated as people who were just going to, you know, squat on land and get in the way.
KATZAnd at that point, the way that it was looked at from the outside was, oh you know, Haiti needs our help. They need us to do everything for them. And they're going to just sort of be in this permanent state of emergency until we change that.
KATZWell, when things started not going well, when it became very apparent that a lot of those efforts were not producing the most optimal results that those good intentions would've originally foreseen, that was the moment when all of a sudden this discussion switched to, well shouldn't really the Haitian leadership be handling this? Shouldn't Haitians be taking charge of their own lives?
KATZAnd I think that in a lot of ways it's a false dichotomy. Haiti is Haiti. The United States is the United States. The UN is the UN. And nothing that is going to happen over the next couple of months or the next couple of years is going to change the inherent disparities of power between an economy and a military the size of the United States and an economy and a simple society in a country in the condition economically and socially and internationally of Haiti.
KATZThe question is whether those relationship are going to be put together in such a way to produce a maximal benefit? And I think one of the ironic issues is that if you look at the period that was following the earthquake, you know, over those first couple of years, when there was an administration in power in Haiti that the United States didn't particularly like, you know, the idea of Haitian leadership or the vacuum of Haitian leadership was basically used as a cudgel to excuse the international community when it wanted to do whatever it wanted to do.
KATZNow that there is leadership in Haiti that the United States expressly likes, and you can tell that they expressly like them because they -- if you look at what happened in that election in late 2010, early 2011, it's very clear that the United States had a very, very heavy hand in making sure that this president and then ultimately this prime minister were in power. Now that it's a situation where the United States likes the leadership, all of a sudden that style of conversation has changed.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll be continuing this conversation on Haiti and inviting your phone calls, 800-433-8850. Let's hear from you. What do you think the recovery efforts in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake ultimately revealed about the country's and non-government organizations that managed the recovery, 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about Haiti with Jonathan Katz, journalist and author of the book "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." Jonathan worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. We're also talking with Roberson Alphonse. He is a journalist with Le Nouveliste, a newspaper in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIJonathan, Haitian cholera victims are still trying to sue the United Nations over its alleged role in bringing the disease to the island. This show was actually on assignment in Haiti in the fall of 2010 when that outbreak was just getting started. Why do you find the cholera crisis is so instructive about Haiti's relationship with international institutions?
KATZThis is one of these stories that every time you think it can't get any more interesting, it ends up getting more interesting. And I think the -- what's -- the phase that it is in right now is there are actually three separate lawsuits that I know of. There may even be more in the works but there are three separate federal lawsuits that have been filed now in the United States against the United Nations.
KATZAnd the drama of just a couple of weeks ago was that the lawyers in one of those cases were attempting to serve papers to Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations. It's been a very difficult process. The most prominent of those suits, the first one that filed has actually had an impossible time of doing it. The UN won't accept papers on the -- at one point they even ended up trying to nail the papers to the door of his private residence in New York.
NNAMDIThey sure did.
KATZAnd what was interesting about that scenario is that it really shows you how power informs all of these conversations and governs the way that, you know, people's lives in this particular crisis have been unfolding. Because, you know, what is obvious is that the people who contracted cholera, the people who suffered as a result of the United Nations' apparent negligence and actions and inactions simply don't have a voice. There's no venue for them to bring forward a grievance.
KATZThe way the rules have been written is that essentially the United Nations can decide whether it wants to hold itself responsible or not. There was a question whether or not it was going to be possible to use the U.S. legal system to force a kind of accountability. But the United States government stepped in and a letter was written from the Justice Department, obviously in very close consultation with the State Department, which said flat out that the United Nations enjoyed complete immunity in this situation.
KATZAnd it's just -- it's a funny word because this is a situation in which the reason why people got so sick, the reason why there are nearly 9,000 dead now in Haiti and then, you know, a couple hundred more across the region, is because Haiti had never had a diagnosed strain of any kind of cholera confirmed in a laboratory before. It is possible that there have been some epidemics in the 19th century but this particular strain that was apparently brought to Haiti by Nepalese peacekeepers had dually never been up for...
KATZYes, UN peacekeepers from Nepal, yep. And what's interesting about that is that is why people did not have any kind of biological immunity to this bacteria. And yet the UN has -- because it can decide these things for itself and because it has the support of this powerful institution as the United States government, has decided that it has complete legal immunity. And that really -- it just sums up so much of these power disparities and how, you know, certain people in certain entities in certain situations can just do whatever they want with the...
NNAMDIYou pointed out the irony of the use of the UN's immunity because it was precisely because Haitians had no immunity from that strain of cholera that was brought there by UN Nepalese peacekeepers, that the epidemic became so devastating for people. But it boggles the mind that the United Nations can simply walk away from this and say, well, we have no liability here, sorry.
KATZI think that there is too much at stake for the United States and for the United Nations system in this particular case. To use one example, the way that these peacekeeping operations come about is that they are governed by what is called the status of forces agreement. It's standard boilerplate language that peacekeeping operations all over the world use.
KATZWhether you're talking about UN peacekeeping missions in various countries or if you're talking about, for instance, the NATO peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan or what was the United States essentially peacekeeping mission in Iraq, they ended up having to leave actually. The reason why U.S. troops were pulled out last time was because of essentially the disagreement over the status of forces agreement.
KATZAnd if there is a legal precedence set in which the status of forces agreement can be interpreted in a way that allows the military force that is present on foreign soil to be held responsible in a case of massive negligence or irresponsibility that results in the loss of life, that can have implications for a lot of other things around the world.
KATZAnd essentially what the United States and the United Nations seem to have decided is that it is simply not worth it, you know, for any principle of justice or making things right or compensation for the suffering that Haitians have gone through to risk that kind of change. But that's that power of disparity. And, you know, the people who are left holding the bag in this case are people in Haiti whose voices just don’t get heard.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you think the United Nations ought to pay compensation to cholera victims in Haiti since the reason they contracted the disease was as a result of it being brought there by UN forces from Nepal. What do you think, 800-433-8850? We do have one Haitian voice here. Roberson Alphonse, how important is it to Haitians that the United Nations bear legal responsibility for whatever role it may have had in this outbreak?
ALPHONSEI didn't make any survey about that question particularly, but if you ask (unintelligible) what Haitians think, your friend, people who own you, what they think about the necessity of immunization of the people who have suffered and their family, then you say yes, they want that. But they didn't have any illusion that they are going to have something.
ALPHONSE(unintelligible) people have the feeling that there is a massive negligence and they ask for compensation. But they ask for that, they want that, but there's no indication they are going to have what they ask. However, the UN, with the Asian government, are trying to do things to improve the sanitation here in Haiti.
ALPHONSEAnd they also work according of (unintelligible) they are working with the Haitian government to make sure they will give immunization to the Haitian population to make sure the amount of death of cholera are people with -- struck by that disease stay low. And they (unintelligible) to give the vaccine to people.
ALPHONSESo I'm looking at that thing and I hope next month and the future effects will move forward. And I'm working myself, here in Haiti, people don't have (unintelligible) about the competition after outbreak.
NNAMDIJonathan Katz, Roberson indicates that Haitians are not interested in waiting for (word?) . They have no real expectation that this compensation will ever occur. Is that a statement about how people who understand their powerlessness feel when they're up against people whose power they also understand?
KATZI think it's a big part of it. I mean, you know, this is such a classic situation, even though it's so sort of spectacular and mind boggling in its specificity. But it has so many tendrils that go out to so many other situations that you see in questions of development and international relations. And not only in Haiti.
KATZI mean, the situation with the cholera epidemic is that you have this horrific disease that spread wildly and has killed thousands of people. It infected hundreds of thousands of people who were infected badly enough to develop major symptoms. And then, you know, hundreds and hundreds of thousands, maybe millions more at least have the disease pass through their system. And it was looked at from the outside at first -- a lot of people now sort of take for granted that we've somehow kind of always known that the UN was responsible, that the UN sort of stood up and investigated itself.
KATZBut what actually happened was, when this epidemic first broke out, it was reported and looked at in the international community as being just sort of another sign of the Haiti's inherent dysfunction, Haiti's inherent diseaseness. That it was -- you know, Haiti was just this place that was full of problems. First they had the earthquake and then somehow that earthquake had resulted in this massive disease outbreak ten months later.
KATZAnd it took very conservative work by a lot of people including Roberson who did, I think, some very important work in going and looking for the early cases to understand exactly where the disease spread first. And then my colleagues and I actually going up to the UN peacekeeping base that was in question and, you know, finding this early information that led to the information that, you know, we continued digging up about how this disease had spread.
KATZAnd it was only then under extreme pressure after months and months that the UN decided to launch its own investigation into itself. And it really -- I mean, you know, public opinion was really dragged kicking and screaming to even the conclusions that the United Nations may have been responsible for it. And even once that conclusion was in hand, the question of what to do has been out there.
KATZAnd, you know, very briefly, one of the situations right now is while there have been a lot of efforts from the UN system and there has been a lot of efforts from the United States government and other international partners to try to contain the cholera epidemic and to do the essential work that needs to be done in order to prevent this disease from being a problem in the future, which is to build water and sanitation infrastructure, if you look at the actual pledges that have been disbursed, okay, the money that has actually been delivered as opposed to the money that has been promised, the projects that have actually been done as opposed to the projects that have been talked about, there's a massive disparity.
KATZAnd the big question is, whether it is possible to force people who are responsible for creating a problem to clean it up without some kind of mechanism for accountability. And I think that one of the things that you're seeing reflected in your question and what Roberson was talking about, about public opinion in Haiti, is that those accountability mechanisms have never been present. And because people know that those accountability mechanisms have never been present, I think, on an almost instinctive level, people just simply assume that things aren't going to be any different in the future.
NNAMDIHere's Jerri in Washington D.C. Jerry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JERRIYes, hi, Kojo. What a good topic. I'm so glad you're focusing on Haiti. They need all the help they can get. This is really reprehensible. I was wondering, with respect to the liability, does that mean that -- is the main reason they're afraid to take account -- responsibility, is because it would be like open season for them to be sued inordinately? Or is there some way to get Ken Feinberg in and apportion some money to everybody? And then I have the second question. What happened to those housing units that the Clinton Foundation built, and then they're good for nothing? How did such a thing like that happen?
NNAMDII'm going to have to ask Jonathan to hold and Roberson to hold their responses to that question because we do have to take a short break. But that gives them the opportunity to contemplate their responses. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850, if you have comments or questions about Haiti. Or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerri, thank you so much for your call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about Haiti. We're talking with Roberson Alphonse. He's a journalist with Le Nouvelliste newspaper in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Jonathan Katz is a journalist and author of the book, "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." He was a correspondent for the Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. Roberson Alphonse, I'm going to ask you to answer the last question of our caller Jerri's question. The last part of our caller Jerri's question first. She wanted to know what happened to all that housing that the Clinton Foundation built and is apparently now useless?
ALPHONSEI have no information about that question. I cannot answer. And so it remains a total mystery. But I know the last business, criticism about a lot of house they have built for the victim of the earthquake. I cannot answer, I repeat, for those. But in general, I know there is a lot of criticism against those house built by NGOs and by other organizations.
NNAMDIWell, you know, we got an email from Marcy in Alexandria who said, "Like a lot of people, I was moved so much by the images of the quake that I gave money in the weeks that followed it. Whenever I read stories about Haiti in the paper now, I wonder where that money went -- whether it was helpful. I'd like to think it was. Maybe there's no way for me to know for sure. Does Jonathan know if there's been an effective accounting for whether the mountain of money that went to Haiti in 2010 has been put to good use? And while you're answering that, Jonathan, you can answer the first part of Jerri's question.
KATZYou, too, had explained earlier why the U.N. is reluctant to pay any compensation, whether it's because it feels that it would expose it's worldwide activities to all kinds of uncontrollable lawsuits.
KATZWell, I would say to the emailed question, I -- there has been as good an accounting as I would like to see. But there's actually more information available than a lot of people might realize. You know, I tried to put some of it in my book, but there have also been, you know a number of articles, and there are reports and GAO reports and things like that, that you can go online and read. I mean, I would say, with regards to the question of, like, you know, someone's $20 that they had donated in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake -- a lot of that money, for instance, went through the American Red Cross.
KATZThat was by far the largest recipient. They got about $486 million. And what I would say is that a lot of that money did what you would expect it to do if you know what the Red Cross does or people who gave to Catholic Relief Services, or World Vision or other organizations like that. Those organizations that specialize in emergency relief, especially in the case of the Red Cross, you know, we're talking about bringing in tarps to put over people's heads, you know, bringing in, sometimes, emergency food or, you know, emergency care. But they're very much, often literally Band-Aid solutions.
KATZAnd so one of the issues is that, you know, people who gave money to the Red Cross, which then used that money to buy people tarps to put over their heads in the displacement camps, would then, you know, a year later look at a picture of a displacement camp in Haiti and say, where did my money go? And the answer is, well, it went right there in the picture that you're looking at. I think part of the problem is that people imagine that the contributions that they're making in the immediate aftermath of a disaster such as the one in Haiti are going to do something very different from the objectives of the organizations that they're giving to.
KATZAnd so they're surprised at the results. And it's an understandable surprise. I did the same thing in the wake of, for instance, the tsunami in 2004. I gave my money to the American Red Cross, and that was sort of my last thought about it. But, you know, that money was not going to go to build more robust institutions in Indonesia or Sri Lanka or Somalia. That money was going to go specifically to do what the Red Cross does with it. And which they're often very opaque about telling us.
NNAMDIAnd the U.N.'s aversion to dealing with compensation in this lawsuit, or dealing with this lawsuit period?
KATZWell, so in off-the-record conversations that I've had or background conversations, reporting conversations that I've had with people who were involved in some of the levels of decision making in and out of the U.N., they often come back to these questions of, you know, as the caller said, you know, whether it would create open season, you know, an opportunity for lots and lots of different lawsuits and different reclamations to happen all over the world. Which, depending on how you look at it and which side of the ledger you're on, could be either be a very good or a very bad thing.
KATZBut it's obvious why it would be concerning to the powers in this case. I think the amounts of money, depending on which case actually ended up going through and how much money a court ordered them to pay, it could get pretty costly. I mean, it -- the U.N.'s own estimate is that it's going to take about $2.27 billion to eradicate cholera from the island of Hispaniola. But the -- if they end up being forced to pay by a court, it could end up being much, much more than that. And so that's understandable.
KATZI would say that -- just from my own analysis, just kind of looking at this and looking at how this compares to other situations inside the United States and Haiti and around the world -- is I think that essentially it's just easier not to. I mean there's -- nobody likes to be held accountable when they make a mistake. Nobody wants to have to say they're sorry. Nobody wants to have to admit that they did something bad. Nobody want to take the hit to their reputation if they don't need to. And certainly nobody wants to have to pay out compensation if it's their choice.
KATZAnd I think that at every step along the way, it would just make sense as a theoretical idea that it is consistently easier for the U.N. to do nothing than to do something. And so they will just continue doing nothing until that change.
NNAMDIJonathan, a few months ago you wrote that for The New Yorker -- you wrote for The New Yorker that bayakou, the word for the manual laborers who work in cesspools in Haiti, is often used as a slur. But that when it comes to public health, the bayakou are among the most important people in Haiti. Based on your reporting, what would you say are the biggest challenges the country is facing when it comes to water, sanitation and sanitation infrastructure?
KATZThe biggest challenge is institutions. The biggest challenge is building the kind of institutions that you and I rely on every day in our country. We expect that when we turn on the tap, water is going to come out of it from a pipe and it's going to have gone through a treatment plant. It's not going to kill us when we drink it. We assume that when we need to do what results from having drunk all that water and eaten all that food that there's going to be place for our waste to go and that it's going to be clean and well managed.
KATZThat is difficult stuff. And the bayakou you were talking about, who are mostly men who go down into the cesspools and empty them out by hand and dispose of the waste, essentially in whatever way they can, they are extremely important people in society. But that kind of system just has been shown consistently throughout history all over the world to be a very dangerous way of doing business. There is an agency in Haiti called Dinepa, which is essentially the first agency in the history of the country that's supposed to be a one-stop coordinator for both drinking water and sanitation.
KATZBut like every other institution in Haiti, essentially it is underfunded. It has some good and very intelligent people who are working extremely, extremely hard, but with extremely limited resources. And until things like that get supported and are able to build up into robust institutions, you just can't -- there's no way -- there's no way just to put together everybody individually, their own sort of do-it-yourself sanitation system. It just doesn't work.
NNAMDIRoberson Alphonse, where do you see progress here at all, when it comes to water and sanitation infrastructure?
ALPHONSENot yet. Not yet. Because in those sectors, we need big, big, big, really big investments. And they did not come yet. I'm so sorry to say that, but that's the truth. There's -- a few minutes ago, the lady asked if the house built by Clinton Foundation is not good for nothing. I answer a lot of house built by NGOs are not good for nothing. Let me give you some -- some numbers and try to help you understand a lot of -- a little bit how things are really in Haiti. 50 percent -- 55 percent of the NGOs who worked here in Haiti from the United States are from the United States, first. (sic)
ALPHONSEAnd in our history, Haiti faced internal turmoil. And we have to also say, the U.S. have early back in (unintelligible). Now to seek for the government, to seek the chance, to think about the reform, to robust our institution, we have to be serious. And when you look at some numbers, you see that -- you can tell yourself there's a big way to go. For instance, for the budget of 2014 and 2015, which is 122 billion gourdes, which is (unintelligible) dollars, Haiti have 1,600 -- 16 billion and in the other resources and 48 percent of those -- of that envelope is going to pay that administration -- the public servant who are not so servant at all.
ALPHONSESo when you look at that -- that weakness, that structural problem, you can say all those things you ask -- which when you ask...
ALPHONSE...are co-mutual. And if you -- doesn't work on (word?) problem, you cannot have any relief, and Haiti will still weak. And Haiti will have to lend his hand to actuals and in time he will be struck by natural catastrophe or natural disasters. So now the thing is -- and I say that with my pretty bad English and I'm sorry for that -- Haiti needs to take care of itself. Haiti needs to have a relation with U.S., with U.N., with the international community, bears own responsibility. Let the Haitian take care of themselves. Let them try to build their own future. And that's one of the point I want to make in that (unintelligible)
NNAMDIYour English is perfect. So perfect that I'm going to ask the next, and what may be final question of you. There are serious doubts, Roberson, as to whether the political stability required to complete these projects is going to be there. Haiti's president and its parliament have been at odds over how legislative and municipal elections scheduled for this fall should go forward. What do you think is going to happen? What is this disagreement about?
ALPHONSEAbout, you -- about the election?
NNAMDIYes. The disagreement. What's it over?
ALPHONSEThe big thing is people in the international community keep saying we have a democracy here in Haiti. It's not totally true. We, since the -- since we kick Jean-Claude Duvalier out of the country in 1986, the country have make a lot of election. But in reality, it was election. We can say it was different for our (unintelligible) in far as, yes, it's true, but for the first time. But after that, they -- U.S. government in some case -- picked out the guy they want to put on office. And I'm not saying that by myself it's clear, according to the movie of Howard Backen (sp?) and orders and (unintelligible) . (sic)
ALPHONSEWith that, you have a game of, I don't know the correct word, nobody else have faith on the electoral council. In all the sectors, the power -- the guy on the power and the guy on the opposition are tried to control the council which have the responsibility to organize the election. In that way, there's no one man, one vote. And there's no respect for the guy who casts his vote and to make -- and he wants to make sure the guy he votes for will be the senator, the (word?) or the president. (sic)
ALPHONSEWith that hypocrisy, with that big mess organized and with that things, we put million and million and million after million, we cannot move forward. And now we are facing that. And because it's doing that way since two or three decades now, we will have, in the future, political (unintelligible), political turmoil. And everybody in the U.N., everyone in the (unintelligible) knows that. Here in Haiti, the (word?) is falls so is dirt -- single society either do what it needs to do to make sure we go to the right (word?) . And if by challenge, I hope we will change the thing in the future -- I'm talking like a student. (sic)
ALPHONSEAnd I hope we will change something. And we have (word?) and we are very ashamed to (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDII'm afraid we're about out of time, but it's clear Roberson Alphonse feels that political stability in the foreseeable future in Haiti will continue to be elusive. He's a journalist with Le Nouvelliste newspaper in Port-au-Prince. Jonathan Katz is a journalist and author of "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster." He worked for the Associated Press in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. Jonathan, Roberson, thank you both for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Six weeks before election day, Kojo checks in on where Virginia's voters stand.
From "concierge" services to iPads connecting new parents with their babies in the nursery, Kojo explores some of the patient-centered ideas coming from health care innovation labs at local hospitals.
This weekend, D.C. celebrated the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Kojo chats with the civil rights leader and longtime city council member who chaired the D.C. host committee.