Photo: Georges Werleigh at the European Parliament – © Frederic Thomas/Entraide
Haitian grassroots leader submits petition to EU politicians, demanding support for decentralised development
On 11 and 12 January, Georges Werleigh, co-founder of Haitian rural development Group ITECA, visited Brussels, as part of a week of commemoration and advocacy events, organised by the Haiti Support Group.
Brussels solidarity event “Haiti one year later!?”
At a packed evening event of Flemish solidarity groups on the eve of the first anniversary of the earthquake of 12 January 2010, Georges discussed with several panelists the efficacy of the international relief effort and how Haiti might move towards sustainable development.
Georges reminded those present that speaking of “reconstruction” was somewhat of a misnomer. He said that the earthquake had brought Port-au-Prince down to the level where sadly the rest of the country had already been before for decades. What little governance had existed in Port-au-Prince was destroyed on the day of the earthquake; the three “e’s” (etat, eglise, ecoles) wiped out. However, Georges told the audience that it was important to remember that governance by Haitians for Haitians had been weakened over decades through the interference of foreign powers, as so excellently documented by Dr Paul Farmer in his seminal work The Uses of Haiti. The recent interview by the outgoing OAS Special Representative Ricardo Seitenfus was a helpful reminder of the ongoing reality of outside meddling which prevents Haitians from taking control of their own destiny.
In response to a previous speaker who explained that one reason for some of the aid delivery being slow had been that INGOs had needed time to assess whether potential Haitian partners were sufficiently competent, Georges pointed out that such an attitude betrayed a certain arrogance. The competence of the INGOs itself needed examining just as much. As an example Georges cited an INGO which had brought totally untrained volunteers into the country to assist with cholera prevention. Whilst trained Haitian nurses and health workers were sitting under tarpaulins and would have been readily available to assist, this INGO had wasted money to fly in foreigners, which then also had to be trained first before they were eventually deployed. There had been many more instances in the relief effort where local professionals had been ignored and overlooked.
Whilst Georges expressed his deep gratitude to the European public for its generosity following the earthquake, a balanced view required that at the same it needed mentioning that 90% of all aid given to Haiti, finds its way back into the donor economies (through employment of officials and the purchasing of goods and equipment from the donor countries). According to some statistics, as little as 1-2% of the aid eventually makes it through, by way of goods or services, to those for whom the money was donated.
According to Haitian sources a great deal of precious time was wasted in the immediate aftermath of the quake by flying 20,000 US soldiers to Haiti even though there was no evidence of any security risk. By comparison, quite correctly no foreign troups were deployed in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami.
Aid had been important but it would have been a lot more efficient with good governance, said Georges. He reported that at a meeting at the British House of Commons the night before he had listened carefully to the German academic Schultze-Kraft who demanded that a “virtuous triangle” be created between the Government, the INGOs/IGOs and Haitian civil society. What had struck him was the absence of the people as the most important fourth element in this relationship nexus.
This was where organisations like ITECA were leading the way, said Georges. It had a development strategy developed directly with the people, working hand-in-hand and he commended INGOs such as Broederlijk Delen and CAFOD, who were enabling ITECA to work hand-in-hand with Haitian farmers, creating a sustainable way forward. ITECA reconstruction projects enabled ordinary Haitians to take their destiny into their own hands in the face of what he called, with reference to US occupation during the last century (1915-34), the “second re-colonisation of Haiti”. This “re-colonisation” was chiefly an economic one and its instrument is the UN plan for developing Haiti, which is based on a study prepared on the basis of a very brief visit by the Oxford Professor Paul Collier in 2009, which was then adopted by the UN without consultation with Haitian CSOs and handed to Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy, for implementation. The Plan prioritises the import-export sector and hence mainly benefits foreign markets as well as the Haitian oligarchy.
In addition to this economic re-colonisation Haitian governance is further weakened by organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute that undermine efforts by Haitian CSOs to mobilize for change. Hence George is determined, supported by organisations such as the HSG, to build grassroots coalitions, so that a new spirit will come among the Haitian people to fight the efforts to re-colonise Haiti. He ended his address by saying that international solidarity from ordinary people around the world will be essential to ensure these efforts are crowned with success.
Submission of a Petition on food security and decentralization the European Parliamentarians
On the anniversary of the earthquake, Georges, supported by the Haiti Support Group and the Coordination Europe-Haiti (CoEH), delivered a petition to MEPs and Commission officials inside the gleaming new European Parliament Building in Brussels.
The petition urges the EU to focus its efforts in Haiti on supporting the agricultural sectors in general and food security in particular. A crucial element in this respect is successful decentralization.
We were able to hand over a number of petitions to a few MEPs and their Assistants though we had hoped for a greater turnout. After making appointments with a significant number of MEPs the majority of them still felt that they could afford simply not to turn up. It seems that MEPs still find it too easy to ignore CSO groups and it is therefore important that European voters demand accountability.
On the up side Georges’ concerns found their way into a long article in the influential European Voice newspaper and we were able to have a long productive conversation with the Haiti Desk Officer in the European Commission, Mrs Caroline Adriaensen, at DG Development Cooperation.
This conversation made it clear that the financial muscle of the EU is not yet matched by a willingness to translate this into political influence vis-à-vis the all-powerful Interim Reconstruction Commission (CIRH), headed by ex-US President
Clinton and Haitian PM Bellerive, which is not operating in an accountable or even vaguely professional fashion. On top of that, it pursues the failed development strategy set out in the “Collier plan” which Georges had described the night before.
The HSG is therefore committed to advocate a positive engagement by the EU to ensure that it uses its seat on the Commission to the benefit of the poor majority.
This is all the more an obligation for the EU, since later that afternoon we heard Cathy Ashton, the new EU High Representative and EU Commission Vice-Chair, address the S&D Group in the European Parliament. Following a warm welcome for Georges and the HSG/CoEH delegation by S&D leader Martin Schulz MEP, who praised ITECA’s efforts in building 1,700 earthquake-resistant houses, Ashton focused in her speech on committing the EU to a values-oriented foreign policy and to building strong democratic societies. Given the historic responsibility of European powers, notably Spain and France, for the predicament of Haiti today (having enslaved its population, and, in the case of France, forced Haiti to pay an US$ 21bn indemnity to its slave owners), it behoves the EU, which has so far mainly focused on quietly building road infrastructure, to do everything to prevent the CIRH (currently dominated by foreign interests) from imposing yet again a failed development strategy on the country.
We are therefore committed to prepare together with our friends in ITECA and other grassroots organization a powerful campaign in the run-up to the first anniversary of the New York donor conference which on 31 March 2010, promised c. US$10bn in aid to Haiti, much of which has not either not arrived or is being allocated to interests which are opposed to the development of the poor majority in Haiti.