HSG reporting from Washington DC, 22-09-2011
To the cavernous Washington D.C. Convention Center for the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference and the optimistically-entitled break-out event, Haiti: A New Beginning. Its no standing room only for an educated, African American and Haitian-American audience, peppered with Martelly “advisers” who have preceded the Haitian President down from the UN General Assembly in New York.
Many of the Washington cognoscenti, openly dismayed by the reconstruction performance, have no hesitation is comparing it to the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina – for the same reasons: the color of the victims. “Haiti, Obama’s Katrina,” says the woman next to me, in a flame-throw heckle of the distinctly undercooked and under prepared Tom Adams, the State Department’s Special Co-ordinator for Haiti. Observer is all he is, as a stellar line up of former Haitian agriculture minister and leading agrarian activist Gerald Mathurin, Nicole Lee of TransAfrica, Marie Andree St. Aubin of Action Aid in Haiti, Brian Concannon of the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), paint a portrait of the reality in Haiti on behalf of those who have no voice in such assemblies. It bears little relation to the official perspective.
Weisbrot is particularly compelling, his rapier points borne out by the analytical research of one of the best think tanks on Haiti. He compares the introduction of cholera to Haiti by UN troops to what happened at Bhopal, not deliberate but gross, criminal negligence; points out that the UN have compounded the crime by spending about an eighth of what they spend on their military contingent on treating the victims (deaths at the last count 6,423, infections just shy of 500,000) and points out the “geographical oddity” of 92% of all reconstruction contracts awarded by the US going to companies inside the Washington D.C. beltway (our M-25). Yes, you read that right, its not even US firms monopolizing the disaster capitalism, but what’s known here as the Beltway Bandits. See CEPR’s excellent Haiti blog for more on this and much else. In particular, check out their report on the response to cholera, Not Doing Enough.