The lavish foreign encampment at Club Indigo, three months after the January 12, 2010, 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed around 200,000 people and left more than a million people without homes, was a metaphor for the material, ideological, and political-economic reality of the Haitian political present.
They don’t call Haiti the “Republic of NGOs” for nothing.
Indeed, between 2000 and 2003, USAID and the dubious “international community” completely bypassed the Haitian state and doled out millions of “aid” money to their own NGOs.
It is no wonder that after the 2010 earthquake, most foreign NGOs did not even bother registering with the Haitian government. They were only accountable to Haiti’s White rulers.
Moreover, “foreign aid” is often nothing but a make-work program for Westerners with a degree in “Development Studies” and no employment prospects at home.
As the Guardian reported on Haiti’s earthquake relief aid back in 2013, “about 94% of humanitarian funding went to donors’ own civilian and military entities, UN agencies, international NGOs, and private contractors. In addition, 36% of recovery grants went to international NGOs and private contractors.”
Importantly, Obama had appointed Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to lead the “fundraising,” Clinton was crowned the new king of Haiti.
The next group of beneficiaries is the small, largely non-Black oligarchy in Haiti. They own the land, the places of leisure, the hotels, the stores, the car dealerships and rental agencies, the ports and wharves. They own both all those entities allowing foreigners to live their rich, western lives in Haiti and the infrastructure enabling goods to come into the country.
Because the oligarchy were already transnational elites, with U.S. or European connections, they received the large no-bid contracts and were under no compulsion to guarantee delivery of finished products. This was, after all, Haiti. The regular poor Black people do not matter.
By far the biggest beneficiary was Western imperialism. The earthquake and its aftermath consolidated the 2004 U.S.-France-Canada-backed coup d’état that removed Haiti’s first democratically elected government, led by Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
It did so by installing the neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly and Jovenel Moise and the PHTK political party. With the 2010 earthquake, many forgot that was the reason for the U.N. military occupation of the country.
But the U.N. forces were there to give cover to the coup d’etat. The U.N. also convened a Core Group that rode rough-shod over Haiti’s sovereignty. For example, just weeks after U.N. soldiers unleashed a devastating cholera epidemic and while the country was still recovering from the earthquake, the U.S. and the Core Group demanded that Haiti move forward with federal elections.
The “international community” provided $29 million in logistical support for the elections, while insisting that Haiti’s largest political party Fanmi Lavalas be banned. Martelly’s first pronouncement after being selected was that Haiti was “open for business.” The rest is history.
What Haitian people do know is that the PHTK—both Martelly and Moïse, and their minions—have been fleecing them since their installation.
They know that this installation ensured that there was no accountability for the reportedly $13 billion in aid money that was collected for Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery. They know that, while Haiti was “open for business,” there was hardly any work on infrastructure and social services.
Even the Haitian national palace, destroyed during the 2010 earthquake, has yet to be rebuilt. What better representation of Haiti’s lack of sovereignty? Then, when Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7, 2021, the White rulers swooped in and installed their own lackey government with Ariel Henry as prime minister.
Two days after the latest quake, tropical storm Grace hit the same area, drenching those living on the streets after their homes had been destroyed.
In the face of these brutal batterings by environmental disasters, it is easy for outsiders to pity Haiti, to believe that the people are cursed and “can’t get a break.” The reality is that the aftermath of the earthquake did not have to be this way. The earthquake did not have to result in so many more dead and houseless people because of the country’s lack of infrastructure.
The resulting disaster from the earthquake and tropical storm did not have to be—if regular Haitian people mattered, and if the beneficiaries did not continue to get away with murder. As someone tweeted recently, “If Haiti can’t catch a break it’s because imperialism in Haiti has been so relentless.”
The crisis in Haiti is a crisis of imperialism. It is because of Western imperialism—and those who aid and abet it—that the earthquake and tropical storm become wide-scale disasters.
It is only a matter of time before the foreign NGOs begin their fundraisers to “help” Haiti.
Once again, the vultures are circling.
Jemima Pierre is the Haiti/Americas coordinator for the Black Alliance for Peace, and a Black Studies and anthropology professor at UCLA.