Pope Francis recently installed 19 new cardinals in a ceremony at the Vatican, the first that he has chosen in his pontificate. Most of the new Cardinals hail from outside Europe and North America, and the group includes the first Cardinal from the long-impoverished nation of Haiti. Kishore Jayabalan, Director of Istituto Acton in Rome, spoke with the BBC about what this new group of Cardinals means for the Roman Catholic Church, and how they reflect the changing face of the church in the 21st century. This interview originally aired on February 22, 2013.
photo courtesy of Foreign Policy
“We don’t just want the money to come to Haiti. Stop sending money. Let’s fix it. Let’s fix it,” declared Republic of Haiti President Michel Martelly three years after the 2010 earthquake. Martelly was referring to foreign aid, $9 billion of which has been pledged to the country since the disaster. But financial aid has of course not been the only item sent to Haiti; the country has experienced a vast influx of goods, including clothing, shoes, food, and in particular, rice. Haiti imports approximately 80% of its rice, making it the country’s most significant food import.
Considering Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production in the 1970s, this should come as an alarming statistic. Along with rice, production of goods in around 200 companies enabled Haiti, at one time, to be a recognized exporter and experience moderate levels of prosperity. In her Foreign Policy article, “Subsidizing Starvation,” Maura R. O’Connor cites U.S. Ambassador to Haiti from 1981 to 1983, Ernest Preeg:
“Haiti was just as far along as anyone else,” said Preeg. “People came to Port-au-Prince to get jobs because it was a burgeoning export economy.” Preeg wrote an article in 1984 in which he echoed the view of many others that Haiti could be the “Taiwan of the Caribbean.”
But starting in the early 90s, these industries crumbled, as international trade embargos — prompted by a military coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — were implemented and foreign imports began to flood the Haitian market. (more…)
It has been three years since the nation of Haiti was overwhelmed by earthquake devastation. In those three years, to the naked eye, it often appears as if little has been done. After all, at least 360,000 people still live in tent cities and infrastructure remains dubious.
However, three years is a short time in a nation’s history, especially a nation like Haiti, with its background of political turmoil, slavery and natural disaster. According to Catholic New Service, progress – slow but steady – is being made. Not only that, the progress is being made by the Haitian people themselves, in partnership with others, rather than through a steady-stream of NGOs and stop-gap mission programs. Catholic Relief Services is one of those partners.
“We want to build things with Haitians for Haitians, and it takes a little longer,” Darren Hercyk, country representative in Haiti for CRS, explained in an interview from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital. “In the end I have not found a problem where all parties have not bought into it.”
Hercyk said the earthquake changed the way CRS approaches its work from being primarily in rural areas to one with a major presence in urban programming. For example, CRS is tackling the rebuilding of St. Francis de Sales Hospital, which was destroyed in the earthquake, into a 200-bed state-of-the-art teaching facility. The U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency has partnered with the Haitian Ministry of Health and the Catholic Health Association to carry out the project.
Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico published an article in Religion and Liberty in the fall of 2010 on Haiti and how we could help it recover. It has been several months since then, and eighteen months since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti near Port-au-Prince, killing around 230,000 people. Eighteen months is a long time and many, including myself, have pushed Haiti into the background of their minds. However, Haiti is still desperately struggling to recover from this terrible disaster.
Excerpts from a letter written to the International Organization of Migration by a Haitian citizen show just how dire the situation is: “Since January 12th, things have only gotten worse and worse. We do not have work and we do not have money. There is no supervision. We are shown hope, but nothing has come to us except the hurricane season.”
Another letter written to the IOM by a Haitian citizen states: “What will be done for those of us living in tents? We are eating dust. We want to go home. How can you help? There are talks of a rebuilding process since IOM carried out a registration in the camp but nothing has happened. Must we wait for ever? We want to find work, because it is very painful to wait and be dependent on others for help. When we work, we suffer less. We believe that if IOM could give us work, things would be better for us and our families.”
The Haitian people are still struggling mightily to merely survive. How did this happen?
It has not been from a lack of generosity. According to the British charity Oxfam, “over $1 billion was quickly raised for the emergency response… [it was] ‘unprecedented generosity’ shown by the world for Haiti.”
In fact, the aid has helped in many ways: “U.N. figures show around 4 million people received food assistance, emergency shelter materials were delivered to 1.5 million, safe water was distributed to more than a million, while a million more benefited from cash for work programs. The U.N. World Food Program continues to help close to two million Haitians with school meals, nutrition and cash-and-food-for work programs.”
However, as the recovery has dragged on, Oxfam reports that “few damaged houses have been repaired and only 15 percent of the basic and temporary new housing required has yet been built.” Also, much of the rubble from the earthquake has yet to be cleared, which has significantly slowed rebuilding and recovery efforts.
In terms of human health, the president of Doctors Without Borders International “blasted what he called the ‘failure of the humanitarian relief system’ to stem cholera epidemic deaths in Haiti.”
In addition, Oxfam reports “The World Bank says almost half of the $5.3 billion — about $2.6 billion — has been approved in donors’ budgets, while a separate Bank document said [only] $1.2 billion had been actually disbursed to date for program support.” Only about 23 percent of the funds available for Haiti’s recovery have been dispersed, and this has certainly slowed rebuilding.
Oxfam has called the situation a “quagmire”. The lack of progress is not surprising given the leadership vacuum in Haiti: “[the earthquake] has brought together a weakened and struggling Haitian government, an alphabet soup of U.N. agencies, other governments from around the world and an army of private charities that some estimate at more than 10,000.”
Although the relief effort started off well, the chaos of a situation with no clear leader has stifled a true recovery and left the Haitian people in despair unnecessarily. If the Haitian government has been unwilling or unable to lead due to the magnitude of the disaster, then another organization or country needs to step up and help Haiti organize the charities and aid dispersal. Waiting for “someone else” to take the lead has just caused more suffering.
Ted Constan, chief program officer of Boston-based Partners In Health, said, “We need to think about getting money down into the communities to produce jobs for people because that’s the only way people are going to get on their feet economically. We’d like to see more of a ‘pull’ policy being generated around getting people out of the camps – markets, jobs, healthcare, clean water, stable housing etc.” Helping Haitians get jobs and adequate housing is fundamental to the rebirth of the country.
In the words of Rev. Sirico: “Haiti needs practical help and generous charity right now — implemented intelligently, and with a keen eye for existing conditions. We need to support aid agencies that provide water and medicine.” This is still as true today as it was in the fall of 2010. As much as possible, we need to support organizations that can successfully accomplish this.
Finally, as Rev. Sirico has previously stated: “In the long run, we have to look at what Haiti needs to prevent such disasters and minimize their impact. What the country needs is economic development and a culture that can support such development. What Haiti needs are the institutions that provide protection and cushioning in cases of emergency. Most of all, it needs to develop economically.” Hopefully, this will happen soon, but, until then, we can keep Haiti in mind, pray for the people there, remember to support the charity efforts there, and have a desire to help the country progress and develop in the future.
Mark Hanlon of Compassion International writes about his experience related to the place of local churches in relief work. Contrary to the belief of some that relief and development groups “couldn’t rely on churches to do the work they needed to do in the third world. They claimed that the needed expertise and skill sets simply weren’t there,” Hanlon writes,
In my three decades of experience in developing nations with Compassion International, I have witnessed the opposite. In the midst of chaos and fear, it is local churches — rooted in the neighborhoods and anchored on the side streets — that are actually some of the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems available.
He goes on to relate some of the details about Compassion’s work in Haiti following the earthquake last year.
The faithful, hard-working, often unheralded heroes of the Haiti crisis are the ones who were there before the 7.1 earthquake and who will be there for generations after.
They are the local Christian churches — the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems you may never have heard of.
For more on the response of development and aid groups to the Haiti disaster, see “One Year Report On Transparency of Relief Groups Responding to 2010 Haiti Earthquake” from the Disaster Accountability Project.
As we’ve noted before, the Planet Money team is on the ground in Haiti getting a hands-on look at the economic situation after the disaster. Today they broadcast a moving story of an entrepreneur who lost all her capital in the earthquake. Now she totes a 30+ lbs. bin of chicken necks to make a few dollars a day.
The story is a testament to the power of micro-finance, the complications of an international import operation, and the bookkeeping practices of a purveyor of chicken necks. Check it out and visit the Planet Money blog tomorrow to get the follow-up on how Yvrose fared with her lender.
NPR’s Morning Edition had a touching piece the other day that illustrated how great a blessing business can be, and just how terrible things can be when there’s no freedom to innovate, produce, and create wealth. Chana Joffe-Walt and Adam Davidson of Planet Money put together the narrative of George Sassine of Haiti and Fernando Capellan of the Dominican Republic, “Island Of Hispaniola Has Two Varied Economies.”
Both men shared the same dream: to open up a T-shirt factory. Sassine has had to struggle through all kinds of adversity in the attempt to realize his dream. And just as it was about to take off for good, to really get going, the earthquake hit. Says Sassine, “I’ve had a coup d’etats. I’ve had hurricanes. Now, I have an earthquake.” The “simple cut-and-sew factory” that Sassine had managed to put together lies in ruins.
Cappellan, on the contrary, started with a simple cut-and-sew operation, but in the interim has enjoyed great success; “His business now is, as they say, several steps up the value chain from the dream he started with.”
Sassine puts his finger on what differentiates him from Cappellan. It’s not ability, or ingenuity, or diligence. What has really prevented Sassine from doing for Haiti what Cappellan has done for the Dominican Republic?
Sassine asserts assuredly of Cappellan, “fortunately, for him, his country, his government was behind him. Me, I’ve been having governments against me all my life.” Political instability, corruption, and tyranny are what kill dreams like Sassine’s and Cappellan’s.
Business Weekly, a production of BBC World Service, had an informative feature on Toby Sheta, a Zimbabwean mobile phone trader, who provided insights into the courage and tenacity required of entrepreneurs under Mugabe’s brutal dictatorship (you can download the original Business Daily story in MP3 format here).
During the worst times of the Mugabe regime, Sheta would illegally buy and sell fuel coupons, a profitable enterprise because of the chaos of governmental interference in international trade and domestic fuel markets. Sheta says in the context of survival the “black market actually became the formal market,” the place where products were available. “For us the black market was the real market.”
Sheta says that what he gained as an entrepreneur in the emergency economy translate into more normalized economic conditions: “The skills that were learned and some of the principles that we’re using apply in any situation.” Sheta says, “Zimbabweans overall have gone through a school, a very informal school that was first upon us, in some ways in a positive way for us, to actually think and work for ourselves, work with our hands and see where we can see opportunity.”
Risk is a constant feature of enterprise, and Sheta testifies to the survival of the human spirit of innovation: “What I’ve learned is, even as I think of Haiti right now, as long as you’re human, and you’ve got your two feet, your two hands and your brain is still functioning, you’ll survive.”
“As you go into the problems you also go in terms of our creativity and learn how to survive,” he says.
As put by dairy farmer Brad Morgan, featured in Acton’s The Call of the Entrepreneur, “You put your butt in the corner, you’d be surprised what you can achieve.”
In terms of Zimbabwe’s future, Sheta points to stabilization in 2010 and beyond, in part because of the dollarization of the economy, and he concludes that Zimbabweans have “graduated to another level” from the emergency school of economics under Mugabe, looking forward to “see opportunities where in the past we wouldn’t have seen those opportunities.”
The AP reports that of the roughly $379 million spent by the US government on relief efforts in Haiti, less than 1% has been in the form of direct government to government aid.
This has raised complaints from the Haitian president, Rene Preval, who says his government isn’t getting its fair share. According to the report, Preval spoke at a news conference and complained, “There’s a perception of corruption, but I would like to tell the Haitian people that the Haitian government has not seen one penny of all the money that has been raised — millions are being made on the right, millions on the left, it’s all going to the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations).”
But is that really so bad? If it is the citizens of Haiti who need direct assistance, why should more of the money be routed through the Haitian governmental bureaucracy?
Undoubtedly the government is struggling to provide any modicum of law and order in the chaos of the last two weeks. And whatever money the Haitian government receives should go firstly toward providing that kind of stability within which aid workers, food suppliers, and virtuoso entrepreneurs don’t have to be so concerned with theft and violence.
And in any case, the amount spent by the US government thus far is a small percentage of the nearly $2 billion in aid that has been sent in to the disaster zone. Indeed, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, private aid from America is running at about $470 million, topping the government’s contributions by nearly $100 million. Preval’s claims to a greater share of that aid money seem to not have much merit.
It isn’t the Haitian government that is the object of charitable aid; it’s the Haitian people, and that’s where the vast bulk of the money ought to be (and seemingly is) going. That’s also why calls for forgiveness of the Haitian government’s debts are so misguided, at least in the short term as the dead are still being pulled from the rubble.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the ex-president of Haiti who has lived lavishly in exile as a guest of the South African government for the past six years, recently announced he was ready to go back and help Haiti rebuild from its catastrophic earthquake. Allowing the former despot Aristide — a long time proponent of liberation theology — back into the country would be the worst thing we could do to Haiti right now. The American government must resist any move by Aristide to return.
In 2004, I wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal in which I reminded readers of Aristide’s violent past:
In sermons later published in his book “In the Parish of the Poor,” [Aristide] called for forming “battalions” to perform “acts of deliverance” and for overthrowing the regime by “any means necessary” and pined for a Haitian version of the Sandinista Revolution. He did not hide his sincere devotion to Christian communism, which preferred its humanitarianism soaked in blood.
Ultimately, this former priest’s flawed understanding of the human person and economic realities added great suffering and injustice to a Haitian people who have endured so much: (more…)