On April 15, the Haitian Parliament ratified a law extending by 18 months the state of emergency that President René Préval declared after the earthquake of January 12. The parliament also formally ceded its powers over finances and reconstruction, during the state of emergency, to a foreign-led Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (CIRH). The CIRH’s mandate is to direct the post-earthquake reconstruction of Haiti through the $9.9 billion in pledges of international aid, including approving policies, projects, and budgeting. The World Bank will manage the money.
The majority of members on the CIRH are foreign. The criterion for becoming a foreign voting member is that the institution has contributed at least $100 million during two consecutive years or has cancelled at least $200 million in debt. Others who have given less may share a seat. The Organization of American States and non-governmental organizations working in Haiti do not have a vote.
The CIRH is headed by U.N. Special Envoy Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. The only accountability or oversight measure is veto power by Préval. Few expect him to employ his veto option, both because his record is not one of challenging the international aid apparatus and because of possible repercussions, in terms of the dollar flow, by the CIRH.
The Parliamentarians further abrogated constitutional process when they granted Préval and other elected officials the right to extend their terms in office until May 14, 2011, (five years to the day from when Préval was inaugurated) if new elections do not occur before the end of November. The constitution was approved in 1988 by a population which had just emerged from the 30-year dictatorship of ‘presidents-for-life’ François and Jean-Claude Duvalier, and as such contains curbs against concentration of power by the executive. The possibility of extension of Préval’s term, combined with Préval’s right to rule by decree through the extended state of emergency and Parliament turning its power over to the CIRH, has brought Haitians into the streets in repeated demonstrations.
Antonal Mortiné is a journalist, legal expert, and executive secretary of the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH by its French acronym). POHDH is an eight-member coalition promoting justice and peace; civil and political rights; social, economic, and cultural rights; the rights of women and children; and disability rights. In an interview, he expressed himself on Haiti’s reconstruction, the role of the international community within it, and the fact that Haiti has just legally ceded its independence to a body determined in large part by levels of aid dollars given.
“Despite the difficulties, we recognize that the earthquake offered an enormous opportunity to construct Haiti with new values. We talk about construction instead of reconstruction, because we don’t need the old Haiti or the old Port-au-Prince to be reconstructed. We want a new Haiti. Unfortunately, we’re not moving in that direction.
“Shortly after the earthquake, the Haitian government came up with the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment [the framework for reconstruction]. This is a technical plan which has no vision of a new Haiti. It was done without the participation or even the consultation of Haitian actors from different social sectors, from the diaspora, or even from parts of Haiti besides Port-au-Prince. It doesn’t take into account that the country was constructed on a basis on inequality, lack of respect for fundamental human rights, and widespread exclusion.
“Social movements, especially the human rights sector and the POHDH, had proposed, first, that the government host a national consultation process, including people in the refugee camps. We wanted to build a consensus, with participation and vigilance by different sectors, about the life and construction of the nation after the earthquake. We also proposed, second, that there be a consultative body, including different sectors and different branches of power, to develop the construction plan. No one paid us any attention.
“On top of that, we have the international community, which didn’t respond to the crisis by promoting the interests of the Haitian people. Instead, they took advantage of the situation to further entrench their own power. Since 1804, when Haiti became the first black republic, the international community has always used strategies to get their hands on Haiti. For example, we’ve had three military occupations in less than one century: the one by the U.S. from 1915 to 1934, the multinational force that brought Aristide back in 1994 and then stayed until 1998, and then an interim multinational force that started on February 28, 2004, and that they reorganized into MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] of that same year.
“There are examples of help that’s come that’s been meaningful, like solidarity from international social movements and from Haitians throughout the country. Cuba is giving health aid [through 1,600 volunteer doctors], and Guadalupe and Martinique have offered space and health facilities for people to go heal there. Other countries and peoples have come to help us, too, and we appreciate that a lot.
“But the US and Canada came militarily. Notably, 20,000 US soldiers arrived without any authorization, either through the U.N. or the OAS or CARICOM [Caribbean Community]. We didn’t need that; we weren’t at war. We didn’t need tanks; we needed engineers, tractors, nurses, doctors, architects, and psychologists. We needed geologists who could talk about possibilities for future earthquakes. We didn’t need soldiers; we needed people who could help free those who were trapped in the rubble and pull out those who had died in the rubble.
“Now they’ve developed the CIRH, which has moved the military occupation we had to a new level of economic and political occupation, though we already had an economic occupation with the lowering of trade barriers and the destruction to local production.
“The CIRH only gives power to the Haitian executive branch and the international community. This doesn’t respond to constitutional norms; it’s illegal. The constitution talks of three branches, but only one is involved in the CIRH. Only those close to the president, plus a commission of which majority power is foreign, have power. This has made Haiti a rèstavak [child slave] and opens the doors for the dictatorial powers we used to have to return. This is not the path to democracy.
“The CIRH has no accountability to anyone, especially to the parliament which voted it in. The only body to whom it is accountable is the World Bank, which holds and controls all the aid. This will give it the chance to have even more of a diktat than it has in the past thirty years. We have an expression that says, ‘Who finances, controls.’ There are no internal controls, and Parliament doesn’t have to receive reports, nor does it have any oversight.
“The CIRH is only for the rich. All it takes to belong is to give $100 million in cash. It’s the commercialization of the country; we’ve become merchandise. Haiti is just a space for others to come use their economic and political power. They’re transforming a natural catastrophe into an opportunity to occupy our country, to use it as a base for addressing other problems in Caribbean basin, to invade Haiti with their products, and to put national production even more on its knees. And our government isn’t resisting this at all.
“We’re against the large international NGOs and governments which are taking advantage of the situation on the backs of the people – especially the people who are sleeping in the streets under huge rains and winds, who have such insecurity and vulnerability and danger, who are now at risk of another natural catastrophe with the hurricanes coming.
“We’re against the extension of the executive’s mandate. Since last week, there has been a lot of resistance mounting against the president, the CIRH, and the emergency law. Those mobilizations are called by organizations with no credibility with the population. Many people believe that there needs to be movement for change, but not led by those people. But tomorrow there could be a social explosion.
“We send a call to those in solidarity and social movements in all regions of the world: stand with Haiti in its struggle to defend democracy.”
Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds, www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.