The Business of Disaster: Where's the Haiti-Bound Money Going?

Other Worlds
Posted April 8, 2010 from United States
Forty cents of every disaster dollar that the US gives Haiti goes to the US military. Photo: Julie Dermansky©2010,
Forty cents of every disaster dollar that the US gives Haiti goes to the US military. Photo: Julie Dermansky©2010,
Forty cents of every disaster dollar that the US gives Haiti goes to the US military. Photo: Julie Dermansky©2010, (1/1)

“A sweeping exercise in nation-building on a scale and scope not seen in generations,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the international donors conference on March 31 in New York, where foreign nations and other international institutions pledged $5.3 billion toward Haiti over the next 18 months, of which $1.15 billion comes from the U.S. government. Mr. Ban continued, “Today, we have mobilized to give Haiti and its people what they need most: hope for a new future.”

In an informal survey of citizens’ views of the international communities’ plans for their nation, taken over the past two months in urban and rural Haiti, not one expressed ‘hope’ or a similar perspective for the plans of the foreign powers. Their experience of ‘nation-building’ under foreign powers has not been positive, either in process or in result.

Twenty-two Haitian organizations, representing religious, conflict resolution, women, human rights, development, and other sectors, had this to say about the three recent international donors’ meetings: “[T]he process is characterized by a near-total exclusion of Haitian social actors and a weak and non-coordinated participation by representatives of the Haitian state… We need an alternative process which can define a new national project which incorporates strategies to counteract exclusion, political and economic dependence, and poverty.”[1]

Meanwhile, where are the billions in foreign aid money going?

Of the U.S. money, 40 cents on every dollar goes to the U.S. military, according to sources gathered from USAID and the U.N. and compiled by the Associated Press.[2] Less than one cent goes to the Haitian government. U.S. government contracts, paid for by citizen’s tax dollars, are being given out to private U.S. corporations for post-earthquake work including damage assessments, security guards, military “mission support,” shipping of supplies, clean-up, construction, long-term planning, “monitoring food security,” and much more.

In early March in Miami, corporations gathered for a “Haiti Summit” to discuss post-earthquake contracting possibilities. The meeting was put together by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), whose members are predominantly from the security industry. They include Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater’s contract in Iraq. IPOA’s director came up with the idea for the “Haiti Summit” in the midst of their recent “Afghanistan Reconstruction Summit."[3]

A few of those who have already received post-earthquake contracts in Haiti include:

  • The GEO Group, Inc: Formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the GEO Group runs prisons, detention centers, and mental health institutions under contract with government agencies around the world. They currently run 61 such facilities. The GEO group relies on the U.S. government for about 40% of its contracts.[4] This January, GEO agreed to pay more than40 million to settle a lawsuit concerning a beating death in one of their facilities.[5] In 2007, GEO paid a $200,000 settlement to the family of a woman who killed herself after informing her family that she had been raped and beaten while locked up with male inmates.[6] GEO runs the Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operation Center, which serves as a U.S. immigrant detention center.[7] “Guantánamo is going to be an enormously valuable asset as we go through this," a spokesman for the State Department, speaking on Haiti, told reporters in January.[8] GEO also runs the Broward County Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Fla., where Haitian immigrants have been detained. Among them are thirty Haitians whom U.S. Marines and doctors directed onto U.S.-bound planes just after the earthquake; once arriving in Florida, however, they spent at least two months in detention centers.[9] The GEO Group recently received a $260,589 Haiti-focused contract for “guard services” from the Department of Homeland Security.[10] Although full details are not available, the newly awarded GEO contract for Haiti mandates “extend period of performance and add fund for Haiti surge.”[11]
  • Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI): DAI received a $50 million contract from USAID a few weeks after the earthquake, according to the Miami Herald. The contract was given through the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives, whose mission is to “support U.S. foreign policy…[providing] assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs.” According to the New York Times, DAI works closely with State Department “in disbursing funds around the world.” The New York Times reported that in Venezuela, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives used DAI to channel funds it was disbursing to groups critical of the Chavez government throughout 2005 and 2006, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.[12] Earlier this year, a DAI employee working under contract in Cuba was accused by the president of the Cuban National Assembly of working for U.S. intelligence services. The Washington Post linked the employee to “a controversial democracy-promotion program -- which had ballooned under the Bush administration -- to provide communications equipment to break the Cuban government's ‘information blockade.’”[13]
  • Fluor: Fluor received a $50,000 post-earthquake contract to “coordinate base operations and logistics support” for the U.S. military force in Haiti.[14] Fluor is a FORTUNE 200 company which, according to their website, has a “global footprint” in 60 countries. One of their program areas is “worldwide military support operations” including “logistics, base camp construction, housing, transportation, fuel, meals, laundry, recreation, and other support services.” [15] Fluor has held contracts for military support in both Iraq and Afghanistan and hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast. USA Today reported that Fluor paid $3.2 million to settle allegations that they padded their bills for clean-up work after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, as well as an8.5 million settlement in 2001 for charging the government for work done for other clients.[16]

By Beverly Bell and Tory Field

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,, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Tory Field is an organizer, farmer, and Program Associate at Other Worlds

1 “Position des Mouvements sociaux haïtiens sur le processus de ‘reconstruction’ d’Haïti,” March 18, 2010. 2 Jonathan Katz, “Billions for Haiti, A Criticism for Every Dollar,” Associated Press, March 5, 2010. Sources compiled from USAID and the United Nations; see 3 Anthony Fenton, “HAITI: Private Contractors 'Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot'”, IPS News, Feb 19, 2010, 4 James Ridgeway, “Will the US Send Haitian Refugees to Gitmo?,” Mother Jones, January 19, 2010, 5 CEPR, “Private Prison Company Gets Haiti Contract,” February 19, 2010, 6 Erin Rosa,“GEO Group, Inc.: Despite a Crashing Economy, Private Prison Firm Turns a Handsome Profit,” CorpWatch, March 1, 2009. 7 GEO group, 8 James Ridgeway, “Will the U.S. Send Haitian Refugees to Gitmo?” Mother Jones, January 19, 2009. 9 Nina Bernstein, “Rushed From Haiti, Then Jailed for Lacking Visas,” The New York Times, March 31, 2010. 10 The contract is through the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the Federal Procurement Data System. CEPR, “Contractors in Haiti, Readying to Profit from Disaster?,” February 16, 2010, 11 CEPR, “Private Prison Company Gets Haiti Contract,” February 19, 2010, 12 Simon Romero, “Venezuela Groups Get U.S. Aid Amid Meddling Charges,” The New York Times, November 9, 2006. 13 Mary Beth Sheridan and William Booth, “Detainee was helping Cuban Jewish Groups Involved in U.S. Democracy Project,” Washington Post, January 13, 2010, 14 Ms Sparky Blog, “Fluor awarded LOGCAP IV Task Order for Haiti,” Feb 13, 2010, 15 Fluor, 16 CEPR, “Contractors in Haiti, Readying to Profit from Disaster?,” February 16, 2010,

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  • Jacqueline Patiño
    Apr 11, 2010
    Apr 11, 2010

    I was kind of upset when most of the organizations I wrote to didn´t care about my proposal to give Haitian women a small amount of money for their basic needs for two years or three years. This is being done in Bolivia, and it worked miracles in the lives of women.

    I can imagine what it would do for Haitian women. But, BUT, I didn´t take into account the big interests of multinational organizations working in relief issues.

    I bet no one will give a dime for my initiative, because it is more important that they make money. The inconvenient truth is that women in Haiti will never receive money directly because until they ask for it. And that will mean lots of violence, my friend.

    Too bad. We should all ask the World Bank and Unifem to put money directly in Haitian women´s hands, to avoid future violence. If it is understandable by their hard brains.

    The petition site is:

    Or you can create your own and tell me to sign it, which I will happily do. You have a lot more power than me. Put it to work my friend. So many lives will thank you, and God will bless you so much.

  • Nicole Pampanin
    Apr 12, 2010
    Apr 12, 2010

    Beverly --

    Thank you for sharing this. It is difficult for those of us not there to really understand why the local Haitians are not benefiting more from all the donations and money pledged by the US government. This helped me understand and realize where the money is actually going. Its crazy to realize that so much of the money donated is going to the US military!