Shortly after Haiti was shook by its massive earthquake back in January of 2010 that killed 300,000 Haitians, it became the biggest story in the world, and many journalists, including some local ones, made the trek down to the island to report on the tragedy.
There was also a massive outreach by Americans who donated to various causes to try to alleviate the heartbreak and get the country functioning again. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton got involved - Clinton actually got heavily involved.
But what's happened there? This is the excellence of Reitman's story, which gives a clear, nuanced report on a few positive things that have been happening there, but mostly presents a sad state of affairs.
That's despite the fact that the American Red Cross was able to raise nearly $500 million, and U.S. citizens overall contributed $1.4 billion. An additional $11 billion was pledged by donor countries and financial institutions.
But despite all that has been promised, almost nothing has been built back in Haiti, better or otherwise. Within Port-au-Prince, some 3 million people languish in permanent misery, subject to myriad experiments at "fixing" a nation that, to those who are attempting it, stubbornly refuses to be fixed. Mountains of rubble remain in the streets, hundreds of thousands of people continue to live in weather-beaten tents, and cholera, a disease that hadn't been seen in Haiti for 60 years, has swept over the land, infecting more than a quarter million people.
In the midst of such suffering, only a fraction of the money devoted to Haitian relief has actually been spent. This May, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that of the $1.14 billion allocated by Congress for Haiti last year, only $184 million has been "obligated." In a letter to the Obama administration this spring, 53 Democratic members of Congress blasted the "appalling" conditions in the refugee camps. "The unprecedented relief effort has given way to a sluggish, at best, reconstruction effort," said Rep. Barbara Lee, who is demanding an accounting of how the relief money is being spent. There is, she said, a "lack of urgency on the part of the international community."
So what went wrong? Reitman writes that there's a lot of finger-pointing, but nearly everyone involved places some blame on the Haitian people themselves.
Former President Bill Clinton has a featured part in her saga. As Reitman reports, Clinton imposed sanctions on Haiti soon after taking office, and backed a program of "structural adjustment" designed by the IMF and World Bank to turn the country away from farming and more towards manufacturing, it what was known as the "American Plan," which turned out disastrous.
Therefore, to perhaps make amends, Clinton dug in with his own Global Initiative back in 2008, and he got more involved when the U.N. came a' knockin' in 2009, naming him special envoy to the country. Clinton then chose Hillary Clinton's former chief of staff, Cheryl Mills to become his main operator there.
The reviews are mixed on Mills' work there, and with Clinton.
Bill Clinton, by all accounts, was equally frustrated with the slow progress of reconstruction. But Clinton himself did not become the semipermanent presence many Haitians had assumed he would. Instead, Clinton's role was taken on, to a large extent, by staffers with little background in development or disaster management. Laura Graham, Clinton's 38-year-old chief of staff and chief point person for Haiti, was his former White House scheduler. Clinton's director of foreign policy, 34-year-old Amitabh Desai, had been one of Hillary Clinton's legislative aides, and before that an intern in Ted Kennedy's office. "It was a dual problem, really," a U.N. official says of the Clinton Foundation staffers. "First, they had no background in development — they didn't know what they were talking about in aid or humanitarianism. Second, they didn't even realize it. They had come to Haiti in their suits convinced they were going to fix the place, and then they looked really confused when we would try to explain to them why the ideas they came up with on the back of an envelope on the plane over wouldn't work."
Graham maintains that the Clinton Foundation has "extensive experience in post-crisis management and development." The foundation's role, she adds, "is to assist the Haitians, not to prescribe or implement solutions unilaterally." But on the ground in Haiti, Clinton's surrogates managed to alienate almost everyone with whom they came into contact. "When you listen to President Clinton, his rhetoric is right on point," says a prominent Haitian. "But his people were incredibly arrogant; they knew nothing about Haiti or Haitians. They acted like, because they worked for a former president, they ruled the world." In one incident, he says, Haitian ministers were shut out of an IHRC board meeting after a Clinton staffer told them their names were not on the list. "These are the ministers of Haiti — it's their country! What do you mean 'not on the list'?"
If you care about this country and about the ability of our country to adequately help poor counties make their world better, read Janet Reitman's "How the World Failed Haiti."