Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Haiti, rumors abound. Therefore it is near impossible to get a good handle on what is happening in the country, and especially in the government. There are a few hopeful signs, but others are not. Some programs that the government takes pride in appear good at first glance, but when analyzed more closely, one can see that they hinder development rather than promote it. For example, the current government has established a National Social assistance program that is called “Ede Pep” (Help the people). Basically hat this is, is a transfer of cash to people in need. In a country where 57% of its 10 million people exist on less than 1 US Dollar a day and 82% on less than 2 US Dollars a day, the transfer of cash that Ede Pep provides seems like a good thing. 25,000 handicapped people and 25,000 elderly have received cash. In addition 57,000 destitute mothers have also received cash. 22,000 university students will receive 2,000 Gourdes (=$US 47.62) a month to help with their educational expenses. 400,000 solidarity baskets have been delivered. These baskets contain items that can feed a family of five for 10 days. But do these one time or limited time gifts really constitute development? For example the 2,000 Gourdes that the students receive do they foster the development of the educational system in Haiti? First of all, the money goes directly to the students and not to the universities. Needs in Haiti are great, so it is almost certain that the money will not go solely to pay for school fees. In addition, the time this program will last, is limited. Would that money not be spent better by using it to improve elementary schools who suffer from lack of materials? Or increase the salary of teachers who are paid poorly and often not on time? The impact money thus spent could be greater than simply giving cash stipends. To a number of Haitians it seems that the government is buying the support of these sectors of the population, something they say happened under Duvalier.

Most recently the finance minister Marie-Carmelle Jean-Marie and the communications minister Regine Godfroy resigned. Both are very competent women who cited a lack of support as the reason for their resignation. The Minister of Finance had tried to establish transparency in her office and was apparently rebuffed in her effort. Richard Morse, leader of the band RAM and a cousin of President Martelly, resigned in January. He had been special counsel to the president and had accompanied Martelly during the elections and his first year in office. The reason he gave for his resignation, “I left because of corruption in the palace and infrastructure sabotage.” As an example he mentioned that workers filled drainage canals before the rainy season which caused flooding. They did this in order to attract aid money. Morse said he spoke to the minister, but nothing was done.

While no one can expect these practices to change from one day to the next, that they occur at the highest level of government is disturbing. What is clear is that there are people in Haiti who are not interested in development but rather profit from the lack of it. The poor road infrastructure allows the few people who control the movement of goods to set the prices for those goods. So they have little interest in a decent road infrastructure which would benefit more people but threaten their position as the ones in control.

In the beginning of thiwriting I also mentioned hopeful signs. 79% of the people living in camps have been relocated. While there are some problems with that process, in general this is quite an accomplishment. The airport has been rebuilt and is now a modern airport that meets international standards. In Port au Prince a number of large hotels have been constructed and are open for business. While these do not directly benefit the poor, they do encourage foreigners and others to visit Haiti and find a place to stay that provides a comfortable environment. Hopefully this would encourage greater business development and help address the problem of unemployment. In addition, solar powered streetlights are more and more in evidence, not only in Port au Prince, but also in the provinces. In Haiti where electricity is still rationed, this means a lot. They provide a sense of security and also allow students to study under the streetlights when they have no electricity at home. The most hopeful sign of course is the irrepressible spirit of the Haitian people who still produce vibrant art, sing songs that express their life experiences and above all stubbornly maintain their faith on God.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April 10, 2013

Last week I fulfilled a long standing wish by visiting Abriko and the work of Patrick and Mica Deverteuil. They have a large foundation which sponsors 12 school, an atelier for the transformation of fruits and also a women's cooperative which makes table cloths, bedspreads and other beautiful handicrafts. What struck me most about that visit was how difficult it was to get there. It had rained the day before and the road was so muddy that we were slipping and sliding as if on snow and ice in Chicago. But the natural beauty of the landscape was breathtaking. So much "virgin" beauty still untouched by large commercial ventures, but also making life difficult because one is so isolated. every trip to Jeremie which is the largest city nearby, takes 2 hours or so over very rutted unpaved roads. Difficult at best when you are well,, but impossible to make the trip when you are sick. There is much talk about tourism these days in Haiti. But until roads are built, that remains an elusive dream. Nonetheless I kept thinking if only people could see the beauty of all this, Haiti could change hearts.