Western Exploitation & Mother Nature: A History of Tragedy in Haiti

In recent news of Hurricane Matthew hitting Haiti this past Tuesday, we are reminded of the disasters Haiti—the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has previously endured.

Haiti’s location on the Gonâve micro-plate makes it susceptible to both tropical storms and earthquakes– an inconvenience which is magnified by the socio-economic state of the country. Following every disaster that Haiti has seen in the past decade, the world contributes an outpouring of both concern and donations. Millions of dollars are raised by numerous aid-relief foundations, yet we see little change in the living conditions in Haiti, as millions of people in the country still live in dilapidated shacks, have no access to potable water, electricity, or basic sanitation.

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Disasters in areas like Haiti are big business moments for transnational humanitarian organizations who ultimately profit from the donations that are meant to go directly to the struggling countries. Following the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, foundations such as the Red Cross of America raised an estimated 500 million dollars in relief aid yet managed to leave Haiti in more or less the same condition as it was in prior to their arrival. They convinced donors that they would build hundreds of permanent homes for those impacted by the earthquake, but reports indicate that only a total of six homes were built in Port-Au-Prince, the country’s capital. They claim to have made positive changes towards the living conditions for the people of Haiti, but their claims simply don’t match up with the figures. This inconsistency is overtly demonstrated in their failure to account for where the donated money has gone as well as their constant failure to disclose the operating costs of its subcontractors.

Another example of this can be seen directly through the Clinton Foundation’s involvement with Haiti relief-aid after the 2010 earthquake. During this time, Bill Clinton was designated UN representative for the aid that was supposed to be allocated to Haiti, coincidentally establishing the “Haiti Reconstruction Fund” on his own behalf. As Secretary of the State, his wife Hillary was in charge of U.S. aid meant for Haiti’s relief funds. Thus the Clinton family wielded tremendous power over a substantial amount of funds that were meant to be distributed to Haiti in this time of need.

After careful observation, it was speculated by the people of Haiti that the Clintons hired companies that had personal ties to them as donors to their foundation rather than Haitan companies, creating a potential conflict of interest. These companies profited due to the contracts they received in Haiti but ultimately, failed to fulfill the needs of the country. One of the most famous subcontractors hired was Clayton Homes, a company who was placed in charge of building temporary shelters for those affected by the earthquake. Clayton Homes’ construction was a bust: the supposed “hurricane proof” shelters were weak and posed health threats to those who occupied them as they presented high levels of formaldehyde, mold, and toxic insulation fumes that made people who used the facilities ill. Clayton Homes profited off of the disaster in Haiti, without ever delivering what they promised and in fact, causing more damage in their wake.

Bill and Hillary hired companies who were also donors to their foundation without any direct approval from the UN and allowed these companies to profit from the relief funds that were meant for Haiti. Additionally, Hillary Clinton used her power as Secretary of the State to waive federal loan approvals in an inoperative amount of time for companies with money coming directly from federal resources that were originally designated for Haiti relief. A shocking example was when Clinton waived a $10-million loan to a firm called Innovida, who was in charge of building houses in Haiti—houses that to this day have yet to be built. The head of Innovida, Claudio Osorio, is a known donor to the Clinton foundation, and according to the National Review, “An investigation revealed that Osorio had diverted these company funds to pay for his Miami Beach mansion, his Maserati, and his Colorado ski chalet.”

We have easily dismissed Haiti as the poorest country in our hemisphere but often fail to provide the historical context which made it so. Haiti’s state of poverty is not synonymous to the country being inferior—this tribulation can be traced back to its history as a country that has been tyrannized from the day they became independent. A look at Haiti’s history shows us that the United States profiting off of Haiti’s hardships is not an isolated occurrence. Haiti has continuously been tyrannized by Western Imperialism throughout the centuries. At the peak of the slave industry in the mid 1700s, Haiti was considered the most valuable colony in the West Indies as it provided Europe with a high percentage of its imported goods, specifically sugar.

After being home to the most successful slave revolt in history without the help of any other western country, their former colonial masters, the French, recognized Haiti as a free country in 1804. Yet the French still had the audacity to place Haiti in debt for reprimands owed to them after a loss of wealth that had occurred due to the revolution. France held Haiti accountable for an estimated 20 million dollars for lost property and slaves to French plantation owners. In essence, Haiti was forced to pay for their Independence both in the blood of Haitians as well as their debts to the French.

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France threatened Haiti by planning an embargo if they failed to pay off their “debt”, refusing to recognize Haiti as a free country until all of the supposed debts were payed off. Additionally, the United States refused to recognize Haiti as a country after they had claimed their independence in 1804. The United States slave industry was alive and well, prompting fear that if the were to recognize them as a country  that it would influence their own slaves to revolt.

Haiti had to deal with these reprimands and negations from the dawn of their origin, and although they had the potential to be quite a successful country, the alphas of Western Imperialism were not willing to let Haiti flourish.

The aftermath of these adversities is evident in the current socio-economic state of Haiti. The oppressions that they have had to endure stem from the tail end of overt racism, from the rise of the slave trade and have continued with the helping hand of systemic racism that continues to this day. The United States especially has contributed to these systemic oppressions by occupying Haiti, exploiting their natural resources, and most of all exploiting their people by profiting off of their cheap labor. American policies have arguably had the biggest impact on the creation of the hardships endured by Haitians, as Western Intervention seemingly finds a way to oppresses the poorest countries even in times of desperation and tragedy.

Most humanitarian aid foundations have the potential to implement positive changes in developing countries that endure the biggest hardships—the public is always willing to do their part to donate especially in such devastating times for countries like Haiti. The only fault of these foundations is that the fall prey to the current mechanism of corruption. These organizations have to learn to break through the demeaning stereotypes and cycles of corruption and siphoning money to allow the people of these countries to have a voice as to what they believe is best for their own well-being. Foundations such as the Red Cross of America and the Clinton foundation have to understand that the donations are meant to uplift the country permanently, not temporarily, instead of lining the pockets of their donors and CEOs. They must learn to treat these humanitarian effort more as a helping hand to those affected by tragedy than as a business they could potentially profit off of.

It is important to consider the facts and figures backed up by the public before donating to humanitarian aid foundations that could potentially be scamming not only those that are devastated by natural disasters, but donors as well. Standing in solidarity with Haiti should go beyond hashtags and instead reach a deeper understanding of the systematic oppression that has left Haiti in the state that it is in. If you’d like to learn more on how to donate for progressively positive change in Haiti I have attached the following links to progressive humanitarian aid-relief foundations below.

Oxfam International 

UNICEF 

ActionAid 

 

 

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