When American politicians suddenly give a damn about Haiti

Posted by hougansydney.com on Thursday, October 13, 2016 Under: Op-ed
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Haiti has somehow found its way into the center of the American presidential election this year. Very rarely that Haiti, the poorest country in the americas becomes an important topic in american politics, but the constant involvement of one of the contenders in Haiti since 1975, has now put Haiti in the spotlight. 

Unfortunately, Haiti has mostly never benefited from the attention of American politicians, and it is no different this time. American Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has been attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for her involvement in the Caribbean country as Secretary of State, as well as that of her husband, former US president Bill Clinton. But, if he becomes president, Haiti, most likely will be the least of his priorities. Donald Trump is essentially using Haiti as a scapegoat against his opponent, Hillary Clinton, since she is very disliked by a vast majority of Haitian americans.

in 1975, Bill and Hillary Clinton went on their honeymoon in Haiti, then, still poor, but, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean. The fascination of the newlyweds by Haiti's landscape, culture, history and even its corrupt politics remained till their adulthood and they became prominent politicians.

In 1992, Haiti became an important topic discussion in the American presidential election due to the thousand of Haitians migrants that were disembarking on the coasts of Florida. The presidential candidate Bill Clinton, ran a heavy campaign against his opponent, incumbent president George W. Bush, for his inhumane treatments of capturing Haitians at sea and returning them back to their homeland. But, once Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States, he made a complete reversal on the promises that he had made on his campaign trail to treat Haitian immigrants better. In fact, he adopted an even harsher policy against Haitians than his predecessor did. Under Bill Clinton, Haitians who were caught at sea trying to reach the United States and those who made it to US shores, were jailed in the infamous Guantanamo detention center, while their deportation case proceeded.

In 1994, Bill Clinton adopted a rice subsidizing policy in Haiti that would crippled Haiti's rice industry and plunged the country into famine. Haiti went from an exporter of rice, to importing 90% of this main staple from american rice farmers.  Bill Clinton took the excess rice from Arkansas, where he’s from, and dumped it in Haiti and used American tax dollars to subsidize it. Despite the warnings of many of his advisers, including USAID, the policy was implemented.   

"An export-driven trade and investment policy in Haiti has the potential to relentlessly squeeze the domestic rice farmer. This farmer will be forced to adapt or (s)he will disappear."
 USAID 1995 report.

The policy not only crippled Haiti's rice industry but it also contributed to an explosion of shantytowns in the coast of Port-au-Prince, as poor farmers migrated from the country side with no money in the hope of getting a job at one of the american apparel factories that were now popping up everywhere in the capital, paying some 30 cents per hour. President Bill Clinton adopted the rice and trade policies as exchange of returning Jean Bertrand Aristide in power, Haiti's first democratically elected president, toppled by a military coup. Aristide was exiled in the US at the time. 

 In 2010, overcame with emotion when facing the scale of disaster left by a powerful earthquake that had destroyed Haiti's capital and killed some 200.000 and made homeless another 1.5 million, the former American president, Bill Clinton, publicly apologized for the role he personally had in destroying the rice industry of Haiti. Calling it a " Devil's bargain."  

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton said in 2010."I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did." While the apology may seems sincere, it felt more like a feel good self-tap in the back. It is Haitians, not Bill Clinton, who have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed themselves.

Haiti imported 400.000 tons of rice from the United States in 2015

During the massive earthquake in 2010 that struck the Haitian capital and its surrounding cities, Hillary Clinton was the US secretary of State, and president Barack Obama, tasked her and the former presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton to coordinate a massive aid appeal as well as the subsequent relief and reconstruction efforts. The early US response was very impressive. American navy and hospital ships, helicopters and airplanes, loaded with first aid materials and thousands of rescue, medical, military and technical personnels were deployed in Haiti and that eventually contributed to the savings of countless lives.

Hillary and Bill Clinton said that the devastation in Haiti were personal to them in so many levels and promised to do everything in their power, to help the country "build back better". That phrase even became one of the tenets of the Secretary of State's foreign policy in Haiti. However, the estimated $10 billion that poured into the ravaged country following the earthquake, a better built Haiti never came into fruition.  Nothing has been build back and some 60.000 people were still living in the streets of Port-au-Prince when Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc last Tuesday.

After Matthew, Haiti is facing another catastrophe: an NGO disaster

Not only did the rebuilding of Haiti never materialize under Bill and Hillary Clinton's leaderships, the powerful couple got involved in many political and corruption scandals in the country in the wake of the devastating earthquake.

Political Scandal

As the country was still under the shock of the biggest catastrophe in its history, a presidential election was underway. The country had a tough choice to make.

The three most popular candidates were Mirlande Manigat; a now 75 years old grandmother, former first lady, a university professor who received her education at the University of Paris, Sorbonne; Jude Celestin; the former head of the national construction company, who had built many roads throughout Haiti and has made the promotion and training of women, to operate heavy trucks and cranes and other heavy machineries one of the cornerstones of the state run company; and, finally, Michel Martelly; a crude, unfiltered, wealthy and widely popular pop musician, who sometimes went nude on stages and carnival floats; dresses in thongs and other revealing women clothing, has an alter ego named T- Simone, whom until the presidential election held a US permanent residence card, and owned many lavish homes in Miami and other places. He campaigned on opening up the country to foreign business, and showed himself very favorable of american businesses, in particular, hotels, sweat shops, and minings. Naturally, american politicians started to back him; financially as well as politically. Highest american officials presented Michel Martelly not as a loud mouth with no concrete plans whatsoever, but instead as the embodiment of the Haitian youth, pissed off about the conditions Haiti has been left in by traditional Haitian politicians, who is now throwing a political tantrum and is ready to revolutionize. When the first round result of the October 2015 presidential election in Haiti was published, but not yet made available to the public, it showed that Mirlande Manigat came in first position, Jude Celestin second, and Michel Martelly, third respectively. OAS officials and other diplomat in Haiti heavily pressured the Haitian government to modify the result, under no legal basis, so that it shows Michel Martelly in first position, Mirlande Manigat in second and Jude Celestin in third; as published emails of Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of States have since revealed. 

Hillary Clinton, personally went to Haiti to pressure then President Rene Preval, to accept the proposed modified results, as protest and rallies financed by Martelly were taking places in many key Haitian cities. Haitian officials would eventually gave in and Michel Martelly went on to win the second round Haitian presidential election. As president, with the Help of US officials he pushed for the a new era, one in which ''Haiti is open for business."
American Hotels such as the Marriott, Best-Western, Hilton and  the carnival cruise line have since started operations or are under construction. The Seretary of State also pushed for the construction of the Caracol Industrial Park
a $300 million project built on a 617-acre site in the North-West Department of Haiti, in collaboration of the Haitian Government, the US State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Caracol Industrial Park was suppose to provide jobs to some 15.000 people making no more than some 60 cents/hr, but since its official opening on October 22, 2012, the park has only produced a little half of these jobs and the South Korean tenants have been under heavy scrutinies for their unfair labor practices.

Corruption Scandal

As Bill and Hillary Clinton touted Haiti to american entrepreneurs as business opportunities, the Government of Haiti under the presidency of the US-backed president Michel Martelly, decided to do something that it hasn't done in over 50 years. Grants mining permits to foreign company. The only licence granted to exploit one of the largest gold mines in the country was to a small american company called VCS mining; turns out the younger brother of Hillary Clinton, Tony Rodham, chairs at the board of VCS. 

Michel Martelly also turned out to be a nightmare for Haiti and its people. During his presidency, Martelly surrounded himself with cronies, kidnappers, drug dealers and other infamous criminals. His role in the releasing of two vicious drug dealers, Woody Etheart and Roody Nelson, caused a huge scandal in Haiti.  Martelly throughout his mandate refused to organized local, municipal and legislative elections, appointing instead "special agents" to elected posts. During his final months in office, Michel Martelly finally decided to hold local, municipal, legislative as well as a presidential elections. The first round of that presidential election was resoundingly rejected by a vast majority of Haitians after the results showed Jovenel Moise, the candidate handpicked by Martelly and who has campaigned under his same promises of opening up the country to foreign businesses, came in first position with some 32.7% of the votes. Months of vast protests that at times turned violent forced Michel Martelly to step down on February 7th, 2016, when his constitutional mandate expired, without an elected successor to readily take over. A provisional president was chosen by parliament a week later.

Donald Trump has said two months ago during his visit to little Haiti's Cultural Center in Miami, that he would be Haitians' "greatest champion" without specifying how, and he has continued to use the many failed and sometimes questionable involvements of Bill and Hillary Clinton in Haiti, as attacks against his rival. The former secretary, has, not once, ever responded to Trump's comments about her record in the Caribbean country.

By all analysts estimates, Hillary Clinton seems poised to come out of this American election as the next president of the United States, and with so much going on in some of the most strategic american locations such as the Middle East and Asia it seems that America will continues to be greatly involved in Haiti, but Bill Clinton will play an even greater role than previously. Will these american politicians finally give a damn about Haiti?

In : Op-ed