Special to South Florida Times
On the second anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, South Florida remembered the 250,000 to 300,000 people who died, saluted the resiliency of the half-million survivors still living in makeshift tents and demanded that the U.S. government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) explain why more tangible progress has not been made following an outpouring of billions of dollars from public and private donors.
Participants in a Little Haiti prayer vigil in honor of the quake victims repeatedly chanted in chorus as they marched through the community: “Where’s the money?” “Why are people still suffering?”
Haiti, several members of South Florida’s Haitian-American community say, is not much better off than it was immediately after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. People are still living in sweltering, unsanitary conditions in makeshift tents, they point out. They have no jobs, little food and water and only limited access to health care.
“Billions of dollars were donated from the United States and from the international community but nobody can tell us where the money has gone,” said Tony Jeanthenor, whose organization, Veye Yo, works to legalize Haitian refugees. The group was among several community organizations that supported the prayer vigil.
The ceremony also was the formal dedication of Northeast 54th Street in Miami’s Little Haiti community as “Father Gerard Jean-Juste Boulevard.” The late Catholic cleric was an iconic leader for political reform in Haiti and for immigration justice for Haitian refugees in the United States.
“We are of the opinion that things are worse now than before when we factor in the cholera outbreak,” said Jean-Robert Lafortune, chairman of the advocacy group Haitian American Grassroots Coalition.
Haiti has suffered also from a cholera outbreak, the world’s largest, which has claimed the lives of an estimated 7,000 more people in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Marleine Bastien, founder and director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami Inc. (Haitian Women of Miami), faults President Barack Obama for not doing more. “Mr. Obama said Haiti will be his priority, yet children are waking up hungry,” Bastien said.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake brought Haiti to a standstill, leveling most of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. The estimated $8 billion disaster tore at the hearts of the international community which donated billions of dollars to rescue, feed and clothe survivors and provide critical health services for the hundreds of thousands who were injured.
“The suffering is still there,” said author Edwidge Danticat, who joined the vigil. “There has been some progress but it is a long-term recovery project.”
The scope of devastation notwithstanding, waste
and mismanagement have plagued the process, Danticat said. “We need to ask organizations what has been done and demand results,” she said.
Community activist Lucy Tondreau said Haiti should insist on calling for more accountability from donor nations and organizations. “There are 6,000 NGOs in Haiti. What are they doing?” she said.
“They are collecting the money and the victims are not receiving much,” added Tony Jeanthenor.
NGOs have received about $2 billion in contributions from private and public sectors, according to some published estimates. While various organizations point to the houses they have built or the medical and educational services they have provided, many have not given detailed accounts of how the money has been spent.
A bill titled “Assessing Progress in Haiti Act” that was filed in the U.S. House of Representatives by mostly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, seeks to bring accountability to the relief effort, said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla.
“The bill directs the president to assess whether relief efforts are being done correctly,” said Wilson, who, along with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sponsored a Jan. 13 panel discussion at Edison Middle School in Little Haiti to address the community’s concerns. The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and now awaits Senate approval, Wilson said
“We need to have an accountability for this huge amount of aid,” Wilson said at the forum which attracted about 200 people
Wilson said she also attached an amendment calling for a moratorium on sending detainees back to Haiti, given the country’s slow pace of recovery.
Obama has not let Haiti slip off his radar, Nelson said shortly before the start of the forum. “The Obama administration has done more for Haiti than any other administration,” he said. “There has been a lot of money spent.”
Nelson and Wilson were joined on the panel by Tom Adams, Haiti special coordinator in the U.S. Department of State; Elizabeth Hogan, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Haiti Task Team; and Ken Merten, U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
According to figures provided by Merten, the U.S. government pledged $1.15 billion for reconstruction at a March 2010 Donors Conference; $3.1 billion toward relief, recovery and reconstruction; $1.3 billion in humanitarian relief assistance immediately after the earthquake; and $1.8 billion in recovery and reconstruction assistance. By the end of 2011, $2.4 billion had been spent in Haiti, Adams said.
Adams and Merten said America’s Haiti strategy focuses on infrastructure and energy, food and economic security, health and other basic services and governance and rule of law. The accomplishments so far:
• Nearly two-thirds of the estimated 1.5 million Haitians who lived in tent shelters following earthquake have left the camps.
• More than 28,500 temporary shelters housing about 143,000 people have been completed
• More than half of the more than 10 million cubic yards of rubble from the earthquake has been removed from the center of Port-au-Prince.
• A management team funded by the U.S. government is helping Haiti to overhaul its state-owned electricity company which currently supplies electricity to just 12 percent of the population.
• In March, the Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti will open and create 20,000 jobs for Haitians. Haitian community leaders stressed that Haiti’s solutions should include Haitians. Adams agreed. “We also want it to be a Haitian-led effort,” he said.
Photo: JAMES FORBES/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
STREET DEDICATION: From left, North Miami Mayor Andre D. Pierre, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime and Marleine Bastien, founder and director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami Inc. (Haitian Women of Miami) take part on Jan. 12 in cutting the ribbon to officially dedicate Northeast 54th Street in Miami’s Little Haiti community, “Father Gerard Jean-Juste Boulevard.”