USAID and Haiti: The friendly
face of US imperialism
Aug 2005 USAID/OTI Haiti Field
Haiti Action Network, http://www.haitiaction.net/,
October 28, 2005
On the ground United States foreign assistance
projects often mean desperately needed food and employment for
the poor, impossible to resist, difficult to critique. But from
the vantage point of US foreign policy objectives a very different
picture emerges and long-term and global outcomes often differ
dramatically from the immediate consequences of relief efforts.
The United States International Development
Agency (USAID) emerged as an arm of US foreign policy following
the Second World War. The Agency was developed to provide foreign
relief and development assistance in accordance with US policy
objectives. According to the USAID website the organization operates
under the following mandate.
"U.S. foreign assistance has always
had the twofold purpose of furthering America's foreign policy
interests in expanding democracy and free markets while improving
the lives of the citizens of the developing world."
This dual mandate raises the important
question of whether US policy interests generally result in improved
living conditions for the majority of the world's poor? While
it may occasionally be the case that the interests of the US government
and the poverty stricken citizens around the world are aligned,
more often than not, US economic and political interests are dependent
on the exploitation and manipulation of workers and consumers
in the developing world. It is this inherent contradiction within
the USAID mandate that should cause skepticism among US taxpayers
concerned with issues of social justice and self determination.
The fundamental problem with USAID's stated
objectives is that it is not in the national interests of the
US government to promote self sufficiency in developing countries.
US economic interests are fed by foreign dependency on US imports
and loans. Political interests are served by maintaining an economic
stranglehold on foreign governments, and many a strategic alliance
has been forged out of economic necessity.
Among USAID's operating tenets are sustainability
and local capacity building, noble goals but highly dependent
on how these tenets are defined and the manner in which they are
implemented. Sustainability of what, and which local capacities
are being supported? Implementation is primarily shaped by another
of USAID's governing tenets, selectivity, the allocation of resources
based on foreign policy interests.
The recently released USAID Haiti Field
Report provides an excellent case study for investigating the
role of USAID in promoting US foreign policy objectives under
the friendly guise of aid. Much of USAID's current work in Haiti
is carried out under the umbrella of the Haiti Transition Initiative
(HTI), a program developed and financed by USAID's Office for
Transition Initiatives (OTI) in May 2004 to "emphasize stability-building
measures in key crisis spots."
The OTI was created within USAID in 1994
"to provide fast, flexible, short-term assistance, to take
advantage of windows of opportunity to build democracy and peace"
in countries experiencing political turmoil. According to the
OTI website the organization accomplishes its objectives by specifically
encouraging "a culture of risk-taking, political orientation,
and swift response among its staff and partners." The Haiti
Field Report explores how short term assistance programs, provided
within a culture of political orientation, can be used to distort
international perceptions of Haiti's complicated political terrain
as the elections approach.
The United States is primarily concerned
with Haiti's upcoming elections occurring on schedule, so that
a new government can be in place by February 2006. In Haiti, as
in Iraq and Afghanistan, the timeliness and appearance of legitimacy
of the electoral process are of paramount importance for the Bush
Administration's PR machine, which tends to equate elections with
democracy, boasting that the United States is benevolently promoting
"democracies" around the world.
USAID describes their objectives as follows:
"Haiti's future depends on elections that are considered
free and fair to ensure the legitimacy of the new government and
enhance their ability to govern effectively. The stabilization
of the political and security environment in Haiti is central
to U.S. foreign policy and USAID objectives."
What sort of democracy is the United States
promoting in Haiti, where the duly elected president was spirited
away on a US military jet against his will, as the country once
again fell into the hands of the powerful elite and brutal former
military? Haiti is now governed by a cadre of unelected officials
overseen by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, a Haitian businessman
and former radio show host that lived in Boca Raton Florida for
the 15 years preceding his unconstitutional rise to office.
In direct contradiction to actual events
and the laws of the Haitian Constitution, USAID describes Haiti's
unelected Interim Government as "benefiting from the support
of democratic institutions." They further state that the
"political transition" of February 29, 2004 "created
a new environment for collaboration with the Interim Government
of Haiti," indicating their willingness to work closely with
an illegitimate government accused of numerous human rights abuses
over the past year in order to promote US interests.
USAID's Haiti Field Report, which can
be found on the USAID website, presents a glowing image of US
development efforts in this "troubled" country, through
a carefully-crafted compilation of selective facts. In August
alone, USAID invested over 4 million dollars towards projects
in Haiti. These projects include road and canal clean-up projects,
terracing of hillsides to prevent erosion and electricity projects.
On the surface it is difficult to criticize
the provision of badly needed clean-up efforts and employment
opportunities and certainly these programs have had benefits within
the community. The questions are: what is the long term viability
of these projects, and who are the primary beneficiaries? A far
more detailed on-the-ground investigation would be required to
determine how these programs will differentially benefit various
local and international interests in the short and long term.
Other USAID projects that have more obvious
political implications are short-term nutrition and recreational
initiatives in "key crisis areas." The report outlines
USAID's strategy for pacifying Haiti's largest political party,
Lavalas through selective distribution of aid resources.
In August the Haiti Transition Initiative
set up 26 "Play for Peace" camps in Port au Prince,
Cap Haitien, St. Marc and several other "target" cities.
These camps are designed to provide food and activities to desperately
poor communities; essential services, the importance of which
is not in question.
What is questionable is the way in which
these camps are used to undermine existing community programs
in an attempt to de-legitimize the demands of the Lavalas movement
in the eyes of the international community. This strategy is exemplified
by USAID's description of their activities in Petit Place Cazeau,
the community that is home to Father Gerard Jean Juste's parish
of St. Claire. USAID's Haiti Field Report describes their activity
in Father Jean Juste's neighborhood as follows:
"OTI initiated a Play for Peace summer
camp in Petit Place Cazeau, the Port au Prince stronghold of Lavalas
party presidential candidate Father Gerard Jean Juste. [ ] The
fruits of these efforts were seen during a recent demonstration
attended by 200 people. At the same time that the demonstration
was taking place, 300 people were enjoying the summer camp. It
is believed that the camp prevented the demonstration from being
larger and giving greater legitimacy to the protesters. The coming
weeks will see a deepening of OTI activities in Petit Place Cazeau,
where events like the summer camp will become increasingly important
now that Father Jean Juste has been arrested. His imprisonment
has inflamed pro-Lavalas fires in the area and made him a martyr
to some Haitians."
This report presents a picture of US aid
that is simultaneously disturbing and refreshingly honest. That
the "fruits of these efforts" are described as the camps'
potential to de-legitimize protest as opposed to their success
in providing basic services to the community, speaks volumes to
USAID's primary motivations, motivations which will shape long
USAID is an arm of the US State Department
reporting directly to Condoleezza Rice and their stated objective
is to use aid to pursue outcomes desired by the State Department.
In this case the State Department is eager to for the upcoming
elections to appear legitimate as evident in Condoleezza Rice's
recent visit to Haiti.
In order for this goal to be achieved
it is critical to stifle resistance to the elections. Resistance
is being tackled on two fronts. In the past year, thousands of
former elected officials and community organizers have been imprisoned,
forced into hiding or killed, with many innocent civilians caught
in the crossfire. This overt stifling of dissent is implemented
by Haiti's unelected interim government through the Haitian National
Police, a brutal police forced armed by the United States and
under the control of the United Nations.
USAID uses a different tactic for pacifying
the poor in Haiti who have been rightfully outraged by the destruction
of their democracy, rise in the cost of living and ongoing government-sponsored
repression. Understanding the level of desperation in these communities,
short-term provision of services is used as a way to draw people
away from protesting these conditions with a warm meal. As people
are fed they can be quietly indoctrinated with the notion that
these camps provide an alternative to the "violence"
The provision of entertainment and meals
may provide a temporary alleviation of suffering but they do nothing
to address the underlying causes of that suffering which are deeply
entangled in with the disruption of Haiti's democracy in 2004.
A full stomach will not end the police killings, it will not free
the political prisoners and it will not result in the reestablishment
of social programs in Haiti; but it may give a hungry person a
moment of peace.
Full stomachs and soccer are excellent
tools for temporarily easing suffering to pacify protest and give
the country the appearance of calm in the run up to the elections
but they are not a sustainable solution to the many problems that
prevent these elections from being free and fair, nor will they
promote a democracy that truly represents that Haitian people.
The long term implications of installing an illegitimate government
could far outweigh the short term benefits enjoyed by those attending
Other questions about these programs include:
how long will these programs feed the hungry and what is their
effect on pre-existing programs in Petit Place Cazeau, that were
not mentioned in the report? Long before USAID initiated the Play
for Peace camps in the neighborhood, Father Jean Juste and the
St. Claire community were providing vocational training classes,
recreational activities and meals to thousands of children in
the neighborhood. Now with Father Jean Juste in prison these programs
are at risk.
Unlike Father Jean Juste's commitment
to empowering the community, USAIDs stated goal of pacifying political
protest through aid is decidedly a short-term strategy, and these
camps are not likely to provide a sustainable source of aid after
political objectives have been met.
If USAID were truly interested in improving
the lives of poor people they would support the maintenance of
existing programs by joining Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch, 29 members of Congress, and over 400 religious leaders
in calling for the release of Father Jean Juste, a cornerstone
of many community development projects in Petit Place Cazeau.
The report also references plans to increase
activities in the northern town of Milot. It reads: The coming
weeks will see HTI staff make field visits to Milot, a critical
locale outside the Cap Haitien metropolitan area. This place is
known as the point from which all northern protests by former
President Aristide's Lavalas Party are coordinated.
Like Petit Place Cazeau, Milot represents
an area of the country where the poor have collectively organized.
Numerous community programs in Cap Haitien and Milot, started
under local Lavalas administrations, have lost funding since the
coup. Without funding these programs are struggling to provide
for the community.
USAID is taking advantage of the economic
and political crisis, using food and recreation to placate peoples
resistance, to stifle their demands for justice. The timetable
for USAID programs is politically determined; their mandate requires
that they do so only as long as the programs serve US foreign
policy interests. Communities in northern Haiti are already experiencing
the loss of social programs since the coup, their absence will
be all the more painful when USAID programs evaporate with changing
As stated in the document, the coming
weeks will see increased expansion of USAID programs in Petit
Place Cazeau and in other key areas like Milot, where Lavalas
remains strong. These developments are of interest not only for
those concerned with US subversion of democracy in Haiti but also
to those interested in understanding USAID's operations throughout
Despite its beneficent name, USAID is
doing what it was designed to do, play off the hunger of the starving,
and the boredom of the unemployed, to further US policy interests.
In Haiti this means propping up and illegitimate foreign government
in the face of massive resistance, a difficult task best carried
out through a combination of violent repression and foreign aid,
the friendly face of US imperialism.
Sasha Kramer is a PhD. candidate at Stanford
University who has travelled to Haiti three times this year on
human rights delegations. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org