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Chapter One: A fractured path from donors' purses to actual rebuilding efforts — and back again.
African island called Bulama. They were also carrying something new.
It was ultimately discovered to be a virus called Yellow Fever, and Haiti was its first New World landfall. The virus killed thousands around Port-au-Prince before the ship sailed for Philadelphia to join a convoy for safe passage back to London. (At Philadelphia, Benjamin Rush, a noted physician of the age, surmised the boat carried some new form of “pestilence” after more then 10,000 Philadelphians died within weeks; he ultimately ordered the ship burned to the water line during its trip home.)
This is the star-crossed history of Haiti. It is a nation blessed by location: it has rich farming soils, a lovely and temperate tropical climate and a stunningly resourceful island populace. It has periods of prosperity and hope that are recent enough for many Port-au-Prince residents — and the millions who live in the diaspora — to remember a time when it was a playground for rich tourists and when it confidently produced most of the food it ate.
But its geographic location makes Haiti uniquely prone to cataclysms such as tropical storms and hurricanes, while what is known in geological terms as the "Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault system," a ragged edge that runs along the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates, has triggered a string of earthquakes over the centuries.
Still, perhaps owing to the island’s difficult past, it remains one of the most hopeful places imaginable. Most of the people living there have historically had very little in the way of resources, and have been ruled and controlled by a small wealthy few, which means any good that comes non-wealthy Haitians’ way tends to be celebrated.
By 1804, due to several slave uprisings, the poor natives overthrew French rule and became the first free nation in Latin America. Like other new democratic successes of the Atlantic World, the Haitians discovered self-determination. They also discovered debt, saddled with a French demand for 150 million francs (more than $20 billion in today’s terms) to compensate the colonial power for its lost territory.
Haiti created home-grown problems, too: despots, self-interested rulers and military coups. Eventually people with names like Duvalier and Aristide and Cedras would become world famous for a power-lust and greed that has defined Haitian leadership. On three occasions in the last century, the US military intervened, including the 20,000 US troops deployed in 2010.
And along with political upheaval came regular hurricanes, mudslides and earthquakes, with international aid often “pledged” but few Haitians ever really seeing it. This exploitation by mercantile forces of seemingly beneficent empires combined with the squandering of aid amid a culture of corruption is the very history of the country, and the contemporary reality in which Haiti finds itself.
In the year following the 2010 earthquake, things were no different. In fact, of the $1.14 billion allocated to Haitian Rebuilding and Relief in 2010 by the US Congress, according to the US Government Accountability Office (or GAO), only $184 million had been actually “obligated to projects” at the end of 2010. Today as the guys with the green eyeshades get more deeply involved, it becomes clear that in the wake of the Haitian earthquake of 2010 the US government began to pay itself back for its humanitarian graciousness as much as it actually helped the people of Haiti.
Of the original $1.4 billion allocated by Congress, according to a most recent GAO report, $655 million in funds was reimbursed to the Department of Defense (which, admirably, spent its own money to put ships offshore, drop food and medical aid to those who needed it, bring in troops to secure the airport at Port-au-Prince and provide emergency medical services).
Another $220 million went to repay the US Department of Health and Human Services (which gave goods, food and grants to Haitian evacuees for food and shelter); $350 million went to disaster assistance (an umbrella term that includes everything from medical care to sanitation); $150 million to the US Department of Agriculture (for emergency food and forward-thinking agricultural programs in Haiti); and $15 million to the Department of Homeland Security for Immigration fees and aircraft fares for the lucky few Haitian refugees brought to the United States.
Expanding the picture doesn’t change it. The UN Special Envoy