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A continuing effort to answer an elusive, multi-billion-dollar question: "After Haiti's devastating earthquake, where did the aid money go?"

Islande Vilmeus Haiti
Islande Vilmeus, 31, lives in a shack with her son Abraham, 2, and three other children since her home was destroyed in the earthquake two years ago. (Jacob Kushner/GlobalPost)

Haiti's politics of blame

As foreigners ask where aid money went, Haitians turn inward, demanding answers from their own government.

PORT-AU-PRINCE — For all the talk about a Haitian people who have grown impatient with the slow pace of a largely foreign-led reconstruction effort, what Haitians are clamoring for most is accountability from their own government for promises that remain unfulfilled two years after the earthquake.

Many Haitians thought they had found the man who could help the country break out of a cycle of failure and finger-pointing, former pop star Michel Martelly, when he was a candidate vying for the presidency early last year.

After Haiti’s electoral council announced that Martelly had not made it to the second round of voting, tens of thousands of Haitians took to the streets of Haiti’s capital city, burning tires and parked cars and shutting down Port-au-Prince.

Haiti: Two years after the earthquake, where did the money go?

When Martelly was reinstated and won the runoff last March, Haitians around the country celebrated that the country could finally move past months of election controversy and focus on rebuilding itself. Supporters were confident their new president would jump-start a lagging reconstruction process following the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that caused an estimated $7.8 billion in damages and economic losses — equivalent to two-thirds of the country’s pre-quake GDP. Martelly’s mantra, and his promise, became “change.”

“The concern for us is why the government sits by doing nothing while the NGOs run everything.”
~Daly Valet, editor of Le Matin

On the second anniversary of the quake, most Haitians say that few of these promises of change have been fulfilled. Over half a million people remain displaced in tents and makeshift shacks. Many of the 300,000 buildings that collapsed in the quake remain in ruins, and rampant unemployment prevents families from lifting themselves out of poverty.

The Martelly administration blames a stubborn parliament dominated by an opposition party still sore after seeing their presidential candidate lose last year. The parliament says Martelly has largely refused to even meet with legislators much less cooperate to compromise on issues critical to the reconstruction. Both parties say they have no means by which to oversee the NGOs that are implementing the majority of the billions of dollars in aid money — and the NGOs say that engaging more directly with an inefficient and bureaucratic Haitian government would cause the reconstruction process to slow down even further.

As the foreign press questions how $2.4 billion in disbursed public aid and approximately $3 billion more in private donations has failed to achieve lasting impact two years after the catastrophe, most Haitians are looking inward, demanding accountability from their recently elected government that promised so much but has delivered so little.

“To me, Martelly is still campaigning,” said Jean-Ives Blot, a professor at Haiti’s State University. “He’s having a hard time keeping his promises, so he spends his time making new ones to maintain his rapport with the people.”

Housing crisis remains

On the eve of the second anniversary Wednesday, Martelly emerged on a small stage across from the collapsed National Palace to announce that the 20,000 people living in the Champs de Mars tent camp that surrounded him on both sides would be resettled with help from the Canadian government. About half of the modest crowd of 1,000 or so camp residents and other spectators cheered at the news, while the other half looked on in silence.

One by one, the president spoke the names of the six camps whose residents are currently being resettled to permanent housing with assistance from the International Organization for Migration. Proudly, he declared “Champs de Mars will be the seventh.”

He did not say when the 700 other tent camps would join them.

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Enock Jestable, 39, has now lived in a tent in Port-au-Prince’s Delmas sector two years.

“Martelly said he was going to move the people living under tents — but look at us, we are still here,” Jestable said.

While Martelly spoke Wednesday, thousands of Haitians from all 10 regions of the country marched nearby to demand solutions to the general lack of adequate housing and land upon which to build it. Among them was 40-year-old Joseph Josué, a subsistence farmer from Haiti’s Artibonite region, who came to deliver a message to Haiti’s president.

“For us, nothing has changed. We don’t have tools, resources to work the land. You call yourself Peasant Response,” he said, referring to the name of Martelly’s political