THE BLOG

Haiti's Legacy of Corruption More Damaging than Earthquake

01/17/2012 12:32 EST | Updated 03/18/2012 05:12 EDT

It was just over two years ago, Jan.12, that a 35-second earthquake struck Haiti, killing maybe 300,000, leaving 1.5 million homeless and causing some $14 billion in damage. The world rallied to Haiti's relief, pledging over $4.5 billion in aid -- barely half of which is said to have reached Haiti.

According to reports from those who are there, the country remains a mess -- the ravages of the earthquake visible and 500,000 still living in tents and shelters. Only four of 10 major projects are underway.

Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere. Even before the earthquake it got more humanitarian aid than any other country, and had a reputation for corruption that was unmatched.

An irony of Haiti is that, historically it was the first of the colonized countries to rebel and successfully become self-governing. Slave revolts beginning in 1791 and ending around 1804, resulted in the Spanish, British, and French being ousted in succession. Ever since, Haiti has been unable to shed its penchant for political violence and poverty.

Roughly the size of Vancouver Island, Haiti shares the island with the Dominican Republic, which has roughly Haiti's population (nine to10 million) but has almost twice Haiti's land space.

Curiously, perhaps significantly, the DR has become a thriving tourist mecca, while Haiti is dysfunctional, flounders and begs. Canada's former Governor General, Haitian-born Michaelle Jean, now UNESCO's special envoy to Haiti, implies in the Globe and Mail that aid money should be go through the Haitian government and not be funneled through outside agencies for reconstruction work.

"Are we trusting the Haitian government or not?" Jean asks. From its record, anyone who "trusts" the Haitian government needs a saliva test.

Countries that pledged aid are understandably wary of how their money will be spent. All natural disaster provoke initial outbursts of aid and sympathy. The amount of money that actually materializes from emotional pledges invariably fall short. This is especially true of Haiti, which in the past has been so hopelessly governed that cynicism about its competence and trustworthiness is inevitable.

Of 52 countries that pledged reconstruction aid to Haiti, only $2.3 billion of $4.5 billion pledged has been disbursed -- some 52%. Canada has been one of the more forthcoming donors, with 90% of $256 million pledged already disbursed. The U.S. has only ponied up 30% of the $914 billion it pledged.

Regardless of whether or not providing aid to Haiti is akin to flushing it down the drain, it is virtually beyond dispute that Western, or democratic countries respond most generously when others are in need.

For Haiti, countries like Spain, France, Japan, Norway, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, gave in the double or triple-digit millions. Russia gave $8 million; China, $1.6 million; South Africa, $600,000; Sudan $100,000.

As if to show up others, Hugo Chavez' Venezuela was the top pledger of reconstruction aid to Haiti -- $930 million, of which only 24% has been delivered.

None of this explains why Haiti is like it is.

Yes, the emigration to other countries of Haitians with brains, ambition and initiative has hurt, but the endemic dependency on foreign aid, and its legacy of corruption is a malignancy that still holds the country back from recovery.

As yet, there are few signs of Haiti evolving into self-sufficiency.

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