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  January 12, 2015

Haiti 5 Years After Devastating Earthquake

TRNN's Jessica Desvarieux reviews Haiti's most significant moments in 2014 and looks at how the country is recovering from the 2010 earthquake
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Jessica Desvarieux is a multimedia journalist who serves as the Capitol Hill correspondent for the Real News Network. Most recently, Jessica worked as a producer for the ABC Sunday morning program, This Week with Christianne Amanpour. Before moving to Washington DC, Jessica served as the Haiti corespondent for TIME Magazine and Previously, she was as an on-air reporter for New York tri-state cable outlet Regional News Network, where she worked before the 2010 earthquake struck her native country of Haiti. From March 2008 - September 2009, she lived in Egypt, where her work appeared in various media outlets like the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the International Herald Tribune - Daily News Egypt. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a Master of Science degree in journalism. She is proficient in French, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and has a working knowledge of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Follow her @Jessica_Reports.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: It's been five years since these seven-magnitude earthquake changed the face of the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The promise by the international community was to build back better. But after the rescue stopped and the camera crews headed back home, there's been very little use about whether they are fulfilling that promise. So in a year in review, we'll look at some of the major headlines in Haiti and ask whether these developments are helping Haiti build back better, and, more importantly, better for whom.

In some of the year's biggest news, Haiti's prime minister, Laurent Lamothe, resigned from office on December 14. This was a reaction to weeks of antigovernment protests all over the country. Elections for the parliament were supposed to be held in 2011. But until today, Haitian president Michel Martelly's administration has not called for legislative elections.

We spoke with the spokesman for workers union Batay Ouvriye, Didier Dominique, who was part of the demonstrations.

DIDIER DOMINIQUE, SPOKESMAN, BATAY OUVRIYE: So, during the three years of Martelly, there were many impositions of the foreigners, imperialists. And now, little by little, all this opposition is taking place. So they had to sacrifice Lamothe, and the United States Department of State is one of the parameter to put LaMothe away, to try to maintain Martelly.

DESVARIEUX: Martelly has maintained that he will finish his term, which ends next year. He touts the opening of Haiti's second international airport in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien as one of his main accomplishments. Also, his administration points at his economic successes by supporting the opening of Caracole Industrial Park, which is supposed to bring 65,000 jobs, according to the State Department. Currently, it employs about 4,000.

MICHEL MARTELLY, PRESIDENT OF HAITI (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I've heard there are people asking for me to leave. But I guarantee that this young man who you see standing in front of you, he's going to stay right here so he can change Haiti. And Haiti has started to change.

DESVARIEUX: But how has Haiti changed? And for whom? In a list of "Haiti by the Numbers", Center for Economic and Policy Studies research associate Jake Johnson, who is currently in Haiti, says Haitian government figures and the international community's official figures, they'll always add up with the reality on the ground, especially when it comes to housing.

JAKE JOHNSTON, ASSOCIATE, CEPR: So the original U.S. plan was to build around 15,000 houses, the majority of which would be near Port-au-Prince on the outskirts. And that plan originally was set to cost around $50 million.

What we see now, a few years later, is that the cost has ballooned to over $90 million, but the goal has actually been reduced from 15,000 houses to around 2,500 houses, and currently only about 900 have actually been built.

What I found more recently in some of my research was that the homes that had been built actually were quite faulty. So, originally, and when they explained this to Congress, USAID said that the cost overruns were basically because we held our contractors to higher standards. So they were building to international standards, and so the costs ballooned.

Then, about a year after families started moving in, a new study showed that actually the houses were not properly built. And so windows were falling out, doors wouldn't lock, roofs actually weren't detached. There were leaks and a host of problems. And so now USAID is spending 4 million additional dollars to actually renovate the homes and fix those problems.

DESVARIEUX: The housing crisis and high unemployment rate of about 40 percent, according to official 2012 statistics, have all been points of contention for everyday protesters. But, also, bourgeois business owners have turned against Martelly. According to CEPR, out of the more than 2,200 contracts funded by donors since 2010, only 1 percent went directly to Haitian organizations. Fifty-six percent went to firms located inside the Washington, D.C., beltway.

Haitian construction companies penned an open letter in the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste, decrying the number of contracts going to international companies. Dominique says the last component of this opposition is political.

DOMINIQUE: Some of them are more or less in the middle and want to have a reorganization, a little bit, with Martelly, because--but others are more radical in the political parties, like /muˈpɔːd/ or the platform Pitit Desalin with Moïse Jean-Charles and so on. And the people of the parliament, also, the groupe des six in the parliament, the groups of the six in the parliament, who opposed a more radical opposition, because they said that no Democratic and honest elections can be done on Martelly, because he have--and that's true--Martelly has all the state apparatus, because all the, let's say, the mayors who normally have to be people elected during these three years, Martelly changed all the mayors and put his people without election.

DESVARIEUX: The second major headline happened to be caught on video. At an antigovernment protest last month, protesters were throwing rocks at UN officers, who were firing tear gas and rubber bullets--or so it seemed. You can see an UN officer here shooting a pistol at a group of protesters.


And at a recent press conference, a reporter from Inner City Press asked a UN spokesman to comment on the video.


REPORTER: On camera, the guy is shooting a gun and pushing a cameraman. So--.

UN SPOKESPERSON: I think we have to see what the exact circumstances of that peacekeeper felt physically threatened. I don't know what the circumstances are. I was not there. But I will--as soon as I have something to share, I will report it back.

REPORTER: Will the results be made public of this report?

UN SPOKESPERSON: As soon as I have more something more from the mission, I will give it to you.


DESVARIEUX: Dominique says the bourgeois mostly see /məˈnustə/ as a force to protect their property, and more importantly their agenda. But that's to the contrary of how everyday Haitians feel about what he calls an occupying force.

DOMINIQUE: We really hate the minister. There is a sentiment of hate. It's not only don't agree with minister; it's not only don't like minister; it's not only politically disagree with the present of the minister because--and blah, blah, blah, because ten years minister had--did everything wrong.

DESVARIEUX: The third major headline is that cholera is still in Haiti's headlines. Dozens of epidemiologists, including those appointed by the UN itself, have identified UN Nepalese peacekeepers stationed in central Haiti as, quote, the most likely source of the outbreak. It's caused about 8,800 recorded deaths, and the families of victims have not been able to receive any compensation for their loss. Seventy-seven members of the U.S. Congress wrote to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in December urging the UN to respond justly to cholera claims.

JOHNSTON: The money is supposed to be coming from donors. However, at this point less than 20 percent of it has actually been funded. And this is also a plan that was supposed to begin in 2013. So we're in fact already two years into the plan, and the amount of money needed for those first two years, they didn't even receive that. So we're already behind the eight ball in terms of actually implementing that program.

While the year overall was actually--you know, saw this declining trend in the last few months, there was a significant amount of rain, and, accordingly, a significant uptick in the cases. And so, in fact, in the last few months you had far more deaths than you had over the first nine months of year combined. This past November was actually the deadliest month since January 2013.

DESVARIEUX: Whether it's about cholera, housing, or /məˈnuːstə/, Haitians are making their voices heard on the street. And if the Martelly government does not come up with a solution to hold elections by January 12, Martelly will be allowed to rule by decree, a move many view as returning back to the dictatorial days of the Duvalier regime. One of its former leaders, Baby Duck, passed in 2014. But with the prospect of absolute power for present Marty Li, many are concerned that Haiti's dictatorship legacy has not been laid to rest.

For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.­


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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