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Beyond Relief: How the World Failed Haiti

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"Most of these NGO people genuinely dupe themselves into thinking this is really going to work," says Schwartz, who spent six months on a USAID-funded survey of Port-au-Prince's housing. What he found is that roughly 85 percent of Haiti's damaged homes, including those deemed irreparable, have been reinhabited by people who either returned to them from the camps or, as with Bertin Voise, never bothered to leave them in the first place, despite warnings that a strong storm could collapse what remains of the structures. Such a disaster, notes Schwartz, could be avoided if money were invested in repairing the homes rather than replacing them. "We have to listen to these people," he says. "They are telling us what they want, and we are ignoring it. That's the real tragedy."

What Haitians want most are jobs. Even as people languish in the camps in Port-au-Prince, the U.S. has increasingly worked to expand economic opportunity outside of the capital. Last year, Secretary Clinton, through Cheryl Mills, worked for months to broker a deal with Sae-A, a Korean garment manufacturer that had expressed interest in building an industrial park in Haiti to manufacture clothes for Gap and other clients. In January, a day before the one-year ­anniversary of the earthquake, the State Department announced that a deal had been reached to build the park in the northern Haiti "export zone" near Cap Haitien. The park promised 20,000 new jobs. "I know a couple places in America that would commit mayhem to get 20,000 jobs today," Bill Clinton said at the signing ceremony, flanked by Prime Minister Bellerive and the chairman of Sae-A.

In Port-au-Prince, however, the one true achievement of "building back better" was engineered not by the Haitian government or the IHRC or the State Department, but by Haiti's largest employer — the telecommunications giant Digicel. The company's founder, Denis O'Brien, is a major Clinton Foundation contributor and chairman of the Clinton Global Initiative's Haiti Action Network, a consortium of largely private-sector partners who have committed more than $224 million to reconstruction projects. In February 2010, only a month after the earthquake, O'Brien embarked on a project to rebuild the Iron Market, a 120-year-old marketplace in downtown Port-au-Prince, contributing $12 million of his own money to do so. The project took just 11 months. Bill Clinton, who has cast O'Brien as the model philanthrocapitalist, lauded the Irish billionaire as a "catalyst" for positive change. The reconstructed landmark was the only project "of any scale" to be completed in Haiti, said John McAslan, a British architect whose firm worked to restore the Iron Market. "It's amazing it's been so fast," he said. "It could have taken five years without such a determined client."

As such, the Iron Market, an ode to commerce and entrepreneurial drive, is also a pointed symbol of the disproportionate influence that foreign corporations wield over the future of Haiti. Under what might be called the "New American Plan," reconstruction is driven not primarily by the dictates of democracy but by the demands of the bottom line. "Ultimately it all comes down to governance," says Bishop, the co-author of Philanthrocapitalism. "There was this tremendous outpouring of goodwill after the earthquake, and this idea of 'build back better' caught on — but for all their consultations, no one really found out what the Haitian people's concept of build back better actually was."

In the absence of government leadership, Digicel has become an influential force in Haiti. The company, which arrived in the country only five years ago, is now its largest taxpayer. It has also built its own infrastructure, outside of the government's purview, constructing roads to and from its various sites, and powering its reception towers with generators whose annual diesel costs run into the millions. With more than $400 million invested in Haiti, Digicel is now expanding its brand by building schools, distributing tents, providing cholera-education materials and sponsoring contests to promote Haitian entrepreneurship. Digicel's bright-red banners and logos are far more prominent than any other symbol in Haiti — even more, it's often been said, than the Haitian flag. Throughout Port-au-Prince and its refugee camps, Digicel salesmen drawn from the ranks of the homeless operate thriving businesses. In Sean Penn's camp, for example, one enterprising Digicel representative has set up a cellphone-repair shop under a tree.

"People love Digicel," says Schwartz, "and that's because Digicel is involved in the community. They sponsor a soccer team, they have parties, and they make a lot of money, but they also connect with the Haitians." Recently, Digicel started giving free phone credit to people who make a tremendous number of calls, often to relatives in the United States. "If Digicel could run for president of Haiti," says Schwartz, "it would win."

The man who was actually elected president in April — the 50-year-old singer Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly — also offers an indication of how little control Haitians are likely to have over their own future. The United States, along with Canada and the European Union, invested roughly $29 million in the elections, pushing for a recount when Martelly, viewed by many as the people's choice, was edged out by a rival, government-backed candidate in the first round. The recount was needed, Cheryl Mills explained at the time, to ensure that the people of Haiti got "the kind of leadership that they need in the future." Martelly also received robust support from Digicel and other private-sector interests.

A political novice sometimes described as the Ronald Reagan of Haitian politics, Martelly was an unorthodox if telling candidate to lead the new Haiti. An imposing man with a striking bald head, he was a celebrity who used his star power to appeal to Haitians across a wide political spectrum. Martelly made his name singing kompa, an Afro-Caribbean genre beloved throughout the country. For years, he'd been one of the most popular entertainers in Haiti, famous for his rum-swilling Carnival act, in which he would pull down his pants, make crude remarks about women and dance in a kilt. Openly disdainful of Haitian politics, he admitted to having smoked pot and crack cocaine in the past. His anti-establishment rhetoric appealed to Haitian youth fed up with the status quo. But Martelly, who had supported the military coups that had twice overthrown the democratically elected leftist government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was also attractive to right-wing Haitians and Duvalierists, embracing distinctly authoritarian policies like reinstating the Haitian army, an organization responsible for years of brutality.

To Mills and others in the Obama administration, Martelly seemed to be a man of action. "There was a great deal of frustration among international actors that the current Haitian administration couldn't just take land under eminent domain to dump rubble or build housing," says Maguire, the chairman of the Haiti Working Group. "Martelly set himself up as the antithesis, he was going to be the 'decider,' and they embraced him."

Martelly also positioned himself as a friend to U.S. business interests, which won him support from right-wing think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A conservative Washington operative named Damian Merlo, who advised John McCain on foreign affairs in 2008, became Martelly's campaign manager. The U.S. consultant quickly reshaped the candidate's image, replacing the flamboyant "Sweet Micky" with the more sober "Michel Martelly," whose conservative blue suits, red ties and reading glasses spoke of a serious candidate promising a "results-oriented presidency" focused on fighting government corruption and restoring order to Port-au-Prince.

With a sudden influx of $6 million into his campaign from American backers and the Haitian diaspora — and with Haiti's largest political party excluded from the vote, effectively disenfranchising a large swath of the poor — Martelly won in a landslide. Many Haitians, however, questioned the legitimacy of the elections, and America's role in determining the outcome. "For the U.S., elections have no meaning other than to create the image that Haiti is democratically run," fumes Alex Dupuy, author of The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community and Haiti. "The interest of the U.S. in Haiti is to have a government that is compliant. They pushed for Martelly, and now they are expecting him to do their bidding — and he is."

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