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More Funding Promises

Canadian aid historically prioritizes brutal policing of poor

by Erin SeatterAaron Saad

The Canadian government has pledged that it will provide up to $1 million to address a cholera outbreak that hit Haiti nine months after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake and has now reached the capital Port-au-Prince.

The proposed funding comes on the heels of announcements of millions of dollars in federal spending on land and police.

The Department of Foreign Affairs announced it would spend $5.6 million to acquire land on which to build new homes for embassy staff. The projected costs of constructing the new housing were not disclosed.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon also announced that the Canadian government plans to build a new police headquarters in Haiti for $9.5 million, bringing total announced spending on police equipment and training in 2010 to $58 million.

According to the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN), Canada’s largest amount of spending for Haiti has gone towards the police. This comes at a time when an estimated 1.3 million Haitians displaced by the earthquake are still living in 1,354 squalid refugee camps and less than 20,000 of the 128,000 planned transitional shelters have been built.

The Haitian National Police (HNP) has a brutal history of targeting the poorest of the poor. A study by the Lancet medical journal found that from 2004 to 2006, the HNP was responsible for the largest share of 4,000 political killings that took place in the poorest neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince. During this period, Canada was overseeing the training and vetting of HNP officers, and it continues to do so.

Canada’s skewed prioritization of aid fits well with the general failure of the international community to assist Haiti.

Reports have said that only 2 per cent of aid pledged to Haiti after the Jan. 12 earthquake has materialized. In May, a CBS news investigation found that major non-profit humanitarian organizations had yet to spend much of the funds that had been donated to them. The Red Cross, CARE, and Catholic Relief Services had spent 25 per cent , 16 per cent , and 8 per cent  respectively of the funds that they had raised.

Mark Weisbrot of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) commented at the time, “The organizations that already have money should be spending this right now. This is emergency relief.”

CEPR reported that between mid-July and September, as hurricane season was ramping up, the American Red Cross actually slowed its spending to about $14 million per month, compared to an average of $24 million spent in each of the first six months. At the half-year mark, World Vision had spent about 30% of the $200 million it had raised in relief donations.

This trend continues at the state level. At the March 31 international donors’ conference in New York, donors pledged to deliver US$6.036 billion in aid over the next 18 months. By September, $1.94 billion (32 per cent) of this total was pledged to be spent in 2010, but only $1.317 billion (22 per cent) has been disbursed or committed.

Figures from the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti show that Canada has disbursed $44 million (26.6 per cent) of the US$166 million it promised for 2010, in addition to $33 million for “debt relief” to international financial institutions.

Cannon said people need to be patient.

“Nobody has ever indicated that ... the international commitment would be a short and sweet, in and out commitment,” he said.

“Obviously people would expect that roads would be completed, that the housing starts would be all legal now, but they’re in the midst of an election. I think the top priority is to be able to get this election over with.”

Haitians appear to have different priorities than the ones Cannon and others are setting for them. Chants of “We are not going to the election in tents. We want housing before elections” were heard at a demonstration in front of the remains of the National Palace in September.

Indeed, as the slated Nov. 28 elections approach, critics contend that conditions have hardly improved since the elections were postponed from February due to the earthquake.

The election may serve to further undermine stability in Haiti. Since president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in the 2004 coup orchestrated by the United States, France, and Canada, Aristide’s party Fanmi Lavalas has been blocked from running in elections for dubious reasons.

By many accounts Lavalas remains the most popular party in Haiti, yet has again been blocked from participating in the upcoming election. Despite the election’s lack of credibility, Canada is putting $5.8 million towards it.


This article originally appeared in the Leveller.

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