On the ground United States foreign assistance projects often mean desperately needed food and employment for the poor, impossible to resist, difficult to critique. But from the vantage point of US foreign policy objectives a very different picture emerges and long-term and global outcomes often differ dramatically from the immediate consequences of relief efforts.
The United States International Development Agency (USAID) emerged as an arm of US foreign policy following the Second World War. The Agency was developed to provide foreign relief and development assistance in accordance with US policy objectives. According to the USAID website (www.usaid.gov) the organization operates under the following mandate.
“U.S. foreign assistance has always had the twofold purpose of furthering America’s foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets while improving the lives of the citizens of the developing world.”
This dual mandate raises the important question of whether US policy interests generally result in improved living conditions for the majority of the world’s poor? While it may occasionally be the case that the interests of the US government and the poverty stricken citizens around the world are aligned, more often than not, US economic and political interests are dependent on the exploitation and manipulation of workers and consumers in the developing world. It is this inherent contradiction within the USAID mandate that should cause skepticism among US taxpayers concerned with issues of social justice and self determination.
The fundamental problem with USAID’s stated objectives is that it is not in the national interests of the US government to promote self sufficiency in developing countries. US economic interests are fed by foreign dependency on US imports and loans. Political interests are served by maintaining an economic stranglehold on foreign governments, and many a strategic alliance has been forged out of economic necessity. Among USAID’s operating tenets are sustainability and local capacity building, noble goals but highly dependent on how these tenets are defined and the manner in which they are implemented. Sustainability of what, and which local capacities are being supported? Implementation is primarily shaped by another of USAID’s governing tenets, selectivity, the allocation of resources based on foreign policy interests.
The recently released USAID Haiti Field Report provides an excellent case study for investigating the role of USAID in promoting US foreign policy objectives under the friendly guise of aid. Much of USAID’s current work in Haiti is carried out under the umbrella of the Haiti Transition Initiative (HTI), a program developed by USAID’s Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI) in May 2004 to “emphasize stability-building measures in key crisis spots.”
The OTI was created within USAID in 1994 “to provide fast, flexible, short-term assistance to take advantage of windows of opportunity to build democracy and peace” in countries experiencing political turmoil. According to the OTI website the organization accomplishes its objectives by specifically encouraging “a culture of risk-taking, political orientation, and swift response among its staff and partners.” The Haiti Field Report explores how short term assistance programs provided within a culture of political orientation can be used to distort international perceptions of Haiti’s complicated political terrain, as the elections approach.
The United States is primarily concerned with Haiti’s upcoming elections occurring on schedule, so that a new government can be in place by February 2006. In Haiti, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the timeliness and appearance of legitimacy of the electoral process are of paramount importance for the Bush Administration’s PR machine, which tends to equate elections with democracy, boasting that the United States is benevolently promoting “democracies” around the world. USAID describes their objectives as follows: “Haiti’s future depends on elections that are considered free and fair to ensure the legitimacy of the new government and enhance their ability to govern effectively. The stabilization of the political and security environment in Haiti is central to U.S. foreign policy and USAID objectives.”
What sort of democracy is the United States promoting in Haiti, where the duly elected president was spirited away on a US military jet against his will, as the country once again fell into the hands of the powerful elite and brutal former military? Haiti is now governed by a cadre of unelected officials overseen by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, a Haitian businessman and former radio show host that lived in Boca Raton Florida for the 15 years preceding his unconstitutional rise to office. In direct contradiction to actual events and the laws of the Haitian Constitution, USAID describes Haiti’s unelected Interim Government as “benefiting from the support of democratic institutions.” They further state that the “political transition” of February 29, 2004 “created a new environment for collaboration with the Interim Government of Haiti,” indicating their willingness to work closely with an illegitimate government accused of numerous human rights abuses over the past year in order to promote US interests.
USAID’s Haiti Field Report, which can be found on the USAID website, presents a glowing image of US development efforts in this “troubled” country, through a carefully-crafted compilation of selective facts. In August alone, USAID invested over 4 million dollars towards projects in Haiti. These projects include road and canal clean-up projects, terracing of hillsides to prevent erosion and electricity projects. On the surface it is difficult to criticize the provision of badly needed clean-up efforts and employment opportunities and certainly these programs have had benefits within the community. The questions are: what is the long term viability of these projects, and who are the primary beneficiaries? A far more detailed on-the-ground investigation would be required to determine how these programs will differentially benefit various local and international interests in the short and long term.
Other USAID projects that have more obvious political implications are short term nutrition and recreational initiatives in “key crisis areas.” The report outlines USAID’s strategy for pacifying Haiti’s largest political party, Lavalas through selective distribution of aid resources. In August the Haiti Transition Initiative set up 26 “Play for Peace” camps in Port au Prince, Cap Haitien, St. Marc and several other “target” cities. These camps are designed to provide food and activities to desperately poor communities; essential services, the importance of which is not in question.
What is questionable is the way in which these camps are used to undermine existing community programs in an attempt to de-legitimize the demands of the Lavalas movement in the eyes of the international community. This strategy is exemplified by USAID’s description of their activities in Petit Place Cazeau, the community that is home to Father Gerard Jean Juste’s parish of St. Claire. Father Jean Juste, illegally imprisoned since July 21, 2005, is a popular priest and outspoken opponent of the unelected interim government. USAID’s Haiti Field Report describes their activity in Father Jean Juste’s neighborhood as follows:
“OTI initiated a Play for Peace summer camp in Petit Place Cazeau, the Port au Prince stronghold of Lavalas party presidential candidate Father Gerard Jean Juste.  The fruits of these efforts were seen during a recent demonstration attended by 200 people. At the same time that the demonstration was taking place, 300 people were enjoying the summer camp. It is believed that the camp prevented the demonstration from being larger and giving greater legitimacy to the protesters. The coming weeks will see a deepening of OTI activities in Petit Place Cazeau, where events like the summer camp will become increasingly important now that Father Jean Juste has been arrested. His imprisonment has inflamed pro-Lavalas fires in the area and made him a martyr to some Haitians.”
This report presents a picture of US aid that is simultaneously disturbing and refreshingly honest. The fact that the “fruits of these efforts” are described as the camps’ potential to de-legitimize protest as opposed to their success in providing basic services to the community, speaks volumes to USAID’s primary motivations, motivations which will shape long term outcomes. USAID is an arm of the US State Department reporting directly to Condoleezza Rice and their stated objective is to use aid to pursue outcomes desired by the State Department. In this case the State Department is eager to for the upcoming elections to appear legitimate as evident in Condoleezza Rice’s recent visit to Haiti in which she stressed the importance of timeliness and legitimacy.
In order for this goal to be achieved it is critical to stifle resistance to the elections. Resistance is being tackled on two fronts. In the past year, thousands of former elected officials and community organizers have been imprisoned, forced into hiding or killed, with many innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. This overt stifling of dissent is implemented by Haiti’s unelected interim government through the Haitian National Police, a brutal police forced armed by the United States and under the control of the United Nations.
USAID uses a different tactic for pacifying the poor in Haiti who have been rightfully outraged by the destruction of their democracy, rise in the cost of living and ongoing government-sponsored repression. Understanding the level of desperation in these communities, short term provision of services is used as a way to draw people away from protesting these conditions with a warm meal. As people are fed they can be quietly indoctrinated with the notion that these camps provide an alternative to the “violence” of Lavalas. The provision of entertainment and meals may provide a temporary alleviation of suffering but they do nothing to address the underlying causes of that suffering which are deeply entangled in with the disruption of Haiti’s democracy in 2004. A full stomach will not end the police killings, it will not free the political prisoners and it will not result in the reestablishment of social programs in Haiti; but it may give a hungry person a moment of peace. Full stomachs and soccer are excellent tools for temporarily easing suffering to pacify protest and give the country the appearance of calm in the run up to the elections but they are not a sustainable solution to the many problems that prevent these elections from being free and fair, nor will they promote a democracy that truly represents that Haitian people. The long term implications of installing an illegitimate government could far outweigh the short term benefits enjoyed by those attending the camps.
Other questions about these programs include: how long will these programs feed the hungry and what is their effect on pre-existing programs in Petit Place Cazeau, that were not mentioned in the report? Long before USAID initiated the Play for Peace camps in the neighborhood, Father Jean Juste and the St. Claire community were providing vocational training classes, recreational activities and meals to thousands of children in the neighborhood. Now with Father Jean Juste in prison these programs are at risk. Unlike Father Jean Juste’s commitment to empowering the community, USAIDs stated goal of pacifying political protest through aid is decidedly a short term strategy, and these camps are not likely to provide a sustainable source of aid after political objectives have been met. If USAID were truly interested in improving the lives of poor people they would support the maintenance of existing programs by joining Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, 29 members of Congress, and over 400 religious leaders in calling for the release of Father Jean Juste, a cornerstone of many community development projects in Petit Place Cazeau.
As stated in the document, the coming weeks will see increased expansion of USAID programs in Petit Place Cazeau and in other key areas like Milot, where Lavalas remains strong. These developments are of interest not only for those concerned with US subversion of democracy in Haiti but also to those interested in understanding USAID’s operations throughout the world. This explicit acknowledgement of the motivations underlying aid in Petit Place Cazeau provides and excellent case study and these developments deserve ongoing scrutiny. Despite its beneficent name, USAID is doing what it was designed to do, play off the hunger of the starving, and the boredom of the unemployed, to further US policy interests. In Haiti this means propping up and illegitimate foreign government in the face of massive resistance, a difficult task best carried out through a combination of violent repression and foreign aid, the friendly face of US imperialism.
SASHA KRAMER is a PhD. candidate at Stanford University who has travelled to Haiti three times this year on human rights delegations. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005