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Tough Questions About Haiti for Hillary Clinton

Tonight, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders will be debating issues in Brooklyn, five days before the New York primary, the biggest single contest to date.

Brooklyn – and New York – are home to a large, diverse, and active Haitian community. In other states, such as Florida, Senator Sanders was on the hot seat for his support for Cuba. Haiti didn’t come up in the debate, a reflection of the political muscle the Cuban American community has there. In 2012, Cokie Roberts, justifying the Electoral College, actually made nod to Haiti being a national issue as a result of Florida’s pivotal role.

Former Secretary of State Clinton’s and my home state also had a primary on March 15, the same day as Florida. Considered a “blue state,” Illinois is less visible in a presidential contest. Indeed, the 2000 election hung on the balance of dimpled chads, 537 votes in Florida.

As Secretary of State, Clinton oversaw the U.S. response to Haiti’s earthquake. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, was the United Nations Special Envoy, also director of the Clinton-Bush Fund, the Clinton Foundation, and co-chair of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission. To say that the lines were blurred is kind.

Emails released following the scandal reveal a Secretary of State that from the beginning was concerned about perception and critique, while laying the groundwork for U.S. companies. In a January 19, 2010, email, a week after the earthquake, Secretary Clinton writes: “We need to monitor media and rebut inaccuracies and outright misstatements. Judith McHale caught Al Jazeera reporting that what we were doing in Haiti was like what we did in Baghdad. I will talk with her and PJ to set up such a monitoring system.”

In the same email, following deleted text, she continues, “Ron Kirk called to report that he was working on getting commitments from retailers like the Gap to start textile factories as soon as feasible.”

An email dated February 13, 2010, a month after the earthquake, highlights Secretary Clinton’s efforts at selling this positive story, demonstrating the level of detail in “getting the story right” – and specific diplomatic efforts to make sure this story got right.

Why was Haiti so important to Clinton?

Journalist Jonathan Katz details just how much the world’s pre-eminent power couple were involved in Haiti, making an evaluation difficult.

As the years wore on with only limited progress, questions arise. The U.S. Red Cross was called to account for their half a billion in aid in an NPR/ProPublica exposé.

The story is indeed complicated; I published a book trying to sort out the lessons of the humanitarian response Haitian people have learned.

Secretary Clinton supervised the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), one of the leading donors in the $16 billion effort, referred to as a “gold rush” by Ambassador Kenneth Merten.

Highlighting the proximity to the power couple, many who benefited from this gold rush were Clinton contributors. Isabeau Doucet and Isabel Macdonald uncovered the role played by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway in building trailers that had formaldehyde, the same trailers that caused people to be sick when FEMA rolled them out following Hurricane Katrina.

As foretold by the January 19 email, the Clintons’ signature project was an industrial park in Caracol. The $224 million project, which took valuable agricultural land offline, evicting 366 farmers, was to generate 60,000 jobs. As of the end of 2013, the project created 2,590. A Daily Beast article published yesterday reported 5,000 as of late 2015.

This plan didn’t work out so well. According to an October 2013 Worker Rights Consortium report, all 24 garment factories studied cheated workers out of legally-entitled minimum wages. Housing outside of the project was inadequate and way over budget, prompting criticism from the Government Accountability Office in a June 2013 report. They were so badly built they were in need of repair.

While “Benghazi” dominates conversation about Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, she made a stop to Haiti on her way to North Africa during the so-called “Arab Spring.” Organization of American States (OAS) special representative Ricardo Seitenfus recently published an article detailing her role in orchestrating the reversal of Haiti’s elections held in 2010, which led to the election of Michel Martelly. Raoul Peck’s Fatal Assistance shows the pivotal scene.

Obviously Haitian people must hold their government accountable, and are, but one must pause to ask why Clinton intervened in this election. And why the so-called international community looked the other way while four years of elections did not occur. And why the U.S. government pre-empted Haiti’s independent electoral commission investigating massive fraud.

One reason? Another gold rush, this time underground. Prospectors estimate that Haiti’s gold reserves are worth over $20 billion. But, mining has its costs: environment, health, safety, and profit sharing, as a report from NYU School of Law details.

One such recipient of a multi-million dollar contract – one of only two granted in 2012 – was Tony Rodham, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brother.

Unquestionably, Secretary Clinton has more foreign policy experience than Senator Sanders. And experience matters.

Clinton’s role in Haiti raises serious doubts about the primary beneficiaries of this experience.

I hope Haiti is not passed over again tonight.

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Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Nonprofit and NGO Studies at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. He is the author or co-editor of seven books, including Humanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti. Schuller is co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy (2009), and active in several solidarity efforts.

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