• State Department Fumbles (Haiti) Reconstruction

    July 23, 2012

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    Posted in: Embassy/State

    While my book chronicled the State Department’s utter failure in the reconstruction of Iraq, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan details the Department’s ongoing failure in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it is the Associated Press that shows us now how the State Department is failing in the reconstruction of Haiti.

    Remember like a hundred years ago (it was two years ago) Haiti had this big earthquake and Sean Penn had to go there to fix things? Well in addition to Sean Penn (Clooney was tied up on location), the US pledged to reconstruct Haiti, under the auspices of the Department of State. We would rebuild the country.

    State Tries to Hide its Failure

    Of course the State Department would not tell anyone how things were going, so the AP had to pry it from them. A major frustration for watchdogs of the U.S. effort is a lack of transparency over how the millions of dollars are being spent, claims the AP, saying that from interviews to records requests, efforts to track spending in Haiti by members of Congress, university researchers and news organizations have been met with resistance and even, in some cases, outright refusals from the always polite diplomats at the State Department.

    “A series of requests from journalists may come your way,” cautioned Karine Roy, a spokeswoman for USAID, in an email to about 50 humanitarian aid officials. “Wait for formal clearance from me before releasing any information.” U.S. contractors, from pollsters to private development firms, told the AP that USAID had asked them not to provide any information, and referred to publicly released descriptions of their projects.

    The Real Story

    However, contracts, budgets and a 300-item spreadsheet obtained by the Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request show why Foggy Bottom tried to hide:

    Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery.

    Half of the $1.8 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding is still in the Treasury, its disbursement stymied by an understaffed U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince in the months after the quake and by a Haitian government that was barely functional for more than a year.

    Despite State Department promises to keep spending public, some members of Congress and watchdogs say they aren’t getting detailed information about how the millions are being spent, as dozens of contractors working for the U.S. government in Haiti leave a complex money trail.

    Of the $988 million spent so far, a quarter went toward debt relief to unburden the hemisphere’s poorest nation of repayments. But after Haiti’s loans were paid off, the government began borrowing again: $657 million so far, largely for oil imports rather than development projects.

    And of Course, Contractors Profit

    The single largest recipient of funding is, of course, a Washington, D.C.-area contractor named Chemonics, which has received more than $58 million, including $6.8 million to remove rubble, $7.2 million to develop a market for environmentally friendly cook stoves (a big personal Hillary issue; it was the reason she went to China recently), money for youth soccer tournaments (a popular money-waster in Iraq reconstruction as well) and “key cultural celebrations” including Flag Day and Mother’s Day. Even a Chemonics spokeswoman admits only 67 percent of the federal money went to Haitians.

    Huge surprise: Chemonics also has mucho contracts for work in Afghanistan!

    Meanwhile, 390,000 people are still homeless. The U.S. promised to rebuild or replace thousands of destroyed homes, but so far has not built even one new permanent house. The State Department, in response to the damning AP report sort of, kinda, maybe acknowledges that efforts to build shelters have been “slower than anticipated.”

    However, on State’s own Diplonote blog, reads by dozens at State daily, it is all success baby, all golden unicorn rainbow happy time. They assure us all that “the U.S. Government is Committed to Transparency and Accountability” in Haiti. As part of that assurance the blog tries to link to the Federal Procurement Data System so you can peruse existing contracts but they have the wrong link (the correct link is here). Somewhat oddly, the blog reminds that “If you don’t look closely, numbers can be deceiving.”

    Same as it Ever Was

    You’d think with all this practice that State might get reconstruction at least partially right at some point, and course it is possible that snowflakes will fly out of my butt someday too. But once again, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have the same elements of failure present: big, empty promises, an understaffed embassy floundering, propaganda friendly priorities that emphasize that whatever we do is for us, not the locals and contractors sopping up the cash like the pigs at the trough that they are.

    Best for Last

    State’s constant failures are built around a rotten core. Lacking any objective measurement of right and wrong, good or bad– no hills to conquer, sales quotas to exceed, battles to win, soldiers to count as trained, customer lists to build– “success” inside the State Department is fully and solely dependent on one’s yearly evaluation, which is dependent on pleasing your boss’ whims, which are dependent on his/her boss’ needs. This rarely has anything to do with making life any better for the stupid Haitians.

    The Associated Press illustrates this with a wonderful story.

    One of State’s most tangible post-earthquake accomplishments was the construction of a bridge across the muddy Ennery River. The bridge had been down for more than a year before the 2010 earthquake, a casualty of the 2008 hurricane season. Plans had been sketched for a new bridge, but there wasn’t funding. A few days after the quake, Hillary Clinton was being driven around for some disaster tourism when her car bounced across a partially submerged temporary crossing of the Ennery River.

    “USAID told me, ‘This came from Hillary Clinton herself: There must be a new bridge at Ennery,'” said engineer Larry Wright, who temporarily moved to Haiti from Wyoming to lead the $4 million project. “It’s known as the Hillary Bridge.” He said he didn’t know the funding came from earthquake reconstruction funds. “This had nothing to do with the quake,” said Wright.

    Sorry Haitians Iraqis Afghans, the joke is on you. Again.


    On the State Department’s Diploblog, which features heavily screened comments (don’t ask me how I know), one patriotic asshole named “Michael H.” couldn’t help but say:

    I enjoy all of the State Dept. e-mails that I am registered to receive. The information from Administration to Administration has been informative and it certainly goes beyond the information that is available through news-networks.

    Bonus BONUS

    State’s stalwart ambassador to Haiti released today an “op-ed” in the Miami Herald just plump full of happy thoughts on Haiti. Predictably, the puffy puff piece is very short on specifics; the best he could do was talk about an industrial park in the future tense, and even for that he makes no connection to anything the US may or may not have had to do with it. Lame; didn’t you people go to college?

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