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Haiti's Tragic Anniversary – And A Political Earthquake To Boot?

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Patrick Farrell
/
Miami Herald

Five years ago today Haiti – the western hemisphere’s poorest country – was devastated by an earthquake that killed some 300,000 people. Haitian officials, the U.S. and other donor countries promised to “build back Haiti better.” But so far the question is whether they’ve been able to build back Haiti… much at all.

That’s certainly the concern of journalists like the Miami Herald’s Caribbean correspondent, Jacqueline Charles. I spoke with her about the progress made in Haiti since 2010 – and more important, the still widespread disappointment, which has been compounded by a bitter political conflict that could reach a dangerous point today.

Excerpts:

On where Haiti's recovery has so far made progress:

I think it's most visible in terms of the rubble and the tent cities. The rubble has disappeared; you no longer see a capital [Port-au-Prince] that has been struck by an earthquake. The tent cities that were very visible have also disappeared.

Where the reconstruction is still far behind, especially in terms of issues like housing:

Basically all the government ministries collapsed; those have not been rebuilt yet. Like parliament: there's a red aluminum fencing around the grounds where parliament should be, and when you look behind the fence, there's absolutely nothing. Also, the general hospital, which is the heart of the public health care system in Haiti, has not been rebuilt. It's being financed by France, the United States and Haiti with $83 million, but they say it's still at least two years away. And of course the presidential palace.

But I think for Haitians, where the country is most behind is what you can't see. And that's the trickle-down impact, the economics. There's still not a lot of jobs; the jobs people thought would come with the post-earthquake rebuilding did not materialize. Socially, economically, the place is not better off than it was five years ago. And if it is, the average Haitian is not feeling it. So that is feeding into the frustration that many Haitians are feeling when we see these protests on the streets.

There were $9.9 billion pledged by the international community – but it has not trickled down.

The recent and often deadly spike in desperate Haitians leaving the country by sea:

I think it's very much a gauge of the [reconstruction] failures. What happened, ironically, is that after the disaster, everyone was waiting to see Haitians get on boats and come to Florida, and that did not happen. The believed that assistance was going to come and jobs would be produced, and they would be able to survive in their own country. And then about two or three years later we began to see Haitians taking to boats and risking their lives.

The political conflict raging between President Michel Martelly and his opposition – and the possibility that if parliament expires today, he'll start ruling by decree: 

Here we are at Jan. 12, and we are commemorating this huge tragedy, but Haitians are waiting to see if there is going to be another kind of earthquake. They've referred to Jan. 12 as a prophetic day regarding whether a deal will be reached to end the political crisis. Haitian parliamentary elections have been delayed now for three, going on four years, and now we're entering a presidential election year. So it's just one crisis after another, and everyone is waiting to see what happens today.