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Latin America Report

Haiti Again Faces 'Pure Devastation.' But Will Recovery Be Different This Time?

Patrick Farrell
Miami Herald
Marie Louis Valentin weeps in front her home destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Morne la Source, Haiti

Some of Hurricane Matthew's most gut-wrenching stories are coming out of the coastal city of Jérémie on Haiti's southwest peninsula – the region hardest hit.

Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles heard too many of them last Thursday when she visited there two days after the Category 4 storm tore through.

“Houses collapsed on people, rooftops collapsed on them," Charles says. "There are some parents there who were trying to save their 6-month-old child. And the zinc rooftop of the house fell onto this child and immediately killed him."

Elsewhere on the peninsula, Charles adds, "you had storm surge – a lot of houses that were washed away. The entire southern coastline has just basically been destroyed.”

Matthew rained horrific destruction on Haiti last week. On Monday Haitian officials said the hurricane killed at least 372 people – and the death toll may surpass 1,000, according to some news reports. Hundreds of thousands are left homeless.

Once again, the western hemisphere’s poorest country is dealing with a disaster of biblical proportions.

"What you saw," Charles told WLRN by phone from Port-au-Prince, "was just pure devastation."

RELATED: Haiti Hurricane Aftermath More 'Catastrophic' As Devastation More Visible

Which is why Haiti had to postpone a presidential election that was supposed to be held this past Sunday. It’s an election Haiti’s been trying to complete since last October – so government officials say they’ll announce as early as tomorrow when it will be rescheduled.

But veteran Haiti correspondents like Charles doubt the vote will happen any time soon.

“I’ve talked to election folks, and they want to get this thing on and happen immediately," says Charles. "They are looking at February 7 as the date to have a new President in.

The Haitian government says it wants more control over the recovery process this time. But this is going to be the real test for them: having a clear process and articulating that process. –Jacqueline Charles

"But take a place like Jérémie, for instance, that has more than 400,000 people in that area, and people are telling you that they have lost everything, including their documents. So one, you now have to get people their voter ID cards. You also have to identify the dead so that we don’t end up in a situation again where we have zombie or dead people voting.”

What has to happen first is basic recovery – not just in Haiti’s southwest but in the northwest, which was also hit. And that could take months. Especially since the relationship between the Haitian government and the international donor community is more complicated today.

After Haiti’s last epic disaster – the 2010 earthquake – the Haitian government ceded control of the recovery effort to international non-profits. And those organizations largely botched the project – from building new homes to fostering new businesses.

“One of the things this government is saying is: Rather than the NGOs just go and land someplace and start doing X,Y and Z, everything is going to come through the government," says Charles.

"But one of the ways that you ensure that is you have to control it from customs. And this is where we always see problems in Haiti. You know, people don’t understand: ‘I’m sending this, I’m trying to help. Why is it I can’t get it through customs? Why is it that customs is trying to charge me all this money?’ So this is going to be the real test for the government in terms of having a clear process and articulating that process.”


The other big test is to make that process stimulate Haiti’s economy for once rather than make the country even more dependent on aid.

Some non-profits, like the Oregon-based Mercy Corps, do seem to have gotten that message.

“As we’re determining what the needs are, we simultaneously look at whether or not there are shops open that have those supplies available for sale," says Christy Delafield, a Mercy Corps spokesperson in Haiti, who spoke to WLRN just before heading out to visit hurricane-ravaged areas.

"It’s always preferable to keep the money in the local market and keep the economy moving, because that stimulates recovery.”

Credit Rowan Moore Gerety / WLRN.org
Haitian-Americans sort donations for Haiti hurricane victims last Saturday in Miami Gardens.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Jean Monestime – who was born in Haiti – reiterated that point over the weekend. After making a brief visit to Haiti they said what the country needs right now isn’t tons of supplies – but rather, “money.”

Something else may be different this time as well.

Last Saturday Haitian-Americans came to a Miami Gardens warehouse to sort donations of medicines as part of the Haitian-Americans Hurricane Matthew Relief Effort. Haitian-Americans say they’re determined not to let the non-profits push them aside.

“The last time it was, ‘Oh you little Haitian-American groups, you’re so nice, but you don’t have any real money," says Sandy Dorsainvil, the coordinator in Miami Gardens. "Let the big guys do it. And we listened.

"So all these big organizations, we were looking for them to do these great fabulous things and save [Haiti]. And they didn’t. Haitian people say, ‘Belle fleur, sans odeur.’ Beautiful flower with no scent.”

That includes the Clinton Foundation established by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, husband of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, an organization many Haitians say made too many of its own missteps during the Haiti's earthquake recovery.

Other Haitian-Americans at the warehouse, like Raymone Neal and her friends, agreed.

"We learned our lesson," said Raymone. "They've taken enough of our money."

"So has, what's that guy's name, Sean Penn," said another Haitian-American woman. "That whole crew needs to stay away from Haiti."

But whoever goes to Haiti will have to find solutions to this new onslaught of pure devastation. 

Here is a list of Haiti-related relief organizations and their web sites:

Man Dodo Humanitarian Foundation: www.mandodo.org

Fanm Ayisien (Haitian Women of Miami): www.fanm.org

Gaskov Clerge Foundation: http://gaskov.org

Fondation Aquin Solidarite: https://www.gofundme.com/aquinhaiti

The Three Little Flowers Center: https://3littleflowerscenter.org

Paradis des Indiens: http://www.friendsofpdi.org

Project Saint Anne: http://projectstanne.org

Fonkoze: http://fonkoze.org

The Lanbi Fund of Hait: http://www.lambifund.org

Flying High for Haiti: http://flyinghighforhaiti.com

Saint Boniface Foundation: http://haitihealth.org

PRODEV: http://www.prodevhaiti.org

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.