A political storm hit northern Haiti long before Tropical Storm Jeanne came along. On March 20, Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue flew into Gonaïves, where a crowd of thousands welcomed him. Latortue embraced gang elements and the former military that helped overthrow the democratic government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as “freedom fighters.”
Since March, Latortue and his government have done little to take control of Haiti’s third-largest city and have allowed gang leaders like Buteur Metayer and Wilfort Ferdinand to run it like a private fiefdom. This had disastrous consequences when Tropical Storm Jeanne arrived to stake her claim in Haiti’s misery.
The political storm took many victims as well, leaving Haiti ill-prepared for the devastation brought by Jeanne. One of its first victims was the Civil Protection Office, following a rampage led by the “freedom fighters” against suspected Aristide supporters. This politically benign institution had been established in cooperation with the local municipal government with grants provided by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and administered through the Pan-American Development Foundation (PADF).
Unfortunately, with Washington, Paris and Ottawa ushering in a man-made disaster with the destruction of constitutional authority in Haiti, all of the tax dollars USAID invested in preparing for natural disasters like Tropical Storm Jeanne were wasted as well.
Tropical Storm Jeanne was exactly the type of disaster USAID and PADF’s programs were set up to manage. Components of the Civil Protection Office monitored incoming tropical storms and provided an advanced warning and preparedness network designed to plan a response before disaster struck. Plans included advising communities of approaching storms and preparing for them by storing large supplies of drinking water, food, medical supplies and portable tents for those displaced from their homes.
When Jeanne hit Haiti, these structures no longer existed. All of the trained and competent participants in the program had long been driven out of the area, their offices pillaged and burned. Nowhere was this more evident than in Gonaïves.
Instead of reasserting control of the state and rebuilding the necessary infrastructure that was destroyed following the coup of Feb. 29, Latortue followed a policy of neglect and accommodation of thugs.
In the end, Latortue is a victim of his own failed policies, and ultimately, the failed policy of the Bush Administration in Haiti. Of course, the ones who will suffer the most as a result of these failures are the very people Bush’s Haitian henchmen claim to have come to this island nation to help. The disregard for institutions destroyed during the latest coup and the lack of planning and response for natural disasters are only symptoms of a political storm that is far from over in Haiti.
Kevin Pina, an independent journalist and filmmaker, is currently residing in Haiti and
is associate editor of BlackCommentator.com