Five Years After Earthquake, Politcal Ground Still Shaking in Haiti

On the five-year anniversary of a devastating earthquake—and despite a last-minute political settlement reached Sunday designed to curb steet protests and political unrest—the people of Haiti remain engaged in high-stake battles against a series of inter-related crises, including democratic upheaval, housing shortages, public health worries, and ongoing economic problems related to self-determination, poverty and pervasive joblessness.

On January 12, 2010 a powerful earthquake struck the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince, killing more than 200,000 people, injuring hundreds of thousands more, and leaving an estimated 1.5 million homeless or displaced. Five years later—though billions of dollars in reconstruction money has been spent and progress made in some areas—the nation continues to struggle. In addition to the destruction caused by the earthquake, a subsequent outbreak of cholera (introduced by UN soldiers responding to the disaster) claimed the lives of more than 8,000 Haitians, proving that quality sanitation, access to clean water, and overall public health systems remain lacking.

According to critics of the earthquake response effort by the United States and others, too many mistakes were made and too little has been done to secure a recovery that puts the needs of the Haitian people ahead of western interests and short-sighted economic policies. Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, argues that the international community, including the United Nations and key western nations, must take much of the blame for the lack of progress in key areas.

“This is a shameful milepost for the international community, as so many urgent needs in Haiti remain a full five years later,” Weisbrot said. “Countries such as the United States, France and Canada share a particular burden for these failures, since these countries have trampled upon Haitian sovereignty and sidelined Haitian institutions throughout the country’s history.”

Weisbrot’s colleague at CEPR, research associate Jake Johnston said the the words “scandal, profiteering and tragedy” best described the story of Haiti since the 2010 quake. “Certain contractors got tens of millions for housing that they didn’t deliver,” Johnston explained. “While authorities have still been able to claim success by pointing to how fewer people remain in [temporary] camps… many of these people were forcibly evicted from the camps, often with no place to go. The displacement crisis continues; it is just hidden now.”

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Relating to the cholera epidemic, which is not over, the Haitian people were dealt a blow last week when a U.S. court threw out a lawsuite filed by human rights groups against the United Nations. The suit was seeking compensation for Haitian victims of the outbreak, which was unleashed by Nepalese troops serving the UN mission.

Meanwhile, as Haiti has tried to regain its footing in terms of housing and health, the nation has also been embroiled in a deepening political crisis as President Michel Martelly has faced a growing call to resign amid accusations of authoritarianism.

A briefing paper issued last week by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) offered a thorough analysis of recent events. According to the group:

An agreement was, in fact, reached by Martelly and some opposition groups on Sunday. However, as Al-Jazeera reports, the deal does little, if anything, to end the crisis:

The IJDH said the immediate establishment of new electoral councils could pave the way for transparent elections, but that the outcome is anything but assured.

In a recent essay published in Haiti Liberte, analysts Travis Ross and Roger Annis described how the recent political turmoil in Haiti is very much related to popular dissatisfaction with the post-earthquake era, but also has deeper historical roots. They explained:

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