Haiti Says G’bye to Ambassador Merten While AP Complains About the $1.8 Billion Reconstruction Promise

Last Friday, Ambassador Kenneth Merten concluded his assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. They must really like him over there. The Embassy had somebody sketched him and his family over in FB; rather cute.

Via US Embassy Haiti/FB

“Today, we bid adieu to Ambassador Kenneth Merten and his family after a three-year term as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. With his deep knowledge of the country, Ambassador Merten has strengthened Haitian-American relations and led U.S. Government assistance to the Government and people of Haiti through the good times and the bad. He has worked to support the take-off of Haiti, pou ayiti ka dekole, strongly encouraging investments and job creation in the country, particularly with the construction of the Caracol Northern Industrial Park. We salute Ambassador Merten’s commitment and dedication to Haiti. Embassy Port-au-Prince wishes all the best to the Merten family and we look forward to the arrival of our next Ambassador.”

Last week, Haiti President Michel Martelly awarded the outgoing ambassador with the National Order of Honour and Merit. The award, with the grade of Grand Cross, was given to Ambassador Merten at a ceremony in Port-au-Prince’s National Palace.

You might remember that last year, Ambassador Merten was also the recipient of the 2011 Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy. “This award recognizes those U.S. diplomats who excel in the most challenging leadership positions overseas. The Selection Committee commended Ambassador Merten for his extraordinary leadership of the unprecedented U.S. government response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which involved over 22,000 US military in Haiti and thousands of civilian personnel from numerous U.S. government agencies. His capable leadership saved lives and embodies the highest virtues of public service and crisis management.”

Then less that 24 hours of his departure from Haiti, the Associated Press published a lengthy report complaining about the Haiti reconstruction (see US pledge to rebuild Haiti not being met).  What’s wrong with you, AP?

The Associated Press also says that “the fruits of an ambitious, $1.8 billion U.S. reconstruction promise are hard to find.”

Further it has some more troubling details:

  • On July 21, 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 — such as HIV/AIDS programs.
  • 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.

The AP report also cites major frustration for watchdogs of the U.S. effort for the lack of transparency over how the millions of dollars are being spent.

From interviews to records requests, efforts to track spending in Haiti by members of Congress, university researchers and news organizations have sometimes been met with resistance and even, in some cases, outright refusals.

Even when US contractors were willing to release the information on the Haiti reconstruction, apparently they become unreleasable because the information is considered “proprietary” by their funder. And who is the funder? USAID. To my last recollection, USAID is still run by the U.S. government, and funded by U.S. taxpayers.

For the AP to released this report on the 21st is just mean, that’s a weekend for goodness sake!

But you gotta do what you gotta do. Thomas C. Adams who serves as Haiti Special Coordinator at the U.S. Department of State, and Mark Feierstein who serves as Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), probably did not get much sleep trying to make sure that their blog post on Haiti makes it to DipNote on the day the AP report came out; and it did.

On July 21, they jointly blogged about the Progress in Haiti.

And — poor guy, Ambassador Merten’s luggage was barely out of the Reagan National Airport when he had to pen an op-ed for the Miami Herald saying “I am proud that the work we have done, and continue to do, helps Haitians build a stronger foundation for a prosperous future.”

Also this:

As I leave Haiti, I am encouraged. Haiti has reported a 21-percent increase in foreign direct investment since 2010. In the north, I saw the completion of the first factory buildings and modern power plant at the Caracol Industrial Park. There is palpable enthusiasm in the community for the jobs this park will bring, adding more factories over the coming months and years. Anchored by a $78 million investment from Korean apparel manufacturer Sae-A Co., Ltd., the park has the potential to create more than 60,000 jobs.

[Potential rosy picture. 🙄 ].

Oh, wait, a blog friend pointed us to this piece in NYT –  is he touting the same Sae-A Trading, a South Korean clothing manufacturer and major supplier to American retailers like Walmart and Gap Inc.? The company that’s been called ““one of the major labor violators”?

[T]hanks to a deal that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped broker, Sae-A looked forward to tax exemptions, duty-free access to the United States, abundant cheap labor, factory sheds, a power plant, a new port and an expatriate residence outfitted with special kimchi refrigerators.
[…]
The developers — the Haitian government, the State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank — chose Sae-A despite its troubled labor relations in Guatemala, where the company closed its flagship factory last year after threatening to move jobs out of the country during an acrimonious dispute with its union.

Before the Haiti deal was sealed, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. urged American and international officials to reconsider, given what it described in a detailed memo as Sae-A’s egregious antiunion repression, including “acts of violence and intimidation” in Guatemala, where Homero Fuentes, who monitors factories for American retailers, calls Sae-A “one of the major labor violators.”

Continue reading Earthquake Relief Where Haiti Wasn’t Broken.

You think Ambassador Merten deserves a double 🙄 here for touting that company in his op-ed and not mentioning the um, labor issue? Okay, here you go –

🙄

🙄

In related news, Al Kamen writes that Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book, “Little America,” apparently “has sparked a scramble in the Kabul embassy compound to compile “success stories” for publication to counter the book’s analysis.”

SO LISTEN UP!

If you’re the smarty person who leaked that nugget to Al Kamen, they better not find out who you are; or you will be compiling “success stories” until 2024.

Domani Spero

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