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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Twelve Take Aways from Chandrasekaran’s Little America (Deadwood) Excerpt

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post and author of the new book making waves, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. On June 26, an exclusive excerpt from his book titled Deadwood was published by Foreign Policy. The lead question, Why did America send its C team to Afghanistan? 

Our twelve take aways below:

  1. The US Embassy in Kabul has an invisible giant reset button that gets pushed once a year, and mission life starts anew each summer.
  2. Staff members could have done a lot more stuff (maybe answer more now emails) in Washington, DC but then they would not count as a number in the “civilian surge.”
  3. The Baghdafication of Kabul appears complete with Kabul sounding as familiar as Chandrasekaran’s Emerald City. Rajiv needs his kevlar, incoming fire starts right about now.
  4. An agency who clings fervently to mandatory age retirement for the proper functioning of the Foreign Service sent a 79-year-old man to the reconstruction team in Kandahar.
  5. When a senior State Department official told the writer, “We’re at Team C” he’s either preparing for retirement or won’t mind hate mail swamping his State Department inbox.
  6. The top State Department official in Kandahar was thrown out of the Kandahar Governor’s office and survived to order a non-disclosure agreement to protect his office’s combination lock codes from his military colleagues.
  7. Summer Coish prominently mentioned in the article may be bound for high places, just not to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) in Foggy Bottom. 
  8. Forty percent of U.S. government civilians who were assigned to Helmand from July 2009 to June 2010 did not last six months.
  9. By late 2010, USAID was reportedly hiring 20 new people a month to go to Afghanistan, but it was losing seventeen.  The three who remained were not desperate.
  10. A senior State Department official told the writer:  “[…] there’s enough deadwood here that it’s becoming a fire hazard.” No one has ordered a firetruck, but the State Department might order that the official’s desk be foam sprayed.
  11. Urinating on the US Embassy chancery wall or near the flagpole can get you sent home, unless you are the deputy Turkish ambassador, or someone with a small bladder who threatens to complain under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  12. Alcohol purchases at the embassy convenience store was limited to two bottles of wine or one bottle of spirits per person per day. One bottle of spirits (distilled beverage) can have as high as 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), so that’s a hell of a restriction.

Read the full article here in Foreign Policy.

Domani Spero