Tag Archives: Haiti

Why knowing about Failed States is a local concern

Foreign Policy issued its annual Failed States Index this week.

As usual, the report is depressing. It shows too many people living in areas that are chaotic at best. And with chaos comes violence, health problems and abject poverty.

So why should a LOCAL journalist in a LOCAL news organization care about the abysmal conditions people have to suffer through? (Aside from the basic humanitarian concerns we all share.)

Bottom line: Knowing what is happening in other coutnries is a matter of LOCAL concern.

Think about it…

When a government and a society fall apart, the number refugees skyrocket. And where do those refugees go? In many cases they come to the United States.

But the USA is a big place. Why the LOCAL concern?

The refugees have to go somewhere.

Who would have ever thought that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area would be ground zero for Somali refugees. (Somalia is #1 on the list.)

And just about every county in the the States has someone who has been touched by the wars in Afghanistan (#7) and Iraq (#9).

In the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is alone at #5.

In Africa, besides Somalia there is Chad (#2), Sudan (#3), Democratic Republic of Congo (#4), Zimbabwe (#6), Central African Republic (#8) and the Ivory Coast (#10).

With a little research we find that each of these “Failed States” has some sort of natural resource vital to modern society. And each country is a source of a large number of refugees.

Sounds as if there is plenty here for a LOCAL news organization to get a LOCAL angle on this international event.

Oh, by the way, Pakistan is #12 and Yemen, where the U.S. is also active, is #13.

Even China (#79) is seen as “In Trouble.” If that country goes, where will Wal-Mart get merchandise to fill its shelves?

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Anniversary of Marshall Plan — And what it means today

Here it is the 63rd anniversary of the signing into law the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948. Better known as the Marshall Plan.

Seems whenever there is talk of helping a country rebuild — think Haiti — inevitably someone mentions the Marshall Plan. What people tend to forget is that the Marshall Plan was designed to rebuild societies that already had stable political and industrial infrastructures.

What Haiti and many other countries need is development help.

The Marshall Plan was not so much a “development” plan but a rebuilding plan.

The Marshall Plan, by providing goods to a war-ravaged Europe also provided support to democratic forces — from democratic socialists to conservatives. Without the Marshall Plan the Soviet Union would have grabbed more influence in Western Europe by playing on the deprivation of post-war Europe.

The marching orders from Moscow were clear to their satellite parties in Western Europe: Stop the Marshall Plan. For example, while the French Communist unions refused to unload Marshall Plan goods at the ports, the French Socialist unions were anxious to do so.

Oh, by the way, the aid was offered to Eastern Europe as well. The Soviets made sure their puppet governments rejected the help.

Again, the Marshall Plan was designed to assist societies that already had a history and culture of industrial life and democratic rule. All they needed was a little help to get back on their feet.

With the help of the Marshall Plan Europe got back on its feet. In the process the U.S. gained new trading partners instead of clients. And we got political and military allies instead of adversaries.

All in all we got a good return for our minimal investment.

The problems countries such as Haiti and many in Africa face are a lack of democratic institutions and stable and safe infrastructure. What these countries need is not so much a Marshall Plan, but rather development support on a broad front.

The development of democratic institutions is vital to economic development. People have to see they have a stake in the growth and development of their country.

When only the political elite get the benefits of industrialization and when the workers are denied their basic rights, the embers of revolts and violence start to glow. Add unchecked corrupt government practices — because of no free press or independent watchdog — can only help the embers burst into an inferno.

Fortunately, the U.S. Agency for International Development figured out some time ago that along with building roads and power grids, development programs had to include the building a pluralistic culture.

In the past 15 or so years, AID has run programs that help local journalists understand what it means to have independent media. Sessions are run on how to either get the government to enact freedom of information laws or how to improve and use existing laws.

Adding to the development issue is the work of the National Endowment for Democracy. This private, government-funded group provides funds to the international arms of the Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO and the Democratic and Republican Parties. The programs these groups run help build business and labor groups and  the political parties run programs to improve the stability of political forces independent of government control.

Back to the main point:

Under the Marshall Plan, no one had to worry about building democratic institutions or building and industrial culture. The people were anxious and ready to do that. The Marshal Plan gave the people the material support they needed.

What is needed in the developing world are programs to get to that first step of development: the building of a pluralistic society with independent organizations to serve as a check and balance against government excesses.

So, please, let’s get our terms right in the future. Please let’s not see any more stories that say “Haiti needs a Marshall Plan.” It’s just bad history.

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Corruption and slavery: Getting more attention in Hispaniola

The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald ran an excellent article yesterday on the increase of child smuggling from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

Guards cash in on smuggling Haitian children

Obviously key to this story is the corruption of the border guards and of those in the Dominican Republic who “buy” the Haitian children.

Such corruption is hardly a surprise to anyone who has lived on Hispaniola or worked in the area.

Haiti has had a long history of being the one of the most corrupt countries in the Western Hemisphere. And no wonder. The years of brutal dictatorships and then years of basically no government left the people with no other way to get things done. Add to that the reluctance of all previous Haitian governments to allow for serious foreign investment — until recently — the crushing poverty and lack of democratic institutions mean wide open opportunities for corruption at all levels.

And next door is the Dominican Republic, which is just as famous for its corruption.

The latest Transparency International report places Haiti at #146 out of 178 countries with a score of 2.2 out of 10. (The higher the number, the less corruption.) The Dominican Republic came in at #101 with a score of 3.

At least this time Haiti is no longer the most corrupt country in the hemisphere. That title goes to Venezuela (#164. Score 2).

And the Dominican Republic remains just about in the middle. And the problem is one that is recognized (mostly) as a serious one in the DR. Diario Libre pointed out last week that the World Economic Forum placed the Dominican Republic in 131st place of 133 countries ranked according to levels of corruption in government.

It is great that El Nuevo and the Miami Herald tied the issue of corrupt guards along the Haiti-DR border to the larger issue of child slavery. But more work needs to be done.

For a number of years the child-sex trade in Boca Chica has been well-known. That small town just an hour out of the nation’s capital was turning into the Western Hemisphere’s equivalent of Thailand for sex trade. Despite the best efforts of U.S. law enforcement agencies working in the area to get something done, the Dominican government did little.

More Dominican media outlets are trying to cover the issue but they are facing the same problem journalists in northern Mexico face. The crime lords and corrupt political leaders and law enforcement agents threaten reporters and media outlets if they get too close to revealing the details of the corruption.

For most Americans the issue of corruption — especially related to child-slavery gangs — is often one of shock. But then they do not see the connection to U.S. domestic issues.

Bottom line: If a person cannot get ahead without having to bribe his way around corrupt police and government officials, that person will often leave for a place where rule of law is strong. And in this hemisphere that means the United States or Canada.

So if people are serious about stopping illegal immigration to the United States, then it is time for those same people to step up and insist the U.S. government and U.S. businesses provide assistance to the countries where the immigrants are coming from to fight corruption and to improve the business situation there.

And if you think it won’t work, take a look at the number of Brazilians in the United States. The actual number is declining because many are heading BACK to Brazil where the economic outlook is better.

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Local-Global: Macy’s helps Haitian Artists

Thanks to a friend from the DR (who is now elsewhere) for pointing this out.

Seems Macy’s is once again showing that companies can help people affected by disaster and make a profit.

And it provides an opportunity for LOCAL reporters to do a story with a GLOBAL hook.

The Globe and Mail of Toronto had a story yesterday about how Macy’s will be selling the work of Haitian artists. (Haitian artisans strike deal to sell work at Macy’s)

Being able to sell stuff at Macy’s has made it possible for those participating to afford clothes and education for their children and given some hope to the people of Haiti.

“Even in a short time, we’ve heard that parents who were incredibly stressed now have their children’s school fees. Now they can buy shoes. They have money in their pocket. Maybe they’re still living in a tent. But they know they can have some bit of security to craft a life. They know we’re not going away,” said Willa Shalit, the head of Fairwinds Trading, a New York-based company that specializes in connecting gifted artisans in “post-trauma” communities with American corporations to build sustainable economic relationships.

This is not the first time Macy’s offered the work of a group of people affected by disaster.

When the United Nations and NGOs started efforts to rebuild Rwanda after the genocidal wars of the late 1990s, organizers saw the women weaving beautiful baskets.

In 2002 Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women reached out to American businesswoman Willa Shalit to help find a market for the baskets. Within three years she founded the Rwanda Path to Peace project in partnership with Macy’s.

Macy’s featured the baskets in their stores across the country. The basket sales provided sustainable income to women who had never before earned money.

See the full story here: Rwanda Baskets

How hard would it be for a LOCAL reporter to go to the LOCAL Macy’s and ask the store manager how well the Haitian art is selling?

How hard would it be to maybe track down a buyer or two of the art to ask about why they bought it?

The story would, of course, have to include what has happened in Haiti since the earthquake eight months ago. It would have to include not only the Macy’s artist project but a brief summary of other efforts to help rebuild Haiti. And ideally it should include what LOCAL groups did and are still doing to help the Haitian people. (Think local NGOs, churches, civic groups, etc.)

Really, how hard would this be?

And it gets an important international story out with a very local angle.

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1985 Mexican Earthquake and today’s disasters

Thanks to History.com I was reminded that yesterday (9/19) was the anniversary of the devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico.

Working a disaster of that magnitude is not easily forgotten. (Especially the smell of rotting human flesh.)

But what I think is significant is the connection between that disaster and the current state of disaster rescue. Those saved in Haiti and Chile owe a lot to what we did — FOR THE FIRST TIME — in Mexico 25 years ago.

Someone at the U.S. Agency for International Development was smart enough to realize that dogs that search for lost kids in national forests might be used to find survivors in an urban natural disaster.

When the earthquake struck a convention of dog handlers specializing in rescue efforts was meeting in Texas. AID called the conference organizers and asked for volunteers to go to Mexico.

The conference organizers were already in action before the call came. First the volunteers — with their dogs — stepped forward. Then the rest of the conference participants pooled their resources on hand — including money — to make sure each team member — human and canine — was fully outfitted with safety gear and what ever else would be needed.

They were ready do go within 10 hours of the first earthquake.

At the same time the U.S. Bureau of Mines mobilized another set of experts to assist the rescue effort with technology previously only used in finding and rescuing miners.

Unfortunately the Mexican government refused to accept any help from the rest of the world. (“We can handle this ourselves,” they said with false pride.)

The next day a second earthquake struck. (I think this one was 7.9 on the Richter scale.) At that point the Mexican government said, “If any one wants to send help we’ll take it.” That wording allowed the government “cover” to its nationalistic base by saying they never asked for help.

So on the third day after the first earthquake what seemed like dozens of  C-141s, C-5s and C-131s broke through the smog-filled skies of Mexico City and landed at the city’s international airport. Inside one were the dog teams and the Bureau of Mine experts. (It seemed at the time that U.S. cargo planes were landing every 5-10 minutes with rescue and relief equipment.)

By a quirk of fate my wife and I were at the airport to help check in and record the incoming experts and equipment. The plane with the search and rescue teams was supposed to include explosive experts. The ambassador wanted to meet them and get things moving so that the unsafe buildings in the city could be taken down as soon as possible. When it was clear the plane held the SAR folks, the ambassador turned to Lisa and told her to take care of them and then walked away.

First thing we did was find the leaders of each team, found out what they thought they could do in this situation and find out what they needed to get started.

Within 2 hours we were in a meeting room in the Sheraton next to the embassy going over a map of the city with Mexican government officials about where the searches should be concentrated.

The officials were focused on areas where government building were damaged even though the first quake occurred before the work day began and the second was after the end of the work day (assuming anyone went into the damaged buildings after the first quake.)

Residential areas were second on their priority list.

The dog teams surveyed the areas requested by the government and got no hits. (No live or dead responses.) Despite the government’s desire to stay there longer, the dog team leader directed his people to start searching residential areas damaged by the quake.

And it was fortunate they did. In the end, the dog teams were often the first experts to get to areas that had survivors. No one from the Mexican government or the groups taking Mexican government direction had come by even days after the first quake.

By then the seismic and camera teams had figured out the best way to use their technology to rescue people.

At first, no one was sure how to use the sensitive seismic equipment or underground camera. After a few trials, the three team leaders figured out how to make the maximum use of the strengths of each group.

At first the dogs would survey an area. Anywhere the dogs would give a “live” indication the dog handler would place a flag. Then the seismic team would get all work in the area stopped and place sensors around the area to “listen” for movement or some other form of life. If nothing came from the initial “listen,” the team leader would have someone from the Mexican police use a bullhorn to see if anyone in the rubble could respond. Generally the cop asked for people to respond by bang on stone or metal to indicate they heard the call.

Once the seismic team “heard” responses, the cop would then try to narrow down what floor the survivors were on when the earthquakes happened. (We could easily see how the buildings collapsed and so could also estimate where someone from the fifth floor, for example, would possibly be in the rubble.) The cop would say something like, “Tap twice if you were on the 1st floor.” Wait a bit. Then repeat the call for each floor of the building.

Once the floor(s) of the survivor were nailed down, the seismic team would tighten it perimeter and repeat the process. In the end, they could usually indicate where the survivors were within 10 feet.

Rescue workers would then start removing rubble in the direction set by the seismic team. After the first layer was taken off, however, the rescuers knew they needed to see the structure of the next set of levels.

That is where the camera crew came in.

The camera was about the size of a tennis ball at the end of a cable with lights around the lens. (Remember this is 1985. Cameras this size were cutting edge at the time.)

The camera operator would poke the lens through a hole in the rubble. The rescue team leader would sit in the control van and survey the cavity looking for the best way to remove material without causing the whole structure to collapse on the survivors. With practice the remove, poke, look, remove process moved more quickly.

In one dramatic rescue, just as the camera poked through a survivor grabbed the cable and camera (he only thought it was a set of lights) and moved it to see the condition of his wife. The resulting picture was an extreme closeup of the woman’s eye with one tear coming down as she and her husband realized that after 4 days they were going to be rescued.

The camera team withdrew the cable, attached a baggie with some water-soaked cotton and passed it back through. This was the first water the couple had since the quakes.

Within a couple of hours the couple were taken to one of the few remaining hospitals. The husband lost an arm in the process. Fortunately for him the steel beam that took his arm did it in a way that was clean and sealed the wound almost immediately. Otherwise he could have easily bled out and died within hours of the accident.

Ironically the husband worked for the Mexican Bureau of Mines. He told the U.S. team leaders later from his hospital bed that when he heard the cops calling out for people to identify their floors, he knew exactly what was happening because he ran similar exercises for Mexican miners.

Along the way we were able to find teams of experts who came to Mexico on their own to help. I located an Israeli medical team with ambulance looking for a place to go to help. I attached them to the camera team. A bit later I met a Venezuelan construction company owner who flew his “A-team” to Mexico to help with the rescue efforts. They too were looking for a place where they could be helpful. I hooked them up with the seismic and camera team.

The dog team leader started finding dog teams from other countries. We got the team leaders together each morning and evening to ensure there was no doubling of efforts.

All our ad-hoc activities were required because so much of the Mexican leadership was confused. Most of the government buildings were damaged. And the political system in Mexico at the time did not allow for decentralized responses to anything. Everything was directed from a central command. Unfortunately the central command was wiped out.

(I have a theory that it was the earthquake that provided the main push to toss out the ruling PRI and allow Mexico to start developing into a serious multi-party democracy. It also prompted more self-help groups in the country.)

Now think about what is happening in Haiti and Chile.

After the earthquakes in those two countries, dog search teams were among the first rescuers. The seismic and camera teams were hardly needed in Haiti because of the type of construction in the country but I understand the technology was used in Chile.

And what was it that got us good news about the Chilean mine accident? It was an underground camera. The 2010 version of the unit that saved lives in Mexico.

After my experiences in Mexico I have to tip my hat to the SAR teams that put themselves in harm’s way to save lives. And I shudder to think how many lives would have been lost in Mexico and in subsequent disasters if someone did not have the intellectual leap to include never-before-done SAR techniques in the rescue scenarios.

And what new technology is out there today that could be used to save lives but no one has yet made the connection?

It would be nice if these pioneers could be recognized for their work and foresight. (Okay, the Mexican government gave each of the SAR teams I worked with special recognition awards. But nada from the US government.)

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DomRep Paper Sold

The 121-year old Listin Diario was sold to a group of investors this week.

According to the BusinessWeek article, two of the owners are Juan Bautista Vicini Lluberes and media mogul Jose Luis “Pepin” Corripio. Vicini owns the sugar interests in the Dominican Republic.

The buyers are taking the paper off the hands of the Dominican government.

The government got the paper after banker Ramon Baez Figueroa, head of Banco Intercontinental, almost alone caused the economic collapse of the country’s economy in 2003.

Figueroa bought the paper in 2000. The government took over Figueroa’s holdings, including the paper.

Just how fair and balanced the paper will be is up for debate given the power and influence of its investors.

The Vicini family has been notorious for trying to stop any investigations of the treatment their Haitian workforce in the sugar fields. They have petitioned the Dominican government and the Vatican to have a “troublesome priest” removed.

The Vicinis also worked VERY hard to stop circulation of the movie, The Price of Sugar, around the world. The family claimed the movie, which accurately depicted the destitute situation of the Haitian workers in the sugar fields.

What the Vicinis don’t own in the Dominican Republic, the joke goes, the Corripios do.

With the exception of the now defunct Clave Digital most newspapers in the Dominican un-ashamedly pull their punches when it comes to economic issues affecting their owners. (And show me a U.S. newspaper that does any different at times.)

It will be interesting to see what Listin does now that it is owned by the most powerful economic forces in the country. (Why do I think there will be fewer reports on corporate corruption?)

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Why was call for freedom of information law in Afghanistan ignored by media?

With all the to-do about the International Donors Conference in Kabul this week, one item got little (dare I say, no) mention in the media reports and government statements: the need for a freedom of information law.

One of the key points of the conference was the need to reduce corruption in the Afghan government. (Let’s face it, no one expects to eliminate corruption. The best anyone could do is limit it.) In response to that call, several Afghan civil society groups and media organizations launched a campaign highlighting the need to have access to government documents. And the best way to do that is to enact a freedom of information law.

AFGHAN CIVIL SOCIETY LAUNCHES ACCESS TO INFORMATION CAMPAIGN

Too bad no one in the West reported on it.

The issue of corruption in Afghanistan is indeed serious.

According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is just one point away from being the most corrupt country in the world. Only Somalia is more corrupt — and that is a country that barely has a functioning civil society. That makes Afghanistan more corrupt than well-know spots of corruption such as Sudan, Iraq and Haiti.

So, how does one combat corruption?

The idealists and political science modelers will say: “Enact anti-corruption legislation and then enforce it.” But the very people who depend on corruption for their standard living are also the ones in charge of enforcing the law. How serious do you think they will be in enforcing the law?

What is needed is a way to shine sunlight (the best disinfectant) on government projects. And that is where an FOI law comes into play.

The Afghan civic and media groups explain the need for an FOI law succinctly:

Citizens will be able to know essential information about the provision of public services, such as land distribution and its criteria, timeframe for issuing passports or identity cards, school construction costs and electricity distribution.

Where ever FOI laws are enacted and enforced, one thing is true, more citizens and citizen groups than journalists ask for the data. It makes no difference if it is the USA or the Dominican Republic, the story is the same. Requests under the FOI laws come overwhelmingly from individuals or civic organizations rather than journalists.

And yet it is journalists who argue the loudest for freedom of information laws.

Promises to put data on the Internet — as Afghanistan has promised to do — is all well and good. IF people have access to a computer and the Internet. Posting on the Internet is not the same as having an open government and making data available to people

In Afghanistan, population 29 million, only 500,000 people have access to the Internet.

So tell me again, how posting everything on the Internet in a country where less than 2% of the population has access to that data is helpful. It reminds me of how people praise the near 100% literacy rate in Cuba, while at the same time failing to note that WHAT the people can read is severely limited by the government under pain of long jail sentences.

It is indeed a pity that so many people focused on the speeches by the big participants in the Kabul conference and all the talk of development aid while ignoring some simple basic things that Afghans are calling for to help make their own government more accountable.

Would it really have taken that much time to add the FOI message to a story about the conference?

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