Hillary and Bill Clinton’s Past in Haiti

It’s surprising how little the failures and destruction of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s presence in Haiti have been brought up so far.

It's always Christmas for the Clintons. Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1998. Image: Wiki Commons.

Hillary Clinton might have some explaining to do. Any pro-Hillary voters who prioritize moral plans for American foreign policy should probably look into the candidate’s past in Haiti. Recently, on June 22nd, the Pulitzer Center hosted journalist Jonathan M. Katz, the author of a book about Haiti (“The Big Truck That Went By“), for a discussion about the Clintons’ influence and rather infamous legacy in Haiti. I was fortunate to attend. It’s surprising how little the failures and destruction of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s presence in Haiti have been brought up so far.

First, some background: on January 12, 2010, the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the hemisphere, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake, devastated Haiti’s southern peninsula and killed 100,000 to 316,000 people. Then-former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the Haitian reconstruction effort and vowed to help the country “build back better,” so that should another disaster struck, Haiti would be able to respond more quickly and with more efficiency. Hillary Clinton described the couple’s efforts as a “road test” that would reveal “new approaches to development that could be applied more broadly around the world.” The couple’s foundation, the Clinton Foundation, alone directed $36 million to Haiti since 2010. Another $55 million was spent through the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, and an additional $500 million made in commitments through the Clinton Global Initiative’s Haiti Action Network.

But what does Haiti have to show for all of these investments? Not much, according to Katz: “Haiti and its people are not in a better position now from when the earthquake struck,” he told the audience. The hundreds of millions of dollars and the years of reconstruction efforts have yielded negligible results. For a project so expansive, Hillary has kept relatively quiet about Haiti thus far in her presidential campaign. Her spokesman declined to comment on how Haiti has shaped her foreign policy, saying Hillary would address that “when the time comes to do so.”

Hillary’s big plan for how she would “rebuild” Haiti in the wake of desolation was characteristically American: through business. With big corporate plans on the horizon, Bill and Hillary became exceedingly familiar faces in Haiti leading up to the 2011 Haitian presidential elections.

It’s not surprising that Michel Martelly, the candidate who vowed to open Haiti for business was ultimately the victor. A former Haitian pop star, Martelly was first eliminated when he finished third in early balloting, before he convinced the other political parties to accept him back into the race. Katz said that this vote was fraudulent. Martelly, a businessman and strong proponent of foreign investment in Haiti, was “attractive” to the U.S. State Department, Katz noted. He added that Martelly very much had a “Clinton view of Haiti and a Clinton view of the world.”

That’s how Caracol Industrial Park, a 600-acre garment factory geared toward making clothes for export to the U.S., was born in 2012. Bill lobbied the U.S. Congress to eliminate tariffs on textiles sewn in Haiti, and the couple pledged that through Caracol Park, Haitian-based producers would have comparative advantages that would balance the country’s low productivity, provide the U.S. with cheap textiles, and put money in Haitians’ pockets.

The State Department promised that the park would create 60,000 jobs within five years of its opening, and Bill declared that 100,000 jobs would be created “in short order.” But Caracol currently employs just 5,479 people full time. “The entire concept of building the Haitian economy through these low-wage jobs is kind of faulty,” Katz stated on Monday. Furthermore, working conditions in the park are decent, but far from what should be considered acceptable.

Not only did Caracol miss the mark on job creation, but it also took jobs away from indigenous farmers. Caracol was built on fertile farmland, which Haiti doesn’t have much of to begin with. According to Katz, Haitian farmers feel that they have been taken advantage of, their land taken away from them, and that they have not been compensated fairly.

Hundreds of families have been forced off the land to make room for Caracol. The Clintons led the aggressive push to make garment factories to better Haiti’s economy, but what it really created was wealth for foreign companies. This trend was echoed when the Clintons helped launch a Marriott hotel in the capital, which has really only benefited wealthy foreigners and the Haitian elite.

Mark D’Sa, Senior Advisor for Industrial Development in Haiti at the U.S. Department of State, told Politico that many of the Clintons’ promises remain unfulfilled and many more projects are “half-baked.” Haiti remains the most economically depressed country on the continent.

If Hillary wins in 2016, U.S. policy geared toward Haiti will undoubtedly expand, meaning even more money will be funneled to the Caribbean nation to fund the Clintons’ projects, for better or for worse. According to Katz, the truth is that we don’t actually know how much money has been thrown into the Caribbean country to “rebuild” it, and that with economic growth stalling and the country’s politics heading for a shutdown, internal strife seems imminent.

The introduction of accountability for the foreign aid industry is the most important change that can be made, according to Katz. Humanitarian aid does nothing positive or productive if there are not institutions in place, managed by individuals who actually live in these countries, to oversee that aid is serving rather than hurting the people it is supposed to “help.”

Hillary Clinton’s efforts in Haiti have fueled political corruption, destroyed arable farmland, and have forced hundreds of families to leave their homes and their jobs to make room for a factory that has not given even a fraction of the amount to Haiti as it has taken. If the introduction of accountability is the way to go, then we first need to start talking. So Hillary, what do you have to say about Haiti?

Further Reading

Our turn to eat

Reflections on Malawi’s recent election rerun, false starts and the hope that public representatives in Africa become accountable to their electorates’ aspirations.

The culture wars are a distraction

When our political parties only have recourse to the realm of identity and culture, it is a smokescreen for their lack of political legitimacy and programmatic content. It is cynically unpolitical, and it’s all bullshit.