[News] One Year After Haiti Earthquake, Corporations Profit While People Suffer

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 12 19:19:00 EST 2011

One Year After Haiti Earthquake, Corporations Profit While People Suffer

By Jordan Flaherty

One year after an earthquake devastated Haiti, 
much of the promised relief and reconstruction 
aid has not reached those most in need. In fact, 
the tragedy has served as an opportunity to further enrich corporate interests.

The details of a recent lawsuit, as reported by 
Business Week, highlights the ways in which 
contractors – including some of the same players 
who profited from Hurricane Katrina-related 
reconstruction – have continued to use their 
political connections to gain profits from 
others' suffering, receiving contacts worth tens 
of millions of dollars while the Haitian people 
receive pennies at best. It also demonstrates how 
charity and development efforts have mirrored and 
contributed to corporate abuses.

Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency 
for International Development (US AID) was named 
US special coordinator for relief and 
reconstruction after the earthquake. He worked 
this job for a few months, then immediately moved 
to the private sector, where he could sell his 
contacts and connections to the highest bidder. 
He quickly got a $30,000-a-month (plus bonuses) 
contract with the Haiti Recovery Group (HRG).

HRG had been founded by Ashbritt, Inc., a 
Florida-based contractor who had received acres 
of bad press for their post-Katrina contracting. 
Ashbritt’s partner in HRG is Gilbert Bigio, a 
wealthy Haitian businessman with close ties to 
the Israeli military. Bigio made a fortune during 
the corrupt Duvalier regime, and was a supporter 
of the right wing coup against Haitian president Aristide.

Although Lucke received $60,000 for two months 
work, he is suing because he says he is owed an 
additional $500,000 for the more than 20-million 
dollars in contracts he helped HRG obtain during that time.

A Symbol of Political Corruption

As Corpwatch has reported, AshBritt “has enjoyed 
meteoric growth since it won its first big debris 
removal subcontract from none other than 
Halliburton, to help clean up after Hurricane 
Andrew in 1992.” In 1999, the company also faced 
allegations of double billing for $765,000 from 
the Broward County, Florida school board for 
clean-up done in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.

Ashbritt CEO Randal Perkins is a major donor to 
Republican causes, and hired Mississippi Governor 
Haley Barbour’s firm, as well as former US Army 
Corp Of Engineers official Mike Parker, as 
lobbyists. As a reward for his political 
connections, Ashbritt won 900 million dollars in 
Post-Katrina contracts, helping them to become a 
symbol of political corruption in the world of 
disaster profiteering, even triggering a 
congressional investigation focusing on their 
buying of influence. MSNBC reported in early 2006 
that criticism of Ashbritt “can be heard in 
virtually every coastal community between Alabama and Texas.”

The contracts given to Bush cronies like Ashbritt 
resulted in local and minority-owned companies 
losing out on reconstruction work. As 
Multinational Monitor noted shortly after 
Katrina, “by turning the contracting process over 
to prime contractors like Ashbritt, the Corps and 
FEMA have effectively privatized the enforcement 
of Federal Acquisition Regulations and disaster 
relief laws such as the Stafford Act, which 
require contracting officials to prioritize local 
businesses and give 5 percent of contracts to 
minority-owned businesses. As a result
reports suggest that over 90 percent of the $2 
billion in initial contracts was awarded to 
companies based outside of the three primary 
affected states, and that minority businesses 
received just 1.5 percent of the first $1.6 billion.”

Alex Dupuy, writing in The Washington Post, 
reported a similar pattern in Haiti, noting that 
"of the more than 1,500 US contracts doled out 
worth $267 million, only 20, worth $4.3 million, 
have gone to Haitian firms. The rest have gone to 
US firms, which almost exclusively use US 
suppliers. Although these foreign contractors 
employ Haitians, mostly on a cash-for-work basis, 
the bulk of the money and profits are reinvested 
in the United States." The same article notes 
that "less than 10 percent of the $9 billion 
pledged by foreign donors has been delivered, and 
not all of that money has been spent. Other than 
rebuilding the international airport and clearing 
the principal urban arteries of rubble, no major 
infrastructure rebuilding - roads, ports, housing, communications - has begun."

The disaster profiteering exemplified by Ashbritt 
is not just the result of quick decision-making 
in the midst of a crisis. These contracts are 
awarded as part of a corporate agenda that sees 
disaster as an opportunity, and as a tool for 
furthering policies that would not be possible in 
other times. Naomi Klein exposed evidence that 
within 24 hours of the earthquake, the 
influential right-wing think tank the Heritage 
Foundation was already laying plans to use the 
disaster as an attempt at further privatization of the country's economy.

Relief and recovery efforts, led by the US 
military, have also brought a further 
militarization of relief and criminalization of 
survivors. Haiti and Katrina also served as 
staging grounds for increased involvement of 
mercenaries in reconstruction efforts. As one 
Blackwater mercenary told Jeremy Scahill when he 
visited New Orleans in the days after Katrina, 
"This is a trend. You're going to see a lot more 
guys like us in these situations."

And it's not just corporations who have been 
guilty of profiting from Haitian suffering. A 
recent report from the Disaster Accountability 
Project (DAP) describes a "significant lack of 
transparency in the disaster-relief/aid 
community," and finds that many relief 
organizations have left donations for Haiti in 
their bank accounts, earning interest rather than 
helping the people of Haiti. DAP director Ben 
Smilowitz notes that "the fact that nearly half 
of the donated dollars still sit in the bank 
accounts of relief and aid groups does not match 
the urgency of their own fundraising and 
marketing efforts and donors’ intentions, nor 
does it covey the urgency of the situation on the ground."

Haitian poet and human rights lawyer Ezili Dantò 
has written, "Haiti's poverty began with a 
US/Euro trade embargo after its independence, 
continued with the Independence Debt to France 
and ecclesiastical and financial colonialism. 
Moreover, in more recent times, the uses of US 
foreign aid, as administered through USAID in 
Haiti, basically serves to fuel conflicts and 
covertly promote US corporate interests to the 
detriment of democracy and Haitian health, 
liberty, sovereignty, social justice and 
political freedoms. USAID projects have been at 
the frontlines of orchestrating undemocratic 
behavior, bringing underdevelopment, coup d'etat, 
impunity of the Haitian Oligarchy, indefinite 
incarceration of dissenters, and destroying 
Haiti's food sovereignty, essentially promoting famine."

Throughout its history, Haiti has been a victim 
of many of those who have claimed they are there 
to help. Until we address this fundamental issue 
of corporate profiteering masquerading as aid and 
development, the nation will remain mired in 
poverty. And future disasters, wherever they 
occur, will lead to similar injustices.

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist and staffer with 
the Louisiana Justice Institute. He was the first 
writer to bring the story of the Jena Six to a 
national audience, and his award-winning 
reporting from the Gulf Coast has been featured 
in a range of outlets including the New York 
Times, Mother Jones, and Argentina's Clarin 
newspaper. He has produced news segments for 
Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, and Democracy Now, and 
appeared as a guest on CNN Morning, Anderson 
Cooper 360, and Keep Hope Alive with the Reverend 
Jesse Jackson. His new book is FLOODLINES: 
Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena 
Six. He can be reached at 
<mailto:neworleans at leftturn.org>neworleans at leftturn.org, 
and more information about Floodlines can be 
found at <http://floodlines.org/>floodlines.org. 
For speaking engagements, see 

NEW ORLEANS RESIDENTS: See Jordan Flaherty and 
Asia Rainey at Maple Street Book Shop on 
Wednesday, January 19 at 6:00pm. More info: 

Resources Mentioned in Article:
Business Week: Ex-US official sues contractor in Haiti for fees
CorpWatch Report on Debris Removal:
MSNBC Report on Ashbritt:
Multinational Monitor Report on Crony Contracting:
Washington Post: One year after the earthquake, 
foreign help is actually hurting Haiti:
Report From Disaster Accountability Project:

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/news_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20110112/262cec13/attachment.html>

More information about the News mailing list