How (not) to help Haitians


January 16, 2010 by tristan savage

With new reports of corporate interest in using the Haitian earthquake as a chance to reshape the country’s economy and political system (thank you, Heritage Foundation…), and well-placed concerns about the eventual consequences of US military intervention in the region, it’s good to see some strategies for foreign aid that recognize Haitians rights to self-determination and autonomy as their own political actors, and not just as objects deserving of pity, credit card donations, armed troops, and crates of supplies.  Here’s an article about letting Haitians help themselves by quickly removing onerous debt burdens (much of which was run up by the Duvalier dictatorship) and providing disaster relief as grants, not loans.  It’s a plan that France just announced yesterday– and I’m hoping other countries and institutions follow.  The US also has the ability to protect a good chunk of the income of Haiti (not to mention the human rights of migrants) by giving Haitians in the US temporary protected status.Carl Vinson

Help Haiti? Let Haitians Stay and Cancel Haiti’s Debt

By: RobertNaiman Friday January 15, 2010 1:00 pm

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have pledged that the US will do all it can to help Haiti following the devastating earthquake. But while getting assistance into Haiti right now is extremely difficult, there are two things the Obama Administration could do immediately to help Haiti that are entirely within its control. It could grant “Temporary Protected Status” to undocumented Haitians in the U.S. – so they can stay here instead of adding to Haiti’s burden, work legally, and send home money to help their relatives – and it could support the cancellation of Haiti’s debts to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, where the U.S. Treasury department has decisive influence. So far the Administration has refused to move on either issue. Why the delay?

Even the Washington Post editorial board – on foreign policy, not usually known for singing Kumbaya – calls the Administration to account on both issues.

On Temporary Protected Status for Haiti, the Post says:

More than 1 million Haitians, about a third of all adults, currently receive cash from relatives living abroad, most of them in the United States; those funds account for between a fifth and a third of Haiti’s gross domestic product. Yet the Obama administration has balked at helping tens of thousands of Haitians currently here illegally by granting them temporary legal status, which would enable them to get work permits. This despite U.S. law that specifically allows the government to extend “temporary protected status” to undocumented immigrants if natural disasters or wars in their home countries make it impractical to deport them. Haitians should have received this benefit after four devastating storms struck the island in the space of four weeks in the fall of 2008. Other undocumented immigrant groups — from Nicaragua, Honduras, Sudan and elsewhere — have received temporary legal status; Mr. Obama should immediately extend it to Haitians so they can help their quake-stricken relatives at home.

The New York Times (“Help Haitians Help Haiti“) agrees:

We wish [Obama] had added that his administration had found the courage, in this emergency, to take a basic but politically difficult step — to grant temporary protected status to undocumented Haitians in the United States.

The Los Angeles Times and the Miami Herald have also called for TPS for Haiti.

South Florida’s three Cuban-American Republican members of Congress – Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – often leaders in Congress for the most aggressive U.S. foreign policy – have written to the Obama Administration, urging the Administration to grant Temporary Protected Status for Haiti:

“How much does Haiti have to suffer before Haitians in the United States are granted TPS pursuant to law?” said Lincoln Diaz-Balart Wednesday. “The reason TPS exists in the statute as an option for the president is precisely for moments such as this in Haiti.”

On cancelling Haiti’s debt, the Post says:

There’s more the president can do, including pressing the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions and creditor nations to forgive $641 million in debt owed by Haiti.

Of course, the IMF and the World Bank are multilateral institutions, so it’s not literally true that Obama can just order them to cooperate. But the US controls a fifth of the voting shares of these institutions, and in practice its influence is far greater than that, because other major shareholders defer to the US. A senior IMF staffer once complained: “Why do people always say the IMF is unaccountable? We never do anything without checking with the U.S. Treasury Department.”

But the IMF is currently moving in the wrong direction: instead of cancelling Haiti’s debt, the IMF is trying to add to it. Jubilee USA says it’s “dismayed” by an IMF plan to add $100 million to Haiti’s debt burden. “Loans for disaster relief are totally inappropriate,” says Neil Watkins, director of Jubilee USA.

If there were ever a time that these wrongheaded US policies towards Haiti could be turned around, surely that time is now. You can weigh in on Temporary Protected Status for Haiti here and on debt cancellation for Haiti here.

15 thoughts on “How (not) to help Haitians

  1. fishstilldie says:

    I love it. After the dust clears, there will be a concerted effort to rebuild Haiti. We must make it clear what will create lasting stability in Haiti: Cancel debt, allow refugees to recieve protected status, allow the Lavalas Party and Jean B. Aristide to return to Haiti, and break the neo-liberal strangle hold the elite has on the country.

    In my efforts to contribute, I will remember the wisdom of not substituting technical solutions for political ones.

  2. tristancall says:

    update: it appears that the Obama administration has halted deportations of Haitians in the U.S. and has granted “temporary protected status”:,0,1452288.story

  3. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    “self determination and autonomy” with money from daddy when ya need it.

  4. tristancall says:

    I’m not sure whether the “money from daddy” you’re referring to is the money that their military dictator borrowed from international lenders and then left Haitians with their debt, or whether you’re talking about current disaster relief money, but either way that’s a pretty dismissive response to people who have been brutalized by chance and by design.

    What other kind of autonomy is there than the kind where people get to make their own decisions (politically), but then when they have a devastating experience we all try to help each other out (financially or materially)? I fail to see how your comment is a contribution to this conversation.

  5. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    probably not trying hard enough…

  6. Brian Murphy says:

    I signed ONE’s petition to cancel Haiti’s debt. Thanks for the heads up on these initiatives!

  7. jennifer says:

    One quibble–I completely agree with the importance of using this as a chance to help the Haitians build back autonomously and in a more favorable economic situation. BUT, I see no reason that my interest in and ability to send “crates of supplies” and make “credit card donations” in any way objectifies the Haitian people, as the tone of that sentence suggests.
    The devastation from this disaster will be far reaching, and addressing it adequately will require long term political (or not) planning and intervention. Right now. people are dying. Right now. Haitians have a need that cannot be met through debt forgiveness or the granting of temporary protected status.

  8. tristancall says:

    quibble accepted and ratified. i am in favor of as many crates of supplies and electronic dollars you can send there (if you do, I recommend donating to Partners in Health, but there are many good organizations working there). the “not” helpful way of getting involved that i’m referring to is granting loans; i didn’t mean to suggest that supplies and money aren’t helpful. quite the opposite.

  9. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    How about naval vessels and military cargo planes are they not helpful in delivering crates of supplies…..

    • tristan call says:

      civilianized vessels and planes would make for a much better aid program, I think, yes. If the military donated (permanently) a chunk of its vehicles for emergency response worldwide, to use them for relief rather than threat of war, that would obviously be an enormous step forward.

  10. SUNNofaB.C.Rich says:

    I doubt it… not to mention the impracticality and foolishness of indiscriminately distributing military ships and planes all over the world (like… Somalia?) Anyways (armed) UN troops have been in Haiti for a while now. So while you might be offended by guys in camouflage helping Haiti, I’m sure at this moment the Haitians aren’t.

    • tristan call says:

      that’s probably true, as long as we follow Bill Quigley’s rule: “Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief – but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.”

      the unfortunate reality is that when us soldiers wearing camouflage go somewhere, they usually don’t leave their guns behind. guns are comforting for the soldiers, yes, but create a situation very different from ‘aid’.

  11. Walter Lewkowski says:

    I was reading a very depressing article by a fellow named Alex Kurtagic. He states the Haiti should be left alone. By having Westerners interfere in the Haitian culture by building large buildings the busybody Westerners have created the situation where 200,000 Haitians were killed.

    If this benign neglect is true way to treat people then we are criminally contributing to Haitians death in the future.

    • tristan call says:


      From a brief scan, Alex’s website seems to be a white supremacist site that is arguing that we should ‘leave Haiti alone’ because Haitians aren’t capable of having healthy societies. The site is unimpressive, and the article is mostly good as a compilation of historical documents on the rhetoric of white supremacy (arguing that Haiti was rich and prosperous until all those pesky slaves rebelled and seized freedom), rather than for any good ethical thought.

      • tristan call says:

        I’m certainly open to responses that really argue for non-interventionism for the sake of not meddling on other people’s affairs and autonomy, but this article is clearly suggesting non-intervention for the purposes of white power, a fully repulsive foundation for a foreign policy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 262 other followers



Recent Comments

threattadmin on Evicting God!
Lilly on Speaking Truth to Power: 9/11…
fwsimmons on Evicting God!
jkotab on Sparrows Matter
Korance on Trading a Cross for a Fla…
Korance on Trading a Cross for a Fla…
Ron Madson on Where is Jeremiah Today?
Stephanie Steffen on Where is Jeremiah Today?
%d bloggers like this: