The government “free school” program – A victory?

Port-au-Prince, 13 February 2013 – “PSUGO – A victory for students!” banners and posters all over the capital and provincial cities blare out. Photos show smiling, handsome students in clean uniforms.

The Program for Universal Free and Obligatory Education (Programme de scolarisation universelle gratuite et obligatoire - PSUGO) seeks to educate “more than a million” students per year for five years, according to the Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (Ministère de l’éducation nationale et de formation professionnelle – MENFP). But is the US$43 million-a-year program a “victory” for students?

A two-month investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne discovered problems and a great deal of dissatisfaction. In addition to suspicions of corruption, the amount paid to the schools is clearly inadequate, the payments don’t arrive on time, and the professors are underpaid. Also, most of the schools visited by journalists had not received the promised manuals and school supplies, items crucial for assuring a minimally acceptable standard of education.

The teacher chants out words to students who have no books, papers or pencils in a
Darbonne public school.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

“In my opinion, the PSUGO is a failure!” exclaimed Jean Clauvin Joly, director of the Centre Culturel du Divin Roi, a private school in Croix-des-Bouquets about 15 km. north of the capital. “Last year, we suffered under that program. One of the many terrible things was that we were paid late. Thanks to the delay, a lot of our teachers quit.”

At Joly’s school, the first and second grades share the same room and the same teacher: Francie Déogène. A thin sheet of plywood that also serves as a “blackboard” separates her classroom from others. Dérogène doesn’t have a desk. She piles everything on a plastic chair. Facing her, on four benches, ten students repeat together “a pineapple, a melon…” This is a writing course.

Students at the Institution Mixe du Temple d’Adoration in Léogâne, a private school.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

“The state guarantees the right to education”

During the most recent presidential elections, “lekòl gratis” or “free school” was one of the refrains of the singer-candidate Joseph Michel Martelly, sworn in as president on May 14 2011.

But in Haiti, the guarantee of free education is not just a politician’s promise; it is above all an obligation, according to the 1987 Constitution which says (Article 32): “The state guarantees the right to education” and “education is the responsibility of the state and its territorial divisions. They must make schooling available to all, free of charge, and assure that public and private sector teaches are properly trained.”

According to the MENFP, the PSUGO program aims to pay all school fees for the first and second cycles of schooling, roughly equivalent to primary school. The amounts allocated are 250 gourdes (about US$6) for public school students and about US$90 or 3,600 gourdes for those at private school. (In Haiti, most schools – a little over 80 percent – are private.) In addition to paying the school fees, PSUGO promised to open new schools, and to make sure students had the necessary school supplies and books.

One of numerous banners annoucing that 1,287,214 children “are sitting in school
for free.”
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

All over the capital and across the country, on giant posters, and on the television and radio, on Facebook and in newspapers, PSUGO proclaims that 1,021,144, or more, are now in school, thanks to the Martelly government.

In fact, HGW was not able to confirm the figure and has reason to doubt it, first and foremost because it is only one of many. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste in December 2012, a ministry official said that 1,287,814 students had been sent to school for the current academic year. Where did the extra 250,000 students come from? Also, for the previous year, the MENFP publicly claimed that 837,489 students had been sent to school, but in a document filed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the figure was only 165,000. Another reason to entertain doubts is the fact that PSUGO seems to be without any kind of internal or external supervision.[Note - HGW could not verify the figures in Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe's "tweet," either.]

 The origin of the money financing the program also raises questions. According to the government, PSUGO is financed mostly by “the public coffers, taxes imposed on international telephone calls and on money transfers coming from the diaspora to Haiti,” tariffs that many consider illegal. Because the fund created to receive the revenues – the National Fund for Education (Fonds National pour l’Education) – has not yet been approved by the parliament, the money collected remains blocked, according to many reports.

Even if the legality of the tariffs is not considered, mystery surrounds the question of how much money has been collected and spent to date. In May 2012, one official claimed the government had spent 900 million gourdes or about US$22 million. However, in another interview, a ministry official also mentioned that 490,000 of the 837,489 PSUGO students had gone to public school, meaning that 347,489 attended private institutions. If the amount paid was US$90 (or 3,600 gourdes) for each student, then the government spent US$31,274,010 or about 1,314 million gourdes, for the private school students alone – a figure much higher than 900,000 gourdes. [See also Haïti Liberté, 23 janvier 2013].

HGW did not have access to the PSUGO budget, nor could it visit all of the 10,000 schools allegedly inscribed in the program. However, the inquiry discovered many reasons that government officials, as well as the Haitian people, might want to hesitate before crying “victory.”

PSUGO has not kept its promises

Jean Marie Monfils, a teacher and also the director of a school in Léogâne, about 30 kms. west of Port-au-Prince, is furious about PSUGO’s false promises: “They talked about a uniform, about hot lunches, and other things. But from where I am sitting, I can say we haven’t gotten hardly anything. We are the ‘forgotten’ of Léogâne.”

At a public school in Darbonne, a little girl points to images while the teacher chants
words and claps in rhythm.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

Monfils’ experience is not unique. Hercule André, a man in his fifties who directs a public school in Darbonne, outside Léogâne, lauds the initiative, but he adds, “The only benefit that the students get is that they don’t pay anything. Apart from that, there’s nothing. The students come to school, but they don’t have the books that were promised so that they can follow courses.”

In January, a number of teachers under PSUGO contract in Anse-à-Pitre in southeast Haiti said they had not been paid since October.

“For four months we have worked for free,” professor Jean-Rony Gabriel told AlterPresse. “I am responsible for my family. I have to travel many kilometers to get to my workplace.”

HGW’s investigation in the capital and around Léogâne confirmed the claims. Only two of the 20 schools visited reported having received school supplies and books. Also, as of late November 2012 – ten weeks after classes had started – only one of the 20 schools reported having been paid for the current school year, and 16 out of 20 said the school still had not received the final payment for the previous school year.

“I can’t even tell you if we are part of the program or not,” Monfils admitted, with an air of desperation. “At the moment I am speaking to you, we haven’t gotten anything from the authorities. It’s a really huge problem, because many of the schools that signed up with PSUGO haven’t even gotten what was due them for the 2011-2012 school year. My school has really suffered.”

A representative of the National Confederation of Haitian Teachers (Confédération nationale des éducateurs et éducatrices haïtiens – CNEH), one of the country’s national teachers’ unions, said much the same.

“The fact that the government hasn’t disbursed the money on time has been a big problem for school directors, who haven’t been able to pay their teachers,” reported Edith Délourdes Delouis, teacher and CNEH General Secretary.

“Turn towards quality"

The quality of education is another challenge for PSUGO. For this reason, the ministry announced that the current school year would see a “turn towards quality” with more supervision.

“The ministry is very clearly putting the accent on quality,” MENFP spokesman Miloody Vincent told HGW. “Access, yes, but also better quality, because education only makes sense if it’s a good education… Our new start includes training better professors, assuring children get school books, and supervising the teaching that students are getting.”

“We are really going to focus on supervision,” PSUGO coordinator Elicel Paul added in a separate interview. President Martelly also stressed “quality” when he distributed 100 motorcycles for regional MENFP offices last.

“We have to assure the quality of the education and supervise the services offered to students,” he said on March 15 2012.

However, HGW’s inquiry revealed that the schools participating in PSUGO operate almost entirely without supervision. Of 20 schools visited, 25 percent had never received a single visit and another 24 percent had received only one.

Guillaume Jean, director of the Collège Chrétien in Léogâne confirmed, embarrassed: “We haven’t gotten many visits. They just call to get information.”

Errors and Fraud?

Perhaps because of its large size and even larger budget, the PSUGO program appears to have attracted cheaters.

In July 2012, a regional MENFP official in Port-de-Paix allegedly stole over five million gourdes (over US$119,000). According to media reports, he used a group of young men as fake “school directors,” and wrote them checks of 200,000 and 300,000 gourdes. The official implicated fled to the Dominican Republic.

HGW does not have the means to investigate potential PSUGO fraud at the national level, or even in the capital. By chance, however, journalists discovered a school name recorded on the MENFP list as having received payments, even though it had never functioned.

A sign advertising a school that never opened, but which is on the list of schools
paid by PSUGO last year.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

“Soon – the Justin Lhérisson College!” a small dusty sign announces on the Darbonne road near Léogâne.

“That was a project one of the local mayors set up when he was a candidate,” a neighbor claimed. “Once he got elected, he dropped it.”

The Civil Society Initiative (Initiative Société Civile – ISC) last year did a study of PSUGO, concluding that the program had created number of phantom schools.

“In our study, we discovered that a third or a quarter of the schools being paid by the government hadn’t even been officially approved,” ISC Director Rosny Desroches, a former minister of education, told HGW.

What kind of education, for what kind of children?

The 1987 Haitian Constitution guarantees the right to free, quality education. In spite of the problems of fraud, late salaries, and the non-delivery of school supplies and books, the Martelly government does appear to send some children to school, even if the exact number is unknown. But what kind of schools, for what kind of education, and for which children?

A public school in the PSUGO program receives 250 gourdes for a year per student, and a private school, 3,600 gourdes. These figures – per day – amount to less than one gourde (2 US cents) per day at public schools and 22.5 gourdes (50 US cents) per day at private schools.

By comparison, one year of primary school at the Lycée Alexandre Dumas (one of the best French system schools in the country) costs over 100,000 gourdes (US$2,389) for a year or about 625 gourdes per day: over 600 times the PSUGO public school price per day, and almost 30 times the PSUGO private school price. (This figure does not include health insurance, book rental fees and school supplies.) A medium-level school, like the Collège Le Normalien, costs about 20,000 gourdes (US$475) a year for first grade, about 125 gourdes per day.

CNEH’s professor Delouis explained: “In the private sector, there are many categories of schools. There is the category for the rich people (there are few of these but they are the best), one for the poor, one for those who are extremely poor, and one for those who are just coping… when in fact a school should be a place where all levels of society mix.”

Professor Haram Joseph, director of a school in Darbonne, is despondent.

“In my opinion, if the government continues the way it has started, we will have a lot of school directors with full pockets, but children who don’t know anything,” he said, sadly.

Students at a public school in Croix-des-Bouquets. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint Val

At another school with both PSUGO money and foreign assistance, it’s almost noon. Under a blazing sun, scores of students focus on their work. The Charlotin Marcadieu national school was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake and today functions in 14 tents arranged in three rows. Gravel crunches under students’ feet. Before heading into his “classroom,” one of the teachers says, bitterly: “After 10 in the morning, these tent-rooms are like furnaces.”


Phoenix Project... born again?

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 22 January 2013 – For more than two years, teams of US and Haitian businesspeople have been working on massive public-private business deal: a factory that would transform garbage from the capitol into electricity, a resource so rare in Haiti, only 30 percent of the population has access.

But the project involves a technology so potentially dangerous, it has been outlawed in some cities and countries. It would also commit the state to a 30-year contract.

The project emerged from the ruins of the January 12 2010. US businesspeople said they came up with the idea because they wanted to take part in the reconstruction but “do more than make a profit.”

“We want Haiti to be energy independent,” explained a Haitian representative of the US firm, International Electric Power (IEP) of Pittsburgh, PA, USA. The representative, a well-known businessman, agreed to speak with Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) only if his name was withheld, saying he had critical words for some actors who he says are trying to block the project. “We invested millions of dollars… It will be a shame if we have to abandon it.”

Ashes to Ashes

Phoenix and its 30 megawatt (MW) plant is the brainchild of IEP and a “Waste to Energy” or WtE project. At first, IEP was planning a 50 MW installation, which would also use locally excavated “lignite” or “soft coal.” In many countries where garbage is too “organic” or has too much liquid content, coal or another fuel has to be added in order to raise the caloric level of the burn. However, because coal-burning is going out of vogue due to its contribution to global warming, the lignite option was dropped and IEP scaled back to a 30 MW plant.*

A WtE plant in Mallorca, Spain, built by the company IEP says will build
Haiti's plant
. Source: Ros Roca

Presented as a project that will create “2,000 direct jobs and 8,000 indirect jobs in Haiti” that will “bring efficient solutions to various key problems facing Haitian society today,” Phoenix is not a non-profit enterprise. It is a business, a public-private partnership, where the state will own 10 percent and the private entities will own 90 percent. In addition, the state – through the Electricity of Haiti (EDH in French) – will promise for 30 years to pay for the upkeep and operation of the factory and to buy electricity “on demand,” according to IEP. Finally, the government will donate 400 hectares north of the capital for the factory site.

Founded in 2005, IEP has never built an incineration plant. However, according to its website, it is involved in one bio-digestion project and two wind projects, one of them in Haiti. IEP says it will sub-contract the factory construction to the Spanish firm Ros Roca which built a similar plant on Mallorca in that country.

IEP needs at least US$250 million to build the plan, according to Edward Rawson, vice president of the company. In an email interview with HGW in December 2012, Rawson said IEP is on the point of getting that financing from the US government agency Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which guarantees low-interest loans to US companies working in foreign countries. According to Rawson, OPIC has “expressed interest in investing as a senior lender.” However, he added, the agency is waiting for the results of an IEP-sponsored study on the environmental impacts of Phoenix, being carried out by the British firm Atkins.

The Pennsylvania business added that the UN Environment Program (UNEP) is also doing a study, this one for the Haitian government.

Asked for details, the UNEP’s Andrew Morton responded, on January 9 2013: “Yes, UNEP is conducting an independent review on behalf of the Government of Haiti and in cooperation with International Electric Power. The review is ongoing and the process is confidential.” Morton added that the study could take another three to six months, but that once completed, “a public report” will be published.

Haitian officials support Project Phoenix

Project Phoenix falls right into the government’s vision for energy, according to the Minister Delegate for Energy Security, René Jean Jumeau. 

“The project is part of our Action Plan for the Development of Electricity. We aim to build factories that will turn trash into energy all over the country,” he told HGW in an interview on October 10 2012. “The transformation of garbage into electricity will allow us to achieve two objectives. The first is increase our energy output and the second, linked to the first, is to better handle our waste situation.”

The director of the capitol region’s trash agency agreed.

“Once this project is going, we will have a much cleaner metropolitan region,” said to Donald Paraison, head of the Metropolitan Service for the Collection of Solid Waste.

A typical street in downtown Port-au-Prince, where mounds of garbage, vendors
and pedestrians battle for space
. Photo: Jude Stanley Roy/HGW

With the two major agencies on board, IEP and the Haitian government signed two agreements in May 2012, and they have already prepared the legal documents for the eventual public-private business, known as a “Société mixte anonyme” or “Anonymous Mixed Society,” in Haitian law.

But the project is blocked.

Rejections and Objections

IEP officials note that it appears the Haitian government can’t move forward on the project, even though it will be almost entirely privately financed.

“We are waiting on approval from the multinational donor community,” Rawson said, because of the project’s “size and complexity.”

IEP’s representative in Haiti was more direct.

“Certain ‘friends of Haiti’ are against the project,” he sniped. “And the Haitian government is like a child. It is afraid of moving forward because there were certain objections to the project. Until those issues are addressed, it won’t move ahead, because it is afraid it might lose its foreign aid... But we are not giving up.”

In fact, the project was rejected twice by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), formerly responsible for approving and coordinating all reconstruction projects, never approved Project Phoenix.

Shut down since October 2011, there was nobody from the IHRC available to discuss the dossier. However, a staffer at one of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) who was consultant to the commission at the time (in other words, a staffer from the World Bank [WB] or the Inter-American Development Bank [IDB]) agreed to speak with HGW on the condition that his or her name not be revealed, since staffers are not allowed to speak with journalists without express permission.

A second IFI employee who was also aware of the dossier told HGW: “both the WB and the IDB studied the project and both of them rejected it because it would be terrible for Haiti.”

More recently, the IDB’s Gilles Damais told HGW that since the Bank is not part of the project, it “will issue neither an approval nor a disapproval.”

However, in his emails to HGW, IEP’s Rawson repeatedly gave the impression that the IDB, the WB and other institutions will be involved, saying they have been “engaged.”

Risks and doubts

In the telephone interview, the first IFI staffer outlined the principle objections to the project: a lack of transparency and the potential commitment of the state in an activity where it is already losing millions of dollars.

In fact, the Phoenix Project was presented without any open bidding process. IEP chose its partners without any government supervision. For example, the Spanish company Ros Roca will build the factory, Boucard Pest Control will be one of the firms collecting garbage, and the Atkins company is carrying out the environmental impact study.  

“We haven’t been able to move forward yet because there are international partners who want to make sure the project is carried out in a manner that is transparent, competitive and unbiased,” Minister Delegate for Energy Security, René Jean Jumeau, confirmed.

More worrying is the financial commitment EDH and the government would make for the next 30 years, where the investors would get paid to run the factory during a period of time.

"The project is a big liability for the government,” the IFI employee told HGW, noting that the Haitian government doesn’t have the capacity to manage the existing electricity system. Indeed, a recent IDB report claims that “[t]otal electricity losses are close to 70% of electricity production with commercial losses representing estimated revenue loss of US$161 million/year for EDH.”

Typical electric pole with scores of illegal connections. Photo: Jude Stanley Roy/HGW

IEP recognizes the challenge.

“After 1986, there was a popular movement that became populism and then turned into demagogic governments. All of that cost the country dearly,” the local representative said, adding that the “bad governments” allowed the population to make illegal connections to the grid in order to maintain their popularity.

By signing an accord with IEP, the state and EDH will promise to pay a private (and mostly foreign) company for 30 years. Port-au-Prince has already experienced what happens with the state misses a payment. The lights go out.

Environmental questions

The Phoenix Project also has two main challenges at the environmental level.

The first concerns Haiti’s trash. According to many studies and sources, Haiti’s garbage is too “organic” and moist, EDH’s Ronald Romain recognized. 

"Our garbage doesn’t have the necessary calorie level” for an incineration-power plant, he said.

This graphic shows that 75 percent of urban waste in Haiti is organic.
Source: Haiti’s Bureau des Mines et d’Energie, 2006,
in "Haiti Waste-to-Energy Opportunity Analysis," 2010 [pdf]

Composition of US urban waste, in "Haiti Waste-to-Energy Opportunity Analysis,"

To assuage doubts, IEP did a two-month study that it claims proved “we have the calorie level we need,” the local representative said. But, like the environmental impact study being done by Atkins, it was paid for and supervised by IEP. Thus, its results are not reliable. HGW did not receive a copy of the report.

But another recent (2010) study – “Haiti Waste-to-Energy Opportunity Analysis,” done by a private firm for a US government agency – raises many questions about IEP’s claims. Looking at three technologies for turning garbage into energy – combustion or incineration, gasification and biodigestion – the report took a clear position.

“The waste stream in Haiti is estimated to contain between 65% and 75% organics… Food waste typically does not make a good fuel or feedstock for combustion or gasification systems. This is because the waste has high moisture content,” the report notes.

The last challenge for the fans of Phoenix concerns the health and environmental risks. Because they are so great, there is a global anti-incineration movement that has even reached cities like Washington, DC. The reasons? Incinerators can emit a cocktail of hundreds of poisonous chemicals and heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and lead. [Download GAIA Factsheet-pdf]

According to GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incineration Alternatives, “in some countries, like Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, there are state or provincial laws, or municipal ordinances, which prohibit the burning of trash.”

Nevertheless, the local representative of IEP said the Phoenix installation would not have any negative effect on the environment or on health.

“After the trash is burned, the emissions will be treated using a sophisticated filtering system. This will allow us to remove the dangerous and sometimes valuable heavy metals,” he explained. “Our emissions will be less toxic than those coming from the existing electricity plants… and less toxic than the smoke that comes from the open-air burning of trash, also.”

But anti-incineration groups like GAIA say “Even the most technologically advanced incinerators release thousands of pollutants that contaminate our air, soil and water,” citing numerous studies to prove their point.

Will the bird emerge from the ashes again?

The future of the Phoenix Project is not certain.

EDH operates at a loss and two studies remain unfinished. OPIC has not yet given the green light. In addition, many wonder if a government that cannot prevent the illegal felling of trees and use of Styrofoam dishes (banned since last year) can adequately supervise an incineration plan.

IEP claims it has the interest and even the support of many actors inside and outside of Haiti. But HGW discovered many reserves. And many risks.

The IFI employee thinks that all the criticism means that perhaps “the project will die on its own.”


Or perhaps, if Haitian and international authorities continue to meet behind closed doors, to carry out projects without transparency, and to insist on speaking anonymously, this Phoenix, like its namesake, will continue to be reborn from its ashes. 


* Note: IEP notes that lignite is not definitely off the table, according to executive Edward Rawson in an email addressed to HGW on December 10, 2012: “[T]he creation of a [lignite] mine and exploitation in partnership with the Government of Haiti remains part of the current agreement between IEP and GOH. This may eventually lead to the development of a power plant near Maissade.”

The local IEP representative added: “The foreigners refuse to let us use lignite because it pollutes too much. However, in their countries, they use coal… In fact, coal is what made Pittsburg rich, for example!”

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.


Haiti-Dominican Republic Trade: Exports or Exploits?

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 21 December 2012 – “I get everything at the Haiti-Dominican Republic: carrots, squash, eggplant, cabbage, peppers, eggs, salami… everything. The border is what feeds us,” explained a merchant as she stood by her groaning stand.

The food seller – who refused to give her name because because she feared reprisals from Haitian tax collectors – sells vegetables and other food products at the Croix des Bossales marketplace, the biggest open market in the capital. Every day, hundreds of buyers and sellers clog the noisy, grimy patch of land near the country’s main port.

A typical scene – mounds of Dominican products for sale in a marketplace
in Pétion-ville.
Photo: Jude Stanley Roy/HGW

Mountains of Dominican pasta, towers of Dominican eggs, mounds of Dominican plantains and piles upon piles of tomato paste, ketchup, mayonnaise and other prepared foods are everywhere to be seen. The view is similar in Haitian supermarkets.

And like the vegetable dealer, other merchants are all surrounded by mostly Dominican wares. There are clearly products to be had. But almost none of them are produced in the country… most come from the Dominican Republic.

The situation is similar in Tabarre, Croix-des-bouquets and Salomon marketplaces, the Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) investigative journalism partnership discovered.

In these four key open-air markets serving the capital region, Haitian products are not easy to find. Not even for the merchants.

Une tour d'œufs dominicains à côté de mayonnaise dominicaine et de
pâte de tomate haïtienne.
Photo: Jude Stanley Roy/HGW

“We can’t find them. They hardly even exist,” an egg seller said. She sat next to a tower of eggs stacked in grey Dominican egg crates.

In the hardware stores, a similar tale. Sacks of Dominican cement reaching up to the ceilings. In most of the eight stores visited by HGW teams, salespeople said cement from the neighboring nation sold at a lower price than the “Haitian” product. (Actually, “Haitian” cement is imported by the boatload and bagged in country.)

“Haitian cement is more expensive, but it’s better. In contrast, Dominican cement is cheaper, but it’s also lower in quality,” a worker at GB Hardware said. Over at Alliance Distribution S.A., a salesman reported that it was “easier and quicker” to get Dominican cement delivered.

Is the flow of Dominican products a simple case of exports, or is Haiti’s neighbor exploiting an economy weakened by a devastating earthquake?

Did the earthquake shake up economic relations?

The January 12 2010 earthquake killed some 200,000 and made over one million people homeless. It also destroyed eight percent of capital goods, according to the World Bank. The agricultural sector alone suffered US$8 million in losses, according to the Haitian government. In addition to lost crops and damage to key transportation infrastructure, irrigation systems in the earthquake zone were severely damaged.

The crying need for food and other goods – for earthquake victims as well as the thousands of international humanitarian workers – served the Dominican agricultural and industrial sectors well, according to business association representative.

The earthquake had “positive effects for industry, especially for those producing construction materials,” admitted Circé Almanzar Melgen, vice president of the Association of Dominican Republic Industries (AIRD in Spanish).

 As Haiti’s closest neighbor, the Dominican Republic, its businesses and its farmers were “in the right place at the right time,” as the saying goes. But even before the catastrophe, the Dominican Republic was doing well.

In 2000, only three percent of Dominican exports went to Haiti. Nine years later, that number had grown to 15 percent, according to 2012 World Bank report Haití, República Dominicana: Más que la Suma de las Partes (Haiti, Dominican Republic: More than the Sum of its Parts).

Since the earthquake, “Dominican exports to Haitian have grown considerably, rising from US$647.3 million in 2009 to US$869.23 million in 2010 and US$1.018 million in 2011,” according to Magdalena Lizardo of the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development in written comments made public on June 5 2012.

“If we exclude the exports from the Free Trade Zones, Haiti has been – since 2010 – the top recipient of Haitian national exports, which were valued at US$575.6 million in 2011, slightly higher than the US$570.8 million exported to the United States,” Lizardo added. 

“Haiti is the Dominican Republic’s most important market, due to its proximity and because of how easy it has been to penetrate the market,” Almanzar concurred.

Un camion de ciment dominicain en dehors d'un chantier de reconstruction
à Port-au-Prince.
Photo: Jude Stanley Roy/HGW

The president of the Santo Domingo Chamber of Commerce and Production is clear on the reasons for the increase.

“The increase has happened because, first of all, you need the products. There is a market that is buying, but there are not suppliers selling. You need certain products. If you had factories and industries that suffered [because of the earthquake], then there is even more need,” Maria Isabel Gasso, president of the Chamber, said.

Widening Commercial Deficit

Without question, Haiti needs the products.

The country has suffered an increasingly negative trade balance since the 1970s. Prior, Haiti was largely self-sufficient in food, cement and other products. However, the island nation has had a mostly extraverted economy since before her 1804 independence. The governments that succeeded the revolution rarely developed economic policies that would permit and encourage national industries and modernized agricultural production that would be able to keep up with population growth.

Local elites mostly exported raw materials (coffee, cacao, indigo, sugar, etc.) and imported foodstuffs and other finished products.

Haiti not follow the “import substitution” trend that swept most ex-colonies in Latin America, Africa and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s. Import substitution policies allowed local industries to develop under the protection of high tariffs and other government-sponsored advantages.

“We are following a growth model that weakens productive sectors in the face of imports and importers,” explained economist Camille Chalmers, professor at the State University of Haiti and director of a platform of organizations who promote “alternative development.”

On the other side of the border, however, Haiti’s neighbor followed a different path by promoting national industries.

“The Dominican model dates back fifty of sixty years,” according to Maria Isabel Gasso, president of the Santo Domingo Chamber of Commerce. “For a while, there were laws that promoted industries and production, and also laws promoting exports and the Free Trade Zones. These industries have been there for years… and they have benefited from various policies promoting exports and production.”

Neoliberal knockdown

The application of neoliberal economic policies – reduction of protective tariffs, privatization of state industries, cuts to social services and other programs – at the end of the last century took a heavy toll on an ailing economy. Tariffs on food and other agricultural products were first cut in 1982. They plummeted further – most to zero percent – in 1995. 

Chart comparing the levels of some of Haiti’s protective tariffs.
Source: USAID Office of Food for Peace Market Analysis, 2010

Haiti currently has the lowest tariffs in the Caribbean.

The drastic reductions were part of a 1994 agreement referred to as the “Paris Plan.” The accord was between the exiled government of Jean Bertrand Aristide government and the international financial institutions (World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the countries commonly known as the “friends of Haiti”: the United States, France and Canada.

The agreement is seen as a quid pro quo. The Aristide government would enact a series of radical neoliberal policies in exchange for international support for its return to power in 1994. (Aristide was overthrown in a bloody coup d’état, supported by local elites as well as the US Central Intelligence Agency, in 1991.)

Since 1995, as Haiti’s trade balance has skyrocketed, as have food imports. The deficit stood at about US$500 million in 1995. In 2000, it was US$813 million and, according to a 2012 IMF report, it will reach about US$2.2 billion for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

Marie Yolène Meritus, who sells Dominican wine, eggs, seasoning,
pasta, tomato paste, and boullion cubes, wearing an “El Crillolito”
brand bib at her stall in the Croix des Bouquets marketplace.
“Our products aren’t to useful to us. Dominican products are better
because we can buy them at a lower price and make a greater profit.”

Photo: HGW

The food “deficit,” in US dollars, stood at US$242 million in 2000. Seven years later, Haiti imported US$342 million worth of food. According to the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture, in 2005, Haiti was importing 57 percent of its food. That figure is undoubtedly higher today.

Ministry of Commerce director general Luc Espéca is conscious of the damages wrought by neoliberal policies.

“Imports have huge impacts on local producers… They work, but the market is invaded [by cheaper products]. Producers can’t sell what they’ve grown. When you work had to produce something, but then you don’t make a profit, you get discouraged,” he explained. 

Imports and the lowered tariffs are not the only reasons Haiti’s agricultural production hasn’t kept pace with population growth. The lack of public and private sector investment in agricultural production, Haiti’s antiquated land tenure system and other factors have all contributed.

But the drop in tariffs dealt a harsh blow.

“When you open your markets without building up productive capacity, you are in effect destroying your own production. Dominican products sell for less. You have to produce in quantity in order to sell at a good price,” Chalmers noted.

The Ministry of Commerce’s Espéca agreed.

“We aren’t applying policies that favor national production,” he said. “What they didn’t understand is that wealth is created by national production, happening inside the country. You can’t open your borders and let all kinds of products in, and think that will create wealth… I believe a serious error has been made.”

The application of neoliberal policies had other effects on the economy.

Once he returned to Haiti in 1994, the Aristide government had to sell off the state enterprises, among them the state cement company. The business operated at a loss during the turbulent years that followed the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship (1987-1991) since the regime had milked it dry and never invested in maintenance and modernization.

However, the Aristide government had a plan to make it profitable. All of the raw materials necessary for cement are present in Haiti, whose geology is largely limestone. But the “Paris Plan” obliged the state to sell it off. The new owners never invested in the factory, and instead use the wharf and buildings to import and bag foreign cement.

“I remember, when I came back to Haiti in 1976, we made everything: pipes, cement, etc.” remembered Gérald Emile “Aby” Brun, a vice president of the 30-year-old Haitian construction and architecture firm TECINA S.A.

Brun regrets that his country no longer produces cement.

The sale of the Cement company “is just one on the list… TELECO [the state telephone company], the flour mill, the same thing happened to all of them… eggs chickens, bananas, and plantains.

A worker unloads Dominican cement at a hardware store in Pétion-ville, Haiti.
Kolos cement is made in the Dominican Republic and imported by the Haitian
company Gilbert Bigio Group.
Photo: Jude Stanley Roy/HGW

Brun lays the blame partly at the feet of Haitian “capitalists.”

“The Haitian capitalist is afraid of the country’s instability and of the corruption of a series of governments,” Burn continued. “He doesn’t want to take any chances and wait 10 or 15 years to make his profit. In fact, Haitian ‘industrialists’ are not industrialists at all. Three-quarters of them are just vendors, merchants.”

Haiti Grassroots Watch could not find data on the exact amount of Dominican cement exported to Haiti, but recent data from the Dominican Association of Portland Cement Producers is telling. Six major companies employ 15,000 people and cement makes up 21 percent of the country’s export. In August 2012, the association announced, “Exports of cement to other markets have risen 34.2 percent in comparison wit the same period last year.”

Where is Haitian production headed?

Both sides of the border agree. Haitian production cannot satisfy the nation’s demand, and Dominican producers are increasingly capitalizing on this weakness, especially since the January 2012 earthquake.

Many are calling for the Haitian government to rescue Haitian national production.

“The Haitian state is not defending Haitian economic actors,” according to Chalmers.

On the other side of the island, the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Santo Domingo practically agrees.

“I personally would like to see Haitian products here, but the Haitian government is the one who needs to promote what it needs to promote in Haiti in order for there to be exports,” Maria Isabel Gasso, president of the Santo Domingo Chamber of Commerce, said. “They need a plan. When a boat leaves port without a destination, it doesn’t get anywhere.”

Surrounded by her mountains of Dominican vegetables, seated next to her colleagues hawking Dominican pastas and eggs, the Croix de Bossales merchant agrees with Gasso. She wants to see change, but she remains a pessimist.

“We need a change but where will it come from? I don’t know. All we hear are beautiful words,” she said. “We need people to become aware so that we can rescue the country from this terrible situation.”

Milo Milfort/Haiti Grassroots Watch

This report is part of the "New Visions for Haitian-Dominican Reality – More and better journalism" program, financed by the European Union and coordinated by the UNESCO Chair in Communication, Democracy and Governance at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

  Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.


World Bank "success" undermines Haitian democracy

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Dec. 20 2012 – A $61 million dollar, eight-year World Bank community development project implemented across half of Haiti has successfully repaired roads, built schools and distributed livestock.

But is also helped undermine an already weak state, damaged Haiti’s social fabric, carried out what could be called “social and political reengineering,” and raised questions of waste and corruption and contributed to Haiti’s growing status as an “NGO Republic” by creating new non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Read the three-part series

Watch the video


Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.


Community Radio Reopens After Protests

Port-au-Prince, HAITI, 3 December 2012 – A community radio silenced for a month by government authorities opened again on Saturday December 1 thanks to the mobilization of members of over a dozen community radio stations, press organizations and others in the southern city of Les Cayes.

On November 9, the state telecommunications agency – Conseil National de Télécommunication or CONATEL – shut down Radio Voice of Claudy Museau (Vwa Klodi Mizo - RVKM), a radio station founded on May 1 1996 by the Unified Popular Movement of Les Cayes (Mouvement Unité Populaire des Cayes - MUPAC).

Radio VKM is named from a professor and democratic militant who was killed during the bloody coup d’état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1991-1994) and is well known in the city and the region for its programs.

Haiti’s 1977 telecommunications law dates from the Duvalier dictatorship and does not recognize community radios, according to an institution that works with the stations, the Society for the Animation of Social Communication (Sosyete Animasyon Kominikasyon Sosyal - SAKS).

A new law has been ready since 2007, thanks to SAKS and other community media associations (Asosyasyon Medya Kominotè Ayisyen – AMEKA, and Rezo Fanm Radyo Kominotè Ayisyen - REFRAKA). So far, however, parliamentarians have not voted on it.

"Community Radios Won't Be Shut Down!" Photo: M. Milfort/HGW

Reached by telephone on Monday, the director of RVKM said he and others at the station were pleased with the result of last week’s protests.

“We are very pleased with the decision. It’s really welcome,” said Jean Claudy Aristil, who is also the news director. “This is an important step for freedom of the press in Haiti.”

The November 9 radio shutdown was denounced with vehemence in a number of communiqués from local and international organizations, and also in a demonstration on November 28. Dozens of members of community radio stations from across the country, joined by students and representatives of various organizations, filled the street in front of the CONATEL and Ministry of Communication buildings.

“Community radios are the result of struggles by democratic and popular sectors! You can’t just shut them down!”

“Long live freedom of the press – NO to censorship!”

“Censorship (a muzzle) is to democracy what lemon is to milk!”

These were some of the slogans on signs carried by demonstrators.

“CONATEL is using the legal argument to close VKM,” Sony Estéus, director of SAKS, protested during the march.

During the demonstration, the Minister of Communication Ady Jean Gardy invited representatives to an ad hoc meeting.

“Censorship (a muzzle) is to democracy what lemon is to milk!”
Photo: M. Milfort/AKJ

That consultation and other negotiations last week resulted in the re-opening of the radio on December 1, and the decision that all community radios would be allowed to operate “until the publication of a law… thanks to an authorization that will be published by CONATEL,” according to RVKM’s Aristil.

SAKS, which has worked with community radios since 1992, said it was cautiously optimistic about the government’s moves.

“We have already supplied a list of the country’s 45 community stations to the relevant offices: CONATEL and the Ministry of Communication,” said SAKS journalist Claudja Jeanne Jocelyn.


Milo Milfort / J-Lab and Haiti Grassroots Watch

 RVKM is one of dozens of community radios across the country who partner with Haiti Grassroots Watch

Page 1 ... 2 3 4 5 6 ... 9 Next 5 Entries »