Who will help Haiti?

Mary Anastasia O’Grady in the WSJ:

Ten months after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake killed more than 200,000 Haitians and destroyed an already decrepit infrastructure, some 1.3 million impoverished souls are still barely surviving in tent cities around the country. Living conditions are deplorable and after nearly a year, optimism about a way out of what were once dubbed “temporary” camps has dimmed.

Charitable organizations fronted by Clinton and Bush urge us to do something to help, and, in regards to the cholera epidemic, the country is asking for neighboring countries to offer assistance.

Here’s the $64 million question: Is Haiti’s seemingly intractable misery the result of a society and culture that is incapable of organizing itself to create civil order and a viable economy? Or is it the consequence of ruling kleptocrats—abetted or at least tolerated by influential foreigners—treating every economic transaction in the country as an opportunity for personal enrichment?

Evidence abounds that it is the latter. So why have the U.S. and the U.N. refused to take even small steps toward shutting down an official corruption racket that pushes millions of helpless people into lives of desperation? Instead they’ve put Bill Clinton—whose political family famously went into business with the notoriously corrupt former President Jean Bertrand Aristide—in charge of rebuilding the country with billions in foreign aid.

Money donated is often money wasted. Spent on bribes. Bribes such as those that occur in the port at Port-au-Prince.

Writing for the online magazine The Root in October, Haitian-born business consultant Yves Savain explained that pulling a container out of the port in the capital “takes walking the documents from office to office to secure an unspecified number of signatures.” The full cost, which he said includes “legitimate and illicit duties,” constitutes “a substantial and arbitrary financial drain on all sectors of the national economy.”

How bad is it? Very.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Mr. Joseph says, “I had so many [nongovernmental organizations] calling me and saying ‘ambassador, could you help me get our things out of the port?’ They kept telling me [port officials] want so many thousands of dollars to get the things out.” Mr. Joseph says that by calling the minister of finance he could sometimes get the goods out but that he wasn’t always successful.

Another example: A Nov. 14 CBS “60 Minutes” report featured the case of six containers destined for an NGO housing project that had been “stuck” in the port for months. No one could figure out why the goods couldn’t be released, but the NGO was still forced to pay $6,000 to the Haitian government for an “imposed storage fee.”

A few weeks ago, Mitch Albom made an emergency trip to Haiti to bring supplies to a Mission he has attempted to aid since the earthquake. On his radio show, he described the bribes he needed to hand out just to get through customs. This is a man who is simply traveling there to HELP Haitians, and he needs to grease the palms at every turn.

For all those dying on the streets, it isn’t the world who is ignoring their plight. It is their corrupt countrymen who are responsible for the conditions.

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