What Chelsea Clinton Saw in Haiti 8 Years Ago

“The incompetence is mind numbing,” Chelsea Clinton told her parents. “The UN people I encountered were frequently out of touch … anachronistic in their thinking at best and arrogant and incompetent at worst.. There is NO accountability in the UN system or international humanitarian system.”

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Looking back now, the US-led response to Haiti’s earthquake on January 12, 2010 was a disaster from which Haitians have never recovered. But at the time the U.S. media presented it as a great success.
 
That perception was not by accident. In 2015, secret e-mails released by the Obama State Department revealed that top officials had mounted a successful media campaign to counter negative stories, while a brutally honest review by Secretary Clinton’s daughter Chelsea was kept quiet…
 
Excerpt from 2015 Politico article:
 
“We waged a very successful campaign against the negative stories concerning our involvement in Haiti,” Judith McHale, the under-secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, wrote on February 26, 2010…
 
But one person even closer to [Secretary of State Clinton] was singing a different tune—very, very quietly. On February 22, after a four-day visit to the quake zone, Chelsea Clinton authored a seven-page memo which she addressed to “Dad, Mom,” and copied their chief aides…
 
Chelsea Clinton was blunt in her report, confident the recipients would respect her request in the memo’s introduction to remain an “invisible soldier.”
 
She had first come to the quake zone six days after the disaster with her father and then-fiancé, Mark Mezvinsky. Now she was returning with the medical aid group Partners in Health, whose co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, was her father’s deputy in his Office of the UN Special Envoy for Haiti. What she saw profoundly disturbed her.
 
Five weeks after the earthquake, international responders were still in relief mode: U.S. soldiers roamed Port-au-Prince streets on alert for signs of social breakdown, while aid groups held daily coordination meetings inside a heavily guarded UN compound ordinary Haitian couldn’t enter.
 
But Haitians had long since moved on into their own recovery mode, many in displacement camps they had set up themselves, as responders who rarely even spoke the language, Kreyòl, worked around them, oblivious to their efforts.
 
“The incompetence is mind numbing,” she told her parents. “The UN people I encountered were frequently out of touch … anachronistic in their thinking at best and arrogant and incompetent at worst.” “There is NO accountability in the UN system or international humanitarian system.”
 
The weak Haitian government, which had lost buildings and staff in the disaster, had something of a plan, she noted. Yet because it had failed to articulate its wishes quickly enough, foreigners rushed forward with a “proliferation of ad hoc efforts by the UN and INGOs [international nongovernmental organizations] to ‘help,’ some of which have helped … some of which have hurt … and some which have not happened at all.”
 
The former first daughter recognized something that scores of other foreigners had missed: that Haitians were not just sitting around waiting for others to do the work.
 
“Haitians in the settlements are very much organizing themselves … Fairly nuanced settlement governance structures have already developed,” she wrote, giving the example of camp home to 40,000 displaced quake survivors who had established a governing committee and a series of sub-committees overseeing security, sanitation, women’s needs and other issues.
 
“They wanted to help themselves, and they wanted reliability and accountability from their partners,” Chelsea Clinton wrote. But that help was not coming. The aid groups had ignored requests for T-shirts, flashlights and pay for the security committee, and the U.S. military had apparently passed on the committee’s back-up plan that they provide security themselves.
 
“The settlements’ governing bodies—as they shared with me—are beginning to experience UN/INGO fatigue given how often they articulate their needs, willingness to work—and how little is coming their way.”
 
That analysis went beyond what some observers have taken years to understand, and many others still haven’t: that disaster survivors are best positioned to take charge of their own recovery, yet often get pushed aside by outside authorities who think, wrongly, that they know better…

 
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About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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