Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Activists Across US Protest Red Cross in Haiti Solidarity Action

This Saturday, December 18th, activists in more than ten cities across the US will make a coordinated and simultaneous public stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti. Between 2:00pm and 4:00pm EST people committed to Haiti's recovery will assemble in front of local offices of the American Red Cross calling for greater transparency and a full accounting of the money that has been raised for the purpose of helping Haiti rebuild.

In New Orleans, which has a long history of connections with Haiti, activists will assemble from 1:00pm to 3:00pm CST at the Red Cross office at 2640 Canal Street, near Broad. According to a statement released by organizers, fact sheets will be distributed and the event will be recorded. The news release also says, "We are standing in solidarity with the people of Haiti for full accountability and transparency on the part of the American Red Cross. We are standing in solidarity with the people of Haiti for a full disclosure of the US role in Haiti, during this current crisis and historically. We are standing in solidarity with the people of Haiti for full recognition and respect for their human rights (a decent standard of living, proper education, health care, housing, political freedom, etc.)"

Activists say the American Red Cross has yet to release the bulk of funds collected for aid to Haiti, yet "is also earning interest on those unused funds - and has stated the interest will go to other projects." Activists say that the American Red Cross was chosen for this protest because of their role as a leading Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) involved in Haiti relief, but they stress that Red Cross is one of many organizations who have behaved unaccountably in this disaster.

Perhaps nowhere in the US is Red Cross as unpopular as in New Orleans, where the memory of post-Katrina discrimination and corruption by the aid agency is still fresh.

A February 2006 report from New York City’s Foundation Center points out that the Red Cross, which raised perhaps two billion dollars from Katrina appeals despite widespread accusations of racism and mismanagement, “ranked as by far the largest named recipient of contributions from foundation and corporate donors in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” receiving almost 35 percent of all aid, while grassroots and locally-led projects received virtually no support.

According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, foundations “seem to have been preoccupied with the issue of accountability. Many foundations wondered how they could be certain that grants to local groups would be well spent and, therefore, publicly accountable.” While those are reasonable concerns, it also reveals a double standard. The Chronicle writer goes on to state, “the question of accountability didn't seem to bother the large foundations that gave so generously to the Red Cross, which had a questionable record of competence to begin with and attracted even more criticism in the aftermath of Katrina over its unwise use of funds, high administrative costs, and lack of outreach to minorities.”

In Haiti post-earthquake, similar concerns were raised almost immediately. In addition, when the vast majority of post-earthquake aid went to NGOs like Red Cross, it played the role of further undermining the government’s sovereignty.

Red Cross and other large and bureaucratic aid agencies that function without and means of community accountability were quick to fundraise for Haiti. But did their aid reach people on the ground? The Associated Press reported that for every one dollar of U.S. aid to Haiti, "42 cents is for disaster assistance, 33 cents is for the U.S. military, 9 cents is for food, 9 cents is to transport the food, 5 cents to pay Haitians to help with recovery effort, less than 1 cent for the Haitian government and ½ a cent is for the government of the Dominican Republic."

Tracy Kidder, of the Haiti-based organization Partners in Health/ Zanmi Lasante, said it very well: "There are 10,000 aid organizations in Haiti, and Haiti is still one of the poorest countries in the world - then something‘s wrong with the way things are, the way aid is being administered."

A statement signed by six human rights organizations brought these concerns to the discussion of Haiti relief. "There is no doubt that Haiti's hungry, thirsty, injured, and sick urgently need all the assistance the international community can provide, but it is critical that the underlying goal of improving human rights drives the distribution of every dollar of aid given to Haiti," said Loune Viaud, Director of Strategic Planning and Operations at Partners in Health, one of the drafters of the letter. "The only way to avoid escalation of this crisis is for international aid to take a long-term view and strive to rebuild a stronger Haiti -- one that includes a government that can ensure the basic human rights of all Haitians and a nation that is empowered to demand those rights."

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