Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Being CAREful About How we Give Our Financial Support to Haiti Relief


There is not story in Bolivia this week, or anywhere in Latin America, that is more urgent than the devastating earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath. With deaths measured in the tens of thousands and individual stories of terror, pain and suffering greater than any most of us could even conjure, Haiti is home to one of the largest single tragedies that most of us will see in our lifetime.

And so we must help.

For most of us the only real way to help is to send money to groups and people on the ground that are in a position to help more directly. In the immediate aftermath of the quake that means clean water, food, and medical support. Later, when Haiti begins to recede from our immediate memories aid will be needed for massive rebuilding and support of a nation in tatters.

In the bits and pieces of television I have seen as I travel across the planet this week (en route to Asia) it is evident how people all over the world have risen to the call, giving tens of millions of dollars in aid and support to Haitian relief efforts.

This generosity also needs to be combined with a closer look at who we give our money to in this relief effort. Some groups will get that aid to the people who need it quickly and without skimming any off the top. Others, some of the bigger groups, will eat up huge portions of that support in overhead and administration before it ever crosses the Caribbean.

This is a concern that calls up memories of a different environmental disaster (certainly a much smaller one) in Bolivia exactly a decade ago this month, and the operations of one of the biggest of the international "relief" organizations – and biggest seeker of relief donations, CARE. It was exactly a decade ago that an oil pipeline operated by Enron and Shell cracked wide-open and spilled toxic fuel for three days into the Rio Disaguadero, decimating more than a million acres of indigenous farmlands in Bolivia's highlands. When Enron and Shell went looking for someone to put the right public relations spin on its minimalist compensation program for the devastated villages that were the recipients of the companies' black poison, CARE is who they picked. And the "relief" group made a good fortune from that alliance.

Below is a segment from the chapter on the Enron/Shell spill – A River Turns Black: Enron and Shell Spread Destruction Across Bolivia’s Highland, by Christina Haglund – in the Democracy Center's recent book, Dignity and Defiance, Stories from Bolivia's Challenge to Globalization. I can't speak to CARE's current efforts in Haiti, but this excerpt certainly paints a cautionary tale based on CARE's dubious work for Enron and Shell.

Because our readers include so many people knowledgeable about Latin America, I encourage you to use the comments section for this post as a place to share information about groups you know doing good work today in Haiti. We should open up our wallets to provide relief in this crisis, and we should do so wisely.

Compensation Wrapped in a CARE Package

[Excerpted from: A River Turns Black: Enron and Shell Spread Destruction Across Bolivia’s Highland, by Christina Haglund – in the Democracy Center's recent book, Dignity and Defiance, Stories from Bolivia's Challenge to Globalization.]

Getting compensation to communities would not be as easy as writing a check. Transredes addressed this challenge as one of its corporate parents, Shell, had done before in Nigeria. It contracted the globally known international development organization CARE to handle the compensation process on the company’s behalf. The contract signed between the two proclaimed that CARE would “turn a very simple process of compensation into a contribution to the sustainable development of a very poor region.”

The director of CARE Bolivia, Victor Rico, told me, even before I asked, that the dollar amounts for compensation were already determined before CARE got involved. The aid organization stamped a humanitarian face on Transredes’ process and was paid more than $800,000 for its services.

According to Transredes, the compensation program that CARE managed would return people’s lives equal to or better than pre-spill conditions. Compensation in cash was never an option, another decision made unilaterally by the company. Instead, communities could opt for in-kind purchases, such as land, animals, or machinery. Or they could choose community projects, such as road building, electricity installment, or tourist development.

The communities of El Choro decided on a soil rehabilitation project, to improve the conditions of the earth for planting. Several communities put their compensation amounts together to buy a tractor. Their project also included training for the operation and maintenance of the machine. Six years later this tractor sits rusted and broken, the metal equipment worn down by the severe altiplano weather conditions.

Don Vidal, the man who thought my tent was a spaceship, took off his hat to wipe away his sweat. He shook his head and said that the parts to get the tractor fixed are too expensive and too far away.

The cold winter month that I spent in Acopata revealed how yet another of CARE’s compensation projects proved better theory than reality. The aid organization awarded community members enough red bricks and cement to construct homes with a metal door, tin roof and a window – a 250-square-foot dwelling. The people of the region themselves constructed the houses. In the frigid altiplano winter of 2006, I found many of those houses empty. Families opted instead to sleep in their adobe homes, which, according to them, provide far better insulation than brick and concrete.

Don Benedicto is an Uru fisherman who is missing his two front teeth and lives on Lake Poopo. He explained that his community’s CARE project was the purchase of a used car – one that would ease the fishermen’s long trek to the lake. This car only lasted a year. It broke down and the village didn’t have the resources to repair it. This once-prized piece of the community’s compensation now serves as play equipment for children.

Transredes officials claim “there is no doubt that this was the compensation model that brought the best results and benefits to the population and local development.” The physical evidence and the testimonies of community after community, however, tell a story that does not trumpet the same level of success.

How did any of these projects repair environmental damage caused by the oil spill? How were pertinent issues such as water, or food for animals addressed? While in theory, development projects and in-kind purchases were to be equivalent to damage done by the spill, this was far from the reality on the ground following the compensation process. New animals purchased as replacements for the ones that had died or fallen ill still grazed on contaminated lands and continued to drink contaminated water.

Ripped and faded CARE calendars were nailed into the adobe and brick walls of several homes in my travels along the Desaguadero. The top of the poster calendar read, “It is the hour to hold our hands together to get out of poverty.”

CARE distributed the equivalent of $1.2 million to just less than 4,000 families through these various projects. This works out to about $60 per affected person, just short of the minimum wage in Bolivia for one month. The $818,372 that CARE took home for its efforts was equal to 68 cents for every dollar it distributed in compensation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

why send $$ to Haiti? Bilions of $$ and allwasted.
All down drain. Politicinas,ONGs only make $$
Coruption,waste of money!

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The VAST mayority of NGOs in Bolivia are corrupt. I did an assessment of one of the main network of health NGOs in Bolivia and the President who hired me quit because the Directors did not want to vote down their $US500 travel per diems, extremely high salaries, or implement policies to manage conflict of interests. I know of several other NGOs where the president of the local chapter buys a luxury car for himself, or buys equipment, medicine, at obscene mark-ups from a brother or cousin. To placate HQ in the 1st world, they get another friend to do the audit and claim that everything is kosher.

Don't know enough about this spill. I agree that money cannot simply be given to the affected. Also it would not surprise me that YPFB never did any maintenance on the pipeline nor did they bothered to install safety measures. In all is probably better that the spill occurred under the watch of a foreign company because otherwise all these left NGOs would look the other way rather than to blame Evo for anything.

I donated to the Red Cross and I hope it does some good. It is probably hell on earth in haiti right now and I am impressed that the people have behaved so well there this past week. I hope things improved and that the safety concerns the US has will be remembered as part of their post 9/11 terrorism paranoia where everything hinges on security.

I am appalled that Evo and their ilk are trying to paint this as a US invasion. Have they got no shame? or may be I have not informed about the vast oil fields, gold, and other riches hidden in Haiti. Don't get me wrong. Haiti does matter to the US. Haiti always had a higher priority than Bolivia for the US State Department. But it is not because of natural resources, drug trafficking or whatever these "anti-imperialists" would like you to believe. The US simply does not want to Florida to be invaded by refugees.

While some will no doubt make money in the aid and reconstruction of Haiti, I do not think the US has the intention of annexing Haiti, nor is there a reason to do so.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evo should have donated to teh earthquke victims part of the money going to his multi million coronation instead.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As certain as flies are attracted to cowpies, Morales opened his piehole urgently demanding an emergency UN Security Council meeting to reject what he calls the US occupation of Haiti.

Never mind the hundreds of millions of dead presidents and medical and logistical and technological aid rushed to Haiti. Or that government services essentially ceased to exist shortly after the earthquake and urgent security was needed due to marauding gangs and looters taking over the streets. Or that no other country or agency, be it UN, France, Venezuela, China ($1M in aid, woohoo!), or Bolivia is as capable or willing as the US to deal with these humanitarian disasters. Or that the president of Haiti and his countrymen begged for direct US intervention to pacify the streets.

No, this person, who has the IQ of a pesticide laden coca plant, simply for ideological reasons and using dying Haitians, chooses to excoriate the US for having the temerity of sending US troops to provide a semblance a security and insteads accuses them of being the start of a South American invasion.

To be fair, though, there are an abundance of these IQ types in Bolivia. It's just that Morales is the one that sticks out and stinks the most.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've donated to UNICEF and will probably donate again to either Partners In Health or Medicins sans Frontiers. From what I've seen these organizations have the experience to help a lot. Regarding some of the comments about Evo and his warning about the U.S. occupation, I think he has every reason to be concerned. Read Naomi Klein's book "Shock Doctrine" or just look at even the most recent U.S. behavior. What about Honduras? New bases in Colombia? Putting Cuba on the terrorist list? Expansion of wars in Middle East? And they've sent many thousands (20?) of troops into Haiti to maintain security when security is not the problem. And the U.S. took control of the airport. The U.S. and its 700-800 bases around the world feels its influence slipping in Latin America. Haiti would be a good place to establish a base to keep an eye on Cuba, Venezuela and all those other uncooperative nations.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous mp3freak said...

This is one of the disaster of nature. The situation is really very painful. We should raise our hand for them. We should donate some cloth, food and money for them. And I promise I'll contribute a huge amount for them.

3:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The US delivered an appropriate and accurate response to the mestizo, Spanish speaking, Rolex wearing (even in his racist folkloric Aymara coronation)Morales ridiculous and ignorant comments about the so-called US invasion of Haiti: "retrograde" and that it responds to his psychological condition.

The same could be applied to all those who think the same.

You think the US would would to risk life and treasure to take over a dysfunctional, chronically corrupt and dependent somehow create a platform to invade South America, especially during these cash strapped times and in the midst of two wars?

That's so laughable it's pathetic. First, there's absolutely no way the US public wants a long term US presence in Haiti. Not gonna happen. Second, if the US wanted to invade a country in South America, it would use a much cheaper and effective method than taking over a tiny, poor, and dysfunctional country: it's called aircraft carrier.

Going back to donations to Haiti, I would double and triple check before donating anything. There are enough scam artists already, some who work for the recipient government. Besides, taxpayer money has been wasted enough with government to government aid.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another suggestion: donate to those who help get out the truth, unlike CNN and the other pro Empire media.

In 1804, Haiti became the first independent nation in América, and it was a nation of self-emancipated slaves where, by law, everyone was a "black", including non-Africans with light skin who supported the cause of human freedom. An incredibly advanced concept when the modern world today is still tied up in bullshit like dividing the human race into colors.

This was unacceptable and deemed dangerous even by Thomas Jefferson, amongst the rest of the "white" elites of the incipient Empire, which is based so much on retrograde concepts such as "whiteness".

It was so unacceptable for a nation of free Africans to exist in the Americas, that France demanded payment in order to accept, in diplomatic spheres, its devastating military and MORAL defeat.

So unacceptable, that when President Aristide asked, in 2004, for the ransom money to be returned, considering interest and inflation and whatnot, France promptly supported the US in kidnapping him and propping up yet another coup government.

Simon Bolivar launched his struggle from the island, but refused to recognize it officially once he was President at some point of every country he liberated, probably half and half based on his own racist worldview, and the fact that supporting a "rogue state" run by self-emancipated Africans, in 1804, would probably have been enough to unite the "land of the free" and European colonial powers in an invasion of the newly liberated South American nations. In the name of, you know it: freedom.

Cut past several more US supported coups, about fifteen years of military occupation in the early 20th century, international cooperation and covering up for the bloody Papa and Baby Doc dictatorships..

Cut to Barak Hussein Obama, who says he wants a nation without colors, does he know that Haiti dreamed of this back in 1804?

Of course the Pentagon doesnt need troops in Haiti permanently, they already have the IV fleet cruising our sovereign waters, seven new military based in Colombia, Guantanamo... and if any of these changes, they will adjust accordingly. The plan is world domination, so you got one thing right, Haiti is not critically strategic.

Obama should be ashamed that his lackeys ignore history, humanity, and in a completely retrograde fashion, attack the first indigenous President of Bolivia for pointing out the obvious... strings are always attached when you have an Empire to perpetuate.

1:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The US should help Haiti but at the same time encourage other governments to have equal roles in its rebuilding. This group of nations in turn should encourage the Haitian government and its people to have a larger role in the rebuilding of Haiti.

Past US "interventions" have created a dysfunctional nation where the poorest suffer the most at the hand of opportunists placed in power by the US, e.g. 'Baby Doc’ Duvalier etc.

The world should help create a strong nation state not help the continuation of a history of dependence on the US.


"Haiti earthquake: 'Baby Doc’ Duvalier pledges £5m aid

Haiti’s reclusive former dictator has pledged £5m aid to his former subjects and expressed “complete solidarity” with their suffering since the earthquake."

"Mr duvalier, whose regime was a byword for brutality and corruption, said: “It is with great horror and a profound emotion, but also with a very great concern, that I have monitored the murderous and devastating consequences of the terrible earthquake that has so piteously struck our country."

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhpas Goni, Chito, Manfred, Zorro Sanchez should send some of the millions milked from Bolivia.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have friends on the ground in Haiti, trying to bring relief supplies from Dominican Republic to the suffering people. They report that the number one impediment to their effort is the organized gangs and criminals who threaten their safety. Unless you want this to end up like Somalia, where the warlords steal and profiteer from the humanitarian aid, while the needy starve, you need armed troops on the ground.
Venezuela and others send some workers, the UN runs away, while the US takes up the slack.
The US is spending billions of tax dollars sending a fleet of ships and aircraft to help. That aircraft carrier has the capability of producing thousands of gallons of fresh water, fully equipped surgical suites, and the aircraft to move the help where it is needed. They need the troops to ensure the safety of the relief workers, military and civilian.
While the rest of the world makes speeches, makes small support gestures, and then whines, the US is doing the job. The American people are paying the bills.
Bluntly put, America is the only hope the Haitians have right now.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

damn anon 1:10 am....what a great post...i wish i could write like that at 1:10 am

no longer jd (someone else using it now) so i will be

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

by the way anon 1:10am...have you seen the documentary "The Agronomist" (enlish title)?


5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yeah 1:10.
whitey bad
pentagon bad
obama has no clue and no power
blacks are 2 dumb to make mistakes
ooooooh what a genius yar!

a big hooah for 10AM!

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i didnt say 1:10 was a genius nor did I say I agreed with everything he/she said...i simply liked the post....and nowhere did 1:10 say anything like "whitey bad", but thanks for putting words in his/her mouth anon 6:26


9:45 AM  

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