LOS ANGELES, California — On April 13th, 2021, Representative Hakeem S. Jeffries [D-NY], accompanied by seven bipartisan co-sponsors, introduced H.R.2471: The Haiti Development, Accountability, and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act. The act aims to measure the progress of post-disaster recovery efforts in Haiti and address allegations of corruption in governance, rule of law and media freedom.
Background of H.R.2471
The 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti left at least 220,000 people dead, 300,000 injured, 115,000 homes destroyed and 1.5 million Haitians displaced. Further, Hurricane Matthew in 2016 exacerbated the earthquake’s destruction and thwarted previous recovery efforts in Haiti. The damage and flooding left 1.4 million people in need of immediate assistance.
These two tragedies garnered widespread media attention. Moreover, they brought in an unprecedented outpouring of support from across the globe to assist in the recovery effort. The U.S. government allocated more than $4 billion towards redevelopment, and worldwide donors contributed more than $8 billion as a humanitarian response.
Before the tragedies struck, Haiti already had one of the lowest socioeconomic indicators and the second-highest rate of income disparity. There was a 4% decline in the country’s economy in 2020, and inflation rose by 20%. Further, the 2020 economic report amplified the urgency for assistance, declaring that 4.4 million people needed help recuperating from the disasters in Haiti.
A Scandal-Ridden Government
The Haitian government has faced scrutiny from the public regarding its misappropriations of funds and other corruption allegations. Specifically, the 2019 PetroCaribe Oil Scandal sparked months of protests demanding transparency from the government and accountability for its wrongdoings. This scandal involved Haitian President Jovenel Moïse allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of government funds set aside for recovery efforts in Haiti.
A report from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner and the Human Rights Service found a 333% rise in human rights abuses between 2018 and 2019. This included the shooting of five journalists covering protests. In 2018, the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network reported that at least 71 people were killed in La Saline, a Port-au-Prince neighborhood. Similar attacks occurred the following two years, killing 24 people and displacing hundreds of families.
Suspicion of corruption increased when the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control accused members of the Haitian National Police Force and government officials of being responsible for or complicit in the La Saline massacre.
Parliamentary elections implemented to ensure a democratic process of electing candidates were scheduled in September 2019. However, the elections did not occur. As a result, Haitian President Moïse ruled under consolidated power, dodging constitutional procedures. Thus, U.S. Congress is working on the H.R.2471 bill, which will help Haiti recover from the many tragedies it has suffered in the past decade.
If passed, the bill calls for the implementation of the following:
- Assessing the progress of recovery efforts in Haiti from the 2010 earthquake, 2016 hurricane and the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Greater oversight on how recovery money was and is still being spent, post-disaster. Addressing corruption, governance, the rule of law and freedom of the press and assembly.
- Protecting and preventing human rights abuses.
- Addressing underlying causes of poverty and inequality.
If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by the president, the law would effectively repeal The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act of 2014. The new piece of legislation is an expansion of the 2014 Act, which called on the appropriate departments of the U.S. Government to “measure the progress of recovery and development efforts in Haiti following the earthquake of January 12, 2010.”
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs ordered a voice vote after hearing the bill on April 21st, 2021. The House then passed H.R.2471 on June 29th, 2021, effectively advancing it to the Senate. As of July 12, 2021, the Senate has read the bill twice and referred it to the Committee on Foreign Relations.
State of the Nation
On July 7, 2021, in Port-Au-Prince, more than two dozen men invaded the Moïse household, to assassinate the president. According to a report by CNN, the Haitian-American doctor Christian Sanom spent months planning the assassination. Thus, the country remains in turmoil as the chase for the group of criminals involved continues. While Haiti is now facing another crisis, there is hope that the U.S. will help Haiti’s economy recover with H.R.2471.
– Kana Ruhalter