Stop the assault on the Haiti Diaspora: Do not eliminate the Ministry for Haitians Living Abroad
“Neocolonial government to dissolve Diaspora Ministry but will tax Diaspora to mostly help the Central Bank modernize its banking system.”
Haiti’s new president is imposing fees to raise money for his goal of free education. Without any public or parliamentary discussion Michel Martelly decrees the new fees will go into effect in June. Martelly will impose a charge of U.S. $1.50 on wire transfers and five cents per minute on phone calls to the country.
But Haitians in the Diaspora are questioning this initiative because they have had no voice in its development and proposed manner of implementation. ( See, Betraying the Diaspora, taxing the poor by Socrate Simeon, Haitian Perspectives.)
At HLLN we are convinced that the powers in Haiti are not satisfied with the practically 100% returns they make off Haiti’s imposed misery through the money laundering schemes they euphemistically call “Foreign Aid,” “Food for the Poor,” “humanitarian aid,” “donations to Haiti,” “UN peacekeeping” or “NGO/NPO charity giving,” so it seems the newly minted Martelly government is now rushing to go after the over $2 billion remittances of the Haiti Diaspora and all phone calls made to Haiti. Taxing the poor is the continued order of this re-colonizing effort in Haiti. (See, Haiti imposes fees on phone calls, wire transfers that will hit emigrants hardest; US False Benevolence in Haiti – Time to Remember Bandyo, the Mongoose and Malfini and Occupied Haiti: A Prefab President, Parliament and Constitution.)
Below is an email we’ve received this date, from Kathleen Felix of Fonkoze, analyzing the plans of the new government to tax the 4 million Haitians living in the Diaspora. The new fees to be levied seems mainly, according to her analysis, to help the Haiti Central Bank (BRH) modernize its banking system and increase its capacity to collecting monies.
Instead of covering the basic needs of their families for food, clean water, shelter, medicine, school fees, part of the Diaspora’s remittances that Haiti’s working class donors are sending for their families will be redirected to cover the expenses of the bankers to modernize their banking business. ( See, Circulaire #98 and Betraying the Diaspora, taxing the poor.) But, Martelly’s efforts on behalf of the rich are being promoted as taxing the Diaspora in order to give Haiti’s children free education.
“The Fund for Education in Haiti will be funded from a levy of 5 cents on incoming international calls to Haiti and a contribution of U.S $1.50 on each international transfer of funds … ‘The funds we raise, in consultation with partners in the telephone and transfer institutions, will be used to finance free and compulsory school for the poorest in Haiti, ‘ said Martelly. ” (Un fond National pour l’Education (FNE) pour 2 millions d’enfants and Fon pou Edikasyon Timoun yo.)
It’s bait and switch, playing on the emotions of the Diaspora. It’s the same bait and switch that just occurred when the puppet Preval parliament, along with some key members in the Diaspora – who also helped dress and package Martelly for Washington/France/Canada – gathered together to quickly amend the 1987 Constitution under the guise of giving the Diaspora dual citizenship. But actually removed MORE rights from the Diaspora, while further centralizing power and disenfranchising local authorities and local assemblies in Haiti. ( See also, dual citizenship is a false priority – Ezili’s HLLN on dual citizenship, the Diaspora Middlemen for the colonists and Constitutional Amendment, October, 2008.)
Analyzing the Central Bank (BRH)’s Circulaire #98, Ms. Felix concludes:
“Apparently they’re now going to give 5 cents to the education fund. This will not raise much. It is still 99.5% to finance the new system of the BRH and the fees is for all transfers with the same value of $1.5 regardless of the amount.
“…Although not stated in Circular #98, some insiders say 0.05 cents will go to the education fund. But until they amend the Circular it is a black box. The problem is they are using the same amount ($1.50 per transfer) in different contexts so it creates confusion. It is not clear if the $1.5 identified by the BRH will go to the education fund. They announced, though, in the Circulaire #98 that they are going to use the $1.50 for the Modernization of their system. (See presentation of the education fund attached they send it out yesterday.) The whole thing totally undermines the concept of transparency. How in the world can you put on a fee to improve your own efficiency and then pass it over IN WHOLE to the education sector? I am not opposed to the Education Fund but again nothing is mentioned in Circular 98 about the education fund. We need to ask for transparency and fairness.”
Ms. Felix’s analysis makes some critical and important suggestions for the Martelly government that ought to be considered. (See her analysis copied below.)
Further , we’ve also learned that the new Martelly government is making plans to dissolve the Ministry of Haitians Living Abroad (MHAVE) altogether and merge it, reduce it, into an office under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It seems the Martelly government intends to dissolve the Ministry of Haitians Living Abroad but, simultaneously will tax the Diaspora to mostly help the Central Bank modernize its banking system.
Taxing the hard working Diaspora overseas to benefit the super rich in Haiti is offensive. No! Enough. The Diaspora garners no benefit in Haiti. Yet, no other national group anywhere in the world sends more money home than Haitians living abroad. Diaspora remittances represent 30% of the GDP in Haiti. (US 2 billion augmented $360M more in Haiti remittances this year.)
Those in the Haiti Diaspora who send remittances are mostly poor emigrant workers, factory workers, taxi drivers, housekeepers, hospital/hotel/restaurant workers or first generation working professionals. The Haiti bankers and oligarchy that control Haiti’s economy as overseers for foreign interests, are super rich, pay no taxes and provide no sustainable investment benefit to Haiti society as a whole. HLLN herein takes the position that getting rid of the Diaspora Ministry (MHAVE) is a further disempowerment of Haitians living abroad as well as Haitians at home who are sustained by their families abroad. So, HLLN facebook and tweeted this today:
“The new neocolonial government in Haiti is imposing fees on Diaspora monies, BUT diminishes the Diaspora as “foreign” by proposing to liquidate the Diaspora Ministry and making it an office under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So taking the home court advantage away from the Diaspora, even though that wasn’t much in the first place for 4 million Haitians living abroad. This new reduction of the Diaspora value in Haiti, coming on the heels of the comedic Constitutional ‘Amendment’ must not stand.” —Ezili Dantò of HLLN, May 27, 2011
HLLN stands against this effort to eliminate the Ministry for Haitians Living Abroad. We believe the Martelly defactos may do some good if they increased the effectiveness and capacity of this Ministry not destroy it. We urge all voices of consequence in the Haiti Diaspora to stand together on this with HLLN and help stop the further centralization of neocolonial power in Haiti with these assaults on the Haiti Diaspora. We support Ms. Felix suggestions noted below. Ask for this Shock Doctrine rush, without laws, without debate, to take a freezing step until Diaspora inputs are fully considered. We recommend that if a tax – euphemistically named “fees” – will be levied without laws or debate, (since we’re under occupation, US cholera democracy and lawlessness rules) that said “fees,” at least, ought mostly to benefit the children of Haiti, not the bankers.
With the voiceless masses, Ezili HLLN is the only consistent OPPOSITIONAL Haitian voice to free Haiti since the 2004 Bush regime change. HLLN does not take the path of least resistance. Not all the pro-democracy advocates we started out with have lasted the unendurable journey even this far. Some cannot remain uncomfortable, humiliated, marginalized, suffering pushback and hardships for such a prolonged period of time and against such unrelenting imperialist shock-and-awe-force. Tens of thousands, like Lovinsky Pierre Antoine, paid the ultimate price. We take on the seemingly impossible. Our tasks is to end the foreign occupation, end the disenfranchisement of the masses, stop the return of the Duvalierist overseers, institutionalized economic justice not apartheid, end the NGO nation/Haiti subcontractors neocolonial pillage and plunders. We uphold our Ancestral Legacy.
Today, the wretched condition of the masses, indefinite detentions in prisons, the evictions of the quake victims, the building of an “oasis” hotel with donation dollars for foreigners while the masses suffer with cholera and under torn tarps, and the cruel deportations of Haitians, are, our primary concerns. (Forced evictions: The work of animals, but we have no voice, no means to buy justice, erzilidanto; Members of Congress Outraged Over Camp Destructions by Haitian Police.)
But getting rid of the Diaspora Ministry is also a disempowerment. A disenfranchisement of Haitians similar to the cholera-election disenfranchisement . A Shock Doctrine, disaster capitalism crisis policy being rushed into in Haiti by the global plutocrats and corporate oligarchs that would not have had a chance of passing if there was democracy in Haiti and no foreign occupation, no NGO nation take-over or apocalyptic earthquake.
The profit-over-people colonists and Duvalierists ruling occupied Haiti say, Haiti is “open for business,” ignoring disenfranchisement, ignoring the ravages of UN-imported-cholera. ( “Vagabon toujou vagabon. Bourik Sendomeng te mèt abiye. Kou midi sonnen, lap tonbe ranni. It’s their nature” –Ezili Dantò)
Homeless quake victims get evicted in the hurricane season, while the Bush-Clinton fund builds a new US $29 million shelter for Westerners with donation dollars to help quake victims. Photo Source: Caricom News Network .
“They’re open for business on top of our decomposed dead bodies, on top of our crushed bones, on top of our intense grief. Open for business on top of our ground water contaminated by their diseased feces, counting collected donation profits, anticipating more huge returns. Panting, salivating for more Haiti crisis.” – Ezili Dantò, May, 2011 ( I pay this price for you: Haiti is open for business.)
MHAVE should not be merged under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It serves 4 million Haitians and its capacity should be EXPANDED, not truncated, especially in light of t these new taxation proposals. The Diaspora Ministry should be expanded to monitor that the taxes on Diaspora remittance are being used for educating Haiti’s children as touted by Michel Martelly’s neocolonial government. Bare boned justice, accountability and transparency demands there should be no taxation without proper Diaspora representation and due and just input into the proposed governmental process that takes their monies.
The disputed and probably voided Constitutional Amendment has taken many rights away from the Diaspora. The cholera election and cholera democracy-at-the-point-of-a-bayonet just inaugurated in occupied Haiti has disenfranchised the majority. The theoretical voting rights granted to the Diaspora under the disputed “amendment,” will mean nothing if the Diaspora Ministry is reduced to an office under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There are 10 million Haitians in Haiti and over 4 million Haitians in the Diaspora. The Diaspora Ministry represents almost half as many people as there are in Haiti. The Diaspora’s importance is minimally acknowledged with the existence of this Ministry. It’s destruction, simultaneously with the current taxation of Diaspora remittances is an insult and an assault. A disempowerment of the Diaspora while taxing their monies. This trend should not continue.
In fact, Haitians and the Haiti Diaspora, as represented by organizations like HLLN, are asking for MORE say in the Diaspora Ministry and an INCREASE, not reduction, in its capacity to represent the priorities of Haitians living at home and abroad. This home court advantage of a separate ministry is a minimum. Haitian are owed this smallest of respect for investing into their homeland more monies than any other nationals anywhere else in the world. We are not living in solidarity with Haiti. We are faces of Haiti. We are part of Haiti not Haiti’s foreigners and will not accept such a designation under the Haiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Forced evictions, forced taxation of the Diaspora – So where are the international “protectors”, the bearers of “liberty and light” when quake victims and hard working Haiti emigrants need them to start taking away visas from human rights abusers in Haiti, huh? (It’s Time to remember Kandyo, the Malfini and Mangoose.) The entire Diaspora must stand up and voice their opposition to these gwo ponyèt/macoute dismissals and assaults on the Haiti Diaspora.
“Si nou fè silans,
Y’ap fè l pou nou,
Y’ap fè l sans nou
Y’ap fè l kont nou…Ki vle di, pran peyi Ayiti lan men nou…”–Alina Sixto , Sept. 2007 (Why is MINUSTHA silent about the disappearance of Lovinsky Pierre Antoine? – Picket Line at UN, New York.)
President, Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (“HLLN”)
Duvalier’s Chalan is back, not to clean up the streets by arresting the barefoot poor but to evict the homeless quake victims’” –Ezili Dantò of HLLN. To wit:
Evictions ramp up for Haitian quake victims: “This is the work of animals…This is the worst kind of humiliation someone can experience. They chose to do this at the start of the hurricane season. This is abuse…What they are doing is not helping poor people. But we have no voice, no means to buy justice…Martelly sought to distance himself from the evictions, saying while he has prioritized the closing of six camps as part of his 100-day plan, evicting people without notice is not part of his strategy… During President Martelly’s visit to the United States, we were all encouraged by his assertion that Haiti will face a new day — a new beginning…Meanwhile, the U.N. mission in Haiti has said it is investigating the forced evictions on grounds that they violate international humanitarian law and human rights.”
“Vagabon toujou vagabon. Bourik Sendomeng te mèt abiye. Kou midi sonnen, lap tonbe ranni. It’s their nature” –Ezili Dantò (I pay this price for you: Haiti is open for business.)
— On Fri, 5/27/11, katleen felix wrote:
From: katleen felix
Subject: Circular 98 -BRH
Date: Friday, May 27, 2011, 11:30 AM
I will try to get the French version out later today see at attachment for my comments on Circulaire #98.
Apparently they’re now going to give 5 cents to the education fund. This will not raise much. It is still 99.5% to finance the new system of the BRH and the fees is for all transfers with the same value of $1.5 regardless the amount.
Circulaire #98 – BRH
Comments from Katleen Felix, M.Sc. Independent consultant and researcher on remittances
Highlight of the challenges that the BRH needs to face:
The Mobile banking industry is entering Haiti with the support of Gates, Clinton Bush Foundation and many Corporations. BRH is receiving pressure from the industry to take action to monitor and protect customers of mobile banking.
Many are pointing at BRH inefficiencies in controlling the cash flows of the countries, the inflow and outgo of US dollars. The local currency, the Gourde, is slowly being substituted by the US dollar and, soon by mobile money in US dollars for daily transactions.
Money transfers made to Haiti have to be paid in the currency in which it was remitted, most of the transactions are in US. These measures were taken to protect the customers from abusive exchange rates, but create an additional demand on US dollars.
Data collection and monitoring – Like many government organizations in Haiti, BRH lacks financial resources and cannot completely fulfill its role due to a lack of staff (analysts and managers) and appropriate IT systems.
Remittance (money transfer) trends
World Bank, IDB, IFAD and many others have been pushing for a reduction in the price of transfers so that more money will remain in the hands of receivers. They recognize that the majority of the transfers are made by migrants from the working class to their loved one in the country of origin. Haiti is not an exception, cleaning ladies, construction workers (see Orozco research on Haiti and IDB) are sending money for basic needs, health and education. On average they send $300 per month, often in small amounts, if they can find economical ways to do so (messenger).
Financial inclusion is also an important element for those migrants who are sending money home. World Bank, IDB, IFAD and many others have been trying to encourage the financial industry to offer products that will help the unbanked and convert them to bank accounts and other financial services.
BRH urgently needs to modernize its IT system and management to be able to Appropriately regulate an emerging mobile banking system.
Access to funding and call for transparency – Haiti is ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world. According to the Circular, BRH will being collecting a fee to assist it in modernizing its payment platform. If that is true, it is not clear why the general public and the diaspora should be the ones to pay for this modernization, especially without seeing a practical strategic plan, an operational budget for the institution and a monitoring system.
Also a few hard questions need to be asked: Why is mobile banking important for the Haitian economy? Will it create jobs? Will it really reduce transactional costs for the customer? How are other countries dealing with it? The promoters of mobile banking will need to make a strong business analysis of why this is a priority for the Haitian economy.
The Haitian people are asking to have jobs, to eat every day, to send their kids to school, to have access to healthcare – how is mobile banking going to do that? Maybe it shouldn’t be a priority for the Haitian government and whoever is pushing for it should finance the modernization of the BRH system.
Solution Proposed by BRH on “Circulaire #98”
Starting June 1, the Central Bank (BRH) will begin charging $1.50 for each transfer (remittance) coming into Haiti regardless of the amount.
Someone will have to pay this administrative fee so that the central bank can finance a new payment platform that can incorporate mobile payments.
For example, to send $50, the sender might pay a $5 fee to send the funds, but the recipient might only receive $48.50 if they don’t find a way to collect the fee on the sender side. The money transfer company will get the $5 fee, but the Central Bank will take the $1.50.
Problems with “Circulaire #98”
The bill targets remittances to Haiti whose purpose is to cover basic needs, pay for schools and health, instead that money will be directed for other purposes. This will directly affect the poorest people receiving transfers, and it will increase the phenomenon of “lavi che” and affect financial inclusion on both side of the equation.
Lack of transparency from BRH, the cost of the system and staffing. They are asking for a blank check to finance a black box.
There is a worldwide movement for transparency, cost reduction and financial inclusion, led by the World Bank and the IDB. This measure is not transparent, increases costs and will not improve financial inclusion.
What is the rush? The Money Transfer Companies and the Bank will need at least 3 months to adjust their systems. Forcing a June 1 collection is opening the door to fraud and losses.
Operationally, it is probably difficult to charge 50 cents (USD) in Haiti.
Also it will create a precedent for other types of fees on transfers and this could have a catastrophic economic effect (transfers represent 30% of the GDP in Haiti) and will affect the poorest most. Why do even the poorest have to pay for this? This needs more reflection and a more sophisticated approach to a complex problem.
This fee looks like a tax and should be discussed in parliament, taxation without representation is always a bad idea and we need to hear from all the stakeholders and make sure the decision is made considering all factors.
Confusion with the EDUCATION tax – We assume this Circular is not for Martelly’s education fund since it was never mentioned in the Circular. Even if it were for education, it would be problematic and would raise the same economic issues and disparities for the poor. Also, if it were going to contribute to the education fund in the long term, it would not generate more than $18M – taxing or imposing a fee on remittances will not bring enough to support free education for all in Haiti.
Although not stated in Circular #98, some insiders say 0.05 cents will go to the education fund. But until they amend the Circular it is a black box. The problem is they are using the same amount ($1.50 per transfer) in different contexts so it creates confusion. It is not clear if the $1.5 identified by the BRH will go to the education fund. They announced, though, in the Circulaire #98 that they are going to use the $1.50 for the Modernization of their system. (See presentation of the education fund attached they send it out yesterday.) The whole thing totally undermines the concept of transparency. How in the world can you put on a fee to improve your own efficiency and then pass it over IN WHOLE to the education sector? I am not opposed to the Education Fund but again nothing is mentioned in Circular 98 about the education fund. We need to ask for transparency and fairness.
What can be done?
First, delay by 3 months the decision to charge anyone for the modernization.
BRH needs to make a cost-benefit analysis with a team of experts in economics, finance, banking, money laundering and fraud, mobile banking, remittances, microfinance etc.
This modernization cost is an industry cost and we need to identify who really will benefit or have an interest in having this system in place.
World Bank and regulatory agencies have funding available for developing countries and their central banks to modernize systems and monitor money laundering activities.
The BRH needs to approach them with a solid, sustainable plan to finance its modernization.
Need cash for administration or for education?
Taxing or imposing fees on transfers will not be the most efficient way to raise funds; if you go that route, it should increase with the value transferred (small charges on smaller transfers, charge increase with the value. Ex: Jamaican proposition).
Start enforcing customs taxes on the borders and from other countries.
Start enforcing income taxes
Create trade opportunities for the Diaspora and nationals – start thinking about win-win situations that can create jobs in Haiti and in the Diaspora. The Diaspora in also in economic distress; we need to give them the opportunity to be a part of the economic equation (Case of the Koreans and Chinese)
This is not a full analysis of the situation. I urge the government to mobilize experts from the Diaspora and Nationals to review the question. We are at a turning point for Haiti, we cannot afford to loose another 50 years.
We need to be strategic, have a real plan and real transparency, be results orientated and monitor the social impact of our decisions.
Katleen Felix, M.Sc
Kathleen Felix is the Project Director and Haitian Diaspora Liaison for Fonkoze (www.fonkoze.org), where she is responsible of research and development of new remittance products or initiatives, financial literacy programs for new immigrants, training and capacity-building for Haitian Hometown Associations (HHTAs), project reporting and donor relations. Her most recent project is the launch of Zafen (www.zafen.org ) a new microfinance website aimed at funding small-and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and social enterprises in Haiti.
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Update: Oct. 18, 2011
$26 Million [US] Missing from Haiti’s National Fund for Education
Oct. 18, 2011, Source: DefendHaiti
Senator Jocelerme Privert, Nippes
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (defend.ht) – $26 million [US] of the “Fund National pour l’Education” (FNE) are unaccounted for. The Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH) reported only $2 million [US] in the fund’s account with no withdrawals on its record.
According to an article published in Le Matin on October 14, 2011, the Senate Committee on Finance and Economy inquired about the FNE with the Governing Board of the BRH which was tasked with managing the fund.
After meeting with the Governor of the Bank, continued the article, quoting BRH Governor Charles Castel, Jocelerme Privert reported to the Senate that “only $2 million [of the money] have been deposited at the BRH and no withdrawal has been made from this amount.”
The money for the FNE comes from a $1.50 tax levied on money transfers to Haiti and an additional $0.05 per minute on all calls made to, within and out of Haiti. The article quoted Jocelerme Privert saying “….[T]here is no information available on these funds, …according to the BRH, it is Conatel that holds these funds… [A]ll resources are public resources, even when there was no law ordering their levy. Consequently, they can not be managed outside of the law on the budget and public accounting.”
Last month, continued the article, Gaston Merisier, the designated Minister of Education and Professional Training, and a close friend of President Martelly, announced that more than $ 28 million had already been collected on behalf of the FNE. Therefore, according to Privert, that leaves $26 million for which the Senate is expecting an accounting. “We need to know where the money comes from, how it was used and where it is being held,” Le Matin quoted him saying.
Related 10.03.2011: Haitian Government Provides Education Subsidies for 772,000 Children
Related 10.03.2011: Senator Benoit Suspicious of National Fund for Education
Related 09.30.2011: Updates to President’s Plan for Education Fall Well Below Expectations
Related 09.29.2011: President Martelly Announces Free Transportation to School for Children in Haiti
Related 09.01.2011: Federation of Teachers Representing 500 Schools Pledge Support for Public Education
Source: Le Matin
“with Vallas at the helm of redesigning the Haitian school system, no child will be safe from an off-the-Richter-scale neoliberal quake. Vallas’ scheme for Haitian education centers on maintaining a system in which 90 percent of schools are private – with the one modification that the Haitian government finance these private schools, based on the charter school model he delivered to New Orleans.”
Shock-Doctrine Schooling in Haiti: Neoliberalism Off the Richter Scale
Two days before the earthquake, my one-year-old son and I accompanied my wife to Haiti for an HIV training course she was to conduct. Two days after surviving the quake, we drove into the center of Port-au-Prince from the Pétionville district, where we had been staying, and passed a school that had completely collapsed.
I remember successfully convincing myself as we drove by that not one student or teacher was struck by the chunks of drab-gray cinderblock that lay scattered in the courtyard. As a Seattle public schools teacher myself, I could not allow the image of being trapped with my students under the debris of the school to enter my thoughts and I managed to become certain that no one had been in the building when it collapsed. After spending the prior two days wrapping countless children’s bloodied appendages with bed sheets, I needed the peace of mind that these students lived.
But even teachers get the answers wrong. Upon returning to Seattle and reviewing the statistics, it seems increasingly likely that my confidence in the well-being of that school community was more coping mechanism than fact.
The Haitian government estimates that at least 38,000 students and more than 1,300 teachers and other education personnel died in the earthquake. As UNICEF reported, “80 percent of schools west of Port-au-Prince were destroyed or severely damaged in the earthquake and 35 to 40 percent were destroyed in the southeast. This means that as many as 5,000 schools were destroyed and up to 2.9 million children here are being deprived of the right to education.”
In the earthquake’s aftermath, Haiti’s Education Minister Joel Jean-Pierre declared “the total collapse of the Haitian education system.”
The truth, however, is that the seismic activity of free-market principles had shattered the education system in Haiti long before January 12, 2010.
Some 90 percent of schools in Haiti are private schools and, according to UN statistics, primary school tuition can often represent 40 percent of a poor family’s income – forcing parents, at the very least, to choose which of their children they’ll send to school. Only about two-thirds of Haiti’s kids were enrolled in primary school before the earthquake and less than a third reach sixth grade.
Secondary schools enrolled only one in five eligible-age children, which is one reason the illiteracy rate in Haiti is over half – 57.24 percent. Poverty and lack of access to education has led to mass child servitude, known as the restavèk system, with an estimated 225,000 Haitian youth living in a state of bondage.
For most people, Haiti’s broken school system – now literally buried under tons of rubble – is an incomprehensible horror. But for a few, the earthquake created a big break for business.
“There’s a real opportunity here, I can taste it. That is why I’ve flown [to Haiti] so many times.” Meet Paul Vallas. The 58-year-old Vallas is the former CEO of the Chicago and Philadelphia public school systems and was hired in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana that oversaw the transformation of the New Orleans school system.
Vallas’ legacy in these cities of privatizing schools, reducing public accountability and undermining unions made him a shoo-in to take charge of the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) education initiative in Haiti.
To truly appreciate Vallas’ epic dedication to letting the free market rip Haitian society apart, you have to consider the fact that he had to overcome a severe fear of flying to deliver the laissez-faire gospel to Haiti.
Vallas’ disaster-as-opportunity comment cited above was clearly cribbed from US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who indirectly praised Vallas’ work in New Orleans, saying, “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”
Duncan justified his statement by arguing that the destruction of the storm allowed education reformers to start from scratch and rebuild the school system better than before. However, as Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” pointed out about the New Orleans school system:
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools … New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now, the union’s contract had been shredded and its 4,700 members had all been fired.
It should be apparent, then, that with Vallas at the helm of redesigning the Haitian school system, no child will be safe from an off-the-Richter-scale neoliberal quake.
Vallas’ scheme for Haitian education centers on maintaining a system in which 90 percent of schools are private – with the one modification that the Haitian government finance these private schools, based on the charter school model he delivered to New Orleans.
To Vallas, education is a simple matter that shouldn’t be made more complicated by considerations about students being multifaceted individuals with different learning styles, backgrounds and passions. Vallas summarized his educational philosophy at a May 2010 symposium on schools in Haiti:
Education is not a complicated business: you diversify the management models [read: move away from public management toward private management], you expand your pool of qualified teachers, you develop superior curricular instructional models with the training that goes with it, you come up with basic classroom modernization designs that can be implemented regardless of the condition of the facility and you create a delivery system to go and implement these things – and believe me this is not rocket science.
Given that the IDB’s development strategy in Haiti is dedicated to increasing low-wage jobs in garment-production sweatshops, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Vallas was hired to implement an education plan that seeks to reduce schools to a “delivery system” assembly line, where the purpose of education becomes the systematic and linear production of widget students.
The IDB’s proposed five-year, $4.2 billion plan for the remaking of the Haitian education system could be described as the “Trojan school”: Using the promise of the day when there is reduced tuition in the bulk of Haitian schools as a means to permanently enshrine a private schooling system subsidized by the government. As the IDB explains of its proposal:
Under the reform, most Haitian schools will become publicly funded institutions, foregoing or drastically reducing tuition charges. The government will pay teacher salaries for schools participating in the plan.
But here’s the catch:
To remain in the new system, schools will have to adopt a national education curriculum.
Eliminating tuition charges in Haiti is an essential prerequisite to providing education to all of Haiti’s children. Yet, a year and a half after the IDB introduced its plan, there has been little progress in making schools free to all.
Moreover, a national standardized curriculum established by powerful interests is likely to obscure important lessons for Haiti’s youngsters.
For example, will this national course map, financed by the IDB, examine how US and Western foreign policy has, for generations, destabilized the Haitian government – from Thomas Jefferson’s refusal to recognize the newly established black republic at the turn of the 19th century for fear that it would encourage slave rebellions in the American South, through to the cables uncovered by WikiLeaks, revealing how the Obama administration manipulated the recent presidential election in Haiti?
Is this uniform curriculum more likely to include problem-posing lesson plans drawn from Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” – or from the pre-packaged lessons that come shrink-wrapped with former DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s curriculum-narrowing tests?
Vallas’ advocacy of a “drill-and-test” method for education should settle these questions, if there were ever any doubt.
But this approach to education is coming under increasing scrutiny in the US, as Stanford University Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond said at the recent Save Our Schools rally in Washington, DC:
While many politicians talk of international test score comparisons, they rarely talk about what high-performing countries like Finland, Singapore and Canada actually do: They ensure that all children have housing, health care and food security. They fund their schools equitably … They organize their curriculum around problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
In this light, the struggle in Haiti for an education that develops the whole child must be coupled with broader struggles – for permanent housing for the hundreds of thousands still in tent camps, for a sewage and water system to stem the spread of cholera and for an agricultural policy that supports Haitian farmers in domestic food production.
As the Secretary of the National Confederation of Haitian Educators, Lourdes Edith Delouis, put it, the union “draws attention to the fact that 130 communal sections are devoid of public schools 33 of which have no school, noting that the construction of these schools is a necessity and it must be accompanied by the offer of basic public services, such as water, electricity, health care and recreation.”
Ignoring these broader considerations, Vallas is nonetheless proud of the IDB’s education initiative. “The plan is very ambitious,” he said. “The funding goals may be too ambitious. But the bottom line is, if we achieve three-quarters or half of it, we’ll have a profound impact on the country.”
It would appear, however, that Vallas needs a remedial class in fractions – because the world’s governments, content with the morality of lowest common denominator, have delivered only a small portion of the money they pledged to help Haiti rebuild.
But that doesn’t keep the IDB from bragging about its work in rebuilding the school system in Haiti. According to a May 31 statement on the IDB web site:
Since January 2010, the IDB has financed the construction of 800 temporary classrooms in 57 school sites and the distribution of 100,000 backpacks with books and supplies for students. It has also provided financial support to 1,200 schools, enabling some 70,000 children to resume their lessons.
The IDB’s boasts about temporary classrooms and backpacks provide a powerful political science lesson for Haiti’s youth: None of the world’s governments care enough to give anywhere near what the schools need in aid.
The disregard for creating a quality school system in Haiti could not have been shown more forcefully than with Isabel Macdonald and Isabeau Doucet’s Nation magazine investigative report on the Clinton Foundation’s first project in Haiti, a reconstruction effort in the city of Léogâne.
The reporters discovered that the Clinton Foundation provided Léogâne with trailers from Clayton Homes – the very company being sued in the US for providing the Federal Emergency Management Agency with formaldehyde-tainted trailers following Hurricane Katrina.
As Macdonald and Doucet reported, the trailers were to be used as classrooms – but they incubated mold rather than scholarship and were plagued with disturbing levels of formaldehyde:
As Judith Seide, a student in Lubert’s sixth-grade class, explained to the Nation, she and her classmates regularly suffer from painful headaches in their new Clinton Foundation classroom. Every day, she said, her “head hurts and I feel it spinning and have to stop moving, otherwise I’d fall.” Her vision goes dark, as is the case with her classmate Judel, who sometimes can’t open his eyes because, said Seide, “he’s allergic to the heat.” Their teacher regularly relocates the class outside into the shade of the trailer because the swelter inside is insufferable.
Two out of four of these classrooms provided by the Clinton Foundation couldn’t be used to the end of the school year due to temperatures frequently exceeding 100 degrees inside the trailers. As student Mondialie Cineas said, “The class gets so hot. The kids get headaches. And we go to the teacher for him to give us painkillers.”
As it turns out, Vallas has been a strong proponent – both in New Orleans and Haiti – of using trailers as classrooms, arguing, “There are ways to create a classroom learning environment that can be a superior learning environment, even if that classroom is in an inadequate building.” Given that Bill Clinton is a close collaborator with the IDB, it’s unsurprising that his model for rebuilding schools in Haiti follows Vallas’ lesson plan.
Haiti and New Orleans have an inextricably linked history, including the 10,000 refugees that left Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) and arrived in New Orleans in 1809, doubling the population of the city. They brought with them the Creole culture and voodoo religion, elements of which persist in the bayou to this day.
But the nature of the relationship between these two cultures is currently being remade. From Vallas and charter schools to the Clayton Homes trailers, the US is unmistakably attempting to export its Hurricane Katrina response to Haiti and its schools – in a textbook case of Klein’s concept of the “shock doctrine” in which disaster capitalists seek to profit from calamity.
When the shock doctrine is applied to schooling, it has the effect of both profiteering off children and denying them access to the knowledge that could help them escape subjugation. As the French colonial governor of Martinique wrote to a French minister in Haiti in the late 1700s, “The safety of the whites demands that we keep the Negroes in the most profound ignorance. I have reached the stage of believing firmly that one must treat the Negroes as one treats beasts.”
Governments the world over owe a debt to Haiti that is long past due – some from a history of direct colonial control or later economic subjugation and some from failing to honor pledges made in the aftermath of the earthquake. If these debts were repaid, that would be the basis for constructing a world-class education system.
The balance owed should be deposited directly with the Haitian government to build a public school system accountable to the country’s citizens, not private interests. Haitian schools must be built immediately, in permanent, earthquake-resistant, hurricane-safe, world-class facilities that are free for all to attend. In this vision for the country’s public schools, they would serve as a focal point for Haitian society, where clean water and free meals could be organized and distributed to families.
Finally, Haitian educators must be given the autonomy to develop curricula that matches the needs of their students and the world into which they will graduate – skills such as creativity, civic courage, leadership, teamwork and social responsibility, which will be needed to address the massive social challenges facing Haiti.
As we enter another school year, I hope teachers in trailers across Haiti are preparing lesson plans that engage students in a critical dialogue about Toussaint L’Ouverture, his Haitian slave revolution that overthrew Western colonialism and the lessons it offers for the US government’s current neocolonial control over the island nation today.
Haiti has a lot to teach. It is time the world sat up straight.
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