the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, many who of us worried our close
Japanese friends and allies were not getting the same high level attention in
Washington and international diplomatic circles as the 2010 earthquake that
rocked Haiti. Ironically, Japan might be more fortunate in that respect.
Leftist filmmaker Raoul Peck argues international aid efforts in Haiti have largely
done more harm than good in Fatal
opens this Friday in New York.
mostly good intentions, the world rushed to aid quake-devastated Haiti. The
Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC) was instituted with Bill Clinton
and Haitian PM Jean-Max Bellerive installed as co-chairs. Right from the start,
it acted like any other hydra-headed multi-national quasi governmental body.
irrefutably establishes some of the charges in his wide ranging indictment.
Without question, the various competing NGOs woefully underperformed in the
debris removal process. They were so focused on grand rebuilding schemes, they
had neither the expertise nor the donor interest in doing the very work
necessary to make the rebuilding stage possible. It is also pretty hard to defend the
flood-prone temporary housing constructed (at not inconsiderable cost) in the temporary
camps that became permanent new slums. Also, Peck gives rather short shrift to the
effect of the UN’s pointless arms embargo, which left Bellerive unable to arm
his new police recruits.
Peck does not connect the international conspiracy dots nearly as well as he
thinks he does. Often, he shows various IHRC proceedings as if they were “ah-hah”
moments, but only he can see the smoking gun. In fact, he does his best to
ignore the widespread corruption that made the NGO sector legitimately leery of
the Haitian government. It might be disappointing that Peck lets Haitian
politicians off the hook so easy, but it is understandable, considering he
happens to be one himself, having served as Minister of Culture under PM Rosny
Smarth’s short-lived administration.
much as Peck wants to focus on the international relief “industry,” questions
regarding domestic corruption are highly pertinent. Recently, the Filipino expat
community largely shunned government agencies in favor of organizations like
the International Red Cross precisely because of similar concerns. Still, it is hard to have much confidence in
the IHRC, the OAS or any of the rest of the do-gooding alphabet soup based on
the results Peck documents.
fact, if anyone emerges as Fatal’s
genuine bad guy, it is Bill Clinton, whom Peck explicitly accuses of using the
tragedy as a disgusting ego-stroke. According
to Peck and frustrated aid workers, the Hot Springs native is far more
concerned with preening at ribbon cutting ceremonies than actually resolving
the IHRC’s internal divisions or doing any sort of work in general.
Peck will convince just about every viewer of
his general thesis: international aid is often misallocated and
counter-productive. However, his assorted sub-points do not always convince.
Frankly, Fatal just as easily
supports the sort of Public Choice Theory analysis developed by the late Nobel Lauriat James Buchanan, who argued government (and presumably extra-governmental
NGO) bureaucrats are just as influenced by self-interest as anyone operating in
the private sector. Fatal will
engender pity for Haiti and contempt for Clinton, but Landon Van Soest’s Good Fortune remains a more thoughtful exploration
of unintended consequences of first to third world aid programs. Sometimes
quite revealing, but rather scattershot in its insight, Fatal Assistance is narrowly recommended for those interested in
the politics of disaster relief when it opens this Friday (2/28) at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
Labels: Documentary, Haitian Cinema, Raoul Peck