Service members from Joint Task Force Matthew and representatives from the United States Agency of International Development delivered relief supplies to areas affected by Hurricane Matthew. Photo: United States of America Capt. Tyler Hopkins/U.S. Navy

A bill that would force the United States to reassess how it can best help Haiti has been reintroduced in the House and Senate.

The bipartisan Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act was introduced Wednesday by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Michael Waltz (R-FL), and Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

If passed, it would direct the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development to prioritize its support for human rights, anti-corruption, free press, civil liberties, reconstruction and development in Haiti.

It also would require the Department to report to Congress on a mass killing in the island nation in 2018.

Critical time

The bill comes as Haiti faces critical challenges. The island nation’s legislative elections were postponed indefinitely in October 2019, and Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been ruling by decree since January 2020, when the legislature’s mandate expired.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. Photo credit: A. Leonhardt for BK Reader

“Haiti is home to a resilient and entrepreneurial people and has tremendous potential to thrive as a free and fair democracy,” Rep. Jeffries said. “However, it faces—and has faced—severe challenges in the wake of natural disasters, food insecurity, the coronavirus pandemic and political instability.”

Jeffries is the U.S. Representative for New York’s 8th congressional district, which covers parts of central and eastern Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is home to a sizeable Haitian diaspora, even having its own Little Haiti designated district in Flatbush. In the U.S., there are more than 687,000 Haitian immigrants, according to 2018 Census data.

Second introduction

The Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act was originally passed by the House last November during the 116th Congress. However that Congress adjourned before it could be voted into law.

Meanwhile, Haiti is facing one of its worst outbreaks of violence since 1986, with alleged complicity between politicians and gangs, according to Human Rights Watch.

Charges have been laid against 98 people, including 2 senior government officials, for a 2018 gang-related massacre of 71 people in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti has faced an onslaught of natural disasters. Photo: Pexels.

“I am particularly concerned with reports of grave human rights abuses that must be fully investigated to bring those responsible to justice,” Senator Cardin said.

“Although the eyes of the world largely have turned away, Haiti has continued to struggle to recover from the devastating earthquake of a decade ago. Its government and economy are rife with uncertainty and corruption, while everyday life for many of its citizens remains a constant struggle.”

The bipartisan act would assess the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid to Haiti over the past ten years. It would update strategies to reduce corruption, promote good governance and encourage freedom of the press, as well as protecting human rights and improving economic development.

Natural disaster

Eleven years ago, Haiti was hit by a catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed at least 220,000 people and displaced 1,500,000 people. 

It was then hit with Hurricane Matthew in 2016, food insecurity, political unrest, corruption and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

Damage in the city of Moron, Haiti, following Hurricane Matthew. Photo: Avi Hakim, CDC

“For far too long, Haiti has been crippled by poverty, natural disasters, political instability, and corruption,” Rep. Waltz said. 

“I’m honored to stand with Rep. Jeffries in his steadfast dedication to promote transparency within Haitian humanitarian assistance programs to ensure that this vital aid is focused on improving the welfare of the Haitian people.”

A constitutional referendum is scheduled in Haiti for June 27. Legislative and presidential elections will follow on Sept. 19. 

What the law seeks to do:

  • Encourage the Secretary of State to address concerns of impunity for the orchestrators of the La Saline massacre
  • Advocate for increased protection for the press and the freedom to assemble
  • Work to ensure attacks against journalists are investigated and develop protection measures against police violence
  • Prioritize curbing corruption in Haiti, including supporting demands for accountability in the Petrocaribe oil scandal and “assessing the impact of presidential decrees on the health of Haiti’s democratic institutions”
  • Create a report assessing post-earthquake, post-hurricane and COVID-19 recovery and a transparent development plan
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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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