By Chico C. Norwood
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A Haitian legislator is in the third week of a hunger strike in an effort to force government officials to give an accounting of the billions of dollars that have poured into the country since the devastating 2010 earthquake but reportedly has not found its way to help alleviate the struggles of the people on the Caribbean Island.
Deputy Arnel Belizaire
Deputy Arnel Belizaire, who is being hailed by his countrymen as the second coming of Toussaint L'Oveture and Jean-François Papillon, said, despite all of the billions of dollars in aid that was targeted for his country since the earthquake, thousands of his countrymen are still living in squalor in tents in more than 300 camps with no access to sanitary facilities. He charges that the vast majority is dying from cholera, lacking proper healthcare and are suffering from starvation and malnutrition. And he adds that the Parliament and government are not doing anything to address the ongoing problems.
“As a parliamentarian I have been working hard under the constitution but I never have any response to all of my request. I have made at least 17 requests at the highest level. They are ignoring my requests,” Belizaire said. “My people are suffering and they want to know where is all of the money going.”
Elected to Parliament in April 2011, the fourth generation La Montagne native, is a first term legislator, as are many in the Haitian Parliament.
According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) website, approximately $14.5 million was allocated in 2010 by that entity to train Haitian legislators through its parliamentary strengthening program (PSP), which “aims to improve Parliament’s ability to conduct the business of the Haitian people in a transparent, accountable, and professional manner, with the objective of increasing popular support for democratic political processes and supporting greater stability in the country.”
The life of the PSP is from September 2011 to September 2016, the website states.
However, Belizaire says neither he nor any of his colleagues have attended any workshops or seminars to develop their parliamentary skills.
“The project is for the improvement of a parliamentarian. Almost four years that I have been here I've never been advised of any seminar or anything for the improvement of a parliamentarian. At this point I asked many of my colleagues and they told me the same thing -- they never have any information about that,” Belizaire stated, from the halls of Parliament, which he refuses to leave.
A request was made to USAID for information about the results of the initiative, and how the monies have been spent; however, there was no response by press time.
Following the January 12, 2010, earthquake that left, reportedly, more than 220,000 people dead, more than 300,000 injured and another 1.5 million people homeless, the United States Congress passed the “Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act of 2010,” which authorized up to $3.5 billion in federal funding over five years to support sustainable recovery and long- term rebuilding of Haiti. But Belizaire said to date there are many unfinished public works projects (such as a general hospital, government buildings, roads and utilities infrastructure) where monies have been disbursed but work has stopped.
“Why are these projects not moving forward? We need an accounting,” Belizaire demanded.
Belizaire is not alone in his charges of misuse of funds and government corruption. Moïse Jean-Charles, a senator representing Haiti’s North department, in a visit to the US last December, charged that current President Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly’s government has squandered millions of dollars on cars and travel for his family and entourage.
“...he (President Martelly) had the governor of the central bank give him five bulletproof cars, which cost the Haitian state US$2.5 million,” Charles reportedly told a New York gathering, adding that a total of 60 Toyota Prado SUVs were purchased “not for state officials, but for [Martelly’s] children, for his wife, and for people living with him” and that the president has spent $150,000 monthly to rent two helicopters and pays $1,700 per hour for a private jet, the online site Haiti Liberte reported.
“Our people are starving. Rice costs $27 to $30 dollars a bag. There is a cholera epidemic sweeping the country. My people need health assistance instead of wasting our people’s money to buy nice cars,” said Belizaire, who is described by his constituents as being “an effective, tireless advocate of people everywhere.”
Belizaire believes his only recourse to bring attention to the issue is the hunger strike.
“I'm going to stay on this hunger strike until I get answers or until the United States government intervenes and demands an accounting,” he said.
Attempts to reach representatives for President Martelly were unsuccessful.
“Deputy Belizaire is one of the most courageous and determined congressman of all times,” stated one of his constituents. “He has dedicated his adult life in protecting human rights, securing civil liberties. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral values, coupled with his unsurpassed courage and determination has won him the admiration of his colleagues in both sides of the aisle.”