Insult to injury: Cholera has Haiti reeling, and Bill Clinton & Anderson Cooper haven’t done enough

By Ansel Herz

Breaking: North American news outlets “excited” by Haiti cholera outbreak. They say for them, “without a crisis, Haiti doesn’t exist.”

It’s a bitterly sarcastic but, unfortunately, entirely true statement, made via Twitter this week by Vanderbilt University historian Peter James Hudson. CNN doubled its prime-time viewership in January when a 7.0 earthquake devastated much of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. With CNN lagging behind its more partisan competitors, disaster porn is now the news channel’s bread and butter.

But it has managed to entirely miss the big-picture story: The cholera outbreak itself is a symptom of failed foreign policies and organizations that have left the Haitian people as poor as ever and disconnected from the mechanisms of their own development.

Anderson Cooper pledged to stay on the story of Haiti’s reconstruction. But he’s only been seen in Haiti once since the quake, on its six-month anniversary. Cooper stopped by the collapsed National Palace to accept a medallion for his reporting from the Haitian government in a surreal ceremony celebrating the country’s progress.

At that time, more than 1.3 million people made homeless by the earthquake were living in crowded, makeshift camps. Today, they still live that way amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince, extremely vulnerable to waterborne diseases like cholera. Refugees International recently called UN-led humanitarian efforts “paralyzed” and found “appalling” conditions in the camps, despite the billions of dollars pledged for earthquake relief.

Now, CNN crews are back in Haiti, covering a deadly cholera epidemic that has killed at least 330 people and infected nearly 5,000, according to officials. The bacteria incubate in bodies before causing symptoms or passing into the environment. What most media reports ignore is that the epidemic has been years in the making.

The George W. Bush administration blocked millions of dollars in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank for public water infrastructure in Haiti’s central region. In the previous decade, President Bill Clinton pressured the Haitian government into slashing tariffs on imported American rice, devastating the rice farming economy of the area.

Families are so poor they have no choice but to drink, bathe and cook with water from the muddy Artibonite River, where the cholera outbreak began. Yet UN officials said this epidemic was unexpected, attempting to excuse their slow response and failure to quarantine the zone where cholera broke out – even as they took credit in preceding months for preventing a postearthquake outbreak of infectious disease.

“What has been the impact of what you’re doing on the ground?” At a news conference following the October meeting of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission in Port-au-Prince, it was the second time that Haitian journalists had asked the question. But who can blame them?

There has been no meaningful recovery or reconstruction since the quake.  Clinton,  co-chairman of the commission, looked exasperated. “I think what they’re getting at is this: there are still 1.3 million people living in camps who -,” I offered, but Clinton stepped to the podium and cut me off. The prime minister moved aside.

Clinton said building housing is always the biggest challenge in postdisaster situations. He concluded with a plea: “It’s very difficult but we are on the move now, so just give us a little more time to show some progress.”

It’s too bad CNN’s Cooper wasn’t standing next to me, fixing his laserlike blue eyes on Clinton and lobbing righteously indignant questions. Because a little more time has passed since then; now, it’s nearly 10 months since the earthquake. Haiti has a virulent epidemic on its hands, and Hurricane Tomas is poised to lash the country this week. How many more crises must Haiti suffer through before we conclude that Clinton, the United Nations, charity groups and the current Haitian government simply cannot deliver on their promises?

For example, the Clinton-Bush Haiti fund, inaugurated by President Obama with both former Presidents at his side, is still running Web advertisements that say “100% of donations go directly to relief efforts.” That’s a cruel lie, considering the quake victims living in flood zones under withered plastic tarps. Only 8% of its $50 million had been spent by this summer, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The fund’s website now talks about supporting long-term programs to develop Haiti’s business class. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission has approved only one water project: $200 million to expand the public water supply in Port-au-Prince. But it remains only 57% funded, according to the group’s website.

Clinton’s much-lauded connections with international donors appear to have come to naught. Busy campaigning for Democrats ahead of Tuesday’s election, he has not spoken out about Haiti during the cholera outbreak.

The international community is financing Haiti’s own election on Nov. 28, but it will likely be a sham affair with little turnout. Fanmi Lavalas, widely seen as the country’s most popular party, is being officially excluded from the ballot by the ruling government as part of a continuing campaign to suppress a mass movement of Haiti’s poor majority.

Over half of American households donated their hard-earned money to Haitian earthquake victims. It’s high time we take stock of where that money went and demand some accountability, which our high-profile journalists have failed to do. Haitians must be allowed to freely choose their own leaders and chart their country’s development. CNN may bring you heartrending images of this place from time to time, but it doesn’t give the people a voice – the one we need to hear the loudest.

Herz, a freelance writer, blogs at


Author: `

5 thoughts on “Insult to injury: Cholera has Haiti reeling, and Bill Clinton & Anderson Cooper haven’t done enough

  1. Haiti is in good hands… we have nothing to fear.
    The Haitian people appreciate and trust President Bill Clinton and his team’s leadership. More importantly, Haiti has the best chance in 200 years to reinvent and recreate itself and it must in order to be relevant in this new global economy and this interconnected world community.

    “In addition to demonstrating the weaknesses of Haiti’s infrastructure,
    the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, exposed the
    weaknesses of Haiti’s state institutions. To avoid a repetition of the
    disaster, the government of Haiti and the international donor community
    now need to turn to building the foundations for a more effective
    state.” Building a more resilient Haitian state

    Our children in the Haitian Diaspora and our African-American brothers and sisters, whose civil rights struggles have facilitated our own development and growth in the US over the past 40 years, will finally bring down the ” Berlin wall” of racism and ignorance that makes up the artificial borders that have divided and isolated our communities for the past 200 years.
    Let us seize the moment!

  2. Although I do respect what Clinton, Bush and Cooper have set out to do, in the grand scheme of things, I agree that the US is obsessed with disaster and that is the generally only thing people learn about there. Flash stories of horror and then the TV goes off. I am from the US and have started an organization called EPHAS (Every Person Has a Story). We’re teaching people in Haiti right now how to use cameras to tell their own story instead of having a journalist pop down for 30 minutes and do a poor job of covering the situation. The fact is that after the news media left the island, the pool of people who still know about, follow, or care about the happenings and the people here is dwindling quickly–save for the potential hurricane.

    Our participants will have cameras even during the hurricane that we will collect (donate money back to the people from private donations and sales, etc.), of what is happening INSIDE the tents, inside their respective families, while such an atrocity happens. Hopefully Haiti will be spared this once, but if not, we will be beginning a new wave of how the US sees Haiti. From the way it is seen now–a disastrous snapshot–to, instead, the complex case full of PEOPLE, FEELINGS, and STORIES that should be presented.

    I commend you for writing your article and hope to hear back from you,

    G. Ryan Ansin
    Executive Director of EPHAS (Every Person Has a Story) Productions
    Follow us at

  3. Its not about what your country can do for you, it’s about what you can do for your own country. Any help should be welcomed but thinking that they owe us anything and depending on foreigners to solve our problems and lead us, is a sign of dependency and immaturity of thought pattern that will always result in disapointments. So time for us to find ways to get our own governments to work for us . Ps: I leave you with the positive thought “La cigale et la fourmie” which philosophy we need to learn from.(fable de LaFontaine).

  4. A little reminder from LaFontaine sa fable philosophique de “La Cigale et la fourmie”. Plantez pour recolder, suspen danse….In other words its not about what others can do for you its about what you can do to help yourself. Start by electing the right government and keep vigilent to their actions.Be responsible, instead of being overly dependent.

  5. i can feel and undrestand the frustation from the haitian’s reporter . The haitian gov should support recognize and encourage the freedom of the press where the citizen can openly discuss and publish any issue or story relating to the gov action or inaction. By having Clinton fighting or convince other countries to provide more aids for haiti is great and we should appreciate it for the people that are suffering there where more human life will be save. The gov of haiti ,the elected official ,the community leader,the school ,the business leader, parent and all the professional have to create an environment of learning plannig and development for the country other than depend from others to provide you with the necessary tool to achieve that goal.Clinton is good for haiti and i hope he continue to pressure those others coutries to keept their promise to send aid in Haiti.

Comments are closed.