329 Humanitarian Woes

During the past two centuries, Man has replaced God in various quarters (including many “modernist” churches).  Consequently humanitarianism—the abstract love for mankind—has increasingly replaced charity as the ultimate mark of righteousness.  The course was set in the 19th century when the highly influential bible critic David Strauss called for “the carrying forward of the Religion of Christ to the Religion of Humanity.”    Yet, as Feodor Dostoevsky insightfully noted in The Idiot:  “In abstract love of humanity one almost always only loves himself.”  Thus it is not surprising that folks who have given their lives in purely humanitarian endeavors end up disillusioned if not deeply jaundiced.  With that in mind one can learn much from Travesty in Haiti:  A true account of Christian missions, orphanages, fraud, food aid, and drug trafficking (Smashwords, c. 2012; Kindle) by Timothy T. Schwartz.  In 1995 Schwartz went to Haiti to finish his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology by doing “field work” in a clearly needy place.  He had no religious bent, but he did hope to make a difference by studying and understanding the country.  And he “was enthusiastic.  My enthusiasm and belief that I could make a contribution kept me returning despite the hardships, the violence, the coups, and the embargoes.  But ten years later I was a different person.  Perhaps I was simply burned out” (p. 228).  He illustrates rather nicely the downside of humanitarianism all over the world—without a transcendent perspective trying to help hurting people drives one to despair.  So while reading his books one must always remember Schwartz sees his world through rather jaundiced glasses!   His is animus doubtlessly distorts his presentation, but his woeful data still deserve consideration.

Schwartz says he “was supposed to do what is called participant observation, meaning that I was to live in the community, take part in the lives of the people there, live as they live, interfering as little as possible so that I could learn about their culture and how impoverished Haitians deal with problems of daily survival.”  Thereafter, he hoped “to join the ranks of foreign aid experts who work for charitable organizations such as CARE International, experts who design and carry out farm, commerce, and health projects meant to help the poor in their struggle to overcome hunger and disease” (p. 6).  For a year he lived in a rather remote fishing “hamlet” wherein his naive presuppositions and aspirations quickly vanished—in part because he “made the mistake that so many blan [whites] make in Haiti:  I started giving” (p. 19).  Regardless of their status, his neighbors incessantly begged, asking him to part with virtually everything he owned.  And when they didn’t beg they stole.  In time Schwartz simply left his personal property locked away with a missionary family some distance from the hamlet.  

After successfully completing his Ph.D., Schwartz found employment with a number of NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) that had begun arriving in Haiti in the 1950s.  This included CARE (the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), the most prestigious of them all.  He mainly conducted surveys to document educational, economic, and medical conditions in the country.  But as he looked at the data and  roamed about seeking to better understand Haiti, he found, to his dismay, that many of the humanitarian “aid” programs harmed the very people they were designed to help.  This was due primarily to their lack of accountability for the distribution of massive amounts of money collected from sincere donors who want to do something to “help” the needy.  Food aid, dumped in great quantities, inevitably harmed Haiti’s farmers and encouraged widespread theft and graft.   Easily stolen from the distribution sites and sold in the markets, aid parcels brought a tidy profit for the thieves.  A country that was exporting food in 1950 had become impoverished as “food aid” from rich countries overwhelmed it.

Technological assistance, often in the form of machinery (generators, tractors, etc.) sent to impoverished rural areas, did little good simply because Haitians could not effectively use it.  And, since it was designed for advanced economies, it was fundamentally unsuited for the country.  Illustrative of the problem, Schwartz points to five wind generators looming high on a hill near Baie-de-Sol, a provincial capital.  They were put there in the 1990s by the German embassy at the cost of several million dollars.  Each generator could produce 50,000 kilowatts of electricity, but within six months they were all destroyed by vandals tearing out their electrical wiring.  Copper brings cash in the market!  No one on the site knew anything about them, much less had the ability to get them working.  To Schwartz, “it is the typical story regarding development all over Haiti:  ‘It is broken, can’t be fixed, and nobody knows anything else about it.’  And that was the whole point.  To me the wind generators epitomized foreign aid.  Their guts ripped out, never having functioned for longer than a blan sat watching and caring for them, they are a summary statement of international development efforts in Haiti” (p. 66). 

The “missions” in the book’s subtitle refer not to the churches established to preach the Gospel.  Though emphatically not a Christian, Schwartz has no criticism for these evangelistic endeavors, frequently led by native preachers.  What he finds appalling are the many humanitarian ventures, almost always focused on helping Haitian children, under Christian auspices.  Virtually all of these are “orphanages” featuring impoverished children that collect enormous sums from sincere supporters in the United States.  In fact, many of the “orphans” have at least one parent.   And they are mainly in the facility to receive a quality education unavailable elsewhere.  Still more:  most “orphans,” have several sponsors in America sending monthly checks to support them, enabling entrepreneurs to nicely profit thereby.  In all the establishments Schwartz investigated, operators were spending “only a fraction of the money they raised for the children and pocketing the rest.  Orphanages in the area were a business” (p. 134).  After visiting “every single orphanage” one province, he concluded:  “They all look like scams to me” (p. 148).

Sadly enough this indictment ultimately held for the mission he had most trusted, run by an American family that portrayed itself as altruistic Christians devoted to the Haitians.  Visitors were inevitably impressed by their piety and charitable work.  To Schwartz, initially, they were bona fide good folks.  He “respected them, admired their honesty, their good works, the closeness of their family.  I had gone to their church services, stood with them holding an open bible in my hand as the Reverend read the words” (p. 215).  But then he learned the truth.  The Reverend was sleeping with the servants!  And the funds they raised supported a lavish lifestyle.  In the end:  “It was like CARE, a perversion of American charitable ideals, with its false claims to be aiding the “poorest of the poor” when what it was really doing was throwing exquisite banquets at plush hotels while carrying out U.S. political policy in the interest of international venture capitalists and agro-industrialists”  (p. 216). 

Summing up his book Schwartz says:  “This is the inside story of those projects and the impact on the people they were meant to help.  It is largely a story of fraud, greed, corruption, apathy, and political agendas that permeate the industry of foreign aid.  It is a story of failed agricultural, health, and credit projects; violent struggles for control over aid money; corrupt orphanage owners, pastors, and missionaries; the nepotistic manipulation of research funds; economically counterproductive food relief programs that undermine the Haitian agricultural economy; and the disastrous effects of economic engineering by foreign governments and international aid organizations such as the World Bank and USAID and the multinational corporate charities that have sprung up in their service, specifically, CARE International, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, and the dozens of other massive charities that have programs spread across the globe, moving in response not only to disasters and need, but political agendas and economic opportunity.  It is also the story of the political disillusionment and desperation that has led many Haitians to use whatever means possible to better their living standards, most recently drug trafficking; and how in the service of international narcotraffickers and money launderers, Haiti has become a failed State” (p. 2).

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In The Great Haiti Humanitarian Aid Swindle (n.p., Kindle, 2017), Timothy T.  Schwartz extends the expose he began in Travesty in Haiti.  He dedicates the book “to the millions of people who have donated money to help impoverished Haitians,” to the “tens of thousands of rescue workers and sincere aid employees who have gone to Haiti to help,” and “to the impoverished Haitians who are meant to benefit from aid, but the many, if not most, who do not benefit.”  Importantly, all these folks “deserve explanations for the wasted aid and they deserve explanations for the exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright lies about the Haitian people that came both after the 2010 earthquake and for decades before it” (frontpiece).  

Lest the reader suspect differently, Schwartz fully endorses charities of all sorts.  Loving others and giving them aid is a fully admirable thing.  But too many “charities,” however well-intended, ultimately do much harm and become sophisticated forms of stealing.  “Millions of people are engaged in ripping off the neediest people on the planet.  They participate in duplicity, exaggeration, and outright lying.   . . . they publish images of what they claim are enslaved children and raped women.  They invent or exaggerate statistics.  They seek out the most horrid stories of abuse.  They insinuate themselves into the stories or the statistics as saviors who are rescuing those in dire need.  And then, of course, they ask us for money” (p. 3).  

Yet they often do little to actually help needy people!  “Instead they spend the bulk of the money, not on the needs of the desperately poor or wretched and distressed, but on themselves.  They use the money to pay for their own homes, to pay school tuitions for their own privileged children, to pay their pension plans and vacations” (p. 3).  Even worse, Schwartz thinks, they are aided and abetted by a compliant media which get us to “believe the stories, the radically inflated numbers, and the twisted statistics.”  Anyone reading Schwartz quickly realizes how “fake news” oozes from to “those bastions of supposedly credible news, such as The New York Times, London’s The Guardian, wire services such as the Associated Press and United Press International, Agence France-Presse and prime time news shows such as CBS’s 60 Minutes and CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°” (p. 3).  

The focus of this book is the 2010 earthquake which devastated Haiti and ignited an incredible humanitarian response.  Schwartz was living in the Dominican Republic when the earthquake occurred and drove immediately to Port-au-Prince, hoping to help as an interpreter as well as observe humanitarian endeavors.  Though highly-trained and well-equipped, the rescue teams generally arrived too late to really help and then failed to enter the areas most devastated by the quake.  They failed, it seems, because they feared the violent, knife-wielding rioters featured by the media!  Indeed, he says:  “Anyone who read the headlines would have been afraid.  The disgrace was the press; those professionals we count on to tell us what’s happening.  They were fomenting the fear” (p. 31).  But the fears were utterly groundless.  In fact, even the most devastated areas in Port-au-Prince were much safer than usual.  Most (90 percent or more) of the folks actually rescued were saved within eight hours by friends and neighbors and even looters, digging through the rubble with their hands and simple tools in the hours immediately following the quake.  “In the years since the earthquake, dozens of people have told me how looters dug them out.  I have never met anyone saved by an official rescuer” (p. 27).  A total of 67 search and rescue teams managed to rescue only 137 people—a number widely celebrated by the press.  “And it cost a fortune.  The total cost was 243 million U.S. dollars, about 1.84 million dollars for each of the 137 to 147 rescues that were, fairly or unfairly, attributed to international rescue teams” (p. 65).  Meanwhile, hundreds of seriously-injured Haitians were desperately needing medical attention.  Rescue teams (flush with skilled paramedics) drove by hotels and shelters housing hundreds of injured Haitians in order to dig through rubble vainly seeking survivors.  “If, instead of devoting their time to the rescue efforts . . . the 1,918 paramedics and doctors assigned to the rescue squads had been treating just ten people per day per paramedic, they would have treated 134,260 people in the first week” (p. 67).  But dramatic rescues make better TV!  And raise more money!

Money, as well as rescue teams, began almost immediately flowing into the country.  Corporations and individuals sent $3.1 billion and foreign governments would give another $10 billion.  The Red Cross made an “emergency flash appeal” for $10 million, but when funds began arriving the amount was raised to $100 million and ultimately reached $1.2 billion.   Save the Children first asked for $9.8 million and quickly raised $20 million.  By the year’s end the amount was $87 million.   “World Vision asked for $3.8 million.  But they then kept asking for more, and more, and more, until they had collected a total of $191 million.  UNICEF originally called for $120 million.  When they brought in $229 million in six months—almost double what they requested—they decided they needed another $127 million.  . . . .   The NGOs and UN agencies were as a rule insatiable.  In all post-earthquake Haiti, only Doctors Without Borders told donors they had enough money, and that was after bringing in a whopping $138 million” (p. 9).   Then the  “squandering and waste began almost immediately” (p. 5).  “The stories go on and on.  . . . Food for the Poor was building permanent houses in Haiti before the earthquake for $2,000 per home.  After the earthquake, the U.S. government partnered with Food for the Poor to build 750 of what were essentially the same houses, but at a cost of $38,000 per house, 19 times the pre-earthquake costs.   Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern said that $100 million of the $500 million given to the Red Cross would go to ‘provide tens of thousands of people with permanent homes.’  Five years later NPR would report that the charity had built six permanent homes” (p. 7). 

Ever the conscientious scholar, Schwartz meticulously documents his assertions with extensive notes and appendices, though this was made difficult by the charities’ failures to disclose their finances.   Of the 196 organizations the Disaster Accountability Project examined, only six provided up-to-date accounting.  “Only one provided what DAP considered ‘complete and factual information.’  The majority—128—did not have factual situation reports available on their websites, relying instead upon anecdotal descriptions of activities or emotional appeals.  Many claimed to provide details of their activities on their blogs, but the blogs were almost entirely ‘appeals to emotion, pictures of children, and purely anecdotal accounts about touching moments during a particular delivery of relief’” (p. 8).  They told anecdotes because they had little data demonstrating how they helped respond to the “disaster.”  Numbers were inflated as well as difficult to discern.  Take Cassandra Nelson, who worked for Mercy Corps.   She flew into Haiti and said:  “‘it is like opening a window on unprecedented levels of ruin . . . by far the worst devastation that I’ve ever seen.’”  Flying home 16 days later, she declared:  “‘Literally everything is destroyed.’”  On the contrary, Schwartz, who actually knows the country quite well, says there were remarkably few scenes such as Nelson described.  Yet, “wherever you were in the world, you could have turned on the television, logged on to the internet, or opened a newspaper and found pictures that made you think that Port-au-Prince was like that.  But if you were actually in Port-au-Prince at the time, to see those scenes you would have had to search them out” (p. 83).  In short, things were not nearly so bad in Haiti following the earthquake as we were led to believe!  Many buildings collapsed, but over 90 percent of them did not!  Journalists lamented the lack of electricity and running water but never checked to learn that such was the daily reality Haitians faced long before the earthquake!  They also aired astronomical figures for the lives lost, untruths given them by humanitarian aid agencies who knew they would increase their revenues thereby. 

Schwartz was employed by USAID (the United Nations International Childrens Emergency Fund) to document how many people returned to their homes following the earthquake.  This necessarily involved ascertaining how many people actually died.  When he presented his report, however, a USAID official unleashed a tirade against him since he didn’t accept the official Haitian government’s number of 316,000—the number cited by most NGOs soliciting donations around the world.  “Where the figures were coming from nobody knew” (p. 92).  In fact, Schwartz believes, only around 60,000 people died.  But neither the government nor the press nor the NGOs were interested in the truth.  They just wanted inflated figures.  “The disturbing thing about all this, and what really suggests that regarding the number of people killed there was indeed a type of Great Haiti Humanitarian Aid Swindle complete with falsified data at the highest levels of the government and cover-ups at the highest level of the press, is that the press knew from the beginning that the government was inflating the figures.  And by corollary, U.S. government bureaucrats knew” (p. 94).  It took Schwartz five years to fully figure it out, but he concluded that “the executives at humanitarian agencies, such as Steve McAndrew of the Red Cross or Sophie Perez of CARE International” demanded high numbers.  “The more people dead, the more the good-hearted people of the world would be inclined to give donations.  It’s a no-brainer.  For the press it was obvious too.  The bigger the tragedy, the more horrific the scenes and the more harrowing the tales, the more people would buy newspapers, log onto their internet sites or turn on their televisions and watch the news” (p. 111).

Beyond exaggerating death statistics, child protection workers and orphanage owners cleverly massaged the images of homeless Haitian children.  “With UNICEF and Save the Children leading, orphanages fanning the flames, and the press publishing almost anything anyone said—no matter how scant the facts—the scramble to save Haiti’s children took on apocalyptic dimensions.  They told us that there were over 1 million lost, separated or abandoned children, conjuring up images of little children aimlessly wandering through the ruins of Port-au-Prince.  As time went on the experts added images of sexual predators and slave hunters prowling the rubble in search of the children.  They told us that people were selling children for $50.  It came to be known around the world as the ‘Haiti Orphan Crisis.’  Almost none of it was true.  As will be seen, the number of orphaned, lost or separated children was inflated by factors that ran into the hundreds and perhaps thousands.  No network of slave hunters or perverts was ever verified.  Nor was there ever a confirmed case of someone selling a child” (p. 129).  It was all a scam!  Certainly less than 1,000 children were separated from their parents—and the number was probably around 100.  Yet UNICEF celebrated its work of reuniting families and collected some $100 million from donors.  Precisely how many families were reunited?  Twenty! 

“Whatever their intentions, it was a massive swindle. The world’s largest child protection agencies, UNICEF, Save the Children, World Vision, Compassion International and others, together with the orphanages and the world’s three largest news services, Agence France-Press, Reuters and the Associated Press, used untruths and exaggerations about children to precipitate a media hysteria that sustained an avalanche of donations from concerned citizens in almost every country on earth.  The success of that swindle is not only in the money they brought in.  Nor is the success of the swindle limited to the fact that more than 90 percent of the money went to internal expenses, including pension plans, salaries, school tuitions for the children of UNICEF staff and the staff of those organizations to which UNICEF distributed money” (p. 170).  Sadly enough:  “The most outstanding mark of swindle is that when it was all over, after having never apologized or even publicly acknowledged the duplicity, UNICEF officials were still looking into cameras, gushing with heartfelt sincerity, and asking for more money to help the Haitian children.  And they were getting it” (p.172).

For his efforts to rightly report such facts, Schwartz was roundly assailed.  He was called “a spiteful piece of garbage,” a “criminal,” a “liar,” a “despicable vampire” responsible for Haitian woes!  He was, for sure, a threat to highly-paid employees of humanitarian agencies.  “USAID-Washington would go on to blacklist me,” though he’s one of the best informed Haitian scholars (p. 96).   (The fact that Schwartz has self-published these works may very well indicate how he violates the modern humanitarian credo!)