Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The 'Aid Machine' at work in Haiti

Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck doesn’t mince words. Nor should he.

“Aid is never innocent,” he said after a recent New York showing of his bracing documentary Fatal Assistance, which examines the humanitarian efforts (or “aid machine,” as he and others call it) in Haiti, since the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.

His view of the humanitarian world isn’t, to put it mildly, pretty. Focusing in particular on international reconstruction efforts that have stalled – with pledged aid in many cases either delayed or not dispersed at all–the film reveals a surfeit of high-minded idealism and good intentions by outsiders (such as Bill Clinton) but not enough attention paid to Haitians themselves.

The film reveals how Haitians uprooted by the quake would have been better off receiving small direct grants to rebuild homes on their own rather than having to endure temporary shelter that was both expensive and inadequate.

In what is one of many poignant arguments, the film declares that “somehow Haiti always survives its benefactors.” It is hard not to feel that Haitians will survive this latest round of outside imposition with typical Haitian aplomb and endurance.

Yet, it won’t be easy. Haitians were the first to come to the aid of fellow Haitians after the quake, and for about two to three weeks afterwards, Peck recalled during a March 1 director’s Q-and-A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a feeling of solidarity was in the air of the streets of Port-au-Prince. But after about a month or so, there grew a dark feeling that an outside, invading army had planted itself firmly on Haitian territory. (There was a long history of this, of course. Even before the quake, Haiti was known as the “Republic of NGOs.”)

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