Since the last time I wrote, life has improved considerably, at least for me. No Caviezel, today I thought I had shingles again, but no, just a blog-induced muscle spasm. Praise be to God! As He is my witness, I did not think I could endure that again. So fixated was I on obtaining the H1N1 vaccination, it never even crossed my mind to get a shingles vaccination while in the US. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I have now been scared straight and will not make this mistake again.
But no complaining here – the earthquake in Haiti wiped that form of expression off the face of the earth for the time being. You all see the news but I thought I would share with you some of my emails over the past week with La Lopez, Thing 2’s “other mother” as some of you readers may recall. La Lopez works for a branch of the UN. In late August of 2008, she hunkered down during Hurricane Hanna at the Hotel Montana in Haiti and, post-tempest, lunched with George Soros and President Preval, trying to sell the concept of “state-building”.
Two years later, La Lopez is trying to pedal the concept again, now literally, as the country will have to be razed and started again from scratch. With her permission, I have cut and pasted some of our emails, taking a few liberties for the sake of flow, and have constructed an interview based on my own questions for your general edification. And if I’ve gotten anything wrong, I hope she’ll point it out.
Me: So what exactly is “state-building”?
La Lopez: State-building is what I’ve been personally proposing to the president and prime minister for about two years now. They have to identify their top 20 technicians in every critical area – economy, infrastructure, security, etc. – and we train them. We already put together donors, trainers, etc. They never get around to acting on it due to incompetence, corruption, inertia. There is more aid per capita to Haiti than in any place in the world save India. The Haitians have to return a lot of it per year because they lack the capacity to absorb it. Right now, we (UN) and others are going to have to select the people, train them, and convince them to use this capability once it’s ready.
Me: Why should we continue to give money to Haiti, if they didn’t take your good advice in 2008? Isn’t that like throwing good money after bad?
La Lopez: We and others don’t really throw good money after bad. Our donation structures and rules, like those of the Canadians and Europeans, are so strict, that each year Haiti has to give a lot back if it can’t be used properly or absorbed. I’ve seen the money at work. It’s not how I would use it (I’m extremely frugal, organized and pragmatic – governments aren’t) but it’s not being wasted either. The 10,000 NGOs that work in Haiti do incredible work as well. But, I believe institution building is fundamental, otherwise it’s just creating dependency. Give them a fish and they’ll have fish for a day. Teach them to fish and they’ll have fish for live. That’s what we in UN development programs do, or at least try to.
Hello, America? Can we ask for some of the cash back if it’s not used? It’s not like we can’t afford not to account for it.
Also, I am not a fan of George Soros, for a variety of reasons I will not recount here. But, in the interests of open-mindedness I asked La Lopez why I should try to like him.
Me: Tell me one good thing about George Soros.
La Lopez: Soros gives his money away to help Haiti build their institutions. He finds honest, well-meaning and transparent people with credibility and promotes them and gives them money to work with. He spends a lot of money on Haitian kids, building schools and sports facilities. He does it all around the world. He’s a good guy.
Me: what did you and George have for lunch in 2008 at the Presidential Palace?
La Lopez: It was a buffet actually, kind of a curry sauce over chicken, and some fluffy white rice and vegetables. Very austere. We had to serve ourselves. What was spectacular were the orchids in the living room area. Haiti had received some serious investment from US and other flower growers and had begun a fairly sophisticated orchid export business, with refrigerated containers, etc. Preval had some in the palace that he used to show the good that investments can do.
Me: La Lopez, do you have any recommended reading?
La Lopez: “Dead Aid” by the African banker-turned-author Dambisa Moyo, who argues that aid dependency is killing many countries who don’t have strong enough institutions to make it work.
La Lopez also sent me this link today: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/opinion/21kristof.html?th&emc=th
George Soros’ aid foundation in Haiti: http://www.fokal.org.
I have spent a lot of time also pondering how it is that we so quickly forgot the 8.0 magnitude Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008 that killed 70,000 or so people, many of them school children and left millions homeless. Perhaps it is the “free press” and the access one has to another country. Because Haiti has no censorship, allowed news organizations to cover the disaster, and begged for help, the amount of coverage and intensity of it is much different than it was in the PRC. Perhaps the PRC should take note. Does lack of press coverage dilute our empathy and foster our collective memory loss? Are we inured to pain and misery after oh, say a week? What is our saturation point? BTdubs, kudos to the United States military for their excellent response in marshalling the chaos. Just imagine if they had been allowed into China.
My number one reason for being an expat princess: meeting folks like La Lopez. She is a real person making a real difference.
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