On the eve of the second anniversary of the January 12, 2010 earthquake – and as part of a coordinated two-week media blitz designed to counter the increasingly negative perceptions of the United States’ role in Haiti’s reconstruction — the US Embassy in Haiti invited the public to participate in their first Twitter Q&A. Using the hash-tag #askembhaiti, they proposed a twitter town hall, an open conversation in Kreyol, French and English designed to showcase the projects and works they had undertaken over the past two years.
“Get your questions ready! Ask us about the US govt’s work in Haiti. Live Q&A with embassy staff at 11 AM today,” they tweeted from @USEmbassyHaiti. “We are taking your questions about US government policy and activities in Haiti.” “We look forward to an interesting conversation with you about the USA and Haiti. #AskEmbHaiti.”
While a disclaimer quickly followed their initial announcement – “Demand and time limitations may make it difficult to respond to every question we receive,” they tweeted – the questions, perhaps invariably, were more revealing than the answers.
When @livefromhaiti asked, “What is your stance on the revival of the Haitian Army?” the response from @USEmbassyHaiti foretold the stream of empty, 140-character bromides to come. “Haitian National Police has been, and continues to be,” they tweeted, “the USG’s top priority for improving security in Haiti.” When @livefromhaiti wondered, “How come Haiti is listed as a dangerous place to travel when it has one of the lowest homicide rates in the Caribbean?” they responded “USG provides accurate, current info for our citizens. Info in travel advisories is factual, based on real experiences.” When @dominique_e_ tweeted, “Dear @USEmbassyHaiti, why does President #Obama continue failed Reagan and Bush policies in Haiti?” They suggested he “See @whitehouse’s Global Development Policy for latest info: tinyurl.com/385rpvr #AskEmbHaiti.”
Only once, on the question of impunity for Jean Claude Duvalier, did @USEmbassyHaiti’s Twitter Q&A resemble anything near a dialogue. Though even this floundered on the shoals of bureaucratic double-speak and, finally, a simmering exasperation. “Dear @USEmbassyHaiti,” @dominique_e_ tweeted, “why do you fight democracy in Haiti while supporting impunity for Duvalier?” “We support rule of law in Haiti,” they responded, “Haitian people + justice system must decide how to end impunity.” @nathanyaffe quickly tweeted a follow up question. “Does what you just said count as an admission that there is impunity for the UN and Haiti today? #AskEmbHaiti.” Their response, “We don’t follow your drift.”
Still, the questions posted by the above-mentioned accounts, as well as from @djaspora, @wesleylaine, @Transafrica, and others, kept coming. They provide a clear-eyed vision of the nature of US-Haiti relations and the terms of reconstruction. Why were you outspoken against Aristide’s return in the run-up to his arrival in Haiti, but not Duvalier’s? Why does @USEmbassyHait act as if Aristide is a threat to Haiti while prolific human rights abuser Duvalier coddled? Why is US not helping Haiti get restitution from @UN for causing cholera outbreak? Why has the U.S. government been so consistently opposed to hold UN troops accountable, even in the face of raped minors? Is MINUSTAH’s occupation of Haiti linked to US plans for perm military base to control Latin America? Since Bill Clinton’s policies have failed Haiti (his own words), why has Obama sent him back to Haiti? Why are sweatshops and luxury Hotels being built with U.S. government support? Is this sustainable? Why has there been no environmental impact assessment re Caracol industrial Park? If @USAID took environmental degradation in Caracol into consideration, where is the report @USEmbassyHait? Why has @USAID and @USEmbassyHaiti fought the minimum wage, leading to a ‘race to the bottom’? Only 2.4% of U.S. govt contracts went directly to Haitian firms. What is being done about this? Given the dismal track record of interference in Haiti’s affairs by the USG, why should we believe this time will be better? Why do you consistently claim that disproven sweatshop ‘development models’ are good for Haiti? How can State Dept spur development when it won’t allow Haiti gov’t to make decisions it doesn’t like? Why is your administrative bunker in Tabarre the size that it is? What about self-sufficiency for the Haitian Government so that NGOs are not necessary? Given low levels of actual violence, how do you justify spending ~1/2 of FY2010 quake relief on US military? Why is this decrease of Haiti’s camp population touted as a success, when many were forced back into unsafe ruins? What will be done to stop violent evictions, protect IDP rights under international standards, & get to safe housing?
“We hope you enjoyed this Q&A as much as we did,” @USEmbassyHaiti tweeted by way of conclusion. We most certainly did.
Image: Port-au-Prince New Embassy Compound (5 July 2007), United States Department of State.