Being here in Haiti for the last while, it’s striking how often I hear how many locals say that their independence was taken from them years ago, particularly by the US and foreign NGOs. This story has only inflamed sentiments (via GlobalPost):
Sean Penn’s aid foundation, J/P HRO, began tearing down the once-picturesque National Palace in Port-au-Prince, clearing the most iconic pile of rubble that has remained since the 2010 earthquake.
On Thursday, bulldozers and work crews descended on the former government building, beginning a project that is likely to go on for at least three months, the Associated Press reported last week.
Penn’s group reportedly volunteered for the task of demolishing the former presidential residence (President Michel Martelly is now living in a suburb), but there’s no word yet on what might be erected in its place, as the Martelly administration has yet to announce plans for a new building. J/P HRO will also be recycling the rubble from the Palace to Cite Soleil, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince where pieces of the demolished building will be used to repair roads, homes and schools, according to the Caribbean Journal.
Yet some locals are skeptical, wondering why the job went to a foreign organization and not Haitians who are ready and willing to work on what the Miami Herald called “the most powerful symbol of the Haitian state and presidency.”
“Sean Penn tearing down the National Palace is a reflection of Haiti’s vanishing sovereignty,” said Daly Valet, editor of the Haitian Le Matin newspaper, to the Herald. “The Haitian people have lost control over their destiny. If the international community and their NGOs have succeeded in one thing in Haiti, it is making Haiti anything but a real country with a respectable state.”
Many Haitians, such as political blogger Jean-Junior Joseph, have said that the Haitian government should have been involved in the demolition, using aid money and the strengths of various agencies, such as the Public Works Department or the Center for National Equipment, which volunteered for the job immediately following the earthquake.
However, using government funds would undoubtedly burden the taxpayer and would more than likely exceed any budget set for the project. J/P HRO has begun the demolition at no cost to the Haitian people, according to government spokesperson Damian Merlo, but that seems to hardly make a difference to those who feel their country has been manhandled by foreign aid organizations.