HAITI: Private Contractors ‘Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot’



By Anthony Fenton


February 19, 2010

VANCOUVER, Canada, Feb 19, 2010 (IPS)
– Critics are concerned that private military contractors are
positioning themselves at the centre of an emerging "shock doctrine"
for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Next month, a prominent umbrella organisation for private military
and logistic corporations, the International Peace Operations
Association (IPOA), is co-organising a "Haiti summit" which aims to
bring together "leading officials" for "private consultations with
attending contractors and investors" in Miami, Florida.

Dubbed the "mercenary trade association" by journalist Jeremy Scahill,
author of "Blackwater: the Rise of the World’ Most Powerful Mercenary
Army", the IPOA wasted no time setting up a "Haiti Earthquake Support"
page on its website following the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated
the Caribbean country.

IPOA’s director Doug Brooks says, "The first contacts we got were
journalists looking for security when they went in." The website of
IPOA member company, Hart Security, says they are currently in Haiti
"supporting clients from the fields of media, consultancy and medical
in their disaster recovery efforts." Several other IPOA members have
either bid on or received contracts for work in Haiti.

Likewise, the private military contractor, Raidon Tactics, has at least
30 former U.S. Special Operations soldiers on the ground, where they
have been guarding aid convoys and providing security for "news
agencies," according to a Raidon employee who told IPS his company
received over 1,000 phone calls in response to an ad posting "for open
positions for Static Security Positions and Mobile Security Positions"
in Haiti.

Just over a week following the earthquake, the IPOA teamed up with
Global Investment Summits (GIS), a UK-based private company that
specialises in bringing private contractors and government officials
from "emerging post-conflict countries" together, to host an
"Afghanistan Reconstruction Summit", in Istanbul, Turkey. It was there,
says IPOA’s director Doug Brooks, that the idea for the Haiti summit
was hatched "over beers".

GIS’s CEO, Kevin Lumb, told IPS that the key feature of the Haiti
summit will be "what we call roundtables, [where] we put the ministers
and their procurement people, and arrange appointments with
contractors." Lumb added that his company "specialise[s] in putting
governments together [with private contractors]."

IPOA was "so pleased" with the Afghanistan summit, says Lumb, they
asked GIS to do "all the organising, all the selling" for the Haiti
summit. Lumb pointed out that all of the profits from the event will be
donated to the Clinton-Bush Haiti relief fund.

While acknowledging that there will be a "a commercial angle" to the
event and that "major companies, major players in the world" have
committed to attend, Lumb declined to name most of the participants.

One of the companies Lumb did mention is DACC Associates, a private
contractor that specialises in management and security consulting with
contracts providing "advice and counsel" to governments in Afghanistan
and Pakistan.

DACC President Douglas Melvin, a former Special Forces commander, State
Department official and director of Security and Administrative
Services for President George W. Bush, acknowledged that "from a
revenue perspective, yes there’s wonderful opportunities at these
events."

Melvin added that he believes most attendees will be "coming together
for the right reasons," a genuine concern for Haiti, are "not coming to
exploit" the dire situation there, and does not expect his company to
profit off of their potential contracts there.

Naomi Klein, author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster
Capitalism", is concerned that the thesis of her best-selling book will
once again be tested in Haiti. She told IPS in an e-mail, "Haiti
doesn’t need cookie cutter one-size fits all reconstruction, designed
by the same gang that made same such a hash of Iraq, Afghanistan and
New Orleans – and indeed the same people responsible for the decimation
of Haiti’s own economy in the name of ‘aid.’"

Unhappy with critics’ characterisation of the IPOA, Brooks said, "If
Scahill and Klein have the resources, the capabilities, the equipment,
to go in and do it themselves then more power to them."

University of California at Los Angeles professor Nandini Gunewardena,
co-editor of "Capitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in
Disaster Reconstruction," told IPS that "privatisation is not the way
to go for disaster assistance."

"Traditionally, corporations have positioned themselves in a way that
they benefit at the expense of the people. We cannot afford for that to
happen in Haiti," she said, adding that "any kind of intermediate or
long-term assistance strategy has to be framed within that framework of
human security."

This, according to the U.N-.based Commission on Human Security, means
"creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and
cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of
survival, livelihood and dignity."

Denouncing the "standard recipe of neoliberal policies," Gunewardena
said, "If private corporations are going to contribute to Haiti’s
restoration, they have to be held accountable, not to their own
standards, but to those of the people."

Reached by telephone, Haiti’s former Minister of Defence under the
first presidency of Jean Bertand Aristide, Patrick Elie, agreed. He’s
worried about the potential privatisation of his country’s rebuilding,
"because these private companies [aren’t] liable, you can’t take them
to the United Nations, you can’t take them to The Hague, and they
operate in kind of legal limbo. And they are the more dangerous for it."

Elie, who accepted a position as advisor to President Rene Preval
following the earthquake, added "These guys are like vultures coming to
grab the loot over this disaster, and probably money that might have
been injected into the Haitian economy is going to be just grabbed by
these companies and I’m sure that they are not only these mercenary
companies but also the other companies like Halliburton or these other
ones that always [come] on the heels of the troops."

In its 2008 report, "Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the
Culture of Impunity," the NGO Human Rights First decried the "failure
of the U.S. government to effectively control their actions, and in
particular the inability or unwillingness of the Department of Justice
(DoJ) to hold them criminally responsible for their illegal actions."

The IPOA’s Brooks told IPS that members of the Haitian diaspora and
Haiti’s embassy have been invited and are "going to be a big part" of
the summit.

While stressing that it’s impossible to know the exact details of an
event that is planned outside of public scrutiny, Elie countered that
if high-level Haitian officials were to participate, "It’s either out
of ignorance or complicity."

Worried that Haiti is already seeing armed contractors in addition to
the presence of more than 20,000 U.S., Canadian, and U.N. soldiers,
Elie says he has seen private contractors accompanying NGOs, "walking
about carrying assault rifles."

If the U.S. military pulls out and hands over the armed presence to
private contractors, "It opens the door to all kinds of abuses. Let’s
face it, the Haitian state is too weak to really deal efficiently with
this kind of threat if it materialises," he said.

The history of post-disaster political economy has shown that such a
threat is all too likely, says Elie. "We’ve seen it happen so many
times before that whenever there is a disaster, there are a bunch of
vultures trying to profit from it, whether it’s a man-made disaster
like Iraq, or a nature-made disaster like Haiti."

(END)

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