U.S. pledge to rebuild Haiti not being met

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The deadly earthquake that leveled Haiti’s capital more than two years ago brought a thread of hope: a promise of renewal.

With the United States taking the lead, international donors pledged billions of dollars to help the country “build back better,” breaking its cycle of dependency.

But after the rubble was cleared and the dead were buried, what the quake laid bare was the depth of Haiti’s dysfunction.

Today, the fruits of an ambitious, $1.8 billion U.S. reconstruction promise are hard to find.

Immediate, basic needs for bottled water, temporary shelter and medicine were the obvious priorities. But projects fundamental to Haiti’s transformation out of poverty, such as permanent housing and electric plants in the heavily hit capital of Port-au-Prince, have not taken off.

Critics say the U.S. effort to reconstruct Haiti was flawed from the start. While “build back better” was a comforting notion, there wasn’t much of a foundation to build upon.

Haiti’s chronic political instability and lack of coordinated leadership between Haiti and the U.S. meant crucial decisions about construction projects were slow to be approved. Red tape stalled those that were.

The international community’s $10 billion effort also was hindered by its pledge to get approval for projects from the Haitian government.

For more than a year then-President Rene Preval was, as he later described it, “paralyzed,” while his government was mostly obliterated, with 16,000 civil servants killed and most ministries in ruins. It wasn’t until earlier this year that a fully operational government was in place to sign paperwork, adopt codes and write regulations.

Other delays included challenges to contracts, underestimates of what needed to be done, and land disputes.

Where did the money go?

Until now, comprehensive details about who is receiving U.S. funds and how the funds are being spent have not been released.

Contracts, budgets and a 300-item spreadsheet obtained by the Associated Press under a Freedom of Information Act request show:

• Of the $988 million spent so far, a quarter went toward debt relief to unburden the hemisphere’s poorest nation of repayments. But after Haiti’s loans were paid off, the government began borrowing again: $657 million so far, largely for oil imports rather than development projects.

• Less than 12 percent of the reconstruction money sent to Haiti after the earthquake has gone toward energy, shelter, ports or other infrastructure. At least a third, $329 million, went to projects that were awarded before the 2010 catastrophe and had little to do with the recovery — such as HIV/AIDS programs.

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