Haiti; Little to live on but hope; Slum dwellers live in tin shacks without water
Port-au-Prince, Haiti — On a normal working day Franz Colen glues the soles onto four, maybe five, pairs of sandals. The teen-ager receives 4 gourds (about 80 cents US) in payment , which is only 1/30th of the final price of the sandals - but a good wage in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas.
Home, to Franz Colen and 25,000 others, is the slum of St. Martin in downtown Port-au-Prince. At work, an open drain runs beside his table, reeking of sewage, garbage, and foul rainwater.
On either side of the path in front of his workplace stretches a succession of houses made from corrugated iron sheets, cardboard packing cases, and empty oil cans.
Seventy percent of the population of Port-au-Prince lives in slums like St. Martin. They are the areas to which thousands of Haitians from rural areas come when they can stand rural poverty no more. But when they come they find more poverty.
Some Haitians flee their country altogether. Their problems are driven home to their neighbors in the hemisphere as the Haitians float up on foreign shores in flimsy boats. Most of the refugees say they seek freedom from political persecution, which international human rights groups say is a serious problem in Haiti; but it is clear that they also seek a better standard of living.
Their nation is the only one in the Americas on the United Nations' list of 32 least developed countries. The UN and several international aid donors, led by the United States, have been trying to help find solutions to Haiti's seemingly desperate economic, social, and agricultural problems.
But the donors and international development experts have found the task discouraging. They concede aid has had at best mixed success meeting Haiti's needs.
In August 1979, when Washington-based housing specialists came to Port-au-Prince with a $2.7 million grant from the UN Development Program to build new housing, they found even more basic needs: There were only 23 water taps in all Port-au-Prince available to the poor. (Wealthy Haitians, living higher in the hills, have their own water tanks.)
Another 20 water taps were installed by the cooperative housing team, although they are dry some of the week due to a water shortage. Seven hundred new concrete housing units have been erected - a welcome contrast to the chaos around.
Corruption and inefficiency are what aid givers complain about most in Haiti. Some become so fed up that they give up.
The US Agency for International Development, for example, canceled several projects outright and pointedly bypassed the Ministry of Agriculture in a $3 million reforestation program, preferring to work through a voluntary agency.
West Germany and the US temporarily froze aid, after $20 million mysteriously vanished from the central bank last December. (Only $14 million was subsequently tracked down.)
Canada canceled an $8 million rural development project after numerous allegations of corruption. Haiti now has agreed to let Canadian accounting experts examine its books.
One UN official gloomily comments: ''Haiti is a graveyard for foreign aid projects.''
Aside from its apparent failure to adequately dispense aid, Haiti appears to be doing little to stimulate employment. Half its citizens are unemployed; another quarter are underemployed.
The big aid donors had been counting on Haitian Finance Minister Marc Bazin - a former World Bank trouble-shooter - to weed out corruption and instill a sense of duty in the higher echelons of the government. Bazin had cut the Housing Deparment's payroll by 60 percent, and other ministries' payrolls, too.
Bazin also succeeded in meeting International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements for public spending cuts for May and June. The IMF required the cuts and more accurate accounting methods as a condition for $38 million in new aid.
But during the summer Bazin was sacked in a Cabinet reshuffle. Sources say his pursuit of corruption appears to have taken him too close to the Duvalier family, including the President's in-laws, who have a monopoly over coffee exports. Aid donors say Bazin's ouster is a setback.
Despite any corruption, many development experts say it is essential to work with Haiti's government on projects. Without government involvement, they say, projects will wither once developers pull out.
But they complain about what they perceive to be a lackadaisical attitude toward reform by Haiti's leaders.
''This government is constantly being told it's strategically indispensable in the fight against communism,'' said one diplomat. ''That gives it the confidence to thumb its nose at Western aid donors and resist pressure.''