America Keeping Haiti Down

The IDB, the world's largest regional development bank, works in Latin America and the Caribbean purportedly to “contribute to the acceleration of economic and social development.” Its actions in Haiti, however, have severely undermined those goals.

Roughly $54 million in IDB loans for water infrastructure in Haiti, home to literally the world’s worst water, offered a proven path to preventing deadly water-borne diseases. Designed to assist in fulfilling the right to water in the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, these loans and the lives they could have saved instead have become pawns in a deliberate political power play.

In 2001, US officials threatened to use their influence to stop previously approved IDB funding unless Haiti’s majority political party submitted to political demands to accept a particular apportionment of seats in a Haitian electoral oversight body. Soon after, at the behest of the US, instead of disbursing the loans as planned, the IDB and its members took the unprecedented step of implicitly adding conditions to require political action by Haiti before the funds would be released. These actions violated the IDB’s own charter, which strictly prohibits the Bank and its members from interfering in the internal political affairs of member states.

Internal emails reveal that a US legal counselor inside the IDB proposed to the US Treasury Department that, though the loans faced no legitimate technical obstacles, the US could effectively block them by “slowing” the process. Indeed, by requesting further review of the loans, Haiti would have to make scheduled payments before the funds were even disbursed. “While this is not a ‘bullet-proof’ way to stop IDB disbursements,” the counsellor wrote, “it certainly will put a few more large rocks in the road.”