Good Intentions and False Representations: How U.S. Humanitarian Aid Cultivates Dependency in Haiti
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An estimated US$13 billion in humanitarian aid was pledged by the international community to benefit Haiti in the wake of the earthquake that devastated the island nation on January 12th, 2010. Despite this huge sum of money, Haiti has shown very little growth in the seven years that have passed, and most of the country still lives in extreme poverty. Although some media outlets and scholars have questioned where all this money has gone and what humanitarian aid has actually accomplished in Haiti, the issue has not received nearly as much scholarly attention as it deserves. This thesis will contribute to a growing body of literature addressing the question of what kind of role humanitarian aid and the discourse surrounding humanitarian aid have on development in developing countries by focusing solely on post-earthquake Haiti. It argues that American nongovernmental organizations operating in Haiti and U.S. governmental regulations regarding food aid cultivate Haiti's dependence on humanitarian aid. First, the study will analyze the effect of large NGOs on the lives of Haitians through a case study of the American Red Cross by exploring primary source documents. Second, the study will analyze USAID's affect on both Haiti and Haitians by focusing on the use of American food aid. Lastly, Giorgio Agamben's distinction between 'bare life' and 'political life' will be applied to post-earthquake media coverage to better understand how public perceptions of Haiti alter the discourse surrounding its current state of poverty. Overall, this thesis finds that U.S. humanitarian aid, both private and public, handicaps Haiti's economic growth if dispersed over long periods of time, therefore cultivating conditions of dependency on Western donors. The current discourse in America regarding Haiti also plays a role in reinforcing these conditions by creating a narrative that portrays Haiti as an object of charity.