Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Politics

In Haiti, aid comes with an agenda Add to ...

The international rush to help Haiti has produced some strange bedfellows and left some Haitians confused about who is running their country.

Bitter rivals everywhere else, the United States, Venezuela and Cuba have found themselves working side by side in Haiti.

Dozens of American soldiers are camped just outside the Venezuelan embassy, which is located close to Port-au-Prince's port. The port itself is under American control, along with the airport, and several large U.S. ships can be seen from the shore. American soldiers have also started patrolling a few neighbourhoods, particularly near the city's main hospital.

In another part of town, the Hopital de la Paz is full of Cuban doctors decked out in T-shirts depicting Che Guevara. A giant Cuban flag waves outside along with flags from Venezuela and Spain, which have also sent doctors and nurses to the facility. The hospital is one of 11 medical programs in Haiti run by some 400 Cuban doctors.

"We need help from everyone," said Marie-Lawrence Jocelyn Lassegue, Haiti's Minister of Culture and Communications. She shrugged off concerns the rival nations might try to exert their influence over the country once the rebuilding effort gains steam.

Haitian President René Préval strengthened the country's ties to Venezuela and Cuba shortly after coming to office in 2006. Immediately after the election, he signed an energy agreement with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, allowing Haiti to receive up to 14,000 barrels of oil per day at a discount. That deal was followed by other infrastructure and health agreements with Venezuela and Cuba. Mr. Chavez has also visited Haiti. Mr. Préval was careful to stay friendly with the Americans, and visited Washington shortly after his inauguration.

Venezuela's largess can be seen in several parts of Port-au-Prince. The South American country helped build the city's largest outdoor market, which opened in 2008. The entrance to the sprawling jumble of vendors features a giant sign with Mr. Chavez's name in bold, commemorating solidarity between the Haitian and Venezuelan people. "Venezuela" is also written across the roof of one building in the market. The Chavez name also figures prominently on a new electricity plant that Venezuelans helped build.

The Cubans have wasted little time getting their message out since the quake. Last week, a small newspaper began to appear in parts of Port-au-Prince. The paper, called Light and Courage, was printed by the Cuban government and contained two long messages from Fidel Castro commenting on the plight of the Haitian people.

On the streets these competing forces have prompted plenty of rumours.

"Are the Americans taking over?" asked Jean-Marc Cherestal as he stood waiting at a money transfer office. "That's what I heard. I hope so, that's a rich country."

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories