Creating Emergency: Hierarchy, Ideology, and Competition in the Humanitarian Network of (Post-)Disaster Port-au-Prince
Doctor of Philosophy
I assert that in the months and years following the January 2010 earthquake, the humanitarian ecology in Port-au-Prince was neither a singular apparatus, as it is often called, nor a scattered and uncontained chaos of uncoordinated NGOs (James 2010). I argue that instead of these two extremes, the humanitarian actors collected into groups distinctive in characteristics such as size, funding mechanisms, and interactions with the attempted humanitarian oversight structure. These factions, internal to the aid apparatus, at once shaped aid workers’ perceptions of urgency and their subsequent views on the needs of the urban Haitian population at a given time while they were shaped, themselves, by the internal logics of competition underlying the inflated population of aid agencies and organizations. In the protracted setting of emergency and crisis in Port-au-Prince, need was based on often opposing analyses of in what particular stage of need lay the imagined state of emergency. These temporal analyses defined the form and function of aid offered to different communities, and the aid apparatus was rarely, if ever, in consensus about where on the continuum of need lay the residents of Port-au-Prince. Multiple contradictory analyses led to discordance within the overall aid effort: some were firmly rooted in the relief timeline typical of an immediate post-disaster temporality, while other took actions reflective of a longer-term development mindset. These contradictory analyses were especially evident in medical settings, wherein the efforts that aid workers took in assisting individual patients often reflected their organizations’ overall attitude concerning the temporality of need of Port-au-Prince as a whole. While aid workers constructed their analyses in part through their daily routines, their interactions with and observations of the medical structure as it existed in the post-earthquake months, these attitudes were also fueled by a broader, underlying internal competition that played out in the hyper-saturated ecology of aid in Port-au-Prince. This dissertation is divided into five chapters. The first chapter lays out the background of each of the three major sets of humanitarian actors that will be the focus of this work: the UN and its military arm, MINUSTAH; Cuban medical aid and its relatively recent Venezuelan-Bolivarian influence; and what I call micro-NGOs, the small-scale organizations that did not fall under the radar or command of the UN humanitarian coordination agency, OCHA. Chapter two focuses on a singular geographic space, the Pétionville tent camp, where I conducted my first months of field research in 2010. By focusing on particular projects implemented within the camp by its managing NGO, I use this camp space to describe how NGOs dealt with the often hazy period of transition between emergency relief and development aid. Chapter three takes a step away from Port-au-Prince and back in time to look at the development of the relationships between Venezuela and Cuba, Cuba and Haiti, and Haiti and Venezuela. This chapter discusses the making of the “fragile state” in contemporary development policy research, and explains how the alliance between Cuba, Venezuela and Haiti marks a turning point in both Latin American regionalism and the oft-referenced “South-South aid” collaborations. The fourth chapter discusses two very disparate ways in which revolution and its identities and ideologies played out in the setting of post-earthquake Port-au-Prince. The first section looks at revolutionary ideology in Chávez’s political and economic campaign as it joins Cuba and Haiti into his Bolivarian movement, while the second section looks at the reasons for which MINUSTAH armed forced have failed to connect with the local populous and has, in fact, come to signify a newfound revolutionary enemy by certain political and geographical factions within Port-au-Prince. The fifth and final chapter looks more closely at the relationship between micro-NGOs and the UN oversight structure. Here, I finalize the argument that I began above wherein competition between the “uncoordinated” NGOs proved to be an integral part of the post-earthquake humanitarian structure, the many disparate pieces actually forming an ecology and an economy that supported the continued presence of all levels of foreign interventionist actors.