by Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
On Jun. 19, model Petra Nemacova’s Happy Hearts Fund will honor Haitian President Michel Martelly and former U.S. President Bill Clinton at a star-studded fundraiser at a Cipriani chain restaurant on 42nd Street in Manhattan.
But Haitian community groups and their supporters in New York are planning to demonstrate outside the event to call attention to Mr. Martelly’s corruption and repression, and Mr. Clinton’s responsibility for the largely bungled international relief effort which he headed after Haiti’s Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
The Happy Hearts Fund, which was created 10 years ago by Ms. Nemacova after she survived the Indian Ocean tsunami, will give Martelly a “Leadership in Education Award” for “his transformational leadership after the devastating earthquake and commitment to uplifting the country’s future through education,” the HHR explains on its website.
Mr. Clinton will receive a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for “his leadership and life-saving work ensuring that children and communities are not forgotten after disasters strike.”
Ms. Nemacova is the girlfriend of Martelly’s Prime Minister and longtime business partner Laurent Lamothe, who will also reportedly attend the event.
“Already this month, there have been two massive demonstrations in Port-au-Prince demanding that Martelly and Lamothe resign for looting state coffers and jailing critics,” said Ray Laforest of the International Support Haiti Network (ISHN), one of the groups sponsoring the protest outside Cipriani. “Teachers are striking and students are marching to denounce how the Martelly government is strangling education in Haiti. Now the clueless glitterati are going to toast him for supposedly promoting education. It’s an outrage and a disgrace.”
This is not the first time that Ms. Nemacova’s charity has been criticized. “After surviving the 2004 tsunami in Thailand by clinging to the top of a palm tree, the supermodel wanted to pay it forward by founding a charity to build schools in Latin America and Indonesia,” reported the New York Post on Nov. 9, 2008. “Instead, it seems an outrageous portion of the donations have gone for lavish parties at Cipriani. Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman and Eva Mendes have attended the black-tie affairs. According to the most recent tax filing, for 2006, the organization spent more than half of its funds on administration and fund raising, including its annual star-studded Heart of Gold ball, and gave nothing in aid. Glen Nordlinger, a director of Happy Hearts Fund, said the group raised $4.5 million in 2007 and spent $2.1 million on programs, including building schools... But even those figures raise red flags with charity watchdog groups, which use the almost universal standard that a well-run charity should spend 65 to 75 percent of its donations helping people.”
Mr. Clinton has been roundly criticized for his leadership as co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which coordinated disbursement of billions of dollars contributed to Haiti after the earthquake.
“Four years after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake toppled the capital city of Port-au-Prince and heavily damaged other parts of the country, hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), allocated to the IHRC, are gone,” wrote Mary O’Grady in a May 18 column in the Wall Street Journal. “Hundreds of millions more to the IHRC from international donors have also been spent. Left behind is a mishmash of low quality, poorly thought-out development experiments and half-finished projects.”
As a result, “Haitians are angry, frustrated and increasingly suspicious of the motives of the IHRC and of its top official, Mr. Clinton. Americans might feel the same way if they knew more about this colossal failure. One former Haitian official puts it this way: ‘I really cannot understand how you could raise so much money, put a former U.S. president in charge, and get this outcome.’”
Four years after the quake, “more than 170,000 people are estimated to still be living in more than 300 displacement camps, in the majority of cases in appalling conditions with no access to essential basic services such as clean water, toilets and waste disposal,” wrote Amnesty International in a Jan. 9, 2014 statement.
Demonstrators will gather on Thursday at 5 p.m. in front of Cipriani, which is at 110 East 42nd Street in Manhattan, between Lexington and Park Avenues.
Also being honored at the event are United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek and philanthropist John Caudwell.
“Under Martelly, demonstrations in Haiti are almost always broken up with the police firing teargas into the crowd and beating people,” said Henriot Dorcent, a leader of the Dessalines Coordination (KOD), a new Haitian party which is also supporting the demonstration outside Cipriani. “Martelly won’t be able to do that in New York. He has enriched himself and his cronies from the Haitian treasury and PetroCaribe account, while Clinton has monopolized, squandered, and misdirected Haiti’s precious earthquake funds. Haitians in New York won’t allow those two men who have so damaged Haiti’s present and future to be honored without people knowing the truth.”