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'Fatal Assistance' sheds light on Haiti’s slow relief efforts

Carla St.Louis | 4/10/2014, 9 a.m.
A scene from "Fatal Assistance," by film maker Raoul Peck, featuring former president Rene Preval (left) and first lady Elisabeth Delatour Preval mourning the loss of over 230,000 Haitians who perished in the 2010 earthquake.

In one scene, a motley crew of Haitians remove sediment with their bare hands, digging out mounds of debris from pot holes.

Another clip shows a woman driving a trailer to pick up slabs of concrete and building remains.

Both footage show the island nation of Haiti, still filled with debris four years later, after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated it.

Throughout director Raoul Peck's vexing documentary, Fatal Assistance, viewers are bombarded with images depicting the complexity of rebuilding Haiti.

It was screened at O Cinema located at 9806 NE 2nd Avenue in Miami Shores on March 21.

Although the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), led by Bill Clinton, was tasked with using $5 billion in 18 months towards reconstruction efforts, the film depicts a different reality: Non-profit organizations (NPO), government agencies and presidential administrations attempting to makeover a country, without an actual game plan, amid conflicting economic interests and ideologies.

Peck narrates the film, arguing that the humanitarian community's power, backed by millions of dollars acquired under the condition of helping, undermines Haiti's already weak government.

To further this argument, one scene shows a Haitian policymaker admitting the government prefers direct donations to government agencies as opposed to NPOs. He reasoned that these agencies are more trained at resolving issues that are affecting Haitians as opposed to humanitarian organizations who are often backed by inexperienced volunteers.

What’s even more baffling is the humanitarian communities’ deaf ear in listening to Haitians, a move Peck attributes to a lack of empathy.

In the film, Peck also argues that aid, the building market and politicking are inextricably linked in Haiti.

His point is reaffirmed in footage that shows the sheer inertia it takes for a group of volunteers and Haitians to agree to relocate squatters to a designated living area.

For an island once revered for emancipating itself from the chains of slavery in 1804, Fatal Assistance shows how far Haiti has fallen.

This docudrama was sponsored by the Green Family Foundation, which teamed up with Florida International University’s Latin America and Caribbean Center to screen the film for students and faculty.