Hey, Reddit. I'm Jonathan M. Katz, a former Associated Press correspondent who lived in Haiti for three and a half years. On one of those days, I survived the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that killed an estimated 316,000 people. I stuck around for a year after the quake to cover the aftermath and investigate the (failed) reconstruction. I broke a bunch of stories you might have heard about, including that United Nations soldiers likely caused a cholera epidemic that's killed nearly 8,000 more people.

I just wrote a book about it called The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. You can get it here, or here, or here.

I've reported from other places too.

Here's verification.

I'll be back at 2 pm ET. Ask me anything!

UPDATE 2:02 p.m. ET: I'm here. Let's do this thing.

UPDATE 3:49 p.m. ET: Great conversation. I'm sticking around a little longer. Let's keep it going.

UPDATE 4:01 p.m. ET: No one has asked about Bill Clinton, Wyclef Jean, or Sean Penn. That's got to be some kind of record.

UPDATE 6:06 p.m. ET: Thanks everyone for a great discussion. I'm still answering questions but going to start winding down. Keep posting your questions/comments/retorts, though; I'll keep checking today, and periodically after, to answer them.

Two other things:

_ Our friend and journalism colleague James Foley is still missing in Syria after being kidnapped on Thanksgiving. That was 83 days ago. His family is asking for any information, and can be reached at www.freejamesfoley.org.

_ And for those of you in the Raleigh-Durham area, I'll be at the Regulator Bookshop tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 13) at 7 p.m., reading and signing copies of the book. Hope to see some of you there.

Keep the questions coming! Na pale.

Comments: 141 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

zlsir9228 karma

Where did all the relief money go?

katzonearth16 karma

Not where you would think.

Most people hear about foreign aid, especially disaster relief, and assume that it's about a rich country handing a big pot of money over to a poor country. If things don't get better as a result of all that money, then the assumption is that someone stole it. And when I say "most people", I'm including people who live in Haiti -- a lot of them think that's the process too.

It's not. Nearly all the money that gets spent in the wake of a war or a disaster, the vast majority of everything that's given as "foreign aid" is actually spent inside the donor countries. Money marked purely as humanitarian relief after the earthquake totaled $2.43 billion. At least 93 percent of that was spent either on UN agencies or foreign NGOs, or never left the donor states at all (for instance, the Pentagon getting paid by the State Department for a service). Another 6 percent, or $151 million, couldn't be traced at all. Just one percent went to the Haitian government.

When you start breaking out the other tranches of money, especially the reconstruction aid, the picture doesn't get that much brighter. One important note: Most of what's pledged (and talked about on TV and in the headlines) never gets spent at all, anywhere. Most famously, the U.S. didn't release any of the reconstruction money it promised Haiti in fiscal year 2010, and is still sitting on most of it.

zlsir922 karma

What type of proof do you have? How did you come across it?

katzonearth6 karma

Easiest source for numbers is from the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. I did a lot of direct reporting, but you can see the basics for yourself at http://www.haitispecialenvoy.org/

levilarrington2 karma

Did you call Sean Penn and ask him to find it?

katzonearth4 karma

This is not one of the things I've talked to Sean Penn about.

levilarrington3 karma

Whoa. You HAVE talked to Sean Penn? You just slapped me in the face with my joke.

katzonearth2 karma

Sure. That stuff about him living in Haiti was somewhat true for a time: He was around a lot in 2010. A chunk of my first conversation/interview with him is in the book, in fact.

levilarrington3 karma

Did you look around at the apocalyptic disaster, then at Sean, then at the disaster, and think "This is bananas."?

katzonearth3 karma

Every day.

robxlii1 karma

Can you talk a bit about what Penn's organization, J/P HRO, is doing in Haiti, whether they have had success, and how they're viewed both by locals and experts in relief and recovery?

katzonearth1 karma

J/P HRO is an interesting specimen, actually. It was obviously founded soon after the quake using Penn's name and Diana Jenkins' money. They used that notoriety to snap up experienced aid workers from other organizations who knew their way around both Haiti and the aid/funding world. The group has earned a reputation for competency and effectiveness, in large part by doing the opposite of what their ad campaigns would suggest: Working not to "save Haiti" in some nebulous way, but primarily looking after one neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, where they get to know the people and their needs in a more intimate way. It's been effective in many ways.

That said, Penn's celebrity and power have a farther reach. He has a working relationship with Bill Clinton. He is by all accounts friends with President Martelly, who in turn has made Penn a fully accredited ambassador of the Republic of Haiti, and handed Penn's organization a no-bid contract to clear the rubble of Haiti's national palace. This was taken as a slap in the face by many Haitians, including the editor-in-chief of the country's most important paper. So it's a mixed bag.

iamaredditer1 karma

So from what I just read there is no point to donate at all. Better off to fed ex some water or dry foods?

katzonearth6 karma

The opposite, actually. Sending bottles of water and perishable food just gums up the works. The best thing is to donate to organizations that know the people and the terrain, and are doing long-term work to create local institutions that will ultimately put aid groups out of business. And putting pressure on officials to support institutions on the ground.

icybains5 karma

What was the process like for getting up stories the day of the earthquake?

katzonearth7 karma

Freaking insane. Once I'd realized I wasn't dead, my whole focus boiled down to getting out of the house, getting a phone, and reporting. When I ran out (barefoot, in my underwear, by the way), I scampered up to the hotel next to our house. I started yelling for a phone. Right then, an American wandered out of the damaged main building talking on a BlackBerry. I convinced him, somehow, to hand it over. And I used that to call in the story. This was lightning fast: We had our alert up on AP at basically the same instant USGS reported the quake.

Our work that night was thanks to my fixer, translator and friend, Evens Sanon. He got me out of the house, calmed me down, and set about with me driving around the city and working. I warbiked with my MacBookPro open looking for internet signals while plugging at both of my POS Haitian cell phones. We'd walk around, I'd talk to people, and we'd try to call. I got through a couple times to the bureaus and gave more details, and the editors out there typed them out and put the stories out to the world.

The main idea in my head was to get to the US Embassy, and use the phone and internet there. But when we got there, they wouldn't let us in ...

Bonesnapcall3 karma

Why wouldn't they let you in?

katzonearth4 karma

To this day, I have no idea. The embassy spokesman came out and told us we were welcome to sleep in the parking lot, and that phones and computers were out of the question. After hours of negotiation with various people, I was told that I could sleep inside, but Evens had to stay in the guard shack. But fuck that. I grabbed some water, ration packs, and bananas and went out to sleep on the floor with him.

McFlufferwoot4 karma

Should we be giving so much money in the wake of a huge natural disaster, especially in light of all the waste and misappropriation and lack of results we've seen (and you've documented) after the earthquake in Haiti? What, if anything, can outsiders do to help if throwing money at the problem doesn't seem to be helpful?

katzonearth3 karma

Good question. First off, hello everyone, thanks for coming by. I've been looking forward to this.

katzonearth5 karma

It's pretty clear that the money that's being given and spent after disasters is not being given and spent in the right way. The important thing is to change that.

In short, the mistakes that were made in Haiti after the earthquake were pretty much the same ones that were being made before: Aid groups and nongovernmental organizations were coming in and providing band-aid solutions at best, while donor governments avoided giving money, as much as possible, to Haitian institutions, businesses, and the government. It's not a binary question of either throwing money around, or not. There have to be strategies for spending money in a much smarter way, that are going to make durable improvements on the ground.

McFlufferwoot1 karma

Thanks for the reply, Jonathan. And thanks for hanging out with us for an AMA! Follow-up: do you have any ideas on what those smarter strategies might be? Does that mean getting over the discomfort and giving to Haitian institutions even if we think they are inefficient? Is the issue that it's really hard to scale up in the wake of something huge like the quake?

katzonearth2 karma

Does that mean getting over the discomfort and giving to Haitian institutions even if we think they are inefficient?

Yes. But I'll save people the rebuttal: Doing only that right after the earthquake would have been a circus. You can't wait until a disaster strikes to start scaling up the institutions needed to respond. When the quake hit, the Haitian government was totally unprepared to deal with it (for reasons we can go into later). But the Haitian government is still unprepared to deal with disasters, even much smaller ones. It's right now, between disasters, that things have to change.

onafarawaybeach0 karma

Thought it was pretty funny when the exiled leader Aristide showed up after the money started flowing in, though it was a trickle compared to what was raised. Lots of scumbags jumped on the charity gravy train.

katzonearth2 karma

That's one way to read what happened. Between the two, it seemed like Jean-Claude Duvalier was the one more interested in a piece of the reconstruction. But it was definitely a strange end to the year. I talk about it in the book.

lsattely4 karma

Thank you for coming on here to discuss your book. I only recently got a copy so I am a little embarrassed to say I have not completed it yet. So far I am “enjoying it” as much as you can enjoy reading about such matters, I guess a better term would be im “appreciating it.” I appreciate your insight and your honesty and willingness to share. I am especially grateful of your ability to articulate these complexities in simpler terms for people to better understand.

I am not so good at articulating my observations from working in Haiti for 6 months after the quake.. or maybe I just haven’t given it much thought. I travel light so all of notes from around that time I no longer have and my memorory for specific dates, names, and places is starting to fade.. but is relight by reading your words.

I feel often that aid can be detrimental. I was asked to work for a religious organization that wanted to help in Haiti. To me it seemed that they more wanted to help there own agenda, and there priorities against birth control, std education, and tradition seemed counter intuitive. But I guess this is many places. I remember picking up a child from one mission that claimed they provided health care services, only to find the child had been seizing for hours and the only treatment they had received from this organization was prayer. Contrary I saw patients kept alive by extravagant medical interventions that in the states would barely stand a chance.

It was a very US driven view of health care that was not culturally competent or appropriate. (the health care system is also at times poorly understood by people not in the health care system, just recently I had a patient tell me ‘we can send people to the moon! I have a hard time believing there is no easier fix for me’ in regards to her acute health condition. Often I think people think it should be able to be fixed and they get side tracted by one specific case instead of thinking how future planning could better benefit the situation) it was further more complicated by NGO with cowboy mentalities, and people who wanted adventure, recognition, and had their own motives. Cultural incompetence at its finest, were everyone is suddenly an expert…

Well I will stop my rant/ input and get back to reading your book.

katzonearth1 karma

Excellent rant! Thank you.

veiledsentiment3 karma

Do you believe that you are exempt from the criticism you cast upon those who were involved in the relief effort? As a journalist, where do you see yourself on the spectrum of "outsider" vs. "insider"?

katzonearth2 karma

Absolutely not. That's part of the reason I wrote the book in the first person: I wanted to take a hard look at myself as well. I was an absolute outsider in Haiti. My one advantage was that, in a different way, I was also an outsider among the foreigners, the blan. So in some way I think I was able to spend more time looking back in, and considering how all of us, including me, might have been seen. But the media should be given no quarter in the story of the earthquake, and that includes me.

staticblues3 karma

Could you describe what happened during the earthquake? Your reactions? Emotions?

katzonearth4 karma

Sure. Basically: Disbelief, followed by terror, accompanied by the biggest rush of adrenaline you can imagine.

I was actually sitting on my bed on the second story of the house AP rented for us in the hills above Port-au-Prince when I heard a rumbling coming from outside, and plates rattling in the kitchen downstairs. (I thought at first that it was the water truck pulling up.)

Then the floor started to vibrate, followed by a huge push, as if the house had been struck by something huge. Then there was more and more shoving. Within a few seconds, the house started galloping like it was caught in a storm, with the walls cracking apart and the windows shooting out around me. A cloud of dust filled the house that made it difficult to see or breathe. I kept looking for places to run, but there was nowhere to go. I decided to ride it out.

And then it stopped.

bear_vs_anything2 karma

What do you think of the current state of news reporting? Why do big stories and world events get coverage for only several days and then die off while 'entertainment' news is covered perpetually?

katzonearth9 karma

People like entertainment. It's entertaining.

I fully understand why news editors are constantly moving from one thing to the next shiny thing. That's why they call it "news." But if we'd keep investing in long-term stories, sending people to dig deep into the topics they cover and keep reporting back, we'd keep finding news in the places we'd rather ignore.

Look, it's easier to cover how much boob Katy Perry is showing at the Grammys than it is to dig into the effects of US foreign policy overseas. You can do it with close to zero overhead, and you're sure to get a lot of attention. But if we make the investment, it will pay off. I remain convinced of this.

robxlii2 karma

Excellent book about a gripping subject. I'm psyched to ask him a few questions.

katzonearth1 karma


IndustryGiant2 karma

So, the dirt cookie thing is a real thing? Have you had one?

katzonearth6 karma

Yup! Actually I wrote a story about it in 2008 that went viral.

The dirt is actually a special kind of clay from central Haiti that's rich in kaolinite (the original ingredient in Kaopectate). It works basically like eating Tums if you're hungry ... it kills your hunger pains and makes you feel full for a while. They've been popular for a long time with pregnant women, and sometimes kids. In 2008, when I wrote that story, food prices were soaring in Haiti and increasing numbers of people couldn't afford food. So some, especially the poorest, started buying more dirt cookies to stave off their hunger pangs. In an ultimate irony, that demand made the price of clay for the cookies go up too.

tacodeathfart2 karma

Are you related to Dr. Katz?

katzonearth2 karma

My father is a Dr. Katz. Probably not the one you're thinking of.

tlupick2 karma

If I remember correctly, the last word in the book on your fixer, Evens Sanon, was about him dropping you off at the airport and buying your car. What's Evens doing now?

katzonearth2 karma

He's still working as a journalist and fixer for AP. Making his way.

robxlii2 karma

How did the relief response in Haiti compare with the response after other natural disasters in less-developed nations? I'm thinking specifically of the Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami.

katzonearth1 karma

The tsunami affected about a quarter of the globe, so there are a lot of different examples mashed up in there. In the book I make more of a direct comparison to the response in Aceh Province, Indonesia. There you've got a poor population but a comparably much wealthier and more powerful government. The initial response was as shambolic and patchy as in Haiti. But they were able to take control of their own reconstruction process through the implementation of a Indonesian-run council that functioned basically as a branch of the Jakarta government. Once that happened, things started going better.

Bill Clinton wanted to repeat that example in Haiti. But he wanted to run it, and the donor governments decided that it ought to basically be foreign-run. That didn't go so well.

robxlii1 karma

I'm sorry, are you suggesting that Bill Clinton might not be the Second Coming after all?

Seriously, though - do you get the sense that things would have turned out differently if Clinton had been given unfettered power?

katzonearth1 karma

When it comes to Bill, those words can be taken the wrong way.

It's hard to imagine Clinton getting more power than he had. He was the top UN official in the country, a former US president tapped by Obama to spearhead the recovery, the head of several major NGOs, and the top official (along with Haiti's prime minister) in charge of overseeing Haiti's reconstruction. In Esquire magazine, in 2010, Tom Chiarella called him "for better or worse, the CEO of the leaderless nation." Clinton took up that mantle saying, "It'll be hard, but I'm excited about it. Enough so that after a couple of heart incidents and being sixty-three years old, I am prepared to spend three years on it."

Well it's been three years. Let's talk about the CEO's results.

levilarrington1 karma

What do you think the odds are the other Bill's charitable work is a crock as well?

katzonearth1 karma

I wouldn't hazard a guess. And I'm not sure I'd call what he was doing in Haiti a "crock," at least pending further review. But I think he wanted to be taken seriously for his work in Haiti, and I think we ought to take him at his word.

levilarrington1 karma

I mean Gates. Is there a chance that a lot of these big single donors and charitable foundations are also going under the radar? Have you read any non-tinfoil hat books about it?

katzonearth0 karma

Oh, that Bill. Everything is going under the radar. You can count the number of people without a hand in the till even trying to keep track of it all on one hand. That's one of the things foreigners of all stripes love about Haiti: You can do basically anything there, and chances are you'll get away with it.

woodruff42 karma

Where can I find out more about the Haitian hip-hop artists you talk about in the book? They seem awesome.

imrightman2 karma

  1. Do you think the new emphasis placed on developing the tourism sector in the north, in and around Cap Haitian, will cause many businesses and organizations to ultimately abandon Port-au-Prince?
  2. Why do you think the Cholera epidemic in Haiti is so underreported?
  3. After being there for so long, do you ever get depressed or experience some sense of anxiety? If so, how do you cope?
  4. Would you consider Haiti to still be in the recovery phase or the reconstruction phase after the earthquake?

katzonearth3 karma

Moving people out of Port-au-Prince and building functioning cities elsewhere in Haiti should be a priority. The city is horrendously overcrowded: 2.5 to 3 million people, with services for maybe 1/10th that many, if not fewer. Tourism could be a part of it. (Like I said before, Haiti is beautiful -- and the north, with its beaches and the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Citadelle and Palais Sans Souci, is a great people to send people). That said, tourism has to be done well. I used to live in the Dominican Republic ... the all-inclusive, walled compound model of tourism is not what Haiti should be aiming for.

I don't know why the cholera crisis gets relatively little attention given its implications. (Other than the fact that, you know, some people don't really like talking about getting killer diarrhea from drinking shit-ladened water as much as, say, the Kardashians). But I wish people were talking about it more -- both the epidemic, and whether the United Nations ought to be held accountable for, as all evidence shows, causing the epidemic in the first place.

Haiti, honestly, in its permanent recovery phase. That's how it tends to go there. Crisis-recovery-crisis-recovery. Repeat.

imrightman4 karma

For some reason, I thought your AMA responses wouldn't be as well written as your articles that I've read, but I was very wrong. As a journalism student that spent a few months in Haiti this summer, you're a refreshing change of pace from most other reporters on the same beat. Thanks for answering my questions.

katzonearth4 karma

Thanks! May all your comments be upvoted.

katzonearth3 karma

After being there for so long, do you ever get depressed or experience some sense of anxiety? If so, how do you cope?

And as for this, yes, absolutely. I had some crazy anxiety after the quake, and some of that still lingers. In the book, I talk a little about my first trip to a therapist, and some of my (relatively mild) struggles with PTSD.

I cope like anyone else does, I suppose. I have my loved ones, my family. I take walks. I pet the cat. Try to sleep and eat right. But it's hard. Once you've seen what the Earth can do on a bad day, it's hard to look at the still ground the same way again.

cmperkins52 karma

-Can you comment on Dominican/Haitian relations post-quake? Possibly re immigration policy vs. the things DR brags about (university in Cap Haitian, bilateral aid, etc)

-What do you think of the IJDH/Brian Concannon case as a whole? Are its efforts & merits purely symbolic, or can something actually come of it?

-Lastly, I'm working in the NW DR and want to visit Haiti, but will only have a week or so to do so. Where can I see/learn/experience the most in a regrettably short amount of time?

Thanks for a fascinating read!

katzonearth2 karma

The Dominican and Haitian governments are way more engaged with each other now than they were before the quake. That's huge. I'm not sure that attitudes have changed among the people though -- I'm particularly talking about racism and prejudice against Haitians in the DR. That's going undermine relations in the long run, unless it changes.

What do you think of the IJDH/Brian Concannon case as a whole? Are its efforts & merits purely symbolic, or can something actually come of it?

Those who don't know about this can read about it here.

I think it is a largely symbolic case, though if it actually secured massive funding for water and sanitation infrastructure, that would have major effects on the ground. But symbolism is important. But the fact that the UN appears to have caused an epidemic that has killed nearly 8,000 people and counting -- in a context where its agencies were raising money for and justifying their actions as preventing post-disaster epidemics -- is both a practical and a symbolic matter. An apology would be all symbolism, but important symbolism.

As for visiting ... I'd say you're in the best position to go explore the north. See Cap-Haitien, go to Milot and visit the Citadel and Palais Sans Souci. Go to the beach somewhere on the north coast, eat some lambi and drink some Barbancourt. If you go today, you'll catch Mardi Gras.

Charlie19022 karma

Do you have any info about why MSF (Doctors Without Borders) was denied the right to land their cargo planes in Port-Au-Prince by the US Airforce? They had to go through the Dominican Republic, costing them 2 very valuable days...

katzonearth3 karma

The US Air Force Special Operations Command took control of the airport the day after the quake because the airport's control tower was down. That meant that Americans were in charge of Haiti's only international airport for a few days. They actually did a pretty amazing job, landing 140 flights a day on a single runway that normally averaged seven, but it wasn't without incident. A number of times, they prioritized their own military assets to land in front of planes that turned out to be carrying medical aid, as you cited.

Another problem was the panicky nature of the response: People from everywhere were just flying whatever they had in, coordinating with nobody. The Air Force team, whose main goal was to keep planes from running into one another, made some strange calls, like letting half of a Norwegian field hospital land in Port-au-Prince, and the other half ended up in the Dominican Republic. Tempers flared, and a lot of accusations got thrown around. If coordination had been better, there would have been fewer incidents like that one.

Charlie19021 karma

Thank you very much for your fast and detailed response!

Do you have any views on where the country is heading at the moment? Are they making even the smallest of progress?

katzonearth0 karma

Some things get better. Some things get worse. The underlying structure is staying the same. Until that happens, any apparent progress -- a new hospital being built, an airport expanding, you name it -- is going to be fleeting.

kirocuto2 karma

HEY! Your dad is my Doctor! He told me to go to your book signing at Northeastern (I go to school there) but I had a test that day.

Whats the food like in Haiti? Before/after the earthquake? You can usually tell how someone/a group is doing by what they're eating.

katzonearth3 karma

Sweet! Had a great time at Northeastern. Hope to catch you on the next pass.

Agree, food is a very good metric. Well in theory, Haitian cuisine is fabulous. It's a terrific blend of flavors and sauces. It's got your basic rice-beans-meat backbone of all Caribbean cuisines, but with a serious kick--mostly from Scotch bonnet peppers--that's missing from, say, Dominican food. The whole fish is killer. The rum is the best in the world.

That said, most people can't afford to eat the good stuff. With half the people in the country living on less than $1 a day, most meals amount to little more than porridge-type gruel or boiled spaghetti, which people insist on eating with ketchup. Things got harder after the earthquake, mostly because people lost their businesses. Malnutrition was already rampant, and that's continued. Until the economy improves and poverty lessens, that's going to be the case.

ericmerl1 karma

From the way you phrased it, I'm guessing you're not a fan of Haitian spaghetti with ketchup? I thought that was the breakfast of champions... :)

katzonearth1 karma

Mezanmi ...

TMWNN2 karma

You wrote elsewhere:

Haiti, honestly, in its permanent recovery phase. That's how it tends to go there. Crisis-recovery-crisis-recovery. Repeat.

Haiti has been independent for two centuries and it has been a colossal mess without equal on the planet for two centuries. Shouldn't the world throw up its hands and say "Haiti, you've tried, but it's hopeless. You are not a viable sovereign state. The [US|UN|France|OAS|Someone, anyone] will come in and run every level of government and economy for the indefinite future because there is no evidence whatsoever you can do it yourself"?

katzonearth3 karma

Independence is a relative thing. Haiti gets its own flag, official borders, a desk at the UN, and a color on the map. It has an independence day in 1804, but it certainly hasn't been independent for 200 years. Is Haiti independent now? Its people are completely dependent on US food imports, for instance, which are in turn dependent on subsidies the US government gives US farmers. (And that wasn't a Haitian choice: Washington foisted those policies on Haiti.) Six years before the earthquake, meanwhile, the president of Haiti was flown into exile aboard a US plane, and the country spent two years under a US-backed interim government. And for the whole of that time, the country has been policed by a roughly 8,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, whose only check on power, in effect, is the UN Security Council.

Now, it's possible that without all this US and UN interference, that Haiti would not be able to manage its own affairs. But we don't know. In the meantime, it seems that this system of limited outside management hasn't worked either. The logic would be to try something else.

TMWNN1 karma

That's my point. How many times has the US intervened in Haiti in the past two centuries? How many times will it or some other outside force do so again? At the same time, since they don't stay indefinitely they can't remake every aspect of civic society the way it needs to be there.

The US in the past has brought in foodstuffs and medicine, and occasionally has helped build a constabulary. It, or the UN, or something else, needs to build a nation from the ground up.

katzonearth3 karma

The US also brutally occupied Haiti from 1915-1934, instituted a system of forced labor, disbanded the legislature, rewrote the constitution, and created an army that went on help to terrorize the country for about 60 years.

It hasn't all been bringing in foodstuffs and medicines.

I agree the nation needs to be built from the ground up. But that has to be done by Haitians. We can help, or stand aside. Some would argue that those two are the same thing.

dd25202 karma

This is, obviously, after your time there, but have you been following the Clifford Brandt kidnapping scandal? My mother-in-law pointed me in the direction of that story, but finding (good) English-language sources has been difficult.

katzonearth2 karma

That's a very interesting story with potentially wider implications. Have you followed The Haitian Times' coverage at all? That's one place to look.

dd25201 karma

I had not. I'd read something in the Miami Herald, but had not seen this yet. Thanks for the tip!

Also, where are you based now? How do you get your lambi fix?

katzonearth1 karma

North Carolina! And since this is truly an AMA, I will tell you: I have never eaten lambi. (I don't eat shellfish.)

dd25201 karma


I'm sure that makes sense, but it sounds terrible. (the shellfish, not North Carolina. But also North Carolina.)

katzonearth1 karma

The shellfish may feel differently.

dd25201 karma

True. But I believe they yield themselves in noble sacrifice to deliciousness.

Back to NC: what is your current beat/portfolio? I followed your work in Haiti very closely, but that tapered off post-cholera scandal. Interested to know what you're up to now...

katzonearth1 karma

I'm mostly touring and talking about the book these days, while writing a bit on the side here and there. Haven't decided what my next big step or project is going to be yet. The touring is going to last for a few more months it seems.

dd25201 karma

Have you already done NYC and I missed it, or is that still to come?

katzonearth1 karma

I've done a bunch of events in New York, but there will definitely be more. I try to keep a list of them going at facebook.com/thebigtruckthatwentby/events.

risefromtheashes2 karma

What do you think about Wyclef's involvement?

All my best and thanks for doing this IAmA- looking forward to reading your book.

katzonearth5 karma

Wyclef didn't just make a lot of big promises, he was the embodiment of a promise to a lot of Haitians that you could get out, make it big, and then help people back home. That inspiration will last for some. But the story of his NGO, Yéle-Haiti, is just sad. At best it was wildly irresponsible with its finances. At worst, Wyclef was pocketing money people had donated for the benefit of Haiti's poor and earthquake survivors. I'm sure he's not done being involved in Haiti (most people don't just run for president once and give up), but it's going to be hard for him to argue that his example is one others should follow.

And thank you. Hope you enjoy it.

risefromtheashes1 karma

In your opinion, what do you think the mindset is of Haitians whose lives have been - and continued to be - indelibly affected by the earthquake? Have people lost faith in the system and charities and NGOs like Wyclef's and CGI?

katzonearth3 karma

There isn't one opinion, but I can tell you that a lot of people feel, frankly, betrayed. Everyone heard the huge promises -- billions of dollars, a new way of doing business, the great American president Bill Clinton personally overseeing every step -- and they expected for their lives to improve. Most people's lives haven't improved. And they want to know why.

SlowFoodCannibal1 karma

This is the first I've heard of your book but I'm eager to read it. I've never been to Haiti but I've read a bit about it, Bob Shacochis' "The Immaculate Invasion", and Madison Smart Bell's "All Souls Rising". Haiti sounds like hell on earth in so many ways, and yet lovely and haunting. With such a long history of suffering and corruption, and so many failed attempts to improve the situation, do you still have optimism for Haiti?

katzonearth2 karma

An honor to be in the same sentence as Madison and Bob, any way you slice it. Jean-Paul Sartre writes in No Exit, "Hell is other people." In that sense, Haiti can be hell, because people from within and without have used it as a stage to do terrible things to their fellow man. But by the same token it can also be a paradise, because I've also seen people in Haiti show more kindness, compassion, and generosity than anywhere else you could go. So yes, I remain an eternal optimist. The situation can always get better, just as soon as we get done making it worse.

SerpentineLogic1 karma

Are you the same guy who used to post articles to Slashdot?

katzonearth2 karma

Probably another Jonathan Katz.

SerpentineLogic1 karma

Oh, I see.

katzonearth3 karma

I'm the last one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Katz_(disambiguation)

Side note: Why do none of us have hair?

SerpentineLogic1 karma

Same surname implies shared ancestry?

Or perhaps male pattern baldness is common among males, which the name Jon self-selects for :)

katzonearth1 karma

That ... yes, probably.

ericmerl1 karma

My wife and I lead mission teams in Haiti and have only been involved with work in Haiti for just over a year.

Don't have any questions for you, just want to say that I'm a few chapters into your book and so far it's been a great read. We try to be as transparent as possible with the donations we deal with, but Haiti is definitely a challenging place to work.

Looking forward to finishing your book and hopefully gleaning some insight that can help us with the work we do!

katzonearth1 karma

Mèsi anpil.

Bringyourfugshiz1 karma

Would you be willing to help promote my friends non profit? It was started by the son (my best friend) of a Haitian born man. He's working right now to raise money for the village his father is from by working with the people to improve the community. The idea is to start with this small village and work his way out to surrounding towns. I can guarantee every penny goes into development and a little goes such a long way when its managed right. Me and some other people went with him to help out and document what he's doing. By the end of the trip his grandmother made us honorary Haitians, hah.

Foundation For Haitian Development

Video of Bakery he built

katzonearth2 karma

I have no doubt it's a great organization, but I can't do that kind of promotion and stay a journalist. But thanks for the tip -- I'll keep an eye out for them.

shogi_x1 karma

  • How do you feel about the seemingly disproportionate attention and response that has been given to other disasters that have occurred in developed nations with the means to repair themselves, such as with Hurricane Sandy in The United States and the tsunami in Japan? What do you think can be done about it?

  • How do you feel that international support of struggling countries like Haiti could be improved? Is it a matter of needing more money or more people?

  • Internally, do you feel that Haiti is on the right track, or is their disaster recovery exacerbated or hindered by political/social problems?

  • What did you think of living in Haiti generally?

katzonearth5 karma

Your point is well-taken, but there's nothing wrong with talking about disasters in the United States or Japan. People in the path of a storm or who might know people who've been affected obviously want and need information. And in fact there's a big conversation to be had about disasters in countries like ours (which seem, at a glance, to be getting deadlier and more frequent ...), and how we deal with them.

But we ought to be paying more attention to what's really going on in places like Haiti in the interim, because what's happening right now is setting the stage for whatever next crisis or disaster will follow. It's not just a question of attention. We need to pay better attention, understanding what's really going on, and what isn't. There are far too many assumptions being made, and not enough good information getting through.

Haiti's not on the right track, unfortunately. That's the real tragedy after the tragedy -- that despite all the money and effort, things are as bad there as ever. But it's not a matter for fatalism. We need to talk about WHY that is.

What did you think of living in Haiti generally?

All that said, living in Port-au-Prince (the capital) was often pretty great. Amazing music, great food (which I was lucky and could afford), a lot of wonderful people. Outside of the capital, in terms of sheer aesthetics, it gets even better. Haiti's a beautiful place. And it could be even more beautiful.

woodruff41 karma

We are moving into a global era where the state means less and less as power is defused through networks of international organizations, corporations and NGOs... and yet you call for a revival of the Haitian state? Is that somewhat reactionary? Why does the Haitian state matter so much? States in general are waning... but then again, maybe that means Haiti is a laboratory for the processes that will shape rest of the world, which would be scary.

katzonearth3 karma

The nation-state may be on the wane, but it's still pretty important in most of the world. When Germany gives up its government and turns control of the Autobahn over to a Redditesque hivemind, maybe Haiti can do the same. For now there ought to be someone keeping the lights on, the roads paved, and the water from killing children. All structural suggestions welcome.

YouthInRevolt1 karma

How did you get started with AP and how did you land a job based in Haiti?

katzonearth2 karma

When I was a grad student, I landed an internship with AP in Jerusalem. It was the middle of the Second Intifada, the last days of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, so I got to write a lot of great stuff. About a year and a half later, after stops elsewhere, I got hired by AP full-time in Washington, and shipped shortly thereafter to the Dominican Republic. From there, I got moved next door to Haiti.

TL;DR: I was young, stubborn, decent with languages, and willing to go anywhere.

YouthInRevolt1 karma

Wow, that must have been an intense time to be in Israel...

I was young, stubborn, decent with languages, and willing to go anywhere

Haha, yup, that's me right now. I've been volunteering with PIH in Boston in hopes of eventually landing a job in Haiti. I've looked into jobs with the NYT and others, but none seem to have openings in Haiti. I've got a background in finance and French, just need to keep my eyes open for ways to get down there I guess.

katzonearth1 karma

That it was!

Keep pushing. Among US news organizations, AP is the only one (still) that maintains a full-fledged office in Haiti ... and that's a one-man job (currently filled by the able Trenton Daniel). It's hard to determine your own destiny in the news business. But keep pushing. You'll get somewhere, eventually.

leprachaundude831 karma

How well do you think that Martelly has handled post-quake Haiti and what could he do better?

katzonearth2 karma

Better than he handled pre-quake Haiti, I suppose. The president has been much more of a public figure than his predecessor, which some people like. His administration's attitude toward the press has been worrisome. Frankly though, the government remains largely irrelevant. It doesn't have the funds needed to take matters into its own hands, and given the way it came to power it seems to remain largely unaccountable to its own people. All that could improve.

leprachaundude831 karma

Thanks! As a followup question do you think a solution to this problem could be to divert funds from the UN mission directly into the Haitian government (if that's possible). Is the mission doing anything to try and strengthen the government?

katzonearth2 karma

In theory, MINUSTAH exists to support the government. In practice, it keeps it from being overthrown while doing little to contribute to its strengthening. If the international community spent the $600 million a year it invests in MINUSTAH building a working tax collection agency and shoring up the Haitian health ministry and police force, they would have more to show for it.

bloggingsbyboz1 karma

I follow you on Twitter and you're pretty tough on the UN and MINUSTAH (often rightfully so, particularly on the cholera issue).

Is there anything positive they do? Is there something they should be doing that they're not?

I hear some activists call for the UN to leave, but it seems that if there are several thousand peacekeepers on the ground (most from Brazil, Chile and Uruguay), there must be something productive they could be doing other than leaving.

katzonearth3 karma

Greetings, twittorian! The question is: Why is MINUSTAH in Haiti? This isn't even a question MINUSTAH seems able to answer. If you go over to minustah.org (avis: it's in French), the "What does MINUSTAH do" section talks a bunch about humanitarian relief they provided after the earthquake (which hit three years ago, during the mission's fifth year in Haiti). Suffice it to say, that frankly wasn't their shining moment. The mission was crushed by a horrendous loss of life (including many friends of mine), and the loss of its leadership. But with that understanding duly noted, it did not respond quickly or well. So if its primary role is to respond to disasters, there is some serious work to be done.

I haven't heard much of an argument as to why a $600-800 million-a-year military force is necessary in a country that's not at war. There's certainly a lot of good that money could do. There's a lot of police training and support that was supposed to have been done already, and more that could still be provided. But perhaps there's an imbalance in the way the money is being spent, and the personnel deployed.

unreal51 karma

Anthony Coombs here. Fellow Willardite - As a Yankee fan what are your thoughts on A-Rod? Congrats on everything!

katzonearth3 karma

A-Rod is played out. He should have been at shortstop for the last decade, so we wasted that, and now he's done. The drug use is disappointing. The whole thing is disappointing. I try to focus on happier things, like cholera.

Icyrow-4 karma


katzonearth6 karma

Hey, I'm just here to talk about Rampart.

extreme-fajitas3 karma

couldn't anything be summed up in a page of bullet points? isn't that why we have books, when we want more than the summary?

Icyrow-2 karma

Yes, but this isn't a fiction with character development, it's an autobiographical telling of where the money went, which seems redundant.

katzonearth6 karma

It's nonfiction with character development. There's background, context, and texture I thought went best as a narrative. Feel free to disagree once you've read it.