To Help or Hurt? Major Richard Ojeda Explains Pretenses for Withholding Foreign Aid

9 mins read
A hotel that completely pancaked in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Photo courtesy of Richard Ojeda.

As our country watched the Senate Republicans (minus Romney) completely ignore the Constitution by allowing a one man crime syndicate, known as the President, to interfere with distributing foreign aid for his own personal benefit, my poor brain ached for answers. Why was this aid withheld after a post-Mueller testimony telephone conversation? Who knew about the aid being withheld? How did withholding aid harm its intended recipients? I find arguments claiming no harm occurred during the withholding of aid frustratingly baseless because Congress would not have approved this unless it was necessary. The United States sends aid to many countries for a variety of reasons. Exactly one decade has passed since the United States sent aid and troops to Haiti. I spoke to retired Army Major Richard Ojeda about how our country has traditionally used aid released to foreign countries in order to assist them, much like the money withheld from Ukraine. 

Touching down at the National Palace in Haiti after it had collapsed. Photo courtesy of Richard Ojeda.

Ojeda shared his experience during Operation Unified Response, the 2010 relief effort in Haiti: “I was an Operations Officer with the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. The 325th was serving the role of global response force which meant that in a moment’s notice we could be called upon to deploy anywhere in the world. We received the call to deploy to Haiti after a devastating earthquake rocked the small nation, killing over 250,000 citizens and leaving over one million homeless and in need of food, water and medical attention. I was standing in the headquarters of the 325th while our Brigade Commander was on the phone with the 20th Airborne Engineer Brigade Commander negotiating for a light airfield repair package. It would be dropped out of the rear of aircrafts and combat engineers from the 325th would parachute down afterwards to secure the equipment and then move it to Port au Prince. The 82nd Airborne did not have the airfield prepared capability that the 20th Airborne did. This was crucial because we did not know the condition of the airfield runway. The earthquake could’ve easily made it an unstable and dangerous place to land aircraft.” 

The massive crowds that would gather at the food distribution areas. Chaos was everywhere and it was our job to manage the chaos.  Photo courtesy of Richard Ojeda.

Ojeda recalls that while evaluating their current situation, he learned he had been requested to lead the mission to repair the runway: “I will never forget standing in the middle of the brigade headquarters when the 20th Airborne Engineer Brigade Commander, Colonel Kaiser, agreed to provide the airfield package. Colonel Kaiser agreed to this with one stipulation – Major Richard Ojeda, who had previously been a member of the 20th Airborne Engineers for over a decade, would be the one to lead the Airborne Engineers. The load up process of airborne equipment was about to begin when the word came down that the airfield was, in fact, capable of accepting aircraft and the airborne operation was cancelled. We did not need to repair the runway and would soon find ourselves in Port Au Prince.” 

Maj. Ojeda standing in downtown Port Au Prince, Haiti getting an update from Captain Sean Shields about the hazardous area the troops were located and how they planned to stay safe while working in the area.  Photo courtesy of Richard Ojeda.

Ojeda recaptured the events that would unfold while on their mission, “We immediately got to work clearing lines of communication, providing people with food, water, and medical attention while assessing our capabilities to find people who were alive but unable to get to us. We would find survivors who were trapped by blowing a whistle then being quiet to see if we could hear a response. In the end, we found ourselves setting up food distribution points, clearing the roads of all debris and bodies and assisting the nation of Haiti so they could get back on their feet. As a person who deployed to combat on multiple occasions, I found the deployment to Operation Unified Response as my proudest moment because our mission was all about saving lives and not taking lives.” 

Neighborhood boys laughing because I was trying to climb mango trees. Notice that half of their homes have been destroyed. Photo courtesy of Richard Ojeda.

I asked Ojeda why the United States would ever withhold foreign aid which had already been approved for release. His response was like any other response he has ever given me: concise, straightforward and honest: “The only time we would decide to withhold foreign aid if there was a corruption issue. If we thought the aid was being stolen or not used for what it was initially intended. The United States would investigate the allegation, and the money would either be released or withheld after determined by the investigation. This is a streamlined process.” 

A school that had been full of students. Half had completely collapsed, killing everyone on that side of the school while those on the other side survived. Can you imagine how that had to have impacted them? Photo courtesy of Richard Ojeda.

When I asked Ojeda why we (the United States) would intentionally prevent the distribution of foreign aid and the answer was exactly the same” “Only if there was a functioning level of corruption”. 

And, unfortunately, it is that simple. Trump knew what he was doing when he bribed the President of Ukraine with foreign aid they needed. The Republicans in the House and Senate know what he did was certainly illegal yet somehow voted to acquit him. Sure, they will somehow have to find a way to explain the stain they will leave in history, but after aligning themselves with the criminal in chief we all must wonder if they even care. Have they all become comfortably numb?  

If they weren’t, they certainly would be after attending that ordeal the day after their loyalty vote, also known as the National Prayer Breakfast. The “I learned my lesson” president proceeded to plant his crown atop of his head and say the word “bullshit” at this semi-holy event. I would say, “Have you no shame?” but sadly the shame was slowly removed from them during their many loyalty oaths. 

Then there’s the rest of us. The American people. The ones who are supposed to simply, “Get over it” all. We know what he did was illegal. We know he is currently doing victory laps because our Legislative branch has crowned him king and decided he is above the law. We know we are a nation founded upon the rule of law. We do not know if our election will include foreign influence or not. We know our nation has no use for a king, a corrupt Department of Justice, or a Senate which holds a Kangaroo Court. And we better make damn sure that we can remember this in November, lest we be doomed to repeat it. 

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