Foreign Aid

How best to help Haiti

Patricia Adams
Financial Post
March 31, 2010

Haiti is a sovereign country in name only. This, the second oldest republic in the hemisphere and the first to throw off the shackles of slavery, has become a de facto protectorate of the U.S., its de facto leader Bill Clinton.

Today at the UN in New York, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, acting on behalf of the U.S. and with her husband in the wings, will be raising an estimated $11.5-billion for Haiti’s reconstruction following its January earthquake. The U.S. fears that, if it doesn’t tightly control this dysfunctional country, it could descend into another narco state or worse. The U.S. prescription for reconstruction — massive Western aid delivered by multitudinous Western organizations to the occupants of the vast dependency that has become Haiti — will fail to serve either Haiti’s citizens or U.S. interests. Rather, it’s a prescription for the descent that the U.S. fears, and for more misery for the Haitian people.

The more that Haiti has received foreign aid, the more that it has fallen. After four decades during which some 10,000 foreign non-profit organizations have delivered some $8.3-billion to an ever-more disempowered population, Haiti is more impoverished than at any time in memory, 25% poorer today than in 1945 and the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Half of Haiti’s nine million people live on less than $1 a day. Unemployment hovers around 75%, as does the proportion of the population without electricity. Violence is rampant. The 10,000 foreign organizations that feed, clothe and house so many Haitians have succeeded chiefly in crippling the ability of Haitians to feed, clothe and house themselves.

To the extent that democratic institutions exist in Haiti, the country would be best described as a “predatory democracy” in which those in power pillage the state and treat a government position as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Corruption and cronyism is rampant. Thirty percent of civil service employees are “phantom,” collecting paycheques without so much as showing up for work.

Haiti’s elections have so little credibility that few participate — in the last election, as few as 5% of voters are believed to have voted. Apart from the suspect electoral system, when the U.S. dislikes the government that results it intervenes — as it did in 2004 when it ousted President Aristide, the leader it had installed in 1994. Yet the U.S. insists on elections, to provide a leader that gives a patina of legitimacy to its ultimate control over Haitian affairs. The Haitians are bystanders in their own land, extras in an electoral charade.

In New York today, the latest sequel to this long-standing politico-drama will be played out: The U.S. will once again call for elections. The vote will once again engage a meaningless minority of the Haitian population. The U.S will once again laud the Haitian people for taking steps toward democracy and then, with an ostensible leader in the presidential palace, the latest U.S. plan will be imposed on Haitians.

This plan, called The Action Plan for the Reconstruction and National Development of Haiti, is plausible on paper, just as previous U.S. plans have seemed plausible. Prepared since the earthquake with the imprimatur of the Haitian government, it calls for $11.5-billion in immediate post-earthquake reconstruction and an additional $23-billion over the next 10 years to build a new future for Haiti. To organize the aid agencies, an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) would oversee how and where billions of dollars in aid flowing into Haiti are spent over the next 18 months. The commission would be co-chaired by Haiti’s Prime Minister and “an international figure involved in the recovery process” i.e., Bill Clinton, who now holds the title of U.N. Special Envoy for Haiti.

The IHRC would then morph itself into a super Haitian Development Authority that would plan, sequence and coordinate projects over 10 or more years. This new master plan for Haiti — pulled together in the two months since the earthquake — will be presented and endorsed at today’s conference to determine Haiti’s fate. Haitian citizens will remain powerless to control the decisions and to hold their government to account — with foreign money propping it up, no Haitian government needs be answerable to its population.

There must be better approaches and there are.

One is called the Strategic Plan for National Salvation [PDFver here] , formed by some 60 Haitians, some living in Haiti, some abroad, which includes intellectuals, former officials and politicians, and business leaders. Considered the first independent alternative since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, this comprehensive plan, which would overhaul the corrupt institutions now in place in favour of the rule of law, is based on the premise that “Haitians do not want to be dependent on humanitarian aid; they want to develop and stand on their own….The backbone of the economy cannot be built by charity, however well-meaning.”

Another model comes from the UN, whose Trusteeship Council has successfully guided former colonies to full country status, among them Ghana, Togo, Cameroon and Nigeria (the trusteeship council also produced Somalia and several other spectacular failures). In this model, Haiti could become a UN Trust Territory with the U.S. assuming the role of administering state, the goal being the progressive development towards self-government or independence. The U.S. powers would include full legislative, administrative, and judicial authority and, in certain cases, the right to treat the territory as if it were part of the U.S. The U.S. would need to account to the Trusteeship Council each year as to its progress in achieving self-government and educational opportunities. Haitians would have some recourse, too: They could petition the UN council with grievances.

A third model would see Haiti’s de facto status as a U.S. protectorate formally become a de jure U.S. protectorate, to make the U.S.’s role transparent and to clarify the rights and responsibilities of both the U.S. and Haitian citizens. In international law, a protectorate — a subordinate state — retains its overall sovereignty, remains a distinct territory and its citizens do not become nationals of the protector. Unlike trust territories under the United Nations Trusteeship system, protectorates are not being prepared for ultimate independence. Nor are they subject to scrutiny by the UN Trusteeship Council.

A fourth would see Haiti become a territory of the U.S., much as Haiti’s neighbours in the Caribbean, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. In this scenario, Haitians would not only import U.S.-style justice, the highest court of the land would ultimately rest in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Haitians — large numbers of whom already flee the desperation of their country to be illegal immigrants in the U.S. — may well welcome some form of legal association with the U.S., particularly under an inspirational President Barack Obama. The U.S., too, might welcome overseeing Haiti in some unambiguous capacity — the cost might be comparable while the chances for Haiti’s development incomparably better.

Which of these or other options are best to pursue? Only the Haitian people can decide, and then only after a free and vigorous debate. Let Mr. and Mrs. Clinton continue with their efforts to send emergency aid to Haiti, to restore security and basic services. But rather than seizing the reins of power, they should instead put in place a process for an extended public debate, culminating in a plebiscite among the Haitians. Such a plebiscite, if it came at the end of a open process that truly gave Haitians a say over their future, would garner not 5% of the vote but 75% or 85%. And the decision that flowed from that vote would have some reasonable chance of legitimacy and success.

Patricia Adams is executive director of Probe International.

Further Reading:

Help Haiti build a real government

Categories: Foreign Aid, Haiti, Odious Debts

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