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5436: Shift focus to development (fwd)
Shift to Focus to development
Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
Web-posted: 7:03 p.m. Nov. 2, 2000
Haiti is going nowhere.The Haitian government is likely to postpone
presidential elections set for Nov. 26, and the United States and Europe
are vowing to withhold international aid if the Caribbean
country doesn't strengthen its democratic institutions soon. In the
meantime, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere is getting even
poorer.There may be a better way to deal with the Haitian
quagmire. Leonel Fernández, former president of the Dominican
Republic, which shares a border with Haiti, says it's time to
forget about Haitian politics and focus on economic development.Under
Fernández's plan, the United States, Canada and Europe would encourage
investors to do business in Haiti and funnel aid through reputable
nongovernmental organizations. He also proposes a debt-swap plan:
Payments Haiti makes to the U.S. government would go into a special fund
earmarked for roads, electricity and other development needs.
This would reduce the need for U.S. foreign aid.Such a development plan
could help create new jobs for the poor, feed the hungry and lay the
foundation for a civil society. It would shift the international
community's emphasis on Haiti from politics to economics. It could work.
But Fernández, who represents the views of a small nation,cannot get the
big players to take his plan seriously. Yet it is shortsighted not to
pay attention to Haiti's neighbors who are directly affected by that
country's instability.Illegal Haitian immigration is a huge problem in
the Dominican Republic -- the two share the island of Hispanola.
It's also been a major problem for the Bahamas, the British
Turks and Caicos islands and other Caribbean sites. It's also a
problem for the United States. In 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael
Leonidas Trujillo responded to the Haitian problem by ordering the
massacre of 20,000 illegal immigrants, most of them cane cutters who
harvested Dominican sugar that year. As the story goes, Trujillo's
henchmen distinguished between Haitians and Dominicans by asking
suspects to say the word perejil (parsley in Spanish). They knew that
Creole-speaking Haitians had difficulty pronouncing the "j" sound, and
anyone who mangled the test word was hacked to death with a machete.
Times have changed since Trujillo's days, but the problem
of illegal Haitian immigration has not been solved. Haiti
certainly needs to deal more effectively with its own problems. But
Fernández's plan for international involvement in Haiti makes sense.
It should be explored before Haiti has its next big crisis.