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6959: A Rational Foreign Policy Toward Haiti (fwd)
Mercredi 7 Février 2001
A Rational Foreign Policy Toward Haiti.
by Ira Kurzban, general counsel in the United States for Haiti's
Aristide and Preval administrations.
A Rational Foreign Policy Toward Haiti
The public perception in the United States regarding Haiti is
that since 1991 the United States has spent over two billion
dollars seeking to make Haiti a democratic country with a viable
economy and that all of those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Even sympathetic members of Congress and the public question what
went wrong in Haiti and how we could have spent so much money and
introduced a US military presence into that country with so
little progress. One could hardly get any other impression after
reading and seeing the barrage of negative articles and stories
in the media, in Congress, and in journals that are aimed at
Haiti. This media barrage, without deviation, repeats the same
themes that Haiti is a country of economic calamity, ecological
disaster, political paralysis, and national doom combined with
the specter of a refugee flotilla headed for Florida.
The Presidential election in the United States has only
emboldened the economic elites and their allies among the former
military and anti-democratic forces in Haiti to disregard
Aristide’s election and to attempt to undermine democracy
further. The economy in Haiti is clearly stalled and some in the
tiny political opposition opposing Aristide and Preval are bent
upon destroying the remainder of the political fabric. If our
policy has been a failure, then we need to examine what went
wrong and what policies we should pursue.
In my view, there is little doubt that our policies in Haiti have
failed. I differ, however, with the general wisdom regarding the
source of that failure and the standards to determine policy
failure. Haiti has not failed the U.S. Rather, the U.S. has
failed Haiti. In order to determine the nature and the
measurement of that failure some assertions that are claimed as
“facts” regarding our actions in Haiti need to be examined.
For example, it is not true that we have spent two billion
dollars on or in Haiti. Over $750,000,000 of that money went
toward the interdiction of Haitians seeking to leave Haiti during
the most repressive stage of the military coup in that country.
These funds cannot fairly be included in any calculus regarding
our assistance to Haiti. If anything, our forced repatriation of
Haitian children from Guantanamo while welcoming Cuban children
to the United States from that military base at the same time
will remain an indelible stain on our national character. Nor
can we count as “aid” to Haiti the hundreds of millions of
dollars that were spent by the United States military in
corporate giveaways to U.S. companies such as Brown and Root for
everything from laundry for our troops to communications systems
which were ripped out and probably discarded when the U.S. troops
left Haiti. Included in the 2 billion dollar figure is the vast
psy-ops or psychological operations program that was performed on
the Haitian people by our men in green during Aristide’s return.
This is not to say that the presence of U.S. troops during the
first days before and immediately after Aristide’s return did not
perform an important function of stopping the massacres and
permitting the Aristide government to destroy the hated Haitian
Army once and for all. Nevertheless, the excessive costs and the
lavish nature of spending by U.S. companies and the U.S. military
in Haiti should hardly be attributed to Haitians as some form of
U.S. “aid” to them.
Nor should we ignore the fact that the remainder of the hundreds
of millions of dollars in U.S. aid that went to Haiti as part of
that 2 billion dollar figure mostly went to beltway companies to
do studies that generally have little impact or no effect, long
or short-term, on the Haitian people. It is typical of U.S.
A.I.D. officials to go to Capitol Hill and boast about how our
foreign aid dollars “are returned to the U.S.” because they go
mostly to U.S. companies conducting studies or overseeing
It is not simply that most aid is returned to the U.S. that
results in little impact on Haiti, it is that the aid programs
themselves are generally designed to have little impact on the
vast majority of Haitians who are without basic care and who live
in rural areas engaged in agrarian pursuits. Rather than
directing our aid to the 70% of the population that lives in poor
agrarian areas, the majority of AID funds are spent to bolster
the “private sector,” assist in the “privatization process,”
further the goals of the International Monetary Fund program, or
develop and bolster the opposition to the government. For
example, this past year, our government overtly provided to the
International Republican Institute $3,000,000 in funds not simply
to help opposition parties in Haiti but to “develop” opposition
parties. In light of the outrage in the United States following
the revelations that the Chinese government may have attempted to
provide contributions to U.S. candidates, it is nothing short of
bizarre that our government would spend money in a foreign
country to create an opposition to the government we are supposed
to be supporting. This, of course, does not include covert funds
spent in Haiti to accomplish the same ends.
If we are to pursue a rational policy of assistance in Haiti, we
must see Haiti as it is and not how we would hope it to be.
First, Haiti is an agrarian country. Most of its population lives
in rural areas and most people make whatever meager living they
can off of the land.
Second, a small elite has prevented the development of a free
market economy in Haiti. They ruthlessly compete for the scarce
markets in the country and have no desire to develop Haiti into a
true market economy. This small elite both fear and hold in
contempt the masses in Haiti. Although they are well thought of
in the U.S. because they speak English well, have attended U.S.
schools, are bright, persuasive, and charming, the masses see
them as part of the system that maintains the poverty and misery
that surrounds most Haitians.
Third, the assembly or manufacturing sector in Haiti has never
been more than of marginal assistance in alleviating the
country’s massive unemployment.
Fourth, the Lavalas movement and Jean Bertrand Aristide are
widely popular in Haiti because they represent the hopes and
aspirations of the vast majority of Haitians. The Haitian
population, although largely uneducated, is highly intelligent,
highly motivated, and very aware of its own self-interest. This
is not a country where false consciousness prevails.
Fifth, democracy in Haiti as in every other place in the world,
including the United States, takes many years to develop. The
belief that somehow Haitian history and Haitian culture has
prevented democracy from taking root is silly and blinks reality.
Haiti has been a democracy for less than 7 years since the end of
the military coup. During the first twenty years of democracy in
the United States we had an armed rebellion (Shays Rebellion), we
completely redesigned our form of government (from the Articles
of Confederation to the Constitution) and we took one
Presidential election away from the people and gave it to
Congress to decide (Jefferson’s election). It took us almost
another one hundred and seventy years before non-landowners,
women, and people of color could truly vote in an election.
Haiti’s democracy is vibrant, flourishing, and will only become
stronger in the future if we refrain from interfering with it or
Sixth, Haiti like all developing democracies that ended brutal,
authoritarian regimes has had a substantial increase in crime and
therefore insecurity. When insecurity is coupled with impunity,
crime rises dramatically. Haiti is not unique in this respect.
Seventh, Haiti is plagued with the scourge of drug trafficking
and the insecurity, corruption and threat to true national
security that it poses.
How does a rational foreign policy address this Haiti instead of
the one invented by our country. Clearly, our short term
interests in Haiti are to prevent drugs and refugees from
entering the U.S. However, our long term interests are to create
conditions where Haitians may not only survive but flourish in
Haiti. It is in our long term interest to have a stable economy
in Haiti that assists the massive poor and that brings them, as
President Aristide often says, from misery to poverty with
dignity. The following suggestions are an outline of how we may
move in that direction.
1. Stop Interfering In the Internal Politics of Haiti.
We should not waste our limited resources in creating parties to
oppose the government that we are working with. There is no
serious opposition to the Lavalas movement in Haiti at the
present time and Jean Bertrand Aristide will remain a revered
figure in the country for many years to come. Perhaps that will
change over time and people will see other alternatives. However,
our policy is simply counterproductive and creates greater
paralysis within Haiti. Our efforts to curb Aristide’s authority
or popularity; to support the opposition thereby forcing some
type of coalition government; and to put pressure on him to make
various concessions is unproductive, will not create greater
stability in Haiti and is likely to embitter the masses of people
against the United States who see these efforts as an attempt to
re-establish the elite’s control over the political as well as
the economic life of the country.
2. Ask the Haitian Government What They Need To Help The Economy
We consistently make the same error in believing that we know
what is best for Haiti. The Haitian government should be treated
with the dignity and respect that any democratically elected
government deserves. Whether we agree with the policies of
Lavalas or not, we need to find constructive ways to see how we
can help the government on its own terms, not ours. This means
that we must become good listeners. We need to assist the
government in what it believes will spark development and provide
assistance to its people. We need to stop listening to the small
elite who have de facto controlled U.S. policy toward Haiti and
begin listening to a government that represents the broad
interests of the Haitian people.
3. Provide Haiti With the Technical Expertise and Financial
Resources to Transform Agrarian Life
We possess the world’s greatest expertise on eliminating agrarian
and rural poverty. We have the most successful rural
electrification program in the history of the world. We have the
most advanced farming facilities and agricultural techniques that
would help Haiti move toward self-sufficiency in food production.
We have the ability to provide millions of dollars in
micro-credit programs for farmers in rural Haiti. We also have
one of the world’s most extensive public school networks in rural
areas of the U.S. We have developed wind, solar, and other
reusable forms of power that we could bring to Haiti. Aid in this
form should go through farming collectives, other rural
collectives and the government of Haiti. We should assist the
farmers, as do groups such as Oxfam, to break the hold by the
small elite over the export of crops. Instead of assisting the
existing private sector, we should help to create other free
markets for the distribution of agricultural products. We also
have great expertise in rural health programs. The government of
Cuba with few resources has been able to transform rural health
in Haiti by placing many doctors at an extremely lost cost in the
most rural areas of the country. The U.S. has the capability
through our rural health programs and our technical expertise to
develop health care programs where none previously existed. But
we need to provide, as has Cuba, the medical programs themselves
rather than the design for a program that may never be used.
4. Assist Haiti to Flight Crime and Drug Trafficking
Our country has enormous resources that we can provide to assist
the Haitian National Police. We can provide the Haitian National
Police with the technological capability to fight drug
trafficking as well as other crimes. We have the physical
equipment (e.g. go fast boats, sophisticated listening devices,
AWACs ) to dramatically transform Haiti’s ability to stop drugs
from entering Haiti. We have the ability to provide advanced
forensic techniques and intelligence gathering that would be of
substantial assistance to the Haitian government in its effort to
fight crime and drug trafficking. We can provide consistent,
sustained training to the Haitian police to develop in the police
department an internal command structure, an oversight and
anti-corruption process, and the facility to train more entry
level police. We also have the ability to provide technical
assistance concerning community policing, citizen participation,
and other methods of community participation in fighting crime.
These suggestions represent just the beginning of a rational
approach to assistance Haiti. They are premised, of course, on
our sincere desire to assist Haiti to develop economically for
all of its citizens rather than to further a narrow agenda that
assists economic elites.
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