By Garry Pierre-Pierre
The Haitian government has been waging a very low-level intensity campaign for empowerment from the international community. Everyone from president Rene Preval to special advisors have been singing the same song. The international community has to go through the government if it plans to rebuild Haiti. I agree because the government ostensibly is the country and has to be empowered.
But there is something insidious about the nation of asking others to empower you. Power is earned and then taken. It cannot be given to you because if it is, it can be taken.
The policy of emasculating the Haitian government is as old as the Republic. No need for a history lesson here, but the international community has not been too kind to Haiti for having taken its independence from France in 1804. This was made clear to me last week as I read a declassified document from 1970 written by presumably American embassy officials entitled, “National Security Study Memorandum 70 – Haiti”
The document, which was declassified on April 16, 2006, mentioned very casually how the US was providing precious little help to the Duvalier regime and providing only “humanitarian” aid to avert a disaster.
Instead what the United States did was to circumvent the Haitian government by funding international aid agencies to carry out some small-scale projects. This has been the policy for quite some time, although it is getting new exposure in light of the January earthquake. Preval has made it crystal clear lately telling everyone who will listen that the government is not handling the aid money. Ask the aid agencies, is his stock response when Preval is asked about how aid is being distributed in Haiti.
While Duvalier was a scoundrel as the report characterized most of the leaders, the well being of the Haitian people did not appear to be a priority then for American policy makers. I’m not sure how much has changed, although the post earthquake rhetoric has been oh so PC. How else do you explain the destabilization of the Haitian state and think that the government can adequately provide for its people.
To some extent, the Haitian governments have not done much to show that they are worthy of respect. Bad governance is standard fare. Most foreign governments who’ve given money directly to Haitian administrations have come to regret it. Ask Taiwan, the Asian country has provided money for roads that are barely passable a decade later, stadium that has never been built. Those are the ones with which I’m intimately familiar with. I’m sure there are others.
In addition, micro managers crowd the upper echelon of the Haitian bureaucracy and there is a lack of capacity from the middle and bottom tier to make the state function properly.
So where do we go from here. The solution is complex and will require good faith on all sides. The Haitian government has to accept that it cannot go it alone and the attitude of “give me the money and don’t tell me what to do” is not going to cut it with anyone. Even the silly diaspora knows that by now. He is beginning to raise its voice and demand accountability to little headways.
For the Haitian state to be empowered, it has to ask the international community to strengthen its manpower. It has to begin a massive recruitment of qualified and competent people, many of whom toil in the United States, Canada and Europe. They don’t have all of the answers and they are deeply flawed. What they have is the right attitude to deal with government officials and industrialists. A secretary with experiences working in Wall Street or in Miami government will not greet people with a scowl when they walk in to apply for a document or looking to invest in a country. If so, that person would be out of a job instantly.
But I digress. The Haitian government can not embark on such an ambitious human resources recruitment, this is where the American and Canada, the main players in Haiti, can genuinely help. These governments need to craft a plan to allow Haitians working in their countries to go back to the Caribbean nation and work for a minimum of five years, renewable after the initial contract. You want a doctor in Haiti, they’re aplenty in Miami and New York. You need someone to help develop a community, they are not scarce outside Haiti. This is not meant to exclude others from working in Haiti, foreigners will play a pivotal role in the process. But after all, Haiti is for Haitians and they should be part of the movement to restore the country from the moniker of failed state to a vibrant nation. The new Haiti needs to develop a narrative. The old one of Haiti being the first black republic is worn out. People are not impressed anymore in the age when American elected its first black president. We need to let the world know that Haiti will be transformed into a model state of efficiency, a can do attitude. If in the process the government is empowered so be it. But our primary objective is the empowerment of the Haitian people and Haiti by extension. Let’s begin today.