Around the same time that Bill Clinton was assuming the presidency in Washington in 1993, a bumper sticker began appearing on the back of SUVs and sedans in Port-au-Prince. It read: “No electricity, no running water, no telephone: Haiti love it or leave.”
Many of these geniuses who put the stickers on their vehicles are now living comfortably in Southwest Dade and Broward counties in Florida. Over the years, they were forced to flee, voluntarily of course, by the Zenglendos, Chimeres and the Rat Pakakas that stayed in Haiti because they couldn’t afford to leave.
We all know what has happened to Haiti in that span. So last week, everyone cheered when Clinton was back in Haiti – this time as a United Nations Special Envoy, or Viceroy in the mind of some people – with a cavalcade of potential investors. The Gap, Levi Straus and American Outfitters were some of the big American companies who sent representatives. Garment factory workers were giddy with excitement, thinking about the orders they’re likely to get. The Haitian government proclaimed “Haiti is Open for Business.”
While welcome the delegation, we need to keep it real and understand that this is but a baby step on a long road to join the world of nations. It would be great for those companies to create some jobs in Haiti. But we also must remember that the daily minimum wage in Haiti is $5, (yes a day, not an hour) and that came with a huge fight. These potential jobs are a short term solution to alleviate poverty and misery. What Haiti needs right now is significant investment in its infrastructure. It needs roads, electricity, potable water. It would have been nice if Clinton could have convinced some of these companies to come to Haiti and explore ways that they can help. It would have been equally welcome if international bankers were on hand to talk about serious loans, world economic problems, notwithstanding.
We know that the Haitian government is not open for business, not to the real business people we just mentioned. The government needs to ensure that the rule of law is respected and that it has zero tolerance when it comes to corruption and other abuses. Under our current system, we woo only mercenaries looking to make a quick buck at the expense of the state and the people. They may even erect buildings and give the sense that they are here to stay, only to vanish in the middle of the night when things get rough. We need serious telephone companies that don’t prey on people by charging huge fees to make a phone call by the minute when telephone companies all over the world are charging affordable monthly fees.
Haiti needs a central bank that is strong and well managed and can get the confidence of international bankers so that Haitian banks can open branches in the United States and Canada to serve the Diaspora community instead of relying on the money transfer companies, which are essentially the snake oil salesmen of the financial industry.
Until we have established these and other important rules and policy, we won’t have a choice of loving or leaving Haiti.