The Conversation | By Garry Pierre-Pierre | Garry@haitiantimes.com
So far, the majority of Americans like the job that President Joe Biden is doing. He recently signed a $1.9 trillion package that saw most of us getting $1400 stimulus money and he is preparing a $3 trillion bill to tackle eroding infrastructure and the environment among other challenges. We’re feeling optimistic as the vaccine roll out is ahead of schedule. After four years under that previous guy, we welcome sane and steady leadership.
But Mr. President in the matter of Haiti, I need a little bit of your time. I know you’re busy, but this is urgent. Since its founding as a republic in 1804, Haiti has had a complicated relationship with the United States. We’ve vacillated from seeing America as our best friend one day and worse enemy the next day.
America has helped create the richest diaspora and we are working on building a stronger and sophisticated Haitian community as we carve out our niche in our beloved America. Lately, it seems that a day doesn’t go by without some hideous or heinous incident taking place in Haiti. Just the other day, a bus carrying soccer players from Belize was stopped by a group of former police officers who have turned into a gang. And I can go on and on, but I won’t because this news site does that on a daily basis.
Over the years, as Haiti finds itself in yet another crisis, the United States has had good intentions and tried many different approaches. Unfortunately, the US has not been consistent and has abandoned Haiti at its worst moment, knowing that the mission had not been accomplished. I’m thinking when President Bill Clinton took a political gamble when he sent in 20,000 soldiers to restore democracy in Haiti in 1994.
Facing withering criticism from the Republican, Clinton pulled out of Haiti keenly aware that the job was not finished. That created the mess that we’re living through today. I believe it is time that the U.S re-engages with Haiti in a novel way. Enlist the Haitian Americans to help rebuild their beloved homeland.
At the rate it is going- increase insecurity, grinding poverty and a looming political showdown – Haiti will need another intervention. If or when things blow up, America needs to try a new approach to turn things around.
After the earthquake, the U.S. State Department created a pilot program sending Haitian American police officers from the New York City Police Department to help train the Haitian National Police officers. That program was going well and getting traction until Donald Trump cut the funding in his effort to gut that agency.
The force that the Pentagon sent to Haiti in 1994, included scores of Haitian American soldiers some of whom I interviewed for a story for the New York Times. These soldiers were so proud to be in Haiti defending democracy in their birth land for their new country. It was heady stuff for them and one of the highlights of their life, if not their glory days.
The NYPD pilot project should be extended across all ministries in Haiti where you have highly competent Haitian Americans working with Haitian counterparts to help reform the administrative state so Haiti can create jobs and provide a better future for its citizens.
I believe that even if the political situation ameliorates, the underlying issues remain unaddressed because the country doesn’t have the manpower to properly run the bureaucracy.
That’s why I think that Washington has to make the creation of a Haiti Development Corps, the central tenet of its Haiti policy.
Haiti has suffered from a chronic and consistent brain drain. The best and the brightest are whisked away to flourish in other lands that provide them with opportunity Haiti simply cannot.
The NYPD program and the Pentagon choice of soldiers show that American leaders know whom to turn to when they really want to address the issue of Haiti: Americans of Haitian ancestry.
This Corps will consist of highly qualified, mostly Haitian professionals attached to a ministry to work alongside their Haitian counterparts. The selection process must be rigorous and highly selective. The successful applicants would have a proven track record in their field.
The Corps should require a 2-year commitment and members’ salaries will be underwritten by the State Department and the applicant’s employer. This program should be disbanded after 25 years, enough time to stabilize the country and attract private investors and once and for all break this pernicious cycle of instability that has marred the country since its founding.
Who would lead such a project? There is an abundance of Americans of Haitian ancestry that have defended U.S. interests in a variety of capacity across the world and it is time we give them a chance to change the conditions in Haiti. They have skin in their games. Many promised their fathers that they would leave Haiti a better place than they left it.
Three people come to mind to head this herculean task, but any one of them is more than able to tackle this challenge and ensure the success of this program.
In no particular order: One is Patrick Gaspard, a long-time political operative and former campaign manager for the first Obama run for the presidency. Gaspard later headed the Democratic National Committee before being nominated ambassador to South Africa.
Another person that comes to mind is Jacques Jiha, an economist with private and public sector experience. Jiha has held various deputy positions as a state and city comptroller, travelling the world over to invest in the state’s pension funds. He was NYC Finance Commissioner before he was tapped by Mayor Bill de Blasio to be the city’s finance czar to steer the city’s economy as the pandemic flattened it.
There is also ret. Marine Corps Col Mario Lapaix, who was the Pentagon’s top liaison in Haiti. Col Lapaix also worked for years in various high-level positions in NYC government, including assistant commissioner, at the Emergency Management Operations and Planning. Col Lapaix’s experience goes way beyond Haiti. He was the first chief of staff of Marine Forces Africa in support of AFRICOM in Djibouti. Col Lapaix During the U.S Operation “Iraqi Freedom in 2006/2007, he served as the 4th Civil Affairs Group Commander and Director of all civil military operations in Al Anbar Province and played an integral part in the province’s recovery from local government failures and industrial challenges.
If we continue to approach Haiti in the same way it will be akin to washing your hands and wiping them on the floor to quote an old Haitian saying. It’s time we try a bold and innovative approach.