Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Change Haiti Can Believe In

January 26th, 2009

By: Paul Farmer and Brian Concannon - Boston Globe

THE INAUGURATION of a US president committed to reversing "the failed policies of the past" provoked sighs of relief around the world. Few were more relieved than the citizens of Haiti, because few have suffered so much from failed US policies. But Haitians are still waiting to see whether the "past" that is to be reversed extends beyond the illegal and destructive policies of the last eight years to include over two centuries of US policies that have failed both our oldest neighbor and our highest ideals.

Our treatment of Haiti was bad enough during the Bush administration. We imposed a development assistance embargo in 2001, because we did not like the elected government's economic policies. The embargo stopped urgently needed government programs - a Partners In Health study found that cancelling water projects in just one city had a devastating impact on health in the area. In 2004, US officials forced Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide aboard a clandestine flight to Africa and placed a Bush supporter from Florida at the head of Haiti's government. Thousands were killed in the ensuing political violence. Years of hard-won progress toward democracy were erased overnight.

But our mistreatment of Haiti started earlier, as soon as Haiti became independent in 1804, when we refused to even recognize the new republic run by freed slaves. We invaded Haiti in 1915, to ensure repayment of a debt to Citibank. We propped up ruthless dictators in the name of fighting communism. In the 1980s, we decimated Haiti's agricultural base by forcing subsidized US rice on Haitian markets.

These policies failed Haitians terribly. They cost thousands of lives lost in political violence. Millions more suffered because Haiti's governments could not or would not provide clean water and basic healthcare. The policies have also failed the United States, by requiring us to mount expensive military interventions, respond to repeated waves of refugees, and deal with the drugs that transit easily through an unstable Haiti on their way from South America.

Haitians are hoping that America will reverse the failed policies of the past. Their hopes are grounded not just in President Obama's promise, but in their own country's brief, but successful, experiment with democracy from 1994 to 2004, and in America's important contributions to that success.

Haiti's democratic interlude included contested elections, and struggles to provide basic justice, education, and healthcare - the predictable challenges of a poor, emerging democracy. But it also included Haiti's first transfer of power from one elected president to another in February 1996, and its second in February 2001. Democratic progress included extending AIDS retroviral therapy to rural areas that had never before had a simple clinic. It included two historic trials that brought powerful figures from Haiti's former army and current police force to justice.

These successes were due, in part, to US government investments. US troops intervened to restore the constitutional government in 1994. USAID helped craft Haiti's successful application for financing from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. US judges, prosecutors, and police officers trained their Haitian counterparts, and we helped equip Haitian courts with basic legal resources and materials.

We now have a historic opportunity to work with Haiti's current constitutional government to build a stronger, more prosperous Haiti. Seizing this opportunity will require restraint, and faith in democracy: We will need to allow elected Haitian leaders to make their own policy decisions, even if we would have decided otherwise.

We will also need to invest in democracy. Three days' spending in Iraq or two weeks' interest on the bank bailout could fund Haiti's entire government for a year. Prudent, depoliticized investments in Haiti's democracy will yield dividends of prosperity and stability to Haiti, and will save US taxpayer dollars in the long run by reducing the flow of refugees and drugs to our shores. Perhaps most important, by helping rebuild a better Haiti, we will show the world how, in President Obama's words, "we are ready to lead once more."

Paul Farmer, MD, is Presley professor of social medicine at Harvard Medical School and a co-founder of Partners In Health. Brian Concannon Jr. is director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Editorial: The Uninspiring "Dialogue" of President Preval

January 30th, 2009

By: Wadner Pierre -

What kinds of words do the Haitian people need to hear from President René Préval during these hard times? Do Haitians need the hopeful discourse of US president Barack Obama?

One would think that President Préval, a man with high level government experience dating back to the Aristide administration of 1991, would know how to address the Haitian people. Honesty need not crush hope, and false hope is useless. From the time of slavery Haiti has been plagued by commissions that do nothing for the people. The reason for their failure is simple. They exclude the people who know and care the most about Haiti. Any well intentioned leader must always bear this lesson in mind and ensure that it guides his actions and his words.

On January 1, 2009 in front of the cathedral of Gonaives, Préval gave a speech to the nation to open the year – something countless Haitian presidents (most of them illegitimate unfortunately) have done. Préval gave a mundane speech that highlighted road construction and “dialogue”. When parliament opened on January 12, Preval pledged to continue with the “dialog” that he thinks has brought peace to Haitians.

However, Senator Jean Hector Anacasis from “LESPWA (hope)”, the party of President Préval, announced something more significant. He said that in April a commission would be formed to review the Haitian constitution that would include “all sectors”. However, the Préval administration has already formed commissions that exclude the largest sectors – the peasants and the urban poor.

Préval was criticized for not saying when the UN Occupation forces would leave Haiti – and for not saying when exiled President Aristide would be able to return. Aristide is currently residing in South Africa where he was welcomed by President Thabo Mbeki shortly after the coup d'état of 2004.

Through elections Haitians have already engaged in much of the “dialogue” that Préval keeps talking about. The problems of Haiti cannot be solved in a month, but Préval needs to mobilize and inspire the people who most urgently want and need to solve them. If he were to do this then progress could be made.

The exclusion of the poor must end. One sided, uninspired “dialogue” must end. Foreign troops must leave as demanded by the Haitian constitution. Criminals who run free mist be brought to justice. Our exiled leaders must return to Haiti. If their elected leaders could say these things it would give Haitians good reason to be hopeful.