Justice for Haiti: Beyond Aid and Debt Forgiveness

COHA Research Associate Ethan Katz and Visiting Scholar Daniel Boscov-Ellen have produced a must-read report on Haiti’s history of debt and foreign aid. It is too lengthy to reproduce here—ee are posting only the introduction and conclusion—but if you are looking for a concise history of foreign exploitation and imposition of debt on Haiti, this is a good one. The link below will take you to the full report

Over the last few months there has been a surfeit of talk in the international community over what should be done for Haiti. However, in almost all of these discussions Haiti’s historical context is completely excised – it is almost as if the country had only come into being as a result of January’s earthquake. This collective amnesia is damning. The hurricanes of 2008 and the recent earthquake brought unfathomable damage upon Haiti, but their effects have been greatly exacerbated by Haiti’s widespread poverty, lack of adequate public infrastructure, food insecurity and an utterly bleak horizon. Unlike the hurricanes and earthquake, these are not natural phenomena. The devastating nature of these natural disasters cannot be understood apart from over two centuries of Haiti’s colonial and postcolonial subjugation, foreign occupation, economic exploitation and the degrading conditions faced by most of its population.

If one chooses wisely (and not selectively), one can learn from Haiti’s history in order to assure that this cycle of oppression, destitution, and destruction is not repeated. As a first step, providing Haiti with unconditional disaster relief on an urgent basis remains critical. However, so long as the developed countries that played such a significant role in creating Haiti’s present ruinous political and economic conditions continue to ignore and evade their responsibility for Haiti’s impoverishment, the country will remain vulnerable. Recognition of and restitution for past wrongs, coupled with an authentic commitment to end the sabotage and exploitation of this tortured nation, would be the best way to help Haiti achieve the stability and freedom to determine its own future.

Regrettably, such a recognition rarely can be found in the mainstream reporting on Haiti’s situation. In the words of Noam Chomsky, “the facts are extensively documented, appalling, and shameful. And they are deemed irrelevant for the usual reasons: they do not conform to the required self-image, and so are efficiently dispatched deep into the memory hole…” However, if we are to talk in good faith about what must be done for Haiti, we must first confront what we already have rendered there.

. . .

Breaking the cycle
One needn’t belittle the outstanding contributions of aid that have been given in the past months, or malign the good intentions of the millions of Americans who have donated money. But as Richard Kim argued in a recent piece published in The Nation, the dialogue in the international community must shift from discussing charity to demanding justice. Justice for Haiti requires more than debt forgiveness and pledges of aid. It requires the creation of the conditions for self-sufficiency and self-determination rather than further subjugation and exploitation. Rather than only appealing for foreign investment, creating sustainable and equitable growth in Haiti necessitates accomplishments like raising the minimum wage, improving a decimated and woeful natural environment, instituting agricultural policies that support local farmers, and rebuilding and constructing new public infrastructure, including schools, roads, hospitals, public utilities, and housing. If this is to occur, the Haitian people must be allowed to determine their own political future, and to provide the appropriate resources to help them rebuild their own lives – resources owed to them with interest.

This is not to say that the U.S. has no role to play in recovery efforts. In fact, Haiti needs help from the U.S. now more than ever. It is estimated that the cost for demolition efforts alone could run as high as $1 billion. Without commitments from the U.S. and the rest of the international community that it will avoid the advent of donor fatigue, the Haitian government will be effectively paralyzed. It cannot face these challenges alone. But the U.S. role in Haiti’s reconstruction must not be the same as it has been in the past – manipulating the political process and depriving Haitians of a voice, using USAID funds to prompt militias and studiously ignoring the use of terror against civilians. Rather, the U.S. must pledge not to interfere in any democratic election in any self-serving way, including through selective funding. Once the Haitian people have chosen a representative in a free and fair election, the U.S., France, Canada, and the U.N. might begin to redress their shoddy treatment in the past and pledge to provide all the direct support that the new government requires to get back on its feet. They must also work with international economic institutions to ensure that no “austerity measures” are imposed on any further development aid to the country.

Up until this point, the U.S. has been successful in preventing Haiti from engaging in even an iota of economic and political self-determination. What Washington cannot undo is its former misguided actions which brought great grief to the nation and its people. But by taking responsibility for its part in the disaster, the time may come where Washington can, for once, play a constructive role when it comes to Haiti

For the full report go to http://www.coha.org/justice-for-haiti-beyond-aid-and-debt-forgiveness/

Photo by Associated Press reporter Ramon Espinosa.

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