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Can anyone help Haiti?

Can anyone help Haiti?

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I have had some robust discussions about the situation in Haiti in recent days. In last week’s article, I suggested that the international community should mobilise to support the development, reconstruction and stabilisation of Haiti. To be clear, by the international community, I mean global organisations such as the United Nations (UN), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and individual countries with the capacity and will to act. As expected, views are split on this issue.

On one hand, there are those who are suspicious of involving the international community in Haiti’s affairs following the assassination of President Moïse a few weeks ago. For example, one critic noted that the notion that the international community should mobilise in support of Haiti is paternalistic. The other concern is that interventions by the international community in Haiti in the past have apparently caused more harm than good, with very little to show for some of the funds earmarked and spent.

Some of the international aid agencies have been blamed for such outcomes.

Furthermore, critics have also argued that more often than not, international intervention leads to results which are top down and do not take into account the needs of the ordinary people. As such, even if there is some kind of international response to the current instability in Haiti, the argument goes that such intervention should be on terms dictated by Haiti and which are favourable to its development.

Other suspicions about outside involvement in Haiti have to do with the exact cause of decades long political instability in the country. Here, some critics have contended that Haiti is not necessarily politically unstable, rather, it has been politically destabilised. The distinction here is important since instability suggests an internal cause whereas destabilisation suggests exogenous factors. This destabilisation they argue, has come mainly from foreign governments.

Fareed Zakaria, the journalist, political commentator and CNN contributor asked in a recent briefing: “Can anyone help Haiti?”

Former US Ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley, in writing for The Atlantic, presents two opposing options for the United States (US). Foley suggests that America can lead a large-scale military intervention to stabilise the country, or alternatively, back off and let Haitians chart their future.

Writing for The New York Times, Natalie Kitroeff and Michael Crowley narrate how America’s history of supporting strongman leaders in Haiti has failed. In the London Review of Books, Pooja Bhatia expresses scepticism about foreign involvement, and reminds her readers that even former US President Bill Clinton, who also became a UN special envoy for Haiti, voiced regret over some US policy prescriptions for Haiti.

The concerns above are all valid. However, on the other hand, Haiti at the moment does not appear to have the capacity to engineer transformation solely on the basis of its own agency. This is why constructive engagement by the international community is needed. The eventual aim of such engagement should be to create the conditions in which Haitians can deliver meaningful changes for themselves. Essentially, Haiti needs a political, economic and social reboot and this job has to be led by Haitians, but with the financial backing and institutional expertise of the international community.

Admittedly, this moment feels very much like déjà vu. In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, there was much hubris and many extravagant promises. Powerful countries and people around the world were voicing support for ‘Marshall Plans’, ‘building back better’ and a ‘new Haiti’. At a donor conference in March 2010, two and a half months after the quake, several wealthy countries and donors announced pledges of $8.4 billion for Haiti’s reconstruction, a sum that exceeded the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It has been reported that most of these funds never made it to Haiti.

In writing about the response to the 2010 earthquake, author Jonathan Katz mentioned in part of the title of one of his books that “the world came to save Haiti and left behind a disaster.” This time, the world does not need to save Haiti. However, it can help to lay the foundations for a better, more prosperous and stable Haiti.

Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.
Email: [email protected]