January 13th marked the one year anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. What followed has become a classic example of everything that can go wrong when the “international community” steps in to run a sovereign nation.
For as long as I can remember, Haiti has been a political, economic, and social basket case among the Caribbean nations. It was ruled for decades by the Duvalier family. When Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier died in 1971, his son, dubbed “Baby Doc,” Jean-Claude, succeeded his father at the age of 19. He was eventually overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986.
Those that took over the reins of power were not much better and democracy has been marked by a series of disputed elections. The earthquake, for all intents and purposes, destroyed the government such as it was. The level of devastation, however, defies the imagination.
In 2004, after the forced departure of President Aristide, the United Nations imposed the Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haiti, of whom the Brazilian contingent was the largest. The Mission has been a military occupying force since then, understandably alienating Haitians.
A longtime observer of Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, a Brazilian and a representative of the Organization of American States (OAS) for two years has been openly critical of the international community.
In a recent interview with Le Temps, a Swiss newspaper, Seitnefus said, “For two hundred years, the presence of foreign troops has alternated with that of dictators. It is force that defines international relations with Haiti—never dialogue.”
“Haiti’s original sin on the world scene was its liberation. Haitians committed the unacceptable in 1804” when they liberated themselves from being a French colony. Seitnefus noted that “The West was a colonialist world, slavist, and racist, that based its wealth on the exploitation of conquered territories. Consequently, the Haitian revolutionary model caused fear in the great powers.” The U.S. did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1865, after the Civil War.
As is so commonly the case where it gets involved, the United Nations is the problem, not the solution.
After the earthquake, those on the scene generally agree that the initial response from the international community was good, rushing aid of all kind. In March there was a meeting of donor nations in New York in which $11 billion US dollars was pledged or collected.
Seitenfus says it never got to Haiti and, a year later, in a nation of ten million citizens, Haiti still has 1.5 million people on the streets and is suffering 80% unemployment, plus a cholera epidemic.
The UN mission cannot put Haiti back on its feet. What it has is soldiers, not those with the skills necessary to help rebuild the nation and, until the Haitians are given the opportunity to do the building instead of being charity recipients, not much will improve.
The presence, too, of Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) is not seen as all that useful either. What resources are transferred to Haiti go through the NGOs, leaving its government on the sidelines. The NGOs are not particularly accountable to anyone, least of all the Haitian government.
“No country would accept what the Haitians are forced to accept,” said Seitenfus.
A December 31, 2010 article in the Guardian, a UK newspaper, confirmed Seitenfus’
opinions, reporting that “Not withstanding efforts to signal political commitment to supporting Haiti’s transition—including UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon’s appointment of Bill Clinton as special envoy—few tangible outcomes have yet to be materialize. Haitians themselves are growing disillusioned and impatient…”
“Taken together, less than a tenth of the total amount promised has even arrived in Haiti, much less been spent.”
Little wonder that over the years between three and four million Haitians immigrated to the United States in search of a better life and now must worry about the fate of their families and their nation.