It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Monday, February 5, 2007

How to Make Haiti Better by Stanley Lucas

How to Make Haiti Better
By Stanley Lucas ------------------------------------------------

The Diagnosis

We have been talking – over the Internet and radio – about the complex issues that face Haiti and the convoluted political environment. But, the essence of all Haiti’s problems can be traced back to one issue: poverty. Competition for scarce resources has resulted in a corrupt political elite focused on asserting control in order to divide up the small “pie” amongst themselves and their international allies, rather than focusing on building a viable economic plan that addresses the country’s harsh realities and checkered past. Unfortunately, many in US policy circles, there is a strong contingent of those who remain engaged in Latin America and the Caribbean who are promoting populism, rather than truly focusing on improvement in the region and democracy and economic development.

The people are forced to focus on survival by any means possible. Survival encompasses daily subsistence, avoiding running afoul of a corrupt political regime, and staying alive in a country rife with kidnappings, rape, beating and extortion. Daily survival requires finding enough food to eat and a means to cook the food. Many cut down the ever more scarce trees (comprising only 1% of the land) to make coal to cook. There is almost no electricity.

These are the realities underlying Haiti’s current situation. Given these realities, it is truly the leaders’ responsibility and even moral obligation to put together a plan, clean up the government and make some measurable progress. Therefore, what is most disturbing is that Haiti’s political elite do nothing to address the situation.

The Prognosis

Lying only 90 miles off the shores of the US, which also deals with a significant amount of refugees, one would think that Haiti would factor somewhere into the US foreign policy and aid. But it does not in any significant way. Fact is that the US is made up of people who are used to “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps”. The average Haitian citizen shares this mindset. They want the opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Some of the wealthiest minority businessmen in the United States are Haitians who came here with nothing and made tremendous fortunes. However, in Haiti, the efforts of the people are futile against the chaotic political situation and a complete lack of security. Their futile efforts do not register with people overseas who only see that the country cannot “get it together”. As a result, Haiti is almost forgotten. As a foreign policy concern, it falls at the bottom of the list.

The world is progressing at an amazing rate. The computer revolution, the Internet age, 3G, SMS, advancements in healthcare, AIDS vaccines, new business models, TiVo … and Haiti does not even have steady electricity. It is being left behind and will have a massive struggle to even catch up to subsistence levels. We need to take action – and get healthy.

The Treatment

So what has to happen to make a change? We need to treat the root of the problem rather than addressing the symptoms. You do not treat a patient for a cough when they have lung cancer.

What I would advocate is putting the focus on reducing poverty. This is common ground for all competing interests and something everyone should agree upon. If we make this our focus, all other issues will naturally fall in line underneath this framework. Poverty reduction should be at the center of all Haiti’s international round tables rather than ancillary issues such as amending Haiti’s constitution promoted by the International Crisis Group and the current United Nations Mission in Haiti. No matter how much we tinker with the constitution, it will not solve this problem

My strong belief is that change should come incrementally and peacefully through dialogue and engagement. There are many competing interests in Haiti – and as mentioned above, there are scarce resources. Specifically, I would call for (in no particular order):

1. If leaders are not going to take it upon themselves to put together a viable economic plan and clean up the government, then it is time for the people to stand up and for international pressure to ramp up, not only from the US, but also from the EU and Canada. This requires a mobilization of the Haitian Diaspora to move Haiti up the priority list through their strong voices and steady pressure. The current leadership needs to be sent a strong message that no one is going to tolerate or accept the old way of doing things. But the international community must be compelled to put in place real measures that do not support those trying to undermine Haiti’s growth.

2. It has always been a political – and safety risk – for Haitians to peacefully stand up to strongmen and insist on a dialogue. Haiti is a democracy – the leadership should be auditioning for your vote. Why not create a series of dialogues through town hall meetings in specific districts and invite the members of parliament to attend and participate in a frank and open discussion of their plans to promote economic development and alleviate poverty?

3. The associations and chambers of commerce should also play a strong role for advocating good policy and development. They have the unique understanding of key economic and social issues and can speak on behalf of a group of people. Why not start a “member scorecard” ranking or “grading” members of parliament on their progress on issues that are important for economic and social development, such as environmental protection, good business regulations, and education.

These are simple steps that we all talk about but don’t put into action. Let’s take action. My blog will serve as an organizing center for those interested in helping me with this mission. I have prepared specific talking points for Diaspora reaching out to their host government leaders, questions and itineraries for organizing town halls, and suggestions for how associations and chambers might organize scorecards. I am happy to work with anyone to help organize and put plans into action. This is a grassroots effort and requires some resolve to put into action. Let’s work together to make Haiti better. After all, it is your Haiti.