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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Former President Clinton Takes His First Trip to Haiti as UN Special Envoy By Stanley Lucas

Since the announcement of President Clinton as the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, the Haitian community (in-country and Diaspora) have initiated an animated debate over the choice. Those that welcome the nomination are the Haitian reformers. They believe that the former President and his network (see chart) can raise the profile of Haiti; his nomination is attention-getting for a country that desperately needs the world’s attention. The skeptics are taking a “wait-and-see” approach citing concerns over his mixed record on Haiti when he was President. Finally, the cynics believe that this is a chance to return Aristide to power and that they can appeal to his opportunistic side to partner in efforts to profit from the meager assets of a country that no one is paying attention to. -----------------------------

The Reformers ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The reformist camp welcomes Clinton’s appointment as envoy. They know that Clinton tried to support change in Haiti in the past, but failed because the man he gave a chance to and took a risk on, former President Aristide, was not actually a democrat. This former Haitian president shared the fate of past Haitian presidents who failed the Haitian people: popular uprising and exile. But the reformers are not in government. While they want to help the country, they are effectively kept out of the political arena by a string of threats, violence, kidnapping, corruption and the rampant drug trafficking linked to state institutions. Few of them would dare take on these issues in the face of these dynamics. They would have to risk everything – including their lives – to do so. This is tremendously unfortunate and is keeping qualified people from entering into the Haitian political system. About 83% of the competent, qualified Haitians are overseas mainly in the United States and Canada. This is the “brain drain” effect. While the reformers welcome this nomination, they are also prudent and will hold Clinton accountable for his agenda in the country. If he demonstrates an agenda guided by a genuine interest in and professed affection for the country (Clinton and his wife honeymooned in Haiti. Click here for more details , the reformers will be supportive. -------------------------------------------------------------------

The Skeptics -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The skeptics are those who did not forget the promises of aid and support that former President Clinton never fulfilled, and they strongly opposed the military invasion in 1994. In a speech made in Haiti on March 31, 1995, President Clinton promised: ----------------------------------

"Now you have a chance to come together to make the rice fields come alive and harvest the corn and millet; to build the schools and clinics that promise a better future for your children. We, your neighbors, your allies, and your friends, will support your efforts to create jobs, to attract investment from beyond your borders, and to rebuild and repair your injured land. In a few months, the program will begin to pave 1,000 kilometers of your roads. And later this year I will send the American Peace Corps here to help to organize the planting of millions of trees. As the roads are built and the trees are planted, thousands of you will have jobs. As you begin this work, I urge your countrymen and women who fled the terror to return and to help you to rebuild your land and theirs." -----------------------------------------------------------

Skeptics contend that the rice fields never come alive and the corn and millet harvests never manifested. Schools, clinics and jobs remain a distant hope. Investments never came, the 1,000 kilometers of roads were never paved, and the millions of trees were never planted. ------------

The issue of foreign military intervention and its strong opposition by Haitians has historical roots. In 1804, Haiti became the first black independent country by defeating militarily Napoleon’s army. This remains a point of pride for Haitian, and any foreign military intervention will be opposed. While many Haitians supported the return of Aristide in principle, they did not support the U.S.-led intervention in 1994. The subsequent and severe anti-democratic behavior of Aristide – his corruption, electoral manipulation, political violence, and involvement in drug trafficking – galvanized this group’s opinion about the military intervention as a serious mistake. They favored a diplomatic channel to resolve the differences and believe that Prime Minister Robert Malval in 1993 should have been given more support for that approach. -----------------

The Cynics-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The cynics are comprised of hard core former Aristide lobbyists and loyalists in Haiti and the United States. They believe that the main reason that Clinton is in Haiti is to help his friends seize business opportunities in the telecom sector and other infrastructure. (Click here for more details: They point to the past to justify their cynicism. ------------------------------------

This group contends that in 1994 Clinton was not really interested in returning democracy to Haiti. For them, Clinton played into Aristide’s hand. Aristide had hired an army of lobbyists in Washington in 1992 to advocate intervention, and loaded up rickety boats with 30,000 Haitian refugees and sent them floating to Florida’s shores (taking a page from Fidel Castro who uses this method of flooding refugees onto American shores to apply political pressure). According to the cynics Aristide's actions forced Clinton into responding militarily. This group thinks they can replicate this model and return Aristide to power by using close associates of Bill Clinton, such as Paul Farmer and Brian Concannon to return him again. Paul Farmer is said to be a leading candidate to become USAID administrator. While Paul Farmer is widely appreciated throughout Haiti for his significant AIDS work, most Haitians are concerned by his involvement in politics, particularly his close relationship with Aristide. Among the worse cynics is Randall Robinson, one of Aristide’s closest associates who has been the main mouthpiece promoting the conspiracy theory that Aristide was actually “kidnapped” by the United States. He wrote a book advancing this theory and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez paid $30 million to turn his book into a movie script. Robinson is the most outspoken critic of President Clinton vis-a-vis Aristide – and the genocide in Rwanda. ------------------------------------------------------------------------

The corrupt opportunists are comprised of the elite that believe is monopoly. People know them as the Groupe de Bourdon or Group of 22. They are systematically stealing the resources of the country and in the process, robbing the people of economic opportunities. They operate monopolies given to them by the President of the country. The Group effectively controls the office of the Presidency and key cabinet positions. They are totally corrupt. They run the banking industry, maritime deals, food imports (flour and rice), insurance, the port, and control government procurement. In fact, they were investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005 for involvement in money laundering linked to the drug trade. Now, they are seeking to acquire the state institutions that actually generate revenue – the government-owned telecom company, the port and the airport – citing the need for privatization. What the are doing are stealing – not privatizing. When President Clinton’s appointment as envoy was announced, the group de Bourdon was rumored to be considring a large donation to his foundation in order to secure access. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

How Can President Clinton Help? ---------------------------------------------------

It will be challenging for President Clinton to affect any meaningful change in this context. But with someone of his stature focused on Haiti, there is a real opportunity for meaningful change. President Clinton should help develop some big ideas based on his serious expertise and vast networks. Haitian leaders have been unable to think creatively about how to solve the country’s problems and could benefit from the former President’s guidance. Hurricane readiness is a good project, but it isn’t enough given Haiti’s situation. The key will be to generate creative ideas and then work broadly with Haiti’s government to implement. The President of the Haitian Senate and the Lower Chamber both made statements on July 6 expressing concern about the undefined agenda of the Special Envoy. Before anxiety increases, there should be a clearly defined – and reasonable – proposal of action. In Clinton’s own words, “it’s the economy stupid”. If he could roll out a series of projects to help modernize and jump start the economy, this would be an invaluable approach. Implementing the promises he made in his 1995 speech would certainly go a long way toward putting Haiti on the path to recovery. Education is another area in critical need of attention. The schools are under funded and turn out woefully unprepared graduates. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In order to address the systemic corruption and resource grabbing that is the norm in Haiti, it would also be very meaningful for President Clinton to put in place programs with the Haitian parliament on developing a legal code that promotes and protects investment. Haiti, for example, does not have an anti-monopoly law which has led to price fixing, collusion and other illegal business practices. It is impossible to operate a vibrant economy without a strong legal code. Enforcement of the laws and training of judges to implement the codes will have to be the next step. These are but a few starting points for the President to consider. Haiti has entangled and defeated many skilled and seasoned politicians throughout its rich history. If President Clinton can focus his mission on bettering Haiti, he will win the support and hearts and minds of the Haitian people. They have high hopes – and even higher expectations.