March 12 will mark two months since the earthquake hit Haiti killing more than 235,000 people. The solidarity and response from the American people has been overwhelming. Private contributions have topped $2 billion. The question that the Haitian victims are asking is how and when will the institutions that got the money deliver aid to the victims? Will humanitarian aid be used as a tool to achieve a particular political agenda or to influence Haiti’s upcoming presidential elections?
The situation in Haiti is beyond bad. People are suffering. Even with the outpouring of support from international governments, Haitian Diaspora, and aid organizations, we are barely getting a handle on the situation. There are now more than one children who are orphans or have only one surviving parent. There are 1.5 million people sleeping in the streets under the rain, among them infants of three, four or five months, and almost 65,000 thousand pregnant women. More than 400,000 Haitians are seriously injured among them 20-30,000 amputees. Ask the doctors of the USS Comfort, the US military’s hospital ship, with thirty years of experience, and they will tell you that they have never seen anything this catastrophic. Haiti needs help; Haiti needs leadership; and Haiti needs more direct support from the United States.
With this backdrop, President Preval visits Washington, DC this week. In diplomacy nothing is spontaneous, but to date it is uncertain what the deliverables for the visit will be. We know he will conduct a series of meetings culminating with the meeting with President Obama on Wednesday. While Preval must advocate for Haiti’s priorities, he must also have a good understanding of Washington’s priorities in Haiti. Along with concerns about rebuilding in Haiti, one of the Obama Administration’s top priorities is the release from Haitian prison of the two missionaries accused of kidnapping last month. In advance of Preval’s visit, he should have released these two Americans and deported them back to the US barring them from reentering Haiti. Now, however, their continuing detainment will be an unnecessary distraction and a missed opportunity to improve the atmospherics.
The following are some thoughts on the priorities for this trip and what Preval should attempt to accomplish. Achieving meaningful results on these issues is critical – and can serve as a gauge for the success of Preval’s visit.
IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES / SPECIFIC REQUESTS
· Tents. This is priority number one. The number of people -- babies, pregnant women, young people, old people -- who are living out in the open and sleeping in the rain and on the streets is unacceptable. They cannot wait for rebuilding or transition housing. They need immediate shelter. Preval should immediately request 800,000 tents from the United States. This should have been done immediately after the earthquake. Instead, Preval chose to waste a month and a half pursuing this request with Ecuador and Mexico, neither country can actually deliver tents in these numbers. The US is the only country with this ability. This is absolutely unacceptable and must be immediately rectified.
· Pre-Fab Housing: Pre-fabricated housing is also an immediate need. The trip presents an opportunity to request US$500 million from the Inter American Development Bank (IADB) or seek funds from the Clinton Foundation. The Government could then partner with Habitat for Humanity to provide the expertise to construct mid and longer term housing.
· Coordination of Food Aid: After two months, the delivery of food aid is still chaotic and uncoordinated. A majority of the citizens in the neighborhoods considered to be unsafe still do not have access to food aid. This needs to improve and coordination is essential to an effective process. This visit presents a unique opportunity to address this issue because most of the organizations distributing food are American. Preval should convene a working meeting with the heads of the major food aid delivery organizations to put together a plan to streamline the delivery of aid while keeping an eye on avoiding longer-term dependence on food aid.
· Access to Healthcare. Preval should request that the USS Comfort remain in port for another six months. With more than 400,000 people still critically wounded, we cannot afford to lose the ship at this point. The treatment of amputees should be a priority.
· Prevention of Epidemics. Preval should request the support of the NIH for the evaluation and medical follow-up to guarantee that no epidemics complicate the humane efforts and rebuilding process.
· Partnership with Haitian Diaspora Medical Associations. Preval should meet with the Haitian Diaspora associations of doctors and nurses to build partnerships to strengthen capacity in-country for immediate aid and longer term rebuilding of the public health system.
· TPS Extension. Preval should request from Congress and the Administration a three-year extension of TPS for undocumented Haitians in the United States. There is no way that Haiti can absorb these people at this point.
· Acceleration of Immigration Processes for Victims. Applications for family members of Haitian-Americans and Haitians with permanent residency submitted prior to the earthquake should be accelerated.
Fundraising / Opening Additional Streams of Aid
· Overall Tracking. The Obama Administration has embarked on a groundbreaking project to provide transparency to how the economic stimulus money has been spent through a comprehensive website, www.recovery.gov. This is a tremendous project and is relevant to Haiti now. There has been a tremendous amount of aid pouring in to Haiti through many channels. Without central coordination and tracking, it is difficult to get a handle on how effective the aid is being deployed and what areas are in the most need. It would be an incredibly worthwhile endeavor to ask the Obama Administration to help Haiti track the funds donated and deployed in Haiti in a central website, www.haitirecovery.org. This would instill confidence in the process and allow Haitians to monitor how the money is being spent.
· Tax Incentives. A request should be made of Congress to pass a measure allowing each Haitian in the US an annual tax deduction for up to $10,000 in remittances to support family members stricken by the earthquake.
· Debt Relief. Haiti owes $960 million to the international financial institutions. They have forgiven only $230 million to date. Preval should request that they forgive the remaining amount of debt.
· Opening Lines of Credit. The majority of Haitians have lost their houses and therefore lost their primary collateral for securing loans and credit. Further complicating the situation is the stranglehold on credit by the Haitian business cartel, the Groupe de Bourdon. In order to rebuild, we will need to open new lines of credit, particularly at the micro level. USAID and IADB both used to provide such programs in Haiti. Preval should request the reopening of these programs. Currently, one organization, Fonkoze, has almost a monopoly on the provision of micro credit, which is not healthy to long-term growth and cannot fully meet the great need.
· Fundraising: Preval should seek meetings with the major American philanthropists, such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, George Soros, and Rupert Murdoch, to request their participation in the content of rebuilding. Warren Buffet has given $30 billion for humanitarian projects throughout the world and the others have active foundations with global agendas. It is unclear how much outreach the Haitian Government has done with each of these individuals, but coordination and cooperation with the Haitian Government will help ensure their support is not duplicative and is channeled toward the priorities of the Haitian Government.
· Recovery of Stolen State Funds: Request the support of the United States to recover the funds stolen by former Presidents Duvalier (US$600 million) and Aristide (US$350 million). This would be a significant source of revenue for reconstruction and is a long outstanding wrong that needs to be made right.
· Clarification on the Clinton Fund: The Haitian Government will need to understand the difference between official American assistance toward rebuilding and the deployment of Clinton’s funds. There is great confusion on this point and the lines between the two seem to be blurring. Preval should seek clarification on this point, and request an official total of funds collected on behalf of the Clinton Foundation including what has been allocated to date. Clinton controls a significant chunk of the aid at this point (more than $600 million) and therefore has substantial influence on the rebuilding plans. Clinton aid should be coordinated and transparent.
· Human Resources Initiatives. Nearly two million Haitians live in the United States, and according to the World Bank, 83% of the qualified Haitian human resources live overseas. Furthermore, more than 10% of Haiti’s government officials were lost in the earthquake. Haiti urgently needs to reinforce the capacity of the ministries and the various the institutions of civil society. Preval should request that USAID and IADB offer three to five year contracts for Haitians to return to Haiti and work in the ministries and organizations on behalf of their organizations.
Women and Children
· Reinstate State Department Programs. The USAID previously supported a program to protect women and children from sexual predators and violence. The Haitian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) managed the program in country. In the tent villages, there has been an uptick in violence against women and children. The USAID should reinstate this program.
· Sexual Predator List: Preval should request the list of registered sex offenders in the US in order to prevent their entering Haiti or attempting adoptions. There was a serious problem with sex offenders attempting to take children from South East Asia in the wake of the tsunami.
· Ministry of Education Funding. USAID used to provide support to the Haitian Ministry of Education. That was cut recently but should be reinstated. More than 85% of the schools were destroyed in the earthquake. We need temporary schools and longer term rebuilding support. In Kenya, the World Bank provides $120 million a year for educational support. Haiti receives not even $500,000 for education. Preval should revisit this issue with the World Bank as well as with the US Government.
· University Outreach. The State University of Haiti was mostly destroyed in the earthquake losing nine of its 11 buildings and nearly 450 professors and students. Preval should meet with the heads of the universities in Washington, DC and Florida to request support and partnerships to rebuild the University and explore them providing assistance to Haitian students wishing to continue their studies in the US.
· Haitian Students to the US. Preval should request additional funding or support for Haitian students to study in the US.
· Haitian Sovereignty. Preval must make clear that the Haitian Government will actively develop its own plan for reconstruction rather than signing on to a document that is prepared by the United National and approved by Haiti as it if was their own. There have been many calls for the UN to take over management of Haiti or an international consortium. This is unacceptable. President Preval must make clear that while Haiti appreciates and greatly needs the support and expertise of the international community, we are still a sovereign country, and as such, will define our rebuilding plan and priorities. He should state his intention to make the rebuilding process open and transparent with a overarching coordinating mechanism. This should mark a departure from politics as usual in Haiti.
· Rebuilding Fund. The US Senate voted for the creation of an international building fund for Haiti. This agreement should be a public-private partnership (PPP) managed by the representatives of the Haitian state, representatives of the Diaspora, legitimate Haitian businesses, and the support of international advisers. During this visit, Preval should request that the US kick off the fund with a $5 billion donation.
· Haitian-American Companies. Preval should make clear that Haitian-American companies applying for rebuilding contracts would receive preference in order to provide incentive to the vast Diaspora community to return to Haiti to rebuild.
For President Obama, effective coordination of humanitarian aid, rebuilding and political stability remain areas of interest. Mismanagement of humanitarian aid can has direct implications in the United States. Most notably, mismanaged aid efforts could lead to about 50,000 people setting out in makeshift boats for the US shores by the end of the summer. This could have an impact on congressional elections of November 2010 in the United States, particularly in Florida where the boat people will undoubtedly head.
Likewise, political stability will be critical at this time of chaos. The US will provide 70-80% of the funding for presidential and legislative elections in Haiti. The internal political consensus is that the elections are not possible for next the 18 months for three reasons. First, the provisional electoral council’s technology, equipment, building and voter registration has been lost. People have of course lost their registration cards as well. A lot of work will need to be redone to rebuild these databases and provide sufficient organizations for a free and fair election. Second, the people do not trust the Preval Administration with the organization of these elections. Preval is currently pushing for November elections despite the utter ruin of the country. Preval lost the confidence of the population to oversee elections because of past electoral manipulation, the leadership vacuum in the wake of the earthquake, and widespread corruption in his Administration. In fact, during a recent visit by Admiral Michael Mullen, Preval chose to rebuke the American press for allegations of corruption rather than focusing on the ongoing needs of the Haitian people. He needs to get it together and focus on salvaging what little credibility he has left. The political consensus is that a constitutional transition with a consensual member from the Supreme Court is the realistic solution as this point. This is a point that the Obama Administration should reinforce with President Preval; otherwise, if Preval continues to push for November elections, the country will erupt in violence and protest. It is not feasible.
Hopefully, this visit will be well prepared and productive. If not, it is a missed opportunity, but could also negatively impact the upcoming Donors Conference on April 7. If this visit is unfocused and produces few tangible results, Preval should just retire now and not wait for the end of his term in November.