Over the past 25 years, rampant political violence and an almost totally corrupt business and economic system have kept Haiti’s Diaspora from being able to engage in any meaningful efforts to improve their country. There are more than two million Haitians living in the U.S., another one million in the Dominican Republic and 700,000 in Canada. Their engagement with Haiti has been limited to sending $1.8 billion in remittances to family and friends each year, which accounts for almost 20% of Haiti’s GDP.
Most have been marginalized from doing business because they are not a part of the corrupt business elite in Haiti. Known as the Groupe de Bourdon and linked to the Preval Government, this Groupe has had a stranglehold on the economy. Others have been marginalized for their efforts to promote democracy, good governance, political participation and accountability in-country.
Haitians who are not a part of this corrupt elite have, for the most part, fled the country to seek opportunity elsewhere causing a massive “brain drain.” These people are, forthe most part,well-educated, hard workingqualified people who could make a real contribution to building the economy and political landscape of the country. They are doctors, lawyers, business leaders and civil servants. They have been forced to sit on the sidelines as their country has been driven into the ground by a series of corrupt leaders.The disastrous January 12 earthquake highlighted the total impotence of the Haitian government. In spite of the tragedy, many observers are cautiously optimistic that the rebuilding process could be a turning point for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Even President Preval was quoted as saying he wants to see a new Haiti — a totally different country. This is ironic as he has been intimately involved in bringing the country to its knees during his first term in office from 1996-2001, and over the past three years of his second term.
The discussions around rebuilding, however, have not stoked this cautious optimism because they have almost completely neglected Haitian input. The UN and the U.S. — as one of the leading donors — will play a central role in the reconstruction. The U.S. State Department and former President Bill Clinton have begun to draft several redevelopment scenarios and have shared them with the Haitian Government.
Clinton and the head of the International Monetary Fund have been calling for a Marshall Plan for Haiti. In their view, there should be a foreign-led reconstruction effort. Foreign governments, companies and NGOs should lead the rebuilding with foreign investment. With Clinton in control of the vast amount of aid money earmarked for Haiti, he seems to be in a position to implement what he thinks is best for the country.
But what about what is best for the Haitian people? A plan like the one being discussed currently flies in the face of all development theory for three reasons — This plan replaces the “client” by not seeking Haitian input,it promotes the same failed approach to international aid in Haiti, and It fundamentally misinterprets why the Marshall Plan was successful.
According to Andrew Natsios, former head of USAID under President Clinton, you cannot replace the “client” or the nationals. They need to develop and implement their own plan for development to succeed. Without the buy-in of the people, a plan will fail. Reaching out to the Haitian Government in this case, does not check the box of coordinating with the nationals. The Haitian people have lost what little confidence they had in the Preval Administration,which can hardly been seen as representative of the people. What is being discussed is bordering on colonialism.
There has also been much discussion about the vast amounts of international aid that has gone into the country with nothing to show for it. See here for more on the international aid debacle in Haiti for he past 15 years.Much of this can be blamed on widespread corruption in the country and the fact that Haitian leaders have pilfered vast sums from the public coffers and fled the country. Jean Claude Duvalier absconded with $600 million and Jean Bertrand Aristide left with another $350 million according to Haiti’s General Accounting Office. None of those stolen funds have been recovered. But there is also plenty of blame to be placed on the ineffectiveness of the aid programs that have been operating in-country unsuccessfully for decades. We do not need more of the same. However, more of the same is exactly what is being called for by the powers that be, bothin the US and at the UN.
For those using the analogy of a Marshall Plan after WWI, foreign governments, NGOs, and multilateral institutions did not rebuild Europe. The Dean of the Columbia Business School, Glen Hubbard, pointed out in a recent op-ed in the Financial Times that the success of the Marshall Plan was due in large part to empowering local businesses to rebuild their country. Clearly, Haiti’s business sector was limping along prior to the earthquake, and has been all but decimated since. However, this is where the Haitian Diaspora community’s experience should be leveraged. They understand the culture. They are Haitian. And they can inspire confidence among their own people. After the Preval Administration’s total mismanagement of the country, it is hardly conceivable that this Haitian Government and its corrupt allies are in a position to make an informed decision on how to reconstruct the country.
In fact, there is a high-profile initiative afoot among the Haitian Diaspora community. Working with the OAS, more than 200 Haitian Diaspora organizations representing millions of overseas Haitians are coming together in Washington, D.C. early next month to work together to develop a reconstruction plan for their country. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is aware of this initiative, and has been invited to participate in the conference. Yet the State Department and the international community has completely neglected to factor in their contribution. None of the Diaspora community has been invited into the U.S. and UN rebuilding dialogue. The Diaspora groups have demonstrated a strong, patriotic willingness to return and rebuild.But why would they do this if they are marginalized again — this time by international actors and foreign companies?
Many observers have used the mismanagement of international aid as an excuse for the international community to come in and manage Haiti. It is, after all, their money being used to rebuild. But what they neglect to account for is this vast untapped pool of talent among the Diaspora willing to return to the country and rebuild it into the vibrant, developing country they know it can be.