By Joshua Nadel, News Observer
After suffering the worst earthquake in the region for over 200 years, Haiti – a destitute nation prior to the quake – is in shambles. Haiti’s political leaders, including President René Preval, are rarely seen, though to be fair the quake did not spare the government: the Parliament and the National Palace were all destroyed; government ministers, police officers and judges count among the missing and the dead.
Into this vacuum has stepped the international community, though not without hiccups. The U.S. takeover of air traffic caused concern about aid priorities. Most foreign aid focused on Port-au-Prince for the first few days, as though no other town or city existed, let alone felt the impact of the quake.
So Haiti is a country destroyed. And now there are opportunities to rebuild. Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the International Monetary Fund is calling for a Marshall Plan for Haiti.
Strauss-Kahn’s idea is intriguing, as it brings to mind the multi-billion dollar plan that pulled Europe out of the devastation of World War II and simultaneously found exports for U.S. goods.
The Marshall Plan was negotiated among the European nations and with the United States before it was passed, with European input crucial to the shape of the plan. The bulk of the money was transferred to Europe as grants. European governments decided what to do with the monies in cooperation with the U.S.-controlled Economic Cooperation Administration.
Is this the Marshall Plan that Strauss-Kahn intends – one in which Haitian voices are taken seriously in the design and implementation of a development plan that will be paid for through grants – or is he referring only to massive loans for reconstruction? It is still unclear. The IMF announced a $100 million emergency loan on Jan. 14. After pressure from debt relief organizations, Strauss-Kahn clarified that the loan was interest free, and that he was working to cancel all of Haiti’s outstanding debt. But the message remains mixed – on Jan. 21, he wrote on the IMF blog that the emergency loan had “no repayments due for five years” before noting that “there will be a need to reassess Haiti’s debt situation.” Activists and other concerned global citizens must keep up the pressure.
But there needs to be pressure put on the international community on the other front of the “Marshall Plan for Haiti”: the design, structure, and implementation phase.
A top-down, donor-driven reconstruction that excludes Haitians will be seen as paternalistic and will likely join the litany of failed development projects in the country; in order to get it right, Haitians need to sit at the table. Not just the government and businesspeople of Haiti, who in the past have enriched themselves with aid money, but the people as well.
Representatives of different Haitian stakeholders – health workers and educators, human rights advocates, and labor and peasant organizations – should be included at future donor conferences to help design a sustainable plan for Haiti’s reconstruction. Consensus on the design will not be easy to reach, nor will it come quickly. But there is no quick fix in Haiti, and any attempt to impose one from outside will surely result in failure.
The types of projects that have tended to work in Haiti have been rooted in Haiti rather than coming from outside. Partners in Health developed its strategy over the course of years working alongside Haitians as equal partners in the impoverished Plateau Central. Fonkoze, a homegrown microcredit institution, has grown from 193 depositors in 1996 to over 190,000 today. The Lambi Fund has with grass-roots organizations throughout the country on small- and large-scale agriculture and reforestation projects. Input from organizations like these, as well as the people they serve, can help to insure that Haitian redevelopment is just, equitable and sustainable.
So what can we do from the outside? Lobby for a true Marshall Plan for Haiti – one with debt relief, grants instead of loans, and with Haitians taking the lead in planning, decision-making and implementing projects. Demand transparency on the part of international donors and aid groups, as well as from the Haitian government. Also, remain optimistic. Yes, this will be a long recovery, a painful rebuilding. But Haitians are survivors; they have persevered for 205 years, and they will rise again.
Joshua Nadel is assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at N.C. Central University. He worked in Haiti in 1996-1997 and worked on postwar reconstruction in Kosovo in 1999-2000.
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