Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

U.S. must lead in Haiti’s recovery

Miami Herald Editorial

OUR OPINION: Government can do more to aid stricken country

As Haiti faces the immense task of recovery, no foreign country will play a more important role in shaping the nation’s future than the United States. The U.S. reaction has been generous, and the Obama administration has made a major contribution to Haiti’s relief, but it needs to do more.

• Security. U.S. forces have been a key factor in helping Haiti to maintain security during a traumatic period. But even as these efforts help Haiti to get back on its feet, U.S. soldiers are starting to pull out of the country. This sends the wrong signal at the wrong time.

Instead of declaring mission accomplished, the Pentagon should be raising the profile of Army soldiers and Marines in Haiti to guarantee security and reinforce the U.S. commitment.

The 9,000-strong U.N. force known by the acronym MINUSTAH will remain responsible for peacekeeping. But nothing says security to the Haitian people as surely as the sight of U.S. forces, whose distinctive uniforms are well-recognized in the cities and rural areas.

• Immigration. Within days of the January 12 earthquake, the federal government bestowed Temporary Protected Status on Haitian immigrants already here. This was a welcome step, but here, too, there’s room for improvement.

The government has approved the visa petitions of 55,000 Haitians whose family members legally reside in this country, but the wait to enter can take years due to limits set by Congress. However, the administration does not need congressional approval to admit these Haitians under hardship exceptions.

This move would remove thousands from Haiti’s devastation and add to the force of the diaspora, Haitians living abroad. The money transfers by Haitians living abroad, including a large community in South Florda, already constitute the biggest source of cash infusions into the Haitian economy.

There is no valid argument for failing to move quickly on this front.

• Trade. Mr. Obama should get behind efforts to grant Haiti more generous trade preferences.

Ultimately, the solution to Haiti’s economic woes is the creation of jobs, and the textile industry offers the best avenue for success. In the 1990s, more than 100,000 Haitians were employed in the textile industry. That workforce had been reduced to between 10,000 and 20,000 by the beginning of this year as the industry struggled for revival.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has proposed a “Plus 1 for Haiti” initiative that would encourage U.S. retailers to import 1 percent of their apparel from Haiti, but so far it has not been implemented. Mr. Obama has to help Mr. Kirk push this effort through Congress.

More important, the president should get behind trade legislation co-sponsored by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson extending the preferential treatment for textiles that Haiti receives under current law. According to Sen. Nelson, it would allow Haiti to bring in textiles from around the world to make garments for the U.S. market. Nothing could do more to attract foreign investors and help Haiti’s garment industry come back to life.

The administration must lead the global effort to promote Haiti’s recovery. It should encourage international lending agencies to cancel Haiti’s debt, but moving swiftly in those areas where the government can act unilaterally will send a message to the rest of the world that this country is serious about its commitment to the people of Haiti.

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