Five smart ways to rebuild Haiti
Haiti doesn’t need a Marshall Plan imposed by global elites. It needs improved conditions that empower all its people.
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This is not a new idea. Provisions for civic service exist in the Haitian Constitution and local authorities have been discussing the idea since at least 2007. The idea parallels the creation of such US New Deal programs as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is also analogous in some ways to volunteer youth schemes in at least a dozen other Latin American and Caribbean countries.Skip to next paragraph
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3. Support the reconstitution of Haitian state institutions through accompaniment, cooperation, and partnership. Rather than replacing or bypassing public entities, donors must focus on reinforcing them as a real and visible force in the lives of Haitian citizens. Civil servants will need to be recruited and trained, and physical facilities must be literally rebuilt from the ashes.
Haiti’s government deserves an outstretched hand. Since 2006, the Préval administration has earned international praise and recognition for its handling of domestic affairs. An international donors’ conference in 2009 expressed enhanced confidence. Although corruption, irregular migration, and narcotics trafficking remain important concerns to some governments, these gains should not be forgotten.
4. Get cash into the hands of the poor. The key to recovery is not charity, but rather getting capital to grass-roots entrepreneurs, including small farmers. The United Nations Development Program has already mobilized cash-for-work schemes in Port-au-Prince to positive effect. Likewise, a 10 percent increase in man-hour labor on farms could create up to 40,000 new jobs.
A conditional cash transfer program would also stimulate bottom-up capitalism. Drawing on the positive experiences of Brazil and Mexico, cash support can be tied to the attendance of children in schools and clinics. Ensuring that women administer these funds is central. But these kinds of activities will only succeed if educational and health systems are upgraded and extended to rural areas.
5. Support leaders who embrace greater inclusion and enact socially responsible investment strategies. More jobs in the manufacturing sector should be part of Haiti’s future. The easing of duties on Haitian goods will be an important driver. But if the country is really to be “built back better,” industrial growth must be accompanied by free universal education and agrarian investment.
At a minimum, investment in factories and assembly plants should also be aggressively decentralized beyond Port-au-Prince. Port and transportation infrastructure can be expanded in at least a dozen other coastal cities. A decentralized growth strategy will result in balanced economic growth.
Above all else, any efforts to promote the rebalancing of Haiti must be accompanied with respect for its people. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted last year that in Haiti, “talent is universal; opportunity is not.” To be successful, Haiti’s rebirth must improve the conditions for growth and opportunity for all. Haiti’s impressive diaspora from Florida and New York to Montreal and Paris offers evidence of what can be achieved when opportunities are twinned with talent.
Robert Muggah is research director of the Small Arms Survey and a principal of the SecDev Group. Robert Maguire is a professor of international affairs at Trinity Washington University and chair of the Haiti Working Group at the US Institute of Peace.