Paul Farmer and Stanley Lucas on Haiti

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Change Haiti can believe in by Paul Farmer and Brian Concannon
January 25, 2009

THE INAUGURATION of a US president committed to reversing "the failed policies of the past" provoked sighs of relief around the world.

Few were more relieved than the citizens of Haiti, because few have suffered so much from failed US policies.

But Haitians are still waiting to see whether the "past" that is to be reversed extends beyond the illegal and destructive policies of the last eight years to include over two centuries of US policies that have failed both our oldest neighbor and our highest ideals.

Our treatment of Haiti was bad enough during the Bush administration.

We imposed a development assistance embargo in 2001, because we did not like the elected government's economic policies.

The embargo stopped urgently needed government programs - a Partners In Health study found that canceling water projects in just one city had a devastating impact on health in the area. In 2004, US officials forced Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide aboard a clandestine flight to Africa and placed a Bush supporter from Florida at the head of Haiti's government.

Thousands were killed in the ensuing political violence.

Years of hard-won progress toward democracy were erased overnight.

But our mistreatment of Haiti started earlier, as soon as Haiti became independent in 1804, when we refused to even recognize the new republic run by freed slaves.

We invaded Haiti in 1915, to ensure repayment of a debt to Citibank.

We propped up ruthless dictators in the name of fighting communism.

In the 1980's, we decimated Haiti's agricultural base by forcing subsidized US rice on Haitian markets.

These policies failed Haitians terribly.

They cost thousands of lives lost in political violence.

Millions more suffered because Haiti's governments could not or would not provide clean water and basic healthcare.

The policies have also failed the United States, by requiring us to mount expensive military interventions, respond to repeated waves of refugees, and deal with the drugs that transit easily through an unstable Haiti on their way from South America

Haitians are hoping that America will reverse the failed policies of the past. Their hopes are grounded not just in President Obama's promise, but in their own country's brief, but successful, experiment with democracy from 1994 to 2004, and in America's important contributions to that success

Haiti's democratic interlude included contested elections, and struggles to provide basic justice, education, and healthcare - the predictable challenges of a poor, emerging democracy.

But it also included Haiti's first transfer of power from one elected president to another in February 1996, and its second in February 2001. Democratic progress included extending AIDS retro viral therapy to rural areas that had never before had a simple clinic.

It included two historic trials that brought powerful figures from Haiti's former army and current police force to justice.

These successes were due, in part, to US government investments.

US troops intervened to restore the constitutional government in 1994. USAID helped craft Haiti's successful application for financing from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

US judges, prosecutors, and police officers trained their Haitian counterparts, and we helped equip Haitian courts with basic legal resources and materials.

We now have a historic opportunity to work with Haiti's current constitutional government to build a stronger, more prosperous Haiti.

Seizing this opportunity will require restraint, and faith in democracy: We will need to allow elected Haitian leaders to make their own policy decisions, even if we would have decided otherwise.

We will also need to invest in democracy.

Three days' spending in Iraq or two weeks' interest on the bank bailout could fund Haiti's entire government for a year. Prudent, de politicized investments in Haiti's democracy will yield dividends of prosperity and stability to Haiti, and will save US taxpayer dollars in the long run by reducing the flow of refugees and drugs to our shores.

Perhaps most important, by helping rebuild a better Haiti, we will show the world how, in President Obama's words, "we are ready to lead once more."

Paul Farmer, MD, is Presley professor of social medicine at Harvard Medical School and a co-founder of Partners In Health.

Brian Concannon Jr. is director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

US Policy Toward Haiti: Stanley Lucas' response to Paul Farmer and Brian Concannon

US policy toward Haiti is important and has not always been perfect.

There is much blame to be placed on the US government, but we should also look at the Haitian government's role in that failure.

Haitian leaders have missed several important opportunities to engage with the US on their own terms and in a strategic way that supports the goals of the country.

Of course, to do that the Haitian government would need to have a clear plan for development which, unbelievably, it still lacks despite being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere made even poor by serious and devastating storms that hit the country over the summer.

The Preval Administration has not taken the lead in outlining Haiti's vision for engagement with the US and where the government could use assistance.

To my knowledge, they haven't even engaged the new Administration yet. Both Democrats and Republicans have made significant mistakes and the authors should attempt to be more objective rather than being blatantly partisan because there is no role for US partisan politics in this debate.

While US policy is important, it does not make or break Haiti.

It cannot save us and it cannot destroy us. Furthermore, the US is not and should not be our only ally or aid provider.

We should be engaging France, Germany, the UK, others.

Haitians are a proud, hardworking and dedicated people who have been failed by their leadership for the past forty years...the Duvaliers, military rulers, Aristide, and now, sadly, Preval.

Haitians have taken heart in Obama's declaration that his Administration will judge foreign leaders by what they build, not what they destroy.

Haitians want accountability and see an opportunity for the US to help them fight one of the country's cancer, rampant corruption.

Finally, I would also like to point out a few factual errors in this article.

We can't of course have a good debate on issues if we aren't grounded in the facts.

First, the sanctions on Haiti were imposed by the Clinton administration in November 2000 not the Bush administration, please refer to the following link Clinton was frustrated that Aristide did not keep his promises to rule Haiti democratically and provide economic opportunities to the people.

Aristide, like his predecessors, turned into a dictator.

Aristide even said on Haitian radio if Clinton did not do what he wanted, he would black mail him. Until today, nobody understands what he met by that.

Second, some oped writers of the U.S. press do not care about Haitian people; rather, they are interested in getting the stipends reinstated that they used to receive from Aristide in exchange for turning a blind eye on the human rights violations.

Refer to the following link -- unfortunately, you will discover the name of one of the authors of this article: The Wall Street Journal called some of them "the American profiteers" Lucy Komisar a liberal American investigative reporter has documented the corruption in Haiti:

Despite the money Aristide spent in Washington to gloss over his killings and corruption, we Haitians know his record well:

Third, the article mentions people who were killed in 2004. It doesn't mention that those people were killed by gangs organized by Aristide.

I invite you to read the reports of the Haitian Platform of Human Rights at: 1.

But we need to move forward and identify priorities.

I have strongly advocated making remittances up to $1000/mo tax deductible for Haitian Diaspora.

We also need to give Haitians TPS -- as has been done for the El Salvadorans -- until immigration reform is finalized.

These two steps should be among the top priorities along with examining USAID programs and other aid going to the country.

A lot of money is being spent and there is very little to show for it. The Obama Administration will be making a big push into ensuring that money is being spent wisely -- hopefully this will extend to international aid as well

On a separate note, Paul Farmer has done tremendously valuable work in Haiti on AIDS. He has truly made a contribution to the country and is well respected for that. On the political side, however, there is a popular perception in Haiti that he is using his reputation to promote the political agenda of one man, Aristide.

Stanley Lucas, July 16 2009, 1:05 AM

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