Its Time For The U.S. To Release Aid To Haiti But Aristide Must Do Better By Stacey Barney
As if President Jean-Bertrand Aristide didn't have enough problems, Colin Powell announced at a meeting of Caribbean foreign ministers this month, that the United States would not make good on its prior intent to release millions in needed loan monies to the Haitian government. Powell painted this action as a consequence to Aristide's failure to resolve his country's political crisis or quell the ensuing violence and corruption that has stemmed from alleged electoral fraud during the May 2000 Senate races. Powell said in a press conference following this annual meeting:
"...We are terribly concerned about the political unrest that continues to haunt Haiti. We are concerned about some of the actions of the government. We do not believe that enough has been done yet to move the political process forward...we believe that we have to hold President Aristide...to fairly high standards...before we can simply allow the funds to flow into the country."
However, this is a decision that comes after almost a decade of allowing U.S. funds to flow into Haiti. In fact, since Aristide's reinstatement in 1994 hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars have been flooded into the Haitian economy - $55 million in humanitarian aid this year alone, in efforts to introduce stability to the hemisphere's poorest nation. So why after all these years should there now be a halt in the aid provided to Haiti? The answer is simply, George W., the same W - factor that reinstated the Reagan ban on the use of federal funds to promote family planning, nutrition, and counseling in developing nations very much like Haiti and on the African continent within the first 100 days of his presidency. This and the decision to cut aid to Haiti represent a markedly different approach from the Clinton administration in regards to foreign policy. But some argue that the Clinton administration's largesse to Haiti is of dubious motivation in light of circumstantial evidence that members of the previous administration and prominent members of the Democratic Party may have exploiting ties with Aristide and Haitian Teleco in order to make off with millions.
So is this new move to stop aid to Haiti, the latest in what may be a long line of attacks on the Black Diaspora by the Bush administration, an attempt by Bush to atone for the "sins" of the Clinton administration, or simply a reflection of the inadequacies of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide?
Whatever the motivation for the decision, Powell's announcement met much criticism from Caricom, the 14-member Caribbean Community. Julian Hunte, foreign minister of St. Lucia disagreed with Powell's perspective on the crisis in Haiti saying, "Funds should be released to Haiti to allow the country to strengthen the institutions that can help it to move towards greater democracy." Minister Insanally of Guyana said in the press conference alongside Secretary Powell that, "the Caribbean, in dealing with the Haitian issue, felt that [the] government...should be given access to funds to help build the democratic pillars which the international community is demanding that it provide." Minister Insanally further defended Aristide in saying, "The actions taken by President Aristide are in the right direction, and the release of the cut funds would assist in building, rebuilding, democracy in Haiti."
But what exactly are these actions? It would seem that the country is in no better position now than when Aristide was first reinstated, even with all the financial aid from the U.S. and other international resources. This fact alone seems to give the U.S. the moral high ground in cutting these promised funds to the Haitian government. So then the question remains, what has gone wrong in Haiti that keeps this nation tainted by poverty and bloodshed?
According to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), Aristide faces a laundry list of accusations citing violations of human and civil rights. In fact, NCHR has even issued a 7-page report on Aristide's performance since he took office last year. "Overall, the report describes Haiti under Aristide as a country where the rule of law, anti-corruption efforts, and socio-economic progress remain dreams deferred (www.nchr.org)." The report further identifies 9 key items of particular concern:
1. Police obstruction of peaceful anti-government demonstrations.
2. Denial of freedom of the press. (Many members if the independent press receive regular death threats.)
3. Illegal detainment of citizens.
4. Failure of police to execute court-issued warrants.
5. Impunity given to government (Aristide) supporters who are suspected of criminal offenses including murder.
6. The Senate overstepping its constitutional authority in the review of court evidence.
7. The police's refusal to disarm gangs.
8. The National Police making lists of human rights advocates to be eliminated in response to negative press.
9. Corruption scandals that range from the purchases of luxury homes for top government officials to illicit revenue schemes.
In light of these accusations, where is the leadership from this former Salesian priest, Aristide? He has already responded to the accusation regarding freedom of press in a Time interview with Tim Padgett in May of last year: "I love it when they call me a dictator here!" he says. "That they can say it [freely] refutes it. That was not the case under a real dictatorship like the Duvaliers."
As for the rest of the accusations little has been heard from Aristide and little seems to change in Haiti, though his proponents both in the U.S. and in Haiti remain steadfast in their support for him. In the interim, Aristide survives on the hopes of the Haitian citizenry for freedom from tyranny and poverty - the hope that Aristide represented when he was first elected in 1990. And perhaps that's really all he needs.
Maybe, just maybe another loan from the United States or the IMF is exactly what Aristide does not need. Members of the Lavalas party living here in the United States claim that Haiti is already paying very high interest on loans the country has yet to receive. Surely this cannot be helping the Haitian economy. Perhaps the best answer for Aristide and Haiti is a fiscal plan that establishes the country's financial independence from the international community. Perhaps Bush has done Haiti a favor.
But if Aristide is interested in regaining aid from the U.S. and the European Union, and is in fact taking the necessary steps towards peace as Aristide and supporters such as Minister Insanally of Guyana assure, then what should be his priorities? William G. O'Neill, author of Paper Laws, Steel Bayonets(1990) - a text that examines the administration of justice in Haiti writes, "Among Haiti's many priorities, reforming the justice system is near the top of most people's lists. Judicial reform, creating a new police force, revamping Haiti's horrendous prison system, and investigating past human rights violations are essential in this delicate transitional period from dictatorship to democracy."
The NCHR additionally calls on the Aristide government to take bold steps that would include:
1. Fulfilling its obligation to protect fundamental civil and political rights, including the right to dissent peacefully...
2. Energetically condemning the loss of life and property by mobs claiming to act on its behalf.
3. Working...to reach a political compromise that ensures the growth of law-abiding institutions, a functioning parliament, and an infrastructure capable of...[lifting] Haiti out of this crisis.
So, in the face of all that Aristide needs to accomplish in order to establish stability in Haiti, is the U.S. right to cut aid? In the final analysis, no matter what Aristide's transgressions and failures may be, cutting aid to Haiti, as the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) pointed out in their open letter on the matter to President Bush in November is a mistake. The members of CBC write:
"...The people of Haiti are suffering. Our current policy towards Haiti must be reviewed and changed to address the current state of economic devastation. In Haiti, AIDS and HIV are rising at alarming levels. The illiteracy rate remains at over 45%. In addition, the country's infrastructure is in dire straits. Haiti has very few, if any, decent roads, very little potable water, and the fuel situation is catastrophic."
And, in Aristide's own words, "If the international community is not for us, one thing is sure: We will fail (Catherin Orenstein of The Progressive, 2001)."
With all these problems facing Haiti, cutting funds is clearly not the answer to this crisis. Without these funds Aristide is left virtually defenseless in taking on the nation's difficulties.
Even if Aristide engages the goal of financial independence, he will not have enough to initially run the country without sustaining the insufferable financial burden the people of Haiti already bear. Working with Aristide to develop a concrete fiscal plan to address the problems and making him accountable for how and why every cent he is given is spent, if there is doubt about his honesty or Clinton connections, is a far more plausible and ideal solution.
Although Aristide would be wise in assuring any loan or humanitarian aid that may be given has reasonable terms that would not keep his country indebted to the international community for more years than he plans to be alive. But the bottom line is, since his reinstatement, Aristide has not been able to improve the overall quality of life for Haitian people.
He needs help, and if simply handing over hundreds of millions of dollars in aid over the last seven years has not abated the crisis in Haiti then far more concrete and constructive help is called for, instead of the turned back that Bush is offering. In the end it is Haitian citizens who will suffer the most.
Stacey Barney is an editorial page writer for BlackElectorate.com. Ms. Barney can be contacted at email@example.com
Thursday, February 28, 2002