Haiti: Drought, governance, foreign interference

We have to learn to respect the right of the Haitian people to be in the driver’s seat in their country’s affairs.
We are not entitled to speak of Haiti only in terms of disaster and hopelessness. And we are certainly not innocent of some of the blame for Haiti’s past, present and future suffering.
The international community is almost totally unaware of the dire situation created by the worsening drought that is taking its heaviest toll on the Haitian people where 50% of that country’s agricultural production has now been lost.
According to credible international sources, “about 200,000 families (1 million people) have been affected by drought conditions since the beginning of 2015, especially in the Sud-Est, Nord-Ouest and Artibonite regions. These prolonged conditions are aggravating the situation of 3.8 million food-insecure people in the country.”
By any standards, Haiti’s precarious food, health, education and child welfare circumstances already constitute a state of emergency. The massive earthquake of 2010, subsequent hurricanes, floods and outbreaks of cholera have made a mockery of recovery efforts.
And yet, even in spite of the credible claim that the UN peacekeeping troops in Haiti were responsible for the 2010 outbreak of cholera – for which the UN itself refuses to take responsibility – there is ample evidence that the chronic turbulence in the country’s internal politics is a major obstacle to effective economic recovery and sustained socio-economic growth.
The absence of stable government, the failure to hold national and local elections over long periods and the quasi impossibility of even appointing temporary authorities to organize elections and to manage the country in-between elections are undeniable signs of systemic decay.
That gap in governance is due in large part to the virulent and frequently violent intransigence of Haitian politicians, political groups and community leaders.
But not even that justifies the persistent foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs that after centuries of interventions, is now the main feature of presidential elections for the last three or four decades. The U.S., France and Canada have made no secret of their role in removing, manipulating and obstructing presidential candidatures as a matter of course.
Among those three countries, France deserves the most malodorous infamy for its reportedly ongoing policy of collecting “financial reparations”, estimated in today’s currency to be worth $21 billion, for commercial losses it allegedly suffered when Haiti defeated Napoleon’s forces and became independent at the beginning of the 19th century.
It is, nevertheless, a good thing that the international community, including specifically the agencies of the UN, continues to support both the urgent and longer-term developmental needs of the Haitian people in a wide range of areas. Humanitarian assistance from foreign individuals and groups also play a positive role.
But the emphasis has to be on empowering the Haitian people to plan and to manage their present and future affairs.
The prime political momentum in supporting that empowerment process should naturally come from CARICOM, the Caribbean Community and Common Market of which Haiti is a member. Notwithstanding the major economic challenges facing CARICOM member countries at present, they cannot allow the UN or the OAS or any single country or group of countries (“Friends of Haiti”), to take the political leadership role. That option has never worked.
And if recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants to refurbish his country’s lost international prestige, here is a golden opportunity to make amends for his country’s past contribution to Haiti’s misfortunes.
Meanwhile, let us begin by taking action to address the immediate material needs in Haiti that relate to food, health, shelter and education.