by Carl Lindskoog
On March 31, speaking before the International Donors’ Conference for Haiti, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed the United States’ commitment to “help Haiti and to help the leaders of Haiti lead a recovery effort worthy of their highest hopes.” At the conclusion of the conference participants from the international community had pledged $5.3 billion to Haiti over the next two years and more than $9 billion for the next three years and beyond. It seemed that the international community had come to a rarely-achieved consensus and was united in its effort to help Haiti. In reality, what we saw on March 31 was a maneuver by the United States and the international community to strengthen its grip on the country. The battle for post-earthquake Haiti is underway.
It is illuminating to note what sort of future the international community envisions for Haiti. Some elements of the recommended “New Future for Haiti” are not so new, such as the central role planned for the low-wage, labor-intensive assembly industry. Such sweatshop-driven economic development was also the centerpiece of the US-imposed plan in the 1970s and 1980s and it failed to lift the majority of Haitians (even those with the manufacturing jobs) out of poverty. Other key elements include a rebuilt tourist industry which will create service jobs for Haitians and redeveloped agricultural production, some of which will supply international investors like the 25,000 farmers who will be growing mangoes for Coca-Cola.
Holding the purse strings for this grand redevelopment plan will be the World Bank. Though the international community is willing to concede that there should be some Haitian involvement, a majority of the representatives on the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti will be foreigners. In accepting this aid and reconstruction plan, Haiti Liberte journalist Kim Ives argues, Haitian President Rene Preval has “turned over the keys to Haiti to a consortium of foreign banks and governments.”
What’s more, members of Haiti’s grassroots and civil society organizations have been shut out of this discussion. Outside of the United Nations building on March 31 protesters drew attention to the exclusion of the popular movement in the planning of Haiti’s future. Likewise, earlier in the month grassroots organizations were excluded from an international donors’ meeting in Santo Domingo. The exclusion of the popular organizations should not come as a surprise, however, since they are calling for an economic model that breaks Haiti’s pattern of economic dependence on foreign powers and proposes to substitute a sustainable and decentralized Haiti with Haiti’s popular organizations playing a leading role.
Members of Haiti’s popular movement recognize that this is a struggle over the future of Haiti and we should too. Americans should remember that this is not the first time, even in recent history, that the United States has publicly claimed friendship with Haiti while simultaneously attacking the Haitian people.
Less than a year after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first elected Haiti’s president he was removed from office in a coup, after which CIA-backed death squads systematically targeted members of the peoples’ movement. Publicly the United States condemned the coup and claimed to be horrified by this disregard for democracy, but behind the scenes it refused to enforce an embargo that would have cut off aid to the coup regime. Finally, in September, 1994, proclaiming “American steadfastness” and support for Haitian democracy, President Bill Clinton gave Aristide a military escort back to the country, but not before they had settled on a few conditions. As the terms of his return to the Presidency, the United States and other international “friends of Haiti” insisted that Aristide accept a neoliberal future for the country that included cutting public jobs and privatizing public services, eliminating tariffs and price controls, and generally making Haiti more hospitable to foreign capital. Then, as now, the real purpose of the much-heralded American support for Haiti was to benefit the wealthy and powerful of the international community.
The International Donors’ Conference and the Haitian popular organizations have presented two conflicting visions for the future of Haiti. Will the Haitian economy remain largely dependent on foreign investment for industry, agri-business and tourism and will Haitian grassroots organizations continue to be excluded from meaningful participation in the operating of the country? Or will the popular movement have a say in reconstructing a Haiti that is independent, sustainable, and concerned first-and-foremost with the well-being of the Haitian people? Seeing these visions side-by-side lays bare the reality that there is a battle underway for post-earthquake Haiti. Which side are you on?