The Western Origins of Haiti's 'curse'
Continued: Does this history matter today?
The IMF has offered the Haitian Government a new loan of $102 million, attached to which are the same harmful economic policy conditions that have to date undermined the country’s ability to chart its own development future. The private sector is preparing to seize the opportunity, with a ‘Haiti Investment Summit’ to take place in Miami soon. Corporations will be pressuring their governments to make sure they win reconstruction contracts through tied bilateral aid, or through influence in the international development banks.
In terms of foreign debt, Haiti’s deficit still stands at over one billion dollars. The G7 nations have agreed to cancel 100 per cent of the bilateral debt owed to them in response to massive public pressure. Now we must put weight on the international financial institutions, particularly the IMF, to do the same.
Ministere de l'Economie et des Finances
after the quake - photo © Laurent Bonardi
People will be asking whether cancellation of this debt will simply reward a corrupt government and continue a cycle of dependence. But playing the corruption card is all too often a convenient way of avoiding some uncomfortable truths. If Haiti’s elites were corrupt and venal, it was only because we in the West taught them to be that way, and more often than not supported them because it served our interests to do so.
In fact, a more profitable line of questioning would be: Who is holding the international community accountable for its role in Haiti? Beyond the immediate relief, how will aid money be spent in Haiti?
Will big donors and international institutions continue to dictate how the money must be spent, giving preference to those parts of the reconstruction process which benefit foreign companies the most, and which encourage the exploitation of cheap labor in foreign- owned export industries? Or will the aid money be spent in a way which puts the people’s basic needs first; to build a system of efficient free public education, a new public health system and a sustainable local agricultural industry?
Most of us wish greater democracy for Haiti. But authentic democracy cannot be imposed from the outside. It must be home-grown. We should be asking how we can support self-empowerment of Haitian people and public institutions. This means listening to the voices of grassroots groups and civil society movements who for decades have been on the front line of the struggle for democracy and the fight against their nation’s underdevelopment.
In an open letter to international NGO partners, the coordinating committee of Haiti’s progressive civil society movements made its desire clear: ‘We are advocating a humanitarian effort that is appropriate to our reality, respectful of our culture and our environment, and which does not undermine the forms of economic solidarity that have been put in place over the decades by the grassroots organizations with which we work.’
One thing is certain: the people of this embattled nation are facing the challenges with courage and optimism. Days after the earthquake, at a public gathering in the Court of Human Rights to honor the victims, those present declared in solidarity that they are not a people cursed, but a brave people who will rise from the ashes. As for me, I’m choosing to be on the side of the brave. ✙
Adele Webb is National Coordinator for Jubilee Australia, a Sydney based anti-poverty NGO researching the root causes of poverty, and lobbying to challenge the economic policies and structures that perpetuate it.