Haiti - Printable Version
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Haiti - brianold - 09-30-2005 11:50 AM
here's a website i visit every now and then to read about Haiti:
- brianold - 06-12-2006 09:44 AM
President Préval's chance to govern
OUR OPINION: NEW CABINET A PROMISING SIGN OF CHANGED POLITICS
Haitian President René Préval's new cabinet is a heartening sign of a break with the winner-take-all tradition of Haitian politics. In one of his first significant moves, he has named members of five opposition parties to work with him. That's a positive effort to unify a nation splintered by warring political factions for far too long. The multi-party cabinet and Mr. Préval's 25-year development plan provide a measure of hope for a nation that has been on the brink of anarchy. But the true test will come as they set about the task of governing.
For the greater good
That's particularly the case for five former ministers brought back into office by Mr. Préval, including Prime Minister JacquesEdouard Alexis, and opposition cabinet members. Their job is to look out for the greater good, not just for a political party or other narrow interest. Now is their chance to show that Haiti can be set on the road to an independent, prosperous, well-functioning and inclusive democracy.
The new government needs to focus on improving Haiti's security, economy and governance. Those are tough challenges best conquered with cooperation among all players in Haitian society. Such inclusive government has been virtually absent in Haiti's history. The rule of dictatorships gave way to democratically elected governments in 1990. Yet even then, political payback and violence led to increasing misery.
Mr. Préval's government would be wise to try to heal social rifts created by decades of class warfare. Up per- and middle-class people who may not have voted for Mr. Préval still have a stake in improving Haiti's future. The government should engage the business community and groups representing the poor in the hard work of rebuilding.
One way to signal a fresh start -- both at home and to the international community -- is for the Préval government to address the issue of thousands of prisoners who have not been convicted of crimes. Among them is former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, widely considered a political prisoner because of his ties to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Panels of Haitian and international jurists could be convened to review each case and determine its merits.
Support and investment
In this way, Mr. Préval can demonstrate the importance of judicial fairness and an impartial rule of law -- regardless of the politics involved in any given case. It will also be an antidote to corrupt judicial practices.
President Préval has the opportunity to set the tone for a new Haitian way, one of inclusiveness, political debate and compromise and respect for divergent views. Not only would such an approach encourage international support and foreign investment, but it would also lay a foundation for a stable democracy.
- brianold - 07-27-2006 10:54 AM
Provide justice, not charity
By Brian Concannon Jr.
and Anthony Phillips
July 24, 2006
When international diplomats and financiers convene Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to discuss development assistance with Haiti's newly elected government, the one issue certain to be off limits is the one certain solution to Haiti's grinding poverty: repayment of the "independence debt" that France illegally extorted from Haiti in 1825. The crushing burden imposed by that debt -- over $21 billion in today's dollars -- is the principle historic cause of Haiti's underdevelopment, and is directly responsible for today's grinding poverty in Haiti.
Haiti's history is remarkable. In 1804, Haiti became only the second independent country in the Americas, the world's first "black republic" and the only nation in history born of a successful slave revolt.
Haitians won their independence by beating the French army in a bloody 12-year war, but European countries and the United States forced them to pay a second price to gain entry to the international community. The world powers refused to recognize Haiti's independence, while France posted warships off her coast, threatening invasion and the reinstitution of slavery. After 21 years of fighting this isolation, Haiti succumbed to France's unjust terms in 1825. In exchange for diplomatic recognition, Haiti agreed to take out a loan from a designated French bank and pay compensation to French plantation owners for their loss of "property," including the freed slaves.
The amount of the debt, 150 million French francs, was 10 times that of Haiti's total 1825 revenue and twice the price paid in 1803 by the United States to France for the Louisiana Purchase, some 74 times more land.
This imposition of compensation by a defeated power and reimbursement by freed slaves of their former owners is unique in history and violated international law even in 1825. The agreement began a cycle of debt that has condemned the Haitian people to poverty ever since. Haiti did not finish paying the loans that financed the debt until 1947. Over a century after the global slave trade was recognized and eliminated as the evil it was, the Haitians were still paying their ancestors' masters for their freedom. The crippling legacy of debt begun in 1825 has stifled Haitian development ever since.
The government could not invest in education, health care or infrastructure projects because all available funds went overseas. In 1915, for example, 80 percent of government revenues went to debt service. The need for hard currency forced Haitian farmers to favor financially or environmentally risky cash crops such as coffee and hardwood, rather than development of a diverse national economy. Over-farming and over-logging led, in turn, to catastrophic deforestation and soil erosion, which put more pressure on the remaining arable land.
Economic instability has engendered political instability: Haiti has been beset by dozens of coups, rebellions, foreign military interventions and a cycle of violence that paralleled the country's downward economic spiral. Today Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its people living below the poverty line, and is ranked 153rd out of 177 on the U.N. Human Development Index, far behind all of its Caribbean neighbors.
The $21 billion, in current terms, that France extorted illegally, and therefore owes Haiti, dwarfs the aid packages being debated in Port-au-Prince this week. Unlike loans and other foreign assistance, a just repayment of the independence debt would not extend dependence on foreign aid, and would allow the people of Haiti to develop their country as they, not the international community, think best.
If the international community were serious about lifting Haiti out of its desperate poverty, repaying the independence debt would be at the top of the agenda, not off the table.
Brian Concannon Jr. is director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti; Anthony Phillips is a student at the University of San Francisco School of Law and an intern with IJDH.
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