The current Haitian society calls for a profound change in all constituents. In the name of Christ and his church, we raise up our voices to ask all Haitians to work for the advent of a new society and a new way of governing the country, with a foundation in an orderly state, moral values, and the common good.
The General Situation:
Haiti continues to be a nation in crisis, a failed state that has never functioned effectively, suffering now the extremes of violence and civil disorder that brought about and have persisted since the coerced resignation of the President in February 2004, The country has suffered further devastation from torrential rains and hurricanes the last two years. National elections to replace the interim government have been postponed four times. Hope is now riding on successful elections on February 7, followed by run-offs March 19, with inauguration set for March 29.
The Brazil-led UN forces, MINUSTAH, have been roundly criticized for their failure to control the armed gangs who have been waging a campaign of kidnappings for ransom. MINUSTAH’s task was to disarm and demobilize the armed actors and reintegrate them into civil society, so far with little success. Widespread criticism of the inaction of the UN mission resulted in a general strike called by civil society groups on January 9 and allegedly led to the Brazilian force commander’s suicide on January 7. Vengeance killings are still being reported and rebel groups, both pro- and anti-Aristide still function in many parts of the country.
The Role of the Church:
The bishops of Haiti are striving to find their proper role in helping that society find its way to peace and reconciliation. Over the past year they have issued statements on the up-coming elections and the role of citizen participation. They issued a strong warning against priests running for political office, directed mainly at Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste, a charismatic ally of former President Aristide. His bishop has suspended him from ministry and he was held in prison for several months for alleged incitement to riot. Fr. Jean-Juste’s cause has been taken up by many Catholics in the U.S., concerned most recently about his deteriorating health. Issues of financial corruption during the Aristide era were alleged this summer, unfortunately implicating a few priests. Catholic Relief Services’ Haiti program, one of its largest in the world, is engaged in responding to the bishops’ call to help develop the Church’s role in promoting lasting peace and true reconciliation. In addition, CRS and other major non-governmental organizations are playing their traditional role of providing critically needed supplies of food and medicines throughout the country.
the Role of the International Community:
After the U.S. led invasion of 1994 restoring Aristide to office, the U.S carried out an important program of “nation-building.” Under USAID, an Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) was set up. OTI was dedicated to the political development of post-conflict countries. It was a non-traditional development program that provided training and jobs for many, including members of the now-disbanded army. But after two years, no additional funds were provided for “reconstruction” and the program ended in frustration and failure.
Today, there are some 9,000 UN personnel in this country of over 8 million. Their numbers may need to be augmented and, although their present mandate expires mid-February 2006, they should not leave until there is genuine security and an effective national police force in place. This means disarming the numerous armed gangs—both pro- and anti-Aristide—and the various paramilitary groups.
While many in the international community are ready to assist in Haiti’s reconstruction and development, little can be done until security is achieved and a recognized political structure is in place. Most aid to date is emergency humanitarian assistance. A long-term commitment by governments as well as NGOs is essential. International programs helping Haiti cannot hope for lasting success in a two-year framework; they must be committed for the long haul.
Trade and Haiti's Economic Development
A significant element in Haiti’s economic development could be the restoration of the once vibrant apparel industry. For this to go forward, special tariff concessions must be made for Haiti’s devastated economy to grow. For two years, legislation that the Conference has supported has been introduced in both houses of Congress but did not come to a vote. Both the Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity (HERO) Act of 2005 and the less generous Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (H-HOPE) Act of 2005 were not brought up for a vote by the House leadership. Both bills are expected to move forward in the current session of Congress.
The bills provide that, for a limited period of time, articles of apparel manufactured in Haiti could be imported into the United States free of duty. If enacted, experts estimated that it would create 100,000 direct jobs and eventually another 100,000 associated service jobs in Haiti. Despite unanimous passage in the Senate, the House leadership declined to bring the bills up for a vote in the closing days of the last session before Christmas. USCCB formally endorsed these bills and expect to press hard for similar legislation in the present Congress. In the words of Brazil’s foreign minister, “Haiti has been suffering a tsunami for 200 years.” It is time to end Haiti’s unmerited suffering and enable it to take its rightful place among the democratic nations of the hemisphere.
For copies of statements, visit: www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/haiti.shtml.
For further information: Tom Quigley 202-541-3184 (ph); 202-541-3339 (fax); email@example.com.