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 Bishops of Haiti, September 29, 2004
The General Situation:
A new day may be dawning for Haiti. With the largely successful elections of February 7 and the inauguration next month of President-Elect René Préval, Haiti may begin the long process of recovery from years of corrupt government, international boycotts, the flight of businesses and the violent attacks of armed gangs. Internal security is still far from achieved, but there has been a downturn in killings and kidnappings since the elections. An effective national police force is still in its formative stages and will require the continued presence of the nearly 2,000 international police trainers in the country.
The Brazil-led UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti—MINUSTAH—has been roundly criticized for its failure to control the armed gangs with their campaign of kidnappings for ransom. MINUSTAH’s original 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 last January and allegedly led to the Brazilian force commander’s suicide. Discontent with the behavior of many of the troops is widespread. The cultural and linguistic divide between them and the Haitian people is wide and needs to be addressed by the incoming government.
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 issued statements on the up-coming elections and the role of citizen participation and sent a strong warning against priests running for political office, directed mainly at the charismatic and controversial Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste. This well-known priest and close ally of former President Aristide is now in a Miami hospital being treated for leukemia. Although his bishop has suspended him from ministry, Fr. Jean-Juste is said to be appealing the suspension to Rome. Charges of financial corruption during the Aristide era implicating a few priests, including Fr. Jean-Juste, may yet find their way into the courts. 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:
President-Elect Préval completed a very successful round of meetings with the White House, the Congress, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations (UN), the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations. The urgent financial needs of Haiti, well known for years to all these U.S. and international bodies, may at last begin to be addressed. Mr. Préval has called on other governments, especially those of France, Canada and the U.S., to step up long-term development aid. He announced a meeting of 26 aid agencies to be held in Haiti in early summer to work out a coordinated development aid program.
At the UN, he made it clear that the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti should not be withdrawn until real security throughout the country is achieved, but he also called for a change in orientation of the mission. He said Haiti needs “fewer tanks and more tractors, more road-building, more construction of waterways.”
At the OAS, he promised to start a national dialogue with all the highly divided political sectors in order to forge a development framework that should last, he said, for a quarter century.
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 USCCB 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 (HOPE) Act of 2005 were not brought up for a vote by the House leadership. One or both of these bills should 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 estimate that either bill would create thousands of direct jobs and associated service jobs. In his visit to Washington, Mr. Préval lobbied both the White House and the Congress for the HOPE bill, while acknowledging that the preferences were still too small to encourage more direct investment in Haiti and he urged that they be improved. USCCB formally endorsed both pieces of legislation and continues to press hard for similar legislation in the present Congress. 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); firstname.lastname@example.org.