The situation in general:
Haiti continues to be a nation in crisis, a failed state which has not functioned effectively for years, suffering now the effects of the violence and civil disorder of recent months that brought about the coerced resignation of the President. An interim government is in place, the Prime Minister selected by a fairly impartial group of “sages,” and the head of the Supreme Court appointed interim President as called for in the Haitian Constitution.
International forces, led by United States Marines, are maintaining a degree of peace, primarily around the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Vengeance killings are still being reported and the Haitian Bishops, in their important March 9 statement, noted that “Insecurity persists despite the deployment of foreign troops,” adding that their “mysterious passiveness”—in the face of continued killings—“is causing great frustration and spite.” [The statement is available in Origins, March 25, 2004, Vol. 33: No. 41.]
The role of the Church:
In the recent past, the bishops’ effective role has been hampered, in part, by a lack of consensus among them. A few of the bishops had been openly critical of the Aristide government, at least two of them calling for his resignation or for the United States to force him to act democratically. Others, while not defending Aristide’s conduct or that of his more aggressive followers, have sought to preserve the Church’s neutral role of seeking to mediate between opposing groups.
Today, the bishops are striving to find their proper role in helping that society find its way to peace and reconciliation. With the aid of Catholic Relief Services, they have formed an episcopal commission for that purpose. CRS’ 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 absolutely necessary supplies of food and medicines throughout the country.
The role of the international community:
Haiti is the paradigm of failure to follow through. After the U.S. led invasion of 1994 restoring Aristide to office, an important and valid program of “nation-building” started up, again led by the U.S. Under USAID, an Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), dedicated to the political development of post-conflict countries, was set up in Haiti. 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 a few thousand peace-keepers in this country of over 8 million. Their numbers should be augmented and they should not leave until there is genuine security. This means disarming the many armed gangs—both pro- and anti-Aristide—and the para-military groups that entered the country in late February.
Parts of the international community are preparing programs to assist in Haiti’s reconstruction and development. Until security is achieved and a recognized political structure is in place, most aid so far is emergency humanitarian assistance. The UN has launched a “flash appeal” for $35 million to meet its emergency needs and Caritas Internationalis has appealed for $1 million in humanitarian aid, both of which can only be stop-gap measures, as CRS has said. A long-term commitment by governments as well as NGOs is essential. This time around, 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:
Amid the many international trade agreements moving forward at this time, special concessions ought to be made for Haiti’s devastated economy to grow. One current initiative in the U.S. Congress is S. 2261, the Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act of 2004, introduced by Sens. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Bob Graham (D-FL). A similar bill, H.R. 1031, was introduced in the House by Reps. Clay Shaw (R-FL) and John Conyers (D-MI), and several other bipartisan cosponsors. The core provisions of the two bills provide that, for a limited period of time, articles of apparel manufactured in Haiti can be imported into the United States free of duty. If enacted, it is calculated that it would create 100,000 direct jobs and eventually another 100,000 associated service jobs in Haiti. While we have not yet formally endorsed this legislation, we are studying it with a view to possibly doing so in the near future.