Haiti: Domestic problems hamper Preval
SIGNIFICANCE: Recent new initiatives confirm the international community's faith in President Rene Preval.
ANALYSIS: Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently agreed on an arrangement whereby Brazilian and US companies operating in Haiti will be able to export products to both countries duty-free under the terms of the US Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity (HOPE) programme. This is the first outcome of the reconstruction and development plan for Haiti devised by University of Oxford economist, Paul Collier, and enthusiastically adopted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (see HAITI: Aid pledges fall short - May 27, 2009). Brazilian textile and clothing companies are expected to be the principal beneficiaries of the programme, according to the chairman of the Brazilian industrialists' association, Armando Monteiro Neto.
Coordinated action. There is still a long way to go before plans become reality, but they are an indication of the two countries' continuing commitment to Haiti, and their determination to put into practice Collier's idea of coordinated action to build on Haiti's comparative advantages of low wages, location close to the United States and relative stability:
Brazil is the main contributor to the UN stabilisation mission in Haiti (Minustah).
The United States is the main market for Haitian manufactured exports.
Former US President Bill Clinton has been lobbying effectively in his new role as UN special envoy to Haiti:
He recently set out his proposals for Haitian development to the UN Security Council, in the presence of Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis, making clear his determination to hold the international community to financial commitments to Haiti.
He pointed out that the success of private investment projects would depend on continuing improvements to physical and administrative infrastructure, which could only be achieved if donor countries disburse aid they have already pledged.
He reported that his team was working on methods for coordinating the activities of the multitude of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in Haiti and encouraging them to work with the government.
Clinton says he has already brought on board George Soros, with an initial commitment of 25 million dollars from his Economic Development Fund, and has been trying to persuade the Haitian diaspora in the United States to become more involved -- most of Haiti's trained professionals live abroad. Clinton recently said that Brazilian investors were also considering the possibility of including Haiti in ethanol projects outside Brazil.
Security situation. The other prerequisite for further private foreign investment is security:
Clinton paid tribute to Brazil's role in Minustah, stating that improvements in the security situation since it began its mission in 2004 had helped create a suitable climate for foreign investments, not only in manufacturing but also substantial expansion of the tourism sector, as more foreign governments decide to rescind warnings against travelling to Haiti.
Minustah's mandate this month was extended for a further year, and there is still much to be done in the areas of police and judicial reform, and organising the next congressional elections (for the whole lower house and one-third of the Senate), probably some time next year.
Clinton also has recruited eminent US anthropologist and physician, Paul Farmer, as his deputy, drawing on his substantial experience of grassroots health work in Haiti. As a student, Farmer worked on healthcare projects in villages in the Central Plateau, and founded Partners in Health, to continue this work, in 1987.
Political obstacles. The main obstacles to these well-intentioned initiatives are largely political. While Haiti is stable compared with many failed states around the world, its political system and public administration often appear to be teetering on the brink of collapse:
The paralysis that gripped the country following food riots last April lasted five months, after the removal of the Alexis government on a vote of censure (see HAITI: Food riots highlight impatience with Preval - April 16, 2008).
Deadlock over the proposed minimum wage earlier this year was followed by controversy over the partial Senate elections in June, when the Fanmi Lavalas party was excluded by the electoral council (CEP), and the council was divided over the results (see HAITI: Minimum wage exacerbates tensions - August 20, 2009).
Preval's achievements. However serious Haiti's political problems have been in recent months, Clinton has made clear that President Rene Preval retains the confidence of the international community, giving an optimistic view of Preval's achievements:
He said Haiti had kept its promise to build a functioning political system, with executive and legislature working together, making it imperative for donor countries to keep promises.
He claimed they had delivered just 21 million dollars so far out of more than 760 million pledged, adding that he expected a much bigger disbursement effort before the end of the year.
While Clinton's remarks were more of an exercise in wishful thinking than a description of reality, the implication was that the 'functioning system' could easily collapse unless Haiti's international backers provide it with the resources it needed to keep going.
Cabinet problems. There will be further political problems for Preval and his prime minister:
They recently lost Culture Minister Olsen Jean Julien -- said to be close to the prime minister, and could face a larger cabinet reshuffle, as both Preval and Pierre-Louis struggle to balance the competing demands of Haiti's fractious political parties and interest groups, while trying to improve the capacity of the public administration to provide basic services.
Preval recently finally managed to persuade both houses of Congress to agree that the constitution should be amended to modernise the functioning of the state apparatus and create new institutional mechanisms -- part of a laborious process in which he has been engaged since being elected.
CONCLUSION: Preval needs continuing strong international support in his attempts to overcome the paralysing effects of internecine political warfare.