August 18, 2010
By Ray Walser, Ph.D.
Seven months after the tragic Jan. 12 earthquake, Haiti is at last on the path to reconstruction. Thanks to a substantial flood of assistance, with billions of dollars more promised, the minimal needs of the Haitian people are finally being met. Yet the pace of recovery is painfully slow.
The United States and the world have their sights set on a Haiti-owned process for building a new, sustainable, productive island nation. Yet in a country where 80 per cent of the populace lives on less than $2 a day, and where hundreds of thousands live in tents, rough sketches of a better future are still on the drawing boards.
Haiti's future depends on how well its people can preserve political patience, mobilize massively to succeed and steer an essentially reformist course. A better Haiti requires sustained cooperation between rich, middle-class and poor.
It also requires an ability to work with the complex maze of international bodies: the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and key donors such as Brazil, Canada, France and the United States.
Generally idealistic, sometimes cynical and always bureaucratic, this patchwork of forces provides the safety net that keeps Haiti from falling into the abyss. Without sustained international support, Haiti will collapse.
Elections on Nov. 28 offer the chance to select post-earthquake leadership with a mandate to build a new Haiti. They also pose a risk that political divisions will further fracture the nation.
Thus far, more than three dozen potential candidates say they will contest the presidency. The hopefuls range from hip-hop star Wyclef Jean to Yvon Neptune, an ally of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Electoral experts point out the fact that conditions in post-earthquake Haiti present immense registration and polling challenges.
One leader, currently removed from the Haitian scene, could easily make the devastated country again ungovernable.
The controversial Aristide is viewed as a pivotal Haitian political figure. His machinations and incendiary leadership led to his ouster in February 2004 following a rapid disintegration of public order.
Still viewed as a hero of the left, Aristide is in exile in South Africa. He is still considered to be the leader of his Fanmi Lavalas -- the Flood party -- currently barred from participating in the November elections.
The return of Aristide's surrogates in Lavalas could easily trigger a new round of polarizing and violent politics. It could wreck the delicate process of rebuilding Haiti by unleashing suppressed anger and a desire for revenge.
Certainly Lavalas' return to politics is supported by the American and international left. They consistently view Haiti and Aristide as victims, endlessly subjected to sinister forces from racial discrimination to capitalist exploitation. In the left's book, Haiti remains a morality play between haves and have-nots, between privilege and social justice, with the United States and the West cast in the role of bad guys.
By opening old wounds and appealing to class politics, Lavalas candidates would trigger a sadly predictable chain of consequences.
Promising to remake Haiti from the bottom up, they would resort to land seizures, punitive taxes, and other draconian measures certain to trample rule of law, property rights and individual liberties.
Radicalization would spook foreign investors, leaving Haiti even more dependent on foreign assistance.
An Aristide-influenced Lavalas government would likely turn to Venezuela's populist authoritarian Hugo Chavez to provide sufficient assistance -- drawing it into his radical, anti-American camp.
The 2009 removal of Honduras' populist President Manuel Zelaya demonstrates where Chavez-led polarization can take a nation.
The United States cannot prevent the Haitian people from moving ahead with the Nov. 28 elections. It cannot say which candidate is right for Haiti.
It must state frankly, however, that it does not wish to see a fragile Haiti once more unraveled by the politics of division and hatred. It can send a clear signal that the return of Aristide's Lavalas party would not be welcomed.
Ray Walser is the senior Latin America policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press
Ray Walser, Ph.D.
Senior Policy Analyst
Read More >>
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 450,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973