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Executive Summary #1610 on Trade, Economic Freedom

October 31, 2002

October 31, 2002 | Executive Summary on Trade, Economic Freedom

Executive Summary: Haiti: No Aid Without Accountability

Propping up faltering governments with blank aid checks invites corruption and almost certain collapse of reform and development agendas. Yet, supporters of Haiti's president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and even the Organization of American States (OAS) are seeking ways to unlock $500 million of international economic assistance, frozen more than two years ago when Haiti's leadership proved unwilling to remedy flawed elections, establish a functioning government, and improve the country's dismal human rights record.

Since then, little has changed and Haiti's looming failure as a state could impact close neighbors such as the Dominican Republic and the United States. Armed intervention like the U.S.-led effort to restore Aristide's presidency in 1994 would not be welcome, nor would it produce much different results. Further denial of assistance with the expectation that Haiti's government will rebuild itself is unrealistic. Haiti will only improve over time with supervised support at the national level and sustained efforts to foster democratic change at the community level. To help encourage a real transformation, the United States should:

  • Promote democratic institutions , as opposed to propping up autocratic leaders such as Aristide;
  • Direct grants to accountable non-governmental organizations to strengthen citizenship awareness and government beginning at the grassroots;
  • Offer targeted national-level assistance, provided Haiti's government accepts donor oversight to organize elections, supervise the rebuilding of public institutions, and to ensure transparent utilization of resources;
  • Encourage Haiti to take advantage of trade incentives by forming a government that can live up to trade obligations;
  • Hold Haitian officials accountable for their performance in upholding laws and protecting human rights.

Haiti's Missing Consensus. Despite Haiti's heroic struggle for independence, its early leaders based their rule largely on the way the island nation had been governed as a colony--by imposing order from above. Thus, a succession of autocrats
assumed and left power through rebellion and ousters, rather than by consent of the governed. Predatory government, instability, illiteracy, and poverty became hallmarks of Haitian society.

In 1986, these ills became so pronounced that unrest prompted the Reagan Administration to urge reigning dictator Jean Claude Duvalier to leave power. Thereafter, Haiti experienced a rapid turnover of governments leading to the election of ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990. Despite the high hopes of the international community, Aristide harassed opponents and relied on violent mobs for support. Within a year, his presidency collapsed and he was replaced by a repressive military junta, sparking an exodus of thousands of rafters.

Misguided Intervention. In 1994, the United States led a multinational force to Haiti to restore Aristide's presidency, intending to stanch the flight of refugees and put Haiti back on a path toward democracy. The intervention backfired, since Aristide had no intention of becoming a democrat and because the Clinton Administration pursued a quick exit without realizing the difficulty of encouraging democracy where none had existed before.

As the United States and other governments poured millions of dollars into a new national police and judiciary to take over for departing peace-keeping forces, the rest of Haiti's new government was falling apart. Aristide's crony and handpicked presidential successor, René Préval, served most of his four-year term without a congress, thanks to flawed parliamentary elections in 1997.
A new vote in May 2000 was marred by fraud, and Aristide was reelected shortly thereafter in a questionable contest boycotted by both the opposition and outside observers.

The dispute over the legitimacy of Haiti's parliament ultimately led the Clinton Administration to suspend direct assistance, a policy the Bush Administration and international institutions have followed, withholding a total of approximately $500 million. Now Aristide is asking for support to be renewed, even though he has neglected the police and judiciary in favor of mob rule and scared off investors who could provide jobs for some of Haiti's 60 percent unemployed. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the OAS has promised to recommend a resumption of direct assistance if the government will take steps toward limited reforms.

Back to Basics. More aid to Haiti's government will not solve anything. In 1994, the Clinton Administration committed $3 billion to support Aristide's return, but put less into a long-term effort to cultivate durable political institutions. Today, refugees continue to flee violence, while extreme poverty and attendant disorder make the Caribbean nation a haven for international drug traffickers, criminals, and potentially even terrorists. To help set a course for a more prosperous, secure, democratic Haiti, the United States should:

  • Deny support for demagogues in favor of consistently nurturing democratic institutions--even though they may take a long time to develop;
  • Direct grants to accountable non-governmental organizations to promote better community-level governance, citizenship awareness, and effective education;
  • Offer targeted, direct assistance when Haitian leadership accepts donor oversight. A U.S.-led international commission should supervise the use of donated resources provided to hold new elections and rebuild national institutions.
  • Persuade Haiti to use trade opportunities to restore growth. The U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative gives Haiti access to U.S. markets, provided Haiti can comply with trade obligations, establish the rule of law, and eliminate bureaucratic uncertainties that block investment.
  • Hold Haitian officials accountable for their conduct by revoking visas and freezing the U.S. bank accounts of those who violate laws and abuse human rights.

Conclusion. Despite Aristide's pleas and the OAS offer to recommend resumed aid, only a sustained commitment on the part of the international community to provide direction can help establish the necessary security umbrella to ensure that the practices of compromise and consensus can take hold in Haiti. Even then, the road to peace and prosperity will be long and difficult. Haiti's troubles did not emerge overnight and they will not be resolved tomorrow.

--Stephen Johnson is Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Stephen Johnson Senior Policy Analyst
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy