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FOCAL Views: Thinking through Haiti

Haiti is famous for its proverbs; most require some knowledge of the country to truly appreciate them. There is, however, one that is understood universally and instantly: “In Haiti, everything is a priority.” After the earthquake, what had already been acute challenges are now more complex and more resource-demanding, and will require action beyond past efforts. This reality is not recognized by all. It is thus opportune and necessary to examine the situation critically and creatively.

This does not mean throwing out all that has been done in the past; rather, it means reflecting upon what has worked and what has not, and demonstrating openness toward new ideas.

In a situation as complex as that of Haiti, an ongoing appraisal of development efforts is always needed. As with last year’s FOCALPoint issue on Haiti, this edition brings together a diverse group of analysts, policy-makers, practitioners and diaspora representatives to offer insight into the challenges confronting Haiti. We especially thank our contributors from the Inter-American Dialogue for their collaboration in this effort to take stock of past efforts and to look ahead.

New international players have taken centre stage in Haiti. David Morin argues in his article that the many Latin American countries involved in Haiti, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay on one side, or Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela on the other, may not always speak with one voice, but have all made significant commitments to the same cause. Mexico, Canada’s closest partner in the region, has also been involved in Haiti relief efforts and is looking to co-ordinate its action with Canada.

Indeed, co-ordination will be key to reconstruction efforts in Haiti. Canada will most certainly need to work closely with the United States. President Barack Obama has pledged more than US$600 million for relief and recovery efforts to date. According to Daniel P. Erikson, the U.S. should continue to work toward building a functional democracy in Haiti as a major policy goal. In the shorter term, it is paramount to strengthen Haiti’s institutions and prepare the next democratic elections to avoid a political vacuum.

Donors should also work to address the root causes of poverty and inequality. For example, Jeffrey Puryear and Michael Lisman make the case for an overhaul of the education system that is predominantly private to ensure that the poorest make it into the classrooms.

But this type of effort will be in vain if it is not accompanied by job creation. Beyond bilateral aid, there is a need to forge new partnerships; the private sector should therefore be involved in a sustainable manner. Yves Savain proposes the creation of an independent authority to plan the development and growth of the country in accordance with sound fiscal and economic discipline.

The Haitian diaspora should also be brought on board as an economic player and as a watchdog to guarantee that international efforts serve Haiti’s interests, as Kerlande Mibel illustrates. Further, although the diaspora’s capacity to scale up its current effort should not be overstated, Manuel Orozco argues among other things that funnelling remittances more efficiently through microfinance institutions, for instance, could increase the credit portfolio available to small businesses. He notes that the diaspora could also benefit from sound technical advice to determine how its philanthropic efforts can yield the greatest impact.

Most importantly, Haitian grassroots organizations and civil society should be tapped into to foster self-help initiatives and local know-how as stressed by Jenny Petrow, as well as Melina Schoenborn and Myriam Fehmiu. They also remind us that in doing so, we should not neglect rural Haiti.

We hope that the following articles will contribute to constructive new thinking to help the country rise from the rubble.

As a final note, we wish to dedicate this edition to the men and women —many of them friends, associates and colleagues of FOCAL and our contributors— who perished in the earthquake or have lost family and friends.

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This new section reflects our institutional position on current issues in the Americas. It presents collaborative opinion articles originating from staff, board members, non-resident fellows or colleagues at sister institutions.

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