Stop interfering in nation's politics

OP-Ed, Miami Herald

The election of Renè Prèval as president of Haiti can be a turning point in our government's relationship to the Haitian people. Prèval clearly has a preference to help Haiti's poor, and it was the poor who gave him an overwhelming electoral victory that was four times larger than his closest rival.

In light of this preference for the poor, policymakers in Washington need to review our own policies, which too often reflectively supported Haiti's tiny elite in their effort to destabilize Haiti's popular democracy.

The current policies have led us to a dead end of continually trying to suppress popular democracy without raising the economic status of the poor. Although our short-term interests may be to stop Haitian migrants and drugs from entering the United States, our long-term interests must be to alter the economic conditions in a country that has the largest population and therefore the largest potential market of all the CARICOM countries.

With President Prèval we can begin to engage in a new foreign policy that should include the following strategies:

Stop interfering in the internal politics of Haiti. Who Prèval picks as a prime minister and members of his cabinet should be his own affair and not a ''litmus test'' for anything. Our efforts to force a government of national reconciliation in Haiti is an affront to Haitian sovereignty as much as it would be for the Chinese government to tell a Republican president that he had to include Democrats, Libertarians, Socialists and others in his government to show unity.

Similarly, we should not hamper efforts to allow all Haitians to return from abroad who have been forced into exile or interfere in the reconstruction of Fanmi Lavalas or any other party the Haitian people support.

Also, no funds from either the Agency for International Development or the International Republican Institute should be expended to undermine Haiti's political parties or to create new political parties. These are matters best left to the Haitian people to decide.

- Work constructively with the Haitian government to provide assistance on a national level. For the past decade our assistance has been directed to nongovernmental organizations rather than to the Haitian government, and from 2000 to 2004 we had a total development-assistance embargo against the Haitian government. Prèval's victory gives us an opportunity for a new beginning where we can work with the Haitian government on their terms, not ours. Haiti's massive health, infrastructure, environmental and educational problems can not be solved through nongovernmental organizations.

We must provide substantial direct assistance to the Haitian government and we must ensure that our assistance and that of other developed countries is not coupled with political demands. Micromanaging Haiti's nascent democracy by strangling its government economically has been a dismal failure and it ignores our own history where democracy took decades to develop.

- Provide technical expertise and financial resources to transform agrarian life. The United States possesses the world's greatest expertise on eliminating agrarian and rural poverty. We have the most successful rural electrification program in the history of the world. We have highly advanced farming facilities and agricultural techniques that we could and should put at the disposal of the Haitian government. Such efforts would help Haiti move toward self-sufficiency in food production, and rural electrification would reverse the downward ecological spiral Haiti faces.

Additionally, the United States has great expertise in rural health programs. In a country where there is only one doctor for every 11,000 citizens and where most doctors are in urban areas, we have the capacity to develop healthcare programs where none exist.

Interfering in Haiti's political life and conditioning assistance on political benchmarks has failed Haiti and its poor. It is time that we begin a new, more gracious strategy, that provides assistance simply to reverse Haiti's massive poverty.

Ira Kurzban was the general counsel for Haiti for 13 years during the governments of Renè Prèval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network

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