Turning Haiti Around Will Not Be Easy

National Coalition for Haitian Rights

New York, March 2, 2006 -- On February 7, 2006, more than 2 million Haitian voters went to the polls to choose a new President and new Senators and Assemblymen. They came undeterred by disabilities, hardships or illiteracy, and waited patiently and calmly in long lines to cast their vote despite the slow, frustrating and chaotic process. When the polls closed, national and international observers hailed the vote as free and fair. We salute the people of Haiti, whose dignified and exemplary behavior on election-day commands all of us to seek progress and build a viable democracy in Haiti through non-violent means.

René Préval won the presidential contest by a four-to-one margin, but it appears that none of the leading candidates for the legislature garnered enough votes to avoid a second-round runoff. The people of Haiti will have to go again to the polls and decide on the composition of the legislature. And hopefully Haiti will have a functioning government in the near future. Meanwhile we congratulate the President-elect and look forward to working with his office to uphold the human rights of Haitians everywhere.

The majority of Haitian voters have decided that Préval is Haiti´s best hope and placed their faith in his capacity to turn Haiti around. During the campaign, Preval cast himself as someone who would be able to be a bridge between the poor and the wealthy, and bring peace, stability and capital investment back to Haiti. Since the vote, international donors, including the US have praised the elections and indicated their readiness to continue providing support to the President-elect and the new government that will emerge from this process. It is incumbent on Mr. Préval to assemble from the start a solid team of respected, competent and non-partisan advisors to help craft policies and programs susceptible to meeting the hopes and dreams expressed on election-day.

Nonetheless turning Haiti around will not be easy. The Haitian economy is all but destroyed. Thousands of young men and women are idled by joblessness, and lack of opportunities and education. Programs that put them to work repairing and building the infrastructure, improving sanitation and developing a clean and inviting environment ought to be implemented without a minute´s delay. And international donors should speed up their assistance to the new government in line with their recently reaffirmed commitment to stay the course in Haiti.

Until Haitian security forces are strong, large and sufficiently law-abiding to maintain peace and tranquility on their own, UN security forces should remain in Haiti long enough to effectively build peace. However, the international security force composition should tip towards more police officers rather than troops. Together with Haitian leaders, the international community must share full responsibility for progress or the lack thereof in establishing the rule of law, and eliminating corruption and immunity from prosecution. In this regard, we hope that the new government will revive long-dormant investigations into political crimes, such as the murder of Radio Haiti Director Jean Dominique, and prosecute these crimes successfully.

Haiti and its international allies should tap the Haitian Diaspora´s wealth of skills and resources to help with restoring basic government functions. We note that the President-elect will be visiting with North American, Caribbean and Latin American leaders to secure their support. We urge Mr. Préval to use these opportunities to begin laying the foundations of a comprehensive solution to Haitian migration.

We also note that President Bush has personally extended his congratulations to President-elect Preval and indicated that the United States was looking forward to mutually beneficial cooperation. We have but one immediate suggestion for President Bush: establish Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for out-of-status Haitians in the US, like it has been done for nationals of Central America who needed temporary safe haven because of political or natural disasters, and you´ll give Haiti the time and space it needs to provide a decent and sustaining environment for its noble citizens.

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