The Anniversary of President Aristide’s Overthrow

February 29, 2012

This is a personal reflection from Paul Miller, the director of the Haiti Justice Alliance.

President Jean Bertrand Aristide

I remember very well where I was when I learned that President Aristide had left Haiti in the early morning hours of February 29, 2004.  It was my “where were you when you heard JFK was shot” moment, although I have that memory, too.  It was at Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, Minnesota and my friend, who had traveled with me to Haiti in December of 2003, 3 months earlier, informed me that news reports were saying that Aristide had left Haiti.  “Left Haiti?  No way,” was my first thought. I didn’t think that Aristide would ever abdicate his presidential term in Haiti by his own choice after the 1991 coup against him and his 1994 return. Stunned and devastated would accurately describe how I received this most depressing news.

The facts would come to show that my instincts were right.  President Aristide had no intention of leaving Haiti on that night or on any night during the remaining time of his presidency.  Clearly he did not leave that night of his own volition.  You can choose to believe whatever you want to believe about US actions on this or any other given day.  However, if you choose to value the truth, then you must accept that the facts show that Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed by US force/s as yet another coup d’état took place in Haiti.  The only evidence offered of an alternative scenario are self-serving statements from those at the top of our government, chiefly George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the sycophantic Colin Powell.

It’s not ancient history, like a lot of our nefarious actions towards Haiti.  It was 8 years ago.  Monday it was announced that President Aristide is being investigated for drug violations. Our hypocrisy really knows no bounds.  What a coincidence that once again we are asked to question Aristide’s integrity and ethics rather than to be reminded that a US-sponsored coup undermined Haiti’s hope for democracy and stability on this day, 8 short years ago.


MINUSTAH’s Deadly Denials

February 16, 2012

…Violent abuses are MINUSTAH’s (the UN Haiti Mission’s) basic modi operandi for protecting US & other Western economic interests by targeting poor Haitians…

-Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A UN Security Council delegation is currently in Haiti to “review its mandate” and “evaluate” its efforts in the country. At the conclusion of this 4-day trip, the delegation will report on its findings. Given that the UN formally denies responsibility for the cholera outbreak ravaging the country, it won’t tally the 7,000 cholera deaths as part of its impact.

In light of this, it’s tempting to review yet again the “mountain of evidence” proving the UN’s fault for the outbreak. But there’s no need. The only remaining question about UN culpability is not whether they’re to blame for introducing cholera to Haiti, but whether the tools of international law will work on behalf of justice or on behalf of the powerful.

Instead, this post provides historical context for evaluating MINUSTAH’s public statements about the ongoing cholera crisis. Specifically, we compare similar public statements about a previous scandal to internal documents that only came to light years after the fact.

For those who aren’t familiar with the UN Mission’s history in Haiti, this post will show that MINUSTAH has used public denials not just to deflect responsibility, but to provide cover for continuing its “violent abuses.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Weekly News Round-Up: Human Rights and International Investment

December 10, 2011

Human Rights in Haiti

Yesterday was the UN-sponsored International Day of Human Rights – a day laden with irony for the people of Haiti. The occasion sparked protests, writing, and petitions from Haitian activists.

Pairs well with: Haitians protesting in St. Marc, Haiti, to demand respect for their human rights in front of a UN sign bearing the mission’s name, MINUSTAH (left). A boy at the protest holding a sign that says, “Haitians have rights like everyone!” (right).

Photo credit: @gaetantguevara

Also pairs well with: This piece from Etant Dupain covering the protests: “It is a contradiction for the UN to celebrate their International Day for Human Rights while members of the mission are violating human rights in Haiti.”

Action Alert: Our partner group, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, began a petition asking the UN to honor cholera victims’ human rights in honor of human rights day. Consider signing here.

More International Forums on Reconstruction

After last week’s Invest in Haiti forum (critiqued here), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Haiti Reconstruction Forum took place in Miami on Thursday. The goal of the event was similar: promoting investment in Haiti.

Pairs well with: Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald reporter, live-tweeted the event. Her coverage was the only source for details of what was discussed at the forum, including:

    1. the announcement of a potential IDB-financed “portable school” project;
    2. praise for the industrial park;
    3. more support for the hotel industry ;
    4. an IDB-supported $700 million agriculture plan.

Also pairs well with: Carlson Hotels visited Haiti on the day of the forum to look into starting a hotel to rival the new, 173-room hotel built by Marriott. It appears that the international community plan for Haiti’s economy has distilled itself into the two T’s: Textiles and Tourism.


The Caracol Industrial Park: A Misguided Approach To Economic Development

December 8, 2011

The big Haiti news last week was all about the Invest in Haiti forum. Predictably, chatter about the event has segmented into two camps. On one side are business enthusiasts who see the forum – and the headline-grabbing business park being built in Caracol – as a sure source of jobs and growth. On the other are those concerned with social justice, who point out that textile manufacturing in Haiti has historically been plagued by wage and union suppression.

Construction begins on a new industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.

For the most part, these groups aren’t in dialogue with one another because they focus on different factors. The pro-investment group – Bill Clinton, President Martelly, and Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe – don’t discuss worker’s rights and distributive justice issues.

Rather, they assume that “growing the economic pie” is sufficient for now: if problems exist with how the pie is divided, those can be addressed later. Meanwhile, those who do focus on justice issues continue to point out (rightly) the historical pattern of industry and investment only benefiting a few is clear.

In this piece, we take a different approach to critiquing the industrial development vision represented by the Invest in Haiti forum. The stated goal of those supporting the industrial park in Caracol, as reflected by Bill Clinton’s quote (see below), is to create jobs that will lead to economic growth and development.

“We are here to build a modern economy… and in the process, give Haitians the means to build a modern state.” – Bill Clinton, Nov 30, 2011

The question behind this post is: even if the distributional and justice-related concerns are ignored for the time being, does the vision they’ve outlined stand up to macro-economic scrutiny? The answer is, unfortunately, a resounding “no.” The remainder of this post explores the macro-economic reasons why this is the case.

 

Building a Modern Economy?

Backward and Forward Linkages

This unwieldy macro-economic term actually describes a simple concept, best illustrated by example. The ultimate case study of successful backward and forward linkages is the tire industry in Brazil (PDF). The production of tires in Brazil was a huge boon to rubber plantations (backward linkage). Eventually, Brazil’s status as a tire manufacturer attracted auto manufacturers (forward linkage), and the three industries grew together – resulting in huge growth rates in Brazil.

So what are the prospects for linkages in Haiti?  Again, Bill Clinton’s speech is instructive on this point:

 

I want to say a special word of thanks to Sae-A and to Chairman Kim for… not only bringing 20,000 jobs to Haiti. But… there were once 100,000 people assembling clothes in Haiti, but they never even had their own textile mill. They’ll have their own textile mill for the first time now. – Bill Clinton, Nov 30, 2011

 

The fact that Haiti will now have a textile mill differentiates this round of investment from past textile manufacturing efforts. That’s because previously, Haiti had to rely on imported textile materials for assembly and immediate re-export. In other words, the mill opens up the possibility for a backward linkage with cotton growers. However, this would first require revitalizing Haiti’s cotton production, which peaked before the reign of the Duvaliers and has fallen steadily since.

As for forward linkages, there’s not much on the horizon. A 2008 Overseas Development Institute paper entitled, “The Role of Textile and Clothing Industries in Growth and Development Strategies” (PDF) only discusses backward linkages, with one exception. They vaguely suggest that “business support systems” that develop around the garment industry “may facilitate the transition into higher value added activities.” In other words, unlike with tires, clothing doesn’t lead to anything of higher value – which is traditionally how emerging industries spark growth – except for by fostering business culture.

Integration into Global Value Chains

The global value chain is, quite simply, the chain of economic relationships that constitute a production process. On one end of the value chain is a cotton grower; on the other, a person wearing a finished clothing product.

It’s important to consider “integration” into these chains because there’s lots of research suggesting global value chains are “sticky.” That is, once buyers and sellers at different links in the chain develop relationships, they’re not prone to go shopping around for new relationships to replace them. This phenomenon is described by a recent World Bank paper entitled, “Clothing and Export Diversification: Still a Route to Growth for Low Income Countries?” (PDF):

These chains initially emerged in the clothing sector in the 1950s and 1960s as buyers in developed countries contracted out production to low-wage developing countries. Over the past 4 decades these chains have matured and the sourcing networks have spread over a large number of countries… The mature global chains of today restrict the opportunities that the clothing sector offers developing countries for diversification and growth.

In other words, prospects are at best uncertain that Haiti can capture a larger share of textile value chains than it currently commands. While favorable trade preference arrangements may assist Haiti in the short-term gain access to US markets, even that isn’t a sure bet. In the past, duty-free and other tax-exempt statuses haven’t been adequate to lure many manufacturers to Haiti.

 

Realistic Expectations for the Industrial Park

This is not going to modernize Haiti’s economy. Without forward linkages, there’s no real prospect for diversifying into higher-value sectors. But even if it’s unlikely for Haiti to break into established global value chains, it already has a place in several in the textile industry. Therefore, enhancing the sector could have a positive welfare effect – if the benefits are distributed in an equitable fashion. And this, of course, brings us back to the political factors discussed earlier.

 

A Better Economic Model?

There are, however, other models. Costa Rica, for instance, is one case of a small island nation that achieved a foothold in a higher-value industry despite its low-income status. That transition is described in the paper, “Costa Rica’s Development Strategy Based on Human Capital and Technology: How It Got There, the Impact of Intel, and Lessons for Other Countries” (PDF).

The point isn’t to suggest that this is the right model for Haiti. Rather, the point is that there are models besides from the low-wage, textile-driven development envisioned by Martelly and Clinton, which has a proven track record of failure.

Photo Credit: Flickr/USAID_Images


Weekly Links Round-Up: Haiti’s Economic Future, MINUSTAH Poll, and More!

December 2, 2011

Invest In Haiti: The Future of the Haitian Economy

President Martelly plans to create 500,000 jobs in three years. Some of these will come from a new Marriott hotel being planned in downtown Port-au-Prince, but he intends even more to come from a new industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.

Pairs Well With: This investigation finding that the garment industry – which will take center stage in the new industrial park – has been fraught with union suppression.

Also Pairs Well With: This Haiti Grassroots Watch investigation highlighting the wage suppression, poor working conditions, and bad track record of “sweatshop-led development” in Haiti.

 

USAID begins construction at the industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.

 

MINUSTAH Poll & Doublespeak

A new poll finds that two-thirds of Haitians want the immediate withdrawal of UN forces.

Pairs Well With: The headline-making line about the UN, however, came from Nigel Fisher, deputy Special Rep of the Secretary General for Haiti. In a press conference this week, he claimed that “only media and elites” want the UN out of the country – just days after the poll’s release.

 

Quick Hits

The US government decided to lift an 18-year arms embargo, which was only intermittently observed while in place.

The World Bank approved a $255 million plan to provide housing and education in Port-au-Prince in response to the disbanding of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

 


Development Is Political

November 14, 2011

We had a wonderful series of events last week with Lavarice Gaudin, director of operations for the What If? Foundation. Lavarice braved 13 talks over 3 days, which included a panel, public speeches, and class appearances.

Although he offered unique insights each time, several common themes emerged. This post picks up one of those themes for further discussion.

Power and Politics in the US-Haiti Relationship

“The US relationship with Haiti is like somebody who breaks your legs, and then asks: why are you crippled?” – Lavarice Gaudin

Lavarice Gaudin at the University of Minnesota. Photo Credit: Paul Miller.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Right Kind of Food Activism For Haiti: An Event Announcement

October 26, 2011

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but… it was a mistake. I have to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” – Former Pres. Bill Clinton

The above quote speaks to a profoundly important shift in Haiti since the 1980s: the replacement of most locally grown rice with US imports. Although Haiti produced enough rice to feed itself just 35 years ago, that era has long since passed. Today, the USA Rice Federation brags that Haiti is one of the 5 largest export markets (PDF) for American rice.

In this quote, Bill Clinton admitted something that Haitians have long known. By destroying its rice production system, the US “imposed” upon Haiti decades of devastating hunger. One of the Haitians fighting to reverse this trend is a visionary agricultural activist named Lavarice Gaudin. The Haiti Justice Alliance is thrilled to announce that Lavarice will be joining us in Minnesota from Nov. 6-10.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers