Words vs. Action in US Haiti Policy

This guest post from our director, Paul Miller, builds on an important idea we’ve discussed before: that there’s a large disconnect between US policy toward Haiti and the statements of US policymakers. Paul writes passionately and persuasively about the consequences on this disconnect, and about the policies that HJA supports instead. 

The US aid model, which is subservient to US foreign policy goals, is not designed to strengthen Haiti’s governance or even to provide economic stability to Haiti.  Hand-wringing aside, US foreign aid – by design or by default – perpetuates a system of dependency that is exacerbated by the United States’ intentional undermining of democratic movements. The majority of large NGOs in Haiti contribute to this cycle (see Hallward, Damming the Flood).

The Haiti Justice Alliance (HJA) attempts to enlighten the Cheryl Mills of the world to the irony of their egocentric questions given the reality of their position of dominance.  While Hillary Clinton’s denunciation of Haiti’s government response to the earthquake is ridiculous, it nonetheless persists in the minds of the American public.  Her words perpetuate the sense that Haiti cannot function because of its corrupt government – and, by inference, its inept population.

Hillary Clinton at a press conference with President Martelly

The US and our foreign partners undermine Haiti’s ability to develop institutions that would allow it to effectively govern or respond to pressing needs, such as natural disasters. The same actors proceed to chastise the government of Haiti for not making progress.  To describe it simply as arrogance does not recognize the nefarious actions that continue to undermine Haiti’s struggles for just living conditions for its impoverished masses.

While HJA advocates working with local grassroots organizations in the short term because they’re most able to maneuver within this system of structural injustices (see Farmer, Infections and Inequalities), we recognize that for the country to make the type of progress that would impress Cheryl Mills, the Haitian government needs to become fully functioning and carry out the programs currently outsourced to foreign NGOs with US foreign aid.  Advocating for this model is not unique to HJA: Paul Farmer has advocated for this same model throughout his involvement in Haiti with Partners in Health.

With that in mind, HJA supports US aid and policies that would facilitate Haiti’s development by strengthening its governmental systems as follows:

  • Support development of Haiti’s government infrastructure
    • Focus on the justice, education, and medical systems;
  • Support implementation of just wages that would contribute to economic balance;
  • Support development of agriculture;
  • Support true democratic principles that allow Haiti’s poor majority to have a voice in determining their future.

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