Ideological dogmatism and United States policy toward Haiti

Guest post by Alex Dupuy

Testifying before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10, 2010, former US President Bill Clinton, who is now serving as Special Envoy to Haiti for the United Nations, said that the trade liberalization (aka neoliberal) policies he pushed in the 1990s and that compelled Haiti to remove tariffs on imported rice from the US “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake…  I had 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.”

Unloading Rice delivered from the United States Credit: US Marine Corps, Creative Commons License on Flickr
Delivery of US rice to Haiti in February 2010
Credit: US Marine Corps, Creative Commons License on Flickr

Two weeks later, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive appeared in front of the Haitian Senate to present the government’s post-earthquake recovery plan known as the Action Plan for the Reconstruction and National Development of Haiti.  The Action Plan, originally conceived by the US State Department and co-chaired by former President Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, called for the creation of an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) charged with deciding on and implementing the programs and projects for the reconstruction of Haiti for 18 months after the Haitian Parliament ratifies it.

When questioned by members of the Haitian Senate that Haiti in effect surrendered its sovereignty to the IHRC, PM Bellerive responded candidly that “I hope you sense the dependency in this document. If you don’t sense it, you should tear it up. I am optimistic that in 18 months… we will be autonomous in our decisions. But right now I have to assume… that we are not.”

These admissions by high-ranking public officials representing the two sides of the international community-Haiti partnership express succinctly the dilemma that Haiti faces in rebuilding its shattered economy in the wake of the massive destruction caused by the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

As accurate as PM Bellerive’s statement about Haiti’s dependence on and subordination to the international community is, that did not originate with the creation of the IHRC, and it is not as temporary as Bellerive suggests. Rather than recounting the long history of foreign involvement and dominance in Haiti, we can consider the 1970s as having marked a major turning point in understanding the factors that created the conditions that existed on the eve of the earthquake and contributed to its devastating impact.

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