Best way to help Haiti: take over

October 13, 2005|By JOHN C. BERSIA

ORLANDO -- The moment was a curious one in U.S.-Haitian relations last week, when Haitian Finance Minister Henri Bazin handed a ceremonial check for $36,000 to a U.S. official. That contribution, destined for victims of Hurricane Katrina - including Haitians living in the Gulf Coast states - was as ironic as it was magnanimous.

Haitian officials felt it necessary to underscore the modest nature of the gift; in truth, considering that most Haitians eke out an existence on less than $1 per day, the gesture was grand.

In the final analysis, though, it was also unnecessary. Haiti's sympathy, good wishes and encouragement would have been sufficient. Ditto for other countries that made similar commitments. The United States has the means many times over to handle the aftermath of Katrina on its own.

If anything, the United States should expand its efforts to work with other nations to help Haiti.

On several occasions, I have set forth an ambitious and, some would say, controversial proposal to assist Haiti in addressing its perennial problems of economic plight, poor governance and societal disruption: a 20-year suspension of Haiti's sovereignty. Along the way, a comprehensive strategy would systematically root out the remaining influences of past regimes, strengthen and energize Haiti's society, revamp and broaden education and training, and create the foundation for a free and open system.

Predictably, some critics have lashed out at the concept, dubbing it "Western paternalism," a leftover of a historical predisposition to "interfere in Haiti's affairs," and even a "missionary" attitude.

How little they perceive beyond the realm of their petty verbal tirades. They act as if Haiti's woes spring exclusively from external influences - which I understand and acknowledge - rather than simultaneously faulting the greed, repressiveness and ineptitude of too many Haitian leaders. They seem to ignore that Haiti is essentially a failed state, and that such conditions spawn instability and disruption far beyond a country's borders.

My starting point is not Western paternalism, a penchant for interference or missionary zeal; it is a desire for Haitians to enjoy the full range of human rights. When I talk to my advisers on Haiti - and they range from Haitian expatriates to scholars to practitioners in various fields with long experience in that country - and I solicit their prescriptions, the discussion regularly returns to the need to wipe the slate clean.

Toward that end, I am not advocating a controlling position by the United States - far from it. I would hope for a U.S. role, because I believe this nation has a responsibility to help, but others should champion the cause. In other words, I am recommending international rule, not U.S. rule, with strong involvement by Haiti's Caribbean neighbors, other countries in the Western Hemisphere and the United Nations.

Anything less would condemn Haiti to an endless cycle of internal mismanagement and foreign intervention.

John C. Bersia is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, a special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida.

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