Let Haiti be Haiti again

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 1/12/2012, 1:06 p.m.
There is no way to know for certain how many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) there are...
“Help Haiti” by Alcima Schnaider, 12x16 inches

There is no way to know for certain how many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) there are in Haiti, but to many experts on this island nation struggling to recover from the shock and awe of an earthquake in 2010, they constitute a veritable "Republic of NGOs."

"I would guess there are more than 1,000," said one resident who has worked at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti for many years. "They are here without paying any taxes, and they pay no duty on the supplies they bring into the country."

Haitian activists are not fond of the NGOs and see them as just another huge, troubling roadblock to redevelopment.

Equally problematic for rebuilding the devastated nation, where only a half of the rubble has been removed from the streets of its capital, Port-au-Prince, is the question of where nearly $5 million that was donated via the Red Cross has gone. "Only about half of it has been received and spent," according to our source, who insisted on anonymity. "It's nothing more than the old double-cross, if you ask me."

It is encouraging to see rebuilding efforts underway by the Digicel Corporation, the nation's major telecommunications company; in November, the company announced plans to invest $45 million in a new 173-room hotel near its offices. Other companies, including Heineken, the Dutch brewing giant, are pitching in to assist in the redevelopment and provide housing and jobs.

As usual, the U.N. has put its enormous shoulder to the wheel despite some rancor about its presence in the country. Thanks to its efforts, more than $4 million has been earmarked to restore Haiti and provide education and housing.

Even the government, under the leadership of new President Michel Martelly, has plans to create housing to accommodate some 30,000 residents, many of whom are still living in tent cities where they lack proper sanitation and clean water and are prone to the ongoing danger of cholera.

Shortly after the earthquake, much hope was placed on the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, led by former President Bill Clinton and Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti's former prime minister, but if the current notice on the organization's website is any indication of how things are faring, very little is happening "until further notice," as the site discloses.

If Haiti is ever to get back to any semblance of the subsistence that was a hallmark of its past, sustained focused must be given to developing the land and shoring up the needs of the nation's farmers, particularly the ingenious farmers of the Central Plateau.

As historians Laurent Dubois and Deborah Jenson, co-directors of the Haiti Humanities Laboratory at Duke University, noted in a recent op-ed in the New York Times, "a system of small farms" is necessary in order to get the ball rolling.

This would be part of the president's dream of decentralizing the country and getting back to the previous level of self-determination.

Once the farmers are able to sustain themselves, the surplus can be delivered to the market for export, thereby eliminating the import of foodstuffs and other materials with which the farmers' products have been unable to compete.

Examples of this underselling were clearly evident when homegrown sisal was undersold by synthetic fiber created by DuPont and when Haitian rice could not compete with rice imported by Arkansas farmers, thanks to Clinton.

"Municipal governments should construct properly equipped marketplaces for the women who sell rural produce," Dubois and Jenson wrote. "The Haitian state should develop trade policies aimed at protecting the agricultural sector."

The state would also benefit greatly from the dissemination of the innovations and farming techniques advanced by the Papaye, or the peasants, in the Central Plateau, particularly for making rich manure and mulch.

The creative genius of the Haitian people is just waiting for an opportunity to renew its place on the world stage-all they need is genuinely sincere and sustained support from the government, the NGOs and the other agencies sitting on the vast resources and donations from other countries.