Originally: How Can the Haitian Diaspora Contribute to the Development of Haiti?

How Can the Haitian Diaspora Contribute to the Development of Haiti?

Paper delivered at the conference “The Haitian Diaspora: Indispensable Partner for the Economic Development of Haiti,” co-sponsored by the Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy (CLED) and by the Inter-American Foundation, Port-au-Prince, June 19-20, 2002

In my remarks today I wish to build on the insights provided yesterday by Ronel Ceran who drew our attention to the political context in which the diaspora may contribute to the development of Haiti. This political context is crucial not only in relation to the diaspora. As we know, it has determined whether foreign aid itself can be used effectively for the development of Haiti. An important study released by the World Bank on February 12, 2002 emphasized that problems with governance in Haiti led to the failure of virtually all World Bank-supported projects here during the 1990s.

If foreign aid cannot be used effectively under the current conditions of governance in Haiti, then neither can the diaspora?s contribution be used for anything like its full potential. Indeed, it cannot be used for much beyond the satisfaction of immediate humanitarian needs. The diaspora?s potential contribution may be broken down into two main areas: remittances and skills/consciousness transfer. At this conference, whether we have been talking about Haiti or seeking to profit from the experiences of Mexico and El Salvador, we have spoken almost exclusively of remittances. In this presentation, however, after first acknowledging the importance of remittances, I wish to go beyond and explore the potential contribution in other realms.

Weighing the Contribution of Remittances in Haiti

A pioneering conference at the Inter-American Foundation explored the potential of harnessing remittances for development. The basic difficulty is that given the poverty of recipients most remittances to Haiti are spent on subsistence. ECLAC has found that 85 percent of remittances to the Latin American region are spent on consumer goods. Yesterday we heard testimony from Ambassador Leon that put that figure at 97 percent.

Certainly remittances at $810 million a year, comprising a quarter of Haiti?s national income and therefore a larger proportion than for any other Caribbean island, are a huge contribution to the well-being of Haiti. Considering that a portion of the remittances will be used to cover education costs, which are a development of human capital, Haitian remittances may be said to contribute to development-writ-large. However, in the crucial area of productive investment, the contribution of remittances under the current conditions of governance is severely circumscribed.

If we arbitrarily choose a range of percentage between 5 and 10 percent as the portion of remittances made available for development, we have gross amounts of $40 to $80 million. In considering these amounts we must keep in mind Haiti?s special conditions which in the recent past have made it a top recipient of foreign aid. In 1995 the World Bank-led consortium pledged $2.8 billion for Haiti over five years, implying a yearly commitment of $600 million. Political instability prevented the disbursement of most of this amount. Nevertheless, if there were a new major mobilization for Haiti, we might hope for renewal of support in this order of magnitude. Thus under this scenario foreign aid of $600 million would provide far greater developmental capital than the developmental percentage of remittances at $40 to $80 million.

Virtually no aid practitioner would agree with the above statement because under current conditions there is no international mobilization for Haiti in sight. No aid donor is contemplating returning to the level of commitment of 1994-95, when Inter-American Development Bank president Enrique Iglesias said, “We?re going to break the rules for Haiti.” Indeed in those years it was as though a cork had been pulled from a bottle. The return of constitutional government by U.N. intervention had created the political conditions.

All this is merely to reinforce the point made yesterday by Ronel Ceran about the importance of the political environment. If the current OAS-led negotiating process indeed leads to an improvement in the security situation and a process leading to free and fair elections, and if unquestionably free and fair elections are held, then the conditions will be created for another international mobilization for Haiti in which, as I have suggested, aid will play a far greater role in providing developmental capital than remittances.

Beyond Remittances: Tapping the Greater Potential of the Diaspora

Looking beyond this gross money flow that has largely preoccupied us in this conference, I wish to suggest these areas of potential contribution:

1. Tourism

2. Administrative and Management Skills Transfer

3. Technical Skills Transfer

4. Entrepreneurial Transfer

5. Transfer of Democratic Practice

Below I consider three of these contributions: tourism, administrative transfer, and democratic transfer

1. Tourism

As we know, more than one million tourists a year visit the Dominican Republic. Some 30 percent of them may be returning Dominican tourists. In Haiti today, virtually all tourism receipts come from diaspora visits. With the current questionable security and infrastructure situation, international tourism proper is virtually nil. That same security and infrastructure deficiency also severely limits, to an undetermined extent, diaspora visits.

So here again the political situation comes forward as a primary determinant of unlocking the potential of the diaspora. Given Haiti?s natural gifts it always has the potential of making tourism a primary contributor to national income. With the political progress I have suggested, we could first look for an increase in Haitian diaspora tourism rivaling that already experienced by the Dominican Republic. But the increase in diaspora tourism would have a multiplying effect. It would stimulate the needed productive investment in tourist infrastructure that would attract general international tourism that would allow Haiti to finally realize its comparative advantages in this sector.

2. Administrative and Managerial Skills Transfer

There has been an evolution of scholarly views on this question. Earlier research on the consequences for Caribbean development of return migration dwelt on the various problems caused by return migration, including job competition between natives and the better-trained returnees. This perspective has dominated some Haitian views as well. According to sources quoted by Jean Jean-Pierre in the Village Voice in 1995, there was a strong school of thought in Haiti after Aristide?s return who saw the diaspora as Haitians wanting to take their jobs away. This may still be the majority view in Haiti.

But now a new scholarly conceptualization has arisen to contest this view (e.g., Connell and Conway, 2000). The influence of migration, circulation and of course remittances on recipient families, communities and societies of the Caribbean is now seen as positive. Return migrants represent people endowed with human capital, experienced in modern administration. Transnational linkages offer perspectives for sustainable development beyond those offered solely by domestic economic opportunities.

Consider this question, however, in the special Haitian context. Without a political settlement, there will be virtually no mechanism for reverse circulation. The high U.S. salary levels that our Mexican and Salvadoran colleagues cited yesterday will hold with even greater force for Haiti as a factor barring any significant return of Haitian-American professionals. Add to that insecurity and the political situation, which suggests to patriotic Haitians abroad that any sacrifice they make will come to naught.

The only significant mechanism for reverse circulation allowing for a diaspora contribution of management skills is the international mobilization and aid program I have posited above. As in the 1994?96 mobilization, U.S. aid agencies will scour the Haitian-American professional community for qualified personnel to spend some time in Haiti at First World salaries. If the current OAS negotiating process bears fruit and the World Bank finds conditions are right for launching a new approach built on the concept of improving governance, there will arise a need for capable administrators to tackle the challenge of institution-building. Haiti itself can supply most of these people. It has enough professionals, free of factional allegiance, who view public office as a vocation and not an opportunity for spoils. There will be gaps, however, in skills coverage. Also, the need will be all over the country, not merely in the capital, a requirement that many Haitian professionals find burdensome. The lack of facilities in provincial locations can indeed be daunting.

Foreigners, for their part, while perhaps more willing to disperse to remote locations, tend to lack the language and cultural affinity required for the delicate tasks of institution-building.

Thus it is professionally-qualified members of the Haitian diaspora who may be best suited to help Haiti in the crucial task of institution-building. Because this recruitment of the diaspora would only come in the context of a foreign-aid mobilization, the context would be job creation rather than job competition. Most of the new administrative jobs created by such a mobilization would already go to Haitians in Haiti, as noted above. Diaspora Haitians would fill special needs. Thus the negative effect of job competition would be minimized.


3. Transfer of Democratic Practices by the Diaspora

In the last hopeful period during 199597, the Haitian diaspora answered the call. From my personal experience during that period, I remember being briefed by a senior member of the American ICITAP team working to strengthen the Haitian judiciary. The briefer was Marceau Edouard, the Haitian-American assistant district attorney for the Bronx. His skills, dynamism and enthusiasm were impressive. His main complaint was that he could not get an appointment with the justice minister, who rarely came into his office.

Similarly, at a lower, unofficial level, I remember the struggle of a Haitian-American dentist from Florida to set up a dental clinic in the poorest sector of Carrefour. The business was combined with a pharmacy. Finally, in the year 2000, this dedicated individual gave up and returned to Florida. The clinic had been broken into many times and invaded by gunmen twice, who threatened his life. He survived, but knew the third time he might not be so lucky.

These anecdotal experiences, multiplied a thousand-fold, largely characterize the attitude of the Haitian-American community today toward the challenge of reconstruction in Haiti. Manuel Orozco has perceptively contrasted the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan experiences in attracting reverse migration of human capital. Between the two countries, El Salvador has experienced the least polarization after its civil war. The peace accord has provided an important incentive for Salvadorans to cooperate in the rebuilding of the country. At this very conference we have the Salvadoran ambassador appearing together with Salvadoran nongovernmental organizations in the same cause, something you would never have seen in the 1970s or 1980s. In Nicaragua polarization remains greater between Sandinistas and Somozists. Nicaraguans living in the United States, mostly anti-Sandinista, feel little pull to return home and contribute. Partially as a result, Nicaragua?s GDP is less than $3 billion while El Salvador?s is $12 billion.

This Central American lesson stands as an important marker for Haiti. A true accord leading to a free and fair election whose results, however diverse, are respected will decrease the polarization. This will provide the essential incentive for Haitian emigres to return in a framework of aid programs deploying them in the field of governance.

The Haitan-Americans themselves have made this point emphatically. At an important conference at Trinity College in Washington last year, sponsored by the Haiti Study Group, a panel of Haitian-Americans was outspoken in warning that the enthusiasm of the late 1980s and 199496 had dissipated and that the diaspora had rejected the political turmoil in its country of origin. There was simply no chance, these panelists asserted, that a significant number of Haitian-Americans would sacrifice for their homeland and interrupt the difficult struggle to establish themselves in the United States as long as they knew their efforts would go for naught.

This understandable decision was in effect ratified by a national conference of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in Miami last April. Originally an organization oriented to the rights of Haitian refugees, and still engaged in that question, the NCHR conference was explicit in stating that the primary challenge of Haitian-Americans was to establish themselves in America, and once that was done, over the long term, they might be in a better position to help their cousins back home. Panels at the NCHR conference held out the experience of successful Haitian-American businessmen, professionals and artists as models for the community. They explored means of increasing Haitian-American political representation at the local and national level. Despite a population approaching two million, the Haitian-Americans have no representative in Congress, for which the cause of Haiti has indeed grievously suffered.

In this conscious decision to identify their future with America, the Haitian-Americans are following in the path of all previous immigrant groups to America, all of whom originally came with an intention to return but never did.

It cannot be said that the NCHR conference turned its back on Haiti. The organization and its constituency, who could provide Haiti with the dedicated and honest administrators it needs to supplement its own, is still engaged.

But the NCHR participants did make it clear that the Haitian-American community is not a tap that can conveniently be turned on and off. The attitude in that community is overwhelmingly critical of the political impasse in Haiti. Unless the OAS-brokered and World Bank-supported process is clearly seen as leading to unimpeachably free and fair elections, one must be skeptical of the potential of recruitment from among that community even if foreign-aid agencies come forward with First World salary levels.

This is a community whose professionals are typically at the mid-point of their careers where an extended leave could jeopardize their hard-won positions. Members of this community frequently already work two jobs just to meet their responsibilities.

Certainly some Haitian-Americans will come if enough money is set aside for salaries. But absent the kind of enthusiasm and dedication of the 199496 period, one must question their effectiveness despite technical qualifications. The success of the transfer and utilization of this community?s human capital is inextricably linked to the political resolution and cannot be viewed in isolation.

With both feet already in America, the diaspora will also be gauging the U.S. government?s commitment to ending the crisis. Probably, nothing less than the degree of commitment of the Clinton administration in 1994 would convince the majority of Haitian-Americans that the United States was serious this time in addressing the situation in Haiti.

A first challenge, in a Haiti that is approaching a free and fair election, is to link the existing praiseworthy community projects of diaspora organizations beyond hometown associations to the local government. Currently, most such projects are not focused beyond charity. They have no partners in local government because of the ongoing crisis of governance in the country. There is a need also to link up with effective civil society organizations which collaborate with municipal governments.

Haitians from the diaspora can encourage local Haitians to take part in and insist on performance from local government because in their immigration countries, even though they are relatively recent arrivals, Haitians are taking part in local government. In the United States, they are electing local officials and having a say in the selection of their local government. This example, and the ways and means to achieve it, are accomplishments the diaspora can share with the people in Haiti struggling to build democracy in a climate of deep disillusionment.


While the money flow is important and will continue in any case, it is difficult to conceive of the diaspora contributing its full potential to Haitian development outside the context of a political solution that is supported generously by the international community. In short I am looking for an achievement on the order of the 1994 intervention but one which this time is sustained and not undermined by a rush to the exits (the exit strategy that so dominated U.S. planning in 1994-95).

To be sure the diaspora contribution is highly decentralized and so effectively beyond the control of government. As such it has the potential over time to help create a new reality even in the absence of the political settlement and international mobilization. Would it be enough, however, to overcome the political parameters? Only on a very long view does this appear to be possible.

Haiti is now in its sixteenth year of its post-Duvalier political crisis, one that from abroad appears to be a crisis of legitimacy or a crisis of governance, but in the inherited Haitian political context is a crisis of succession. But just as in El Salvador ARENA and the FMLN jointly decided to put an end to their civil war, so in Haiti the concept of an unimpeachably free and fair election holds out the key to a definitive solution of the post-Duvalier crisis. This election would have to be held in conditions of security that would level the playing field.

It is in this primordial area of political solution that one can conceive of the Haitian diaspora playing its greatest role. In this context the diaspora would transcend its currently assigned role of voiceless cash cow and assert its full right to receive representation for its contribution. It would increase its flow and lend its skills only in the context of preparing for a free and fair election that would produce a legitimate government. And as it consolidates its political influence in America, it would call on the administration to go far beyond the current model of unsupported mediation to resume the full program of nation-building that was begun in 1994-95 and unfortunately interrupted and abandoned in the latter 1990s.