Originally: Our Opinion: Resolve, Aid and International Support Are Needed
In 1804, Haiti became the first black republic to declare its independence, following a 12-year struggle against France led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and other former slaves. This celebrated event occurred 200 years ago, well before other nations in the Americas were able to shake off the authority of the Spanish crown and take destiny into their own hands.
Haitians are justly proud of the role that their country has played, particularly in the independence of the New World. The defeat of Napoleon’s armies gave heart to patriots throughout the region and paved the way for their own successful revolutions.
On this bicentennial, the people of Haiti deserve heartfelt congratulations for setting a courageous example, for their spirit, and for the perseverance and strength that they have displayed throughout the decades of adversity that followed independence. As they face one more political crisis at the hands of yet another failed leader, the people of Haiti also deserve greater help from the United States and the other countries of the region, for no solution is possible without assistance.
The problems of Haiti are well known and extensive: Illiteracy of nearly 50 percent, extensive deforestation, soil erosion on a grand scale, lack of potable water, insufficient roads; the list goes on. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is high, medical resources are scarce. Life expectancy is low, infant mortality is high.
But none of these problems can be addressed as long as the current political crisis continues unabated. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who won 92 percent of the vote, has squandered his mandate by corruption and sheer ineptitude.
The opposition, meanwhile, has shown little political ability and appears to have no program other than overthrowing Aristide. Nearly 18 years after Haitians celebrated the departure of ”Baby Doc” Duvalier — only to usher in an era of instability, dictatorship, invasion and occupation — it should be clear to all but the most hard-headed that getting rid of one bad leader is no guarantee of a better political future.
What Haiti needs is a massive infusion of assistance and aid, to be overseen by multinational organizations that have decided to pull Haiti out of its desperation for good. Surely, if the United States can find $87 billion in one fiscal year to help Iraq, it can find a fraction of that amount to aid Haiti.
Other nations can be persuaded to join this long-term effort, but no one has a bigger stake in Haiti’s success than the United States and the people of South Florida, the first to feel the effects of a Haitian diaspora.
Some will object that this has been tried before, but it hasn’t really. Previous efforts to help Haiti have been half-baked and short-term, beset by frustration and undermined by weak resolve. The problem is much greater than Mr. Aristide. He can be part of the solution, or he can stand aside.
Posted on Monday , Jan. 05, 2004