By Jeb Bush
Florida is home to more than 300,000 Haitian immigrants. We have watched the painful struggle in Haiti over the past 10 years, as Jean-Bertrand Aristide squandered his opportunity to build a foundation for progress. Democracy means more than elections. It means respecting the rule of law and supporting a vibrant, robust civil society. Aristide destroyed these principles in Haiti and replaced them with corruption and violence. Groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus, who claim to support democracy yet focus on Aristide’s election, exacerbate his betrayal of the Haitian people.
Haitians, now free of Aristide’s grip, can begin rebuilding their country and reclaiming their future. Haiti needs support from its friends around the world, as well as its sons and daughters in exile. There are almost a million Haitian people living in the United States today. Many fled their homes to escape the violence and poverty of Haiti’s recent history, and now long to return to work toward a stable, democratic Haiti.
This Haitian diaspora may be the greatest hope for Haiti’s future. These men and women have the skills and perspective required to rebuild their homeland, and they have an understanding of the fundamentals of democracy that can only come from living under a democratic system. Their participation will determine how readily Haiti emerges from the devastation of its past. For that reason, the U.S. policy in Haiti should reflect the input of this group, rather than the ambitions and agendas of political factions in our own country.
One of these Haitian exiles, Gerard Latortue, has continued to serve the people of Haiti from foreign shores. The former U.N. economist, World Bank consultant and guest lecturer on international development has traveled to Haiti as part of a volunteer program supported by Florida state government. In Haiti, he shared economic development strategies with local officials, bankers and business leaders to create the public and private partnerships that are critical to economic growth.
Latortue’s appointment as interim prime minister of Haiti reflects a commitment to the honest, effective leadership required to guide Haiti forward to stability, democracy and success.
The first step will be creating order. The reforms needed to rebuild Haiti are not possible without order and security to protect the people during the process. The security presence established by the United States, France, Chile and Canada averted the bloodbath predicted by critics in the wake of Aristide’s departure. The U.N. Security Council decision to deploy a multinational interim force in Haiti will help maintain order as will the peacekeeping force expected in 90 days. It is imperative that the United States and the rest of the world continue security support during this volatile time.
There must also be a focus on developing the democratic functions required to create a successful civil society. Boniface Alexandre’s appointment as interim president was dictated by the succession procedure outlined in Haiti’s constitution. This reliance on the rule of law is a marked change for Haitian leadership, and it demonstrates the power of a civil society to use these institutions to move forward out of chaos. With U.S. support, Haiti can build the durable institutions it needs for a true, sustainable democracy.
We must also focus on the economic development required for Haiti to turn its new found hope into hard earned progress. The Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity Act of 2003, sponsored by Florida Rep. E. Clay Shaw, will help Haiti create the cycle of investment and job growth that will be vital to its future. This type of aid will yield the highest return for the people of Haiti over the long term.
The 8 million people of Haiti have long suffered under the misguided policies of an administration that placed the interests of its leader over the needs of his people. By contrast, the Haitian policy under the Bush administration is aligned with the democratic belief that no individual is above the law, and creates the hope that integrity, honesty and the rule of law can and will exist in Haiti’s future government.
With the integrity and selfless service required of true leaders, Gerard Latortue and interim president Boniface Alexandre can leverage this hope to create a foundation for a strong nation. By making the right choices for the people they serve they can lead Haiti toward overcoming devastation and a shameful legacy of corruption.
The writer is governor of Florida.