Haiti appeals for relief, not just troops

May 11, 2004, 07:00

Haiti’s interim prime minister has appealed to the United Nations for economic and development aid, saying just sending peacekeeping troops was insufficient. Gerard Latortue, who conferred with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, told reporters that while piles of weapons in Haiti were a severe problem, he believed the expected UN troops were enough to accomplish disarmament “easily and rapidly.”

Some 3 500 foreign troops, half from the US, the others from France, Canada and Chile, are now in Haiti. Up to 6 700 UN-organised troops and 1 622 civilian police are to replace them on June 1. Latortue told reporters, “Sending troops is not enough because the root of the problem is poverty and unemployment.” Latortue, who is visiting Jacques Chirac, the French president, in Paris today, said help was needed to set up small and medium-sized enterprises and build up public institutions. He did not say how much money was needed but said assessments were under way. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas.

Donors reluctant
He said he understood the reluctance of donors. Latortue, a former UN employee for the UN Development Fund, said he was involved in a study in 1999 on the impact of foreign aid in Haiti. “It was unworkable” because of the lack of transparency and the misuse of funds, Latortue said. “All of those problems in the last 10 years have reached the point they did not want to give money to the Haitian government” and funded non-governmental groups instead.

The US has said it would consider contributing $40 million to Haiti in addition to the $55 million already in the budget for this year. Colin Powell, the secretary of state, who saw Latortue last week, made clear “he can count on American support,” a state department spokesperson said yesterday. Latortue (69), who had lived in Florida, was appointed as a transitional prime minister in early March. He took office after weeks of fighting between gunmen loyal to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president, and armed gangs opposed to him eventually forced Aristide to leave. The Caribbean group of nations, Caricom, has said the ouster of Aristide, an elected president, set a dangerous precedent.

“What I do know is that Aristide himself distributed more than 15 000 guns in the months before he left,” Latortue said. “Aristide is behind us now and we are looking forward to building the country.”