Monday, October 23rd, 2006

We recently visited Haiti as members of the ongoing U.S. commission to “Help Enhance the Livelihood of People” and render advice on U.S. foreign assistance. What we observed was truly alarming.  

Haiti’s almost complete loss of personal security has brought the country nearly to the point of no return. The country will be lost without an inspired global effort that goes far beyond the traditional pathways of better education and agriculture.  

Haiti is beyond agricultural resuscitation to any meaningful national effect, though with fertilizers and advance seeds Haiti could be modestly productive. As for the imperative of improving an education system in which fewer than 50 percent of children complete primary school, those necessary fixes will take decades.  

The fact is, today Haiti is a “failed” state – not a “fragile” or “failing” state – with a higher human misery index and more dismal urban and rural poverty than almost any other country in the world. Progress from billions of dollars of nonhumanitarian aid to Haiti spent over decades is scarcely observable, and the only functioning social activity in Haiti appears to be the efforts of the various nongovernmental (or NGO) health-care initiatives, which to their credit have kept the misery index from falling even further.  

Except for spotty electricity, there is not a single identifiable functioning municipal-type service in place to any meaningful degree. Not police, fire, solid waste disposal, sewage, potable water or education. In the cities, fetid trash lines the streets, and untreated human waste flows freely in the canals area where the poverty is the most extreme.  

And yet not one of these problems can be seriously addressed until domestic security is first restored in Haiti. Every day, a few hundred extremely violent thugs supported by a few thousand acolytes hold this nation of 8 million people completely hostage to fear and, consequently, inaction. During our visit, at 9 a.m. on a sunny Monday morning only one block from the U.S. ambassador’s well-guarded residence, a woman in her 60s walking her dog was swept up and kidnapped for ransom, and her unarmed husband, who naturally resisted, was literally beheaded.  

Instead of the 50,000 or so trained and honest police which the country needs for civil order, there are only about 5,000, many of whom are corrupt, abetted by a largely ineffective judiciary. The 7,000 UN peacekeepers in Haiti must spend much of their efforts simply protecting foreign service

staff, and when they do attempt to control the gangs, they are impeded by very confusing “command and control” directives.  

Haiti’s President, Rene Preval, has laudable goals for his country: jobs, health care, education and roads. But it is nearly impossible to foresee these goals being achieved without immediate and decisive redress being paid to the country’s terrifying security situation.  

Compounding this incredibly difficult task is the reality that many of the potential security solutions, because they will demand often strong and always decisive actions, will be challenged by the pressure to maintain an open, independent and functioning democracy. The practices and behaviors of nascent democracies, it is unfortunate to say, can often make implementing quick, large-scale security responses harder to effect, not easier – Haiti may well be such a place in point.  

There are many well intentioned nations, individuals and overseas Haitians wanting to

help this beleaguered country. But right now, the absence of domestic security overwhelms everything, even the delivery of basic humanitarian and health-care assistance which cannot get to the people under the overhang of the unbridled pervasive physical violence.  

To address this enormous challenge, the United States and the other supporters of Haiti simply must, in the short term, substantially bolster their international peacekeepers, and, beyond that, help accelerate the installation of a large-scale honest national police force.  

Eberstadt, Hindery, Lane and LaVor are each appointed members of the United States’ “Help Enhance the Livelihood of People” (HELP) Commission.