As Haitian President Rene Preval prepares to visit with US President Barack Obama, there are serious decisions to be made. The massive shifting of tectonic plates around the impoverished nation of Haiti has also led to the creation of fresh political, economic and geographic volatility.The flip side of volatility is opportunity, which comes with such a serious wake-up call. There is an opportunity for Haitian leadership to renegotiate the nation’s relationship with the world, which is going to require creative thinking and a deliberate deviation from short-term solutions.
WATCH MSNBC FOOTAGE OF OBAMA AND PREVAL’S JOINT STATEMENT HERE:
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Preval and Obama likely understand the importance of long-term strategic positioning, as well as myopic and selfish plays for power. Preval’s first request of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to call for elections in Haiti as soon as possible to protect the nation from having a provisional government. This was expected in light of the extensive criticism Preval has received over the past several years, threatening the legitimacy of his administration. In addition to Preval’s posturing, the U.S. government should be studied with a watchful international eye. There are always reasons to be skeptical when super powers come together to “help” third world countries, especially when that super power happens to be the United States of America.
Presuming that our goal is to do what’s best for the people of Haiti, I spoke with a scholar who has always advocated for the people, Dr. Ron Daniels. Dr. Daniels and others have agreed with Preval that continued food aid from international organizations should be tempered in order to protect the country’s agricultural sector. The Haitian economy is quite dependent on the productivity of its farmers, so undermining those individuals would do nothing more than additional damage.
A second critical issue on the Preval-Obama agenda should be preparing for harsh weather. Haiti has been taken over by exhaustive “tent cities” that will not be able to withstand the significant challenges presented by the rainy season, which begins in May. If the nation does not prepare quickly, it will see “disaster on top of disaster,” says Dr. Daniels.
Dr. Daniels is correct. The rainy season doesn’t simply bring water from the sky. It can also bring additional disease and floods, since the drainage and sewage systems of Haiti are highly inadequate. Improved preparations for the rainy season call for the country to have access to the very best engineers and planners in the world.
Third, President Obama should reciprocate his invitation to President Preval by offering to visit Haiti himself. A visit to Haiti by the U.S. president would surely send a strong message of support for the devastated nation. The same hope and change President Obama sought for the American people will translate doubly to a Haitian audience, since Obama actually has the resources and reach to transform Haitian lives forever.
There is a major conference of donors set to take place at the United Nations on March 31. This conference presents a significant opportunity to shape the future of Haiti, for better or worse. During this conference, the US may want to consider the creation of a Marshall Plan for the Western Hemisphere, something that will allow international allies to help rebuild Haiti the same way it rebuilt countries of Western Europe after World War II. Such a move would be both bold and historical, impacting the Haitian people for decades to come.
Finally, Dr. Daniels and I agree that the Haitian people need exactly what Americans need right now: jobs. More than two-thirds of the Haitian labor force is jobless, and over 80 percent of Haitian citizens are living in abject poverty. Therefore, the problems are right in our faces, and the U.S. has the ability to mobilize wealthy nations to solve those problems. I suspect that Obama wants to help the Haitian people and I believe that he will. The question to be asked at this time is what the United States expects to receive in return.