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In Haiti, Recovery Hinges on Fixing Government

February 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Nearly a month after the earthquake in Haiti, the government in Port-au-Prince remains tattered. Ray Suarez takes a closer look at the state of Haiti's government and what it means for rebuilding efforts.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And Ray Suarez continues our Haiti coverage now with a look at the government and its rebuilding efforts.

RAY SUAREZ: For that, we get two views. Jean-Germain Gros is an associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri in Saint Louis. Born and raised in Port-au-Prince, he is an American citizen. And James Dobbins is the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation. A career diplomat until 2002, he served as the Clinton administration’s special envoy to Haiti in the mid-1990s.

Professor Gros, there is a group of elected and appointed officials in Port-au-Prince who call themselves the government of the Republic of Haiti. Are they in charge of the country in any meaningful way? And what should they be doing in the near term?

JEAN GERMAIN GROS, professor of political science, University of Missouri-Saint Louis: Well, I’m not sure that they are in charge of Haiti in any meaningful — in any meaningful way.

But, certainly, there needs to be Haitians in charge of the country. It’s very clear from what has been happening since the earthquake that the Haitian government is unable to function, for understandable reasons. The structures of the Haitian state were destroyed.

But, even before the earthquake, Haiti was known as a fragile and — let’s admit it — failed state. The destruction of January 12, 2010, was certainly caused by nature, but the scale of the destruction speaks to generations, if not centuries, of ineffectual government.

So, therefore, more than ever, Haiti now needs a working government.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Dobbins, how do you do that, mix the people’s choice — I mean, there is an elected set of officeholders there — with the need to coordinate massive aid inflows and the need to get going right away?

JAMES DOBBINS, International Security and Defense Policy Center director, RAND Corporation: Well, I think you have to separate the humanitarian phase from the reconstruction phase, at least intellectually.

The humanitarian phase is something that foreigners are going to do for Haitians. Hundreds, maybe thousands of nongovernmental organizations, governments and international organizations have converged on Haiti and are providing direct assistance, in terms of food, medicine, shelter, and — and water.

But the reconstruction phase is one that has to be done with a much stronger Haitian participation. There has been a nation-building operation under way in Haiti since 2004. And, so, there is a preexisting set of reforms that have been outlined and were in the process of being implemented.

And there is an international structure, a U.N. peacekeeping force, representative of the U.N. secretary-general, who is the most senior international official on the island. And now we have a much greater American role, participation and support.

This all has to be coordinated. And a — the focus of the effort has to be not just in brick-and-mortar construction, but in institutional reconstruction, so that, in the end, we have a stronger Haitian government. So, in the end, the real reconstruction project is a project in state-building.

RAY SUAREZ: When I was in Haiti recently, Ambassador, the president told me that those hundreds of thousands who had fled to the countryside, maybe it would be a good idea if they stayed there.

Another minister mentioned places in the capital that should not be rebuilt to discourage people from coming back. But is there any local Haitian authority that can make either of those things happen?

JAMES DOBBINS: Well, there’s a U.N. peacekeeping force of about 10,000 troops. And that’s being increased. There are a couple of thousand U.N. policemen. There are about 8,000 or 9,000 Haitian policemen who have recently been trained and were actually doing rather well before the earthquake.

The international community is going to have to provide the resources. But to the extent they can work with Haitian authorities to, for instance, segregate areas of the city which shouldn’t be repopulated until they can be rebuilt, guide people to the proper areas to set up transient camps, those kinds of things, they should do so.

I do think that the international role needs to be expanded. The secretary-general’s representative needs to be given a greater authority than he has had in the past.

But we can’t — we can’t build a Haitian state by starting off ignoring the Haitian government. There has to be some effort to engage it, to support it, and, progressively, to put resources through it, rather than directly using American or foreign nongovernmental organizations.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Gros, how do you do that? How do you put enough Haitian authority and a Haitian face on the identity of a reconstruction and, at the same time, give the international community the chance to get in there, do — get in there and do what needs to be done?

JEAN-GERMAIN GROS: Well, I have argued for a joint trust. Now, I realize that the word trust has a bad history. But what I mean by that is, is a partnership among the United Nations, Haitians, and what I would call a Haiti reconstruction authority.

So, this would really be a joint effort, because the reconstruction of Haiti shouldn’t be expected to be undertaken by the Haitians themselves, because, inside Haiti, the resources are simply not there. So, the international community, along with Haitians, will have to cooperate, if Haiti is to be reconstructed.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor, is there…

JEAN-GERMAIN GROS: And I agree with…

RAY SUAREZ: … an example of that working in the recent past that the world can look to as sort of a toolkit, a model for what — what you are suggesting for Haiti?

JEAN-GERMAIN GROS: Well, I think what happened in — in Indonesia could be a guide. There, the international community played an important role in the reconstruction of Banda Aceh.

But, at the same time, the Indonesian government, you know, wasn’t left standing on the sideline. Now, I realize that, in Indonesia, the central state wasn’t directly affected by — by the tsunami. So, it was left standing.

But, nevertheless, I think that would be one of the closest examples of international cooperation that might be applicable to the Haitian milieu.

RAY SUAREZ: How does that sound to you, Ambassador, a Haitian reconstruction authority?

JAMES DOBBINS: I think that — I think some imagination should be used to construct an international Haitian partnership under these circumstances.

I would point out, though, that — that while Haiti has probably suffered the most massive natural disaster in recent memory on a per capita basis, there are other states that the U.N. and the international community has helped pull back from failure that were in even worse shape than Haiti– Liberia, Sierra Leone, for instance.

Both — both had decade-long civil wars. They’re even poorer than Haiti. They had even less competent governments than Haiti. And, yet, they have both been pulled back by the brink — from the brink, and both of them have functioning governments at the moment.

So, there is a history and a set of techniques that — that can help in this kind of situation. And I think that the — the extra resources that Haiti is now going to have and the fact that the Haitian system has been so shocked, so devastated may make it easier to introduce some of these reforms than had been the case previously.

RAY SUAREZ: People have been talking about five, 10 and 20 years.

Professor, quickly, before we go, does the international community have enough of an attention span with Haiti to be involved for that long?

JEAN-GERMAIN GROS: That’s a big — very good question, Ray. I’m not sure about that.

I think — I have written elsewhere that the reconstruction of Haiti, which shouldn’t be limited to Port-au-Prince, by the way — you know, rural Haiti needs as much reconstruction as Port-au-Prince — that effort will take at least a generation, or 20 years.

I’m not sure that the international community will be willing to stay the course. I hope that it does.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor, Mr. Ambassador, thank you both.

JEAN-GERMAIN GROS: Thank you.

JAMES DOBBINS: Thank you.