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Haiti’s Government: What Should Its Next Moves Be?

BY Talea Miller  March 10, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

Haitian President Rene Preval speaks during a news conference in Washington, D.C.; AFP/Getty

Among the effects of the powerful quake, Haiti’s presidential palace was left in ruins and its leaders thrown into a whirlwind of international relief efforts and military aid.

After their meeting at the White House, President Obama told Preval the task ahead was to “prevent a second disaster” with the start of Haiti’s rainy season.

“The situation on the ground remains dire,” Mr. Obama said. “People should be under no illusions that the crisis is over.”

Preval thanked the U.S. for its support and said rebuilding should be planned in a way that brings “health care, education and jobs for all men and women” in his country.

Given the task ahead for the shattered Haitian goverment, the NewsHour asked three experts: What should Haiti’s government do at this point to best facilitate recovery from the January quake?

Robert Fatton Jr.

professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and a Port-au-Prince native

The fundamental goals [of the Haitian government] should be creating employment, alleviating poverty, and bridging the obscene divide between the small privileged minority and the poor majority. This in turn requires a credible and legitimate government that can truly speak in the name of the population.

Haiti, however, is confronting an exceptional moment of urgency requiring emergency forms of representation given that the terms of Congress and a third of the Senate end on May 9, while President Preval is constitutionally required to step down in less than a year. The future of the country cannot be decided by what will soon be a group of self-appointed rulers. The government should therefore either engage in broad consultation with all political parties and grassroots organizations to forge a basic national consensus on Haiti’s immediate future, or give an opportunity to the population to go to the ballot boxes to elect a new Parliament and president by the end of the year.

Finally, Haitian authorities should insist that international development assistance no longer privilege non-governmental organizations and bypass the state. While NGOs and other forms of private assistance might offer some immediate and needed relief to those without shelter or food, only the state can provide collective protection and create the conditions for self-sustaining growth. The construction of a new Haiti is simply impossible without the development of an effective state capacity.

Matt Marek

country representative for the American Red Cross in Haiti

Getting any country back on its feet after a disaster is first and foremost the responsibility of a national government. When a disaster exceeds local capacity, a government may reach out to the international community for resources, from funds to expertise.

Despite immense humanitarian challenges, a multiplicity of actors — the Haitian government, the United Nations, relief organizations — have come together to get lifesaving aid into the hands of the people who need it most. Haitians affected by the earthquake have food and water, and sanitation systems are improving. Emergency shelter is slowly but surely finding its way to families who lost everything.

However, the Red Cross and other humanitarian actors will not be able to do our jobs without the government making some tough decisions, such as identifying suitable land to build houses.

President Preval also has an important role to play in keeping Haiti on the agenda of policymakers and opinion leaders in the United States and other countries to ensure that the requisite resources are made available to put Haiti on a true path to recovery and development.

Monika Kalra Varma

Monika Kalra Varma

director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which is tracking human rights issues in the rebuilding of Haiti

The better question is what can the international community do to support the Haitian government? Half of the [Haitian government] ministries are completely leveled and the palace is broken as well. Historically, when you look at how money has come into Haiti, it hasn’t been coordinated with the government or in partnership with the government so going forward if we are going to see real change it has to be done in a different way.

The Haitian government is going to have to take a leadership role in this… they are going to have to be leading the charge and unfortunately in Haiti and in many countries like Haiti where international organizations have more power than the government that is difficult.

They are going to have to reach out to include the people of Haiti as much as possible in the recovery process. The government is also going to have to play a role in dealing with projects that don’t succeed, whether with international donors or projects that are not fulfilling their promise to the Haitian people.

We are pushing very hard on the international community because of the resources they have here but the central role needs to be played by the Haitian government.