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Quick Take: Should the U.S. Change Policy on Haiti?

BY Larisa Epatko  January 21, 2010 at 9:30 AM EST

Haitian earthquake survivor builds a home in Brachs. Photo Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

As Haiti recovers from an earthquake on Jan. 12 that flattened much of Port-au-Prince, several Haiti specialists considered the question: Should any U.S. policies on Haiti change, either in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, or longer term?

One of the major foreign policy issues involving Haiti is debt relief. In June, Haiti received $1.2 billion in debt relief from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. And following the earthquake, the IMF agreed to provide Haiti with an interest-free $100 million emergency loan.

Emira WoodsAccording to Emira Woods, co-director at Foreign Policy in Focus, a think tank associated with the Institute for Policy Studies, cancelling Haiti’s debts, rather than providing more loans, would do the most good.

“One policy that must change immediately is the policy that has actually strangled Haiti. A policy that has accumulated debt for quite some time in Haiti,” said Woods.

Hear her full response here:

 

IMF’s Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn told CNN that the IMF provided the loan because it had “no way to make grants”, but was working with other donors to erase Haiti’s debt, which would result in the most recent loan becoming a grant.

Colin DayanColin Dayan, humanities professor at Vanderbilt University, explained that Haiti’s financial burden dates back to when it gained its independence from France in 1804 and had to pay 150 million francs in reparations to French slaveholders — an amount later reduced to 60 million francs.

The debt grew under the Duvalier regimes, with much of foreign funding going to private accounts rather than social and economic programs, though Haitians were still saddled with making hundreds of millions of dollars of loan and interest payments.

“It seems to me that the first thing that’s necessary now is to offer debt relief to Haiti to make it possible for Haitians to use that aid money to rebuild the country and to develop Haitian expertise,” said Dayan, whose mother and other family members are Haitian.

More of Dayan’s answer:

 

James DobbinsWith the world’s attention and resources directed at Haiti, James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at RAND Corporation, said the United States should ensure that institutional reforms are made, in addition to helping the impoverish nation rebuild.

“The administration should put together a careful plan for not only rebuilding in a physical bricks and mortar sense Haiti but reforming the underlying institutions so that when things like schools, hospitals, ports, telephones, electric utilities are rebuilt, they’re rebuilt on a much improved basis with a better management and better capacity to serve the Haitian people,” he said.

Dobbins explains more here: