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From Papaye to Palestine…

March 2004

On January 25, we decided to spend a couple of weeks using this journal as a way to focus on the crisis in Haiti, and GRI’s work there. That crisis immediately took a dramatic turn that has made Haiti the dominant focus of our work ever since.

Our work will remain very focused on Haiti, but the Grassroots Journal must take a turn toward another complex area of the world in which we are privileged to work. In keeping with its mission to share, whenever possible, our first hand experience of the work of our partners and the world around it, the Journal’s attention now shifts to Palestine.

Today, two GRI staff leave for two weeks working with the organizations that make up our Palestine Democratic Development Program. While there, they will join the extraordinary young man who supports our work from Jerusalem. All three will share their impressions here.

For the last two months, we have worked here with the singular goal of giving voice to the perspectives of the people with whom we work in Haiti. That decision was not based upon a claim of their infallibility or upon our mindless acceptance of everything our partners might say. We have taken this approach because we believe that, especially in a moment of crisis, the opinions of these people working for social change on the ground in Haiti should be heard.

We have said clearly that history suggests that U.S. intervention in Haiti is unlikely to be a force for progressive change in that country. We have joined the call for:

1) a resumption of aid to Haiti;
2) a change in the illegal U.S. policy of repatriating Haitian asylum seekers intercepted at sea; and
3) a complete investigation of the overt and covert role of the U.S. in the departure of Jean Bertrand Aristide.

At the same time, we have tried to stay focused on what is happening in Haiti and what our partners and other ignored voices have been saying about it.

The way forward in Haiti is by no means clear. Some, including the ex-President, and a significant number of people in Haiti, clearly feel that the restoration of the Aristide presidency is the pre-condition to getting Haiti back on the right track. Our partners see the solution more in the direction of building support for some serious structural changes that will open the possibility that a good leader might be able to make a difference. That surely requires changes in international policy toward Haiti…especially U.S. policy.

It has been widely noted that, despite the public commitments by Colin Powell, Jaques Chirac and Kofi Annan the international community has no “plan” for Haiti. This may turn out to be advantageous. No plan is better than a plan to repeat the failed policies of the 1990s. The international community needs a long term plan to work with Haitians rather than “on” them. It further needs to rethink the ridiculous notion that forcing Haiti to take the ineffective and poisonous medicine of structural adjustment is the way to help the country pick its self up off the floor. Leaving Haiti alone would be better.

Hopeless? Maybe, but we’re lucky enough to work with Haitians for whom hoplessness is not an option. They encourage us to risk the embarassment of naive optimism, so, taking the long view, we dare to hope.

In the “Haiti Links” section of the journal, we will continue to publish links to important material that we don’t see getting wide distribution. We will continue to use other communications tools to share our perspective and that of our partners on the continuing challenges facing Haiti. We will continue to try to get resources and other forms of support to our Haitian partners. But the Grassroots Journal will turn its attention several time zones to the east, to share first-hand impressions that are ideal for this medium.

We thank you for the seriousness of your comments and your attention over the past few weeks. Most of all, we thank you for your interest in Haiti and in Grassroots. Do please continue to check on the Journal and let us know what you think about it.

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