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“Generation 3.0” of Intervention in Haiti: What Is Bill Clinton Doing on the Island Anyways?

July 2009

Below is a blog by Salena Tramel, Grassroots International Program Coordinator for the Middle East and Haiti. It originally appeared on Huffington Post.

Here in Haiti, a country all too often characterized by internal instability, the biggest scandals of all have external origins. Just ask the Haitians. In the last century alone, they have been forced to deal with what award-winning Haitian economist Camille Chalmers described to me as “three generations of distinctive American-style intervention.”

Among other things, Chalmers directs the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA), a partner of Grassroots International where I work and is a well-known critic of structural adjustment policies.

Let’s take a quick look back. The U.S. government released a document in 1909 stating that Haiti will neither modernize nor reach prosperity unless it is militarily occupied by the United States. The Americans did just that in 1915 when they invaded and occupied the country for just shy of 20 years. This is what Chalmers would refer to as “Generation 1.0” of intervention – it’s direct and out in the open for all to see, just like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The next phase was “Generation 2.0,” an era in which hard-line right wing governments backed by the U.S. ravaged the poor majority Contra style. In addition to the string of coups, Haiti was forced to swallow the poisonous cocktail of the Washington Consensus — stabilization policies to curb inflation, structural adjustment, and export-led growth. Like many other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, sustaining a livelihood in Haiti the Reagan/Thatcher way has been all but impossible. Haiti, the most “open” economy in this hemisphere in terms of trade, is also the poorest. Case in point that trade liberalization does not lead to economic growth.

The good news is that the old generations of outright war and bad economic policy (rooted in even worse theory) are finally losing the popularity game. The bad news is that it is in U.S. strategic interests to maintain the status quo. Since the U.S. has such a terrible reputation here in Haiti, an image makeover was long overdue in order to stay in control. What emerged from this process was a UN ‘stabilization’ mission with former President Clinton doing the PR work. Enter “Generation 3.0.”

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was launched in 2004. Their mandate to strengthen government institutions and promote human rights makes them sound like many of the other branches of the UN that are getting the job done — like UNICEF and OCHA. Chalmers pointed out that the outcome of their presence has been the complete opposite.

More than 90% of MINUSTAH staff is made up of military forces totaling 7,000 soldiers and 1,000 police. More than 1,300 of the soldiers are from Brazil (more on that later). Haiti no longer has a national military, and local police have to answer to the foreign forces. Five years on, the Haitian government is still weak and human rights continue to deteriorate.

In Haiti, where every cent counts, the UN could do a better job of spending its money. The MINUSTAH budget for this fiscal year caps out at $611 million. In comparison, the Haitian government only has $750 million to cover health, education, agriculture, and environmental awareness. (This doesn’t include the foreign aid that trickles in with thick strings attached that ultimately lead to the same policies that made Haiti poor in the first place.) The money that the UN has allotted to MINUSTAH could be a part of healing the damage that external policies have wrecked on the public sector in Haiti, instead of needless expenses such as providing foreign military housing in high-dollar hotels.

From the beginning, the U.S has been heavily involved in MINUSTAH. U.S. troops were everywhere just before the UN mission launched, and Washington knew that the international community would not tolerate its overt control of the mission. The U.S. negotiated with Brazil, who has provided more soldiers than any other country and three subsequent heads-of-mission. Brazil, like the U.S., has high stakes in Haiti’s exports factories – in this case transnational companies selling textiles, shoes, and electronics that take advantage of the cheap labor force. Brazil also mapped out 700 million hectares – about a third of Haiti’s land – to produce agrofuels from Jatropha plants and trees.

According to Chalmers, the U.S. felt that control over the Haitian economy was slipping through their fingers into the hands of the Brazilians. In comes Bill Clinton as the new UN special envoy to Haiti.

The majority of Haitians are not impressed with Clinton, despite his philanthropic endeavors. Many see the Clinton name as a “business name” — further reinforced by his recent call for more free trade zones for the communication sector where he has invested much of his personal wealth. Since the present U.S. administration has failed to change course in Haiti, Haitians such as Chalmers are also concerned with Clinton’s obvious ties to the State Department. They remember his role in the destabilization of their country and think that it is scandalous to now have him in charge of stabilizing it.

Haiti has real problems created by years of outside intervention in all its forms. “Haiti is being used as a lab for this third generation of intervention and occupation,” Chalmers said. The international community has a responsibility to help clean up the mess they created. It’s time to stop digging the hole deeper and rebuild Haiti with Haitian solutions that benefit their own population — from the bottom up.

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