James Dobbins, The RAND Corporation: Reconstructing Haiti, Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate
Source: Government of the United States of America
Date: 28 Jan 2010
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January 28, 2010
In considering how best to help Haiti recover from the January 12 earthquake, it is important to recognize that one now has an international disaster relief operation superimposed on top of a preexisting post-conflict reconstruction mission. The earlier of these two operations began in 2004, when American and then United Nations troops assumed responsibility for security in Haiti.
Of the two operations, humanitarian relief is clearly the more urgent, but post conflict stabilization and reconstruction is ultimately the more important. One intends to restore Haiti, the other to transform it.
The ultimate aim of any post conflict mission is to leave behind a society better able to look after itself. Usually this means the ability to manage political domestic competition in ways that do not spill over into violent conflict. In Haiti's case, the objective must also be to improve that society's capacity to deal with the sort of natural disaster that, given this country's location, will continue to strike with some regularity.
In trying to help fix a failed or failing state, one must begin by analyzing the sources of fragility. The earthquake demonstrated the weakness of Haiti's infrastructure. It also highlighted the weakness of its governing institutions. This is the true source of Haiti's vulnerability to conflict and to natural disaster. In Haiti's case, state building, rather than nation-building is the more apt description of our mission.
The history of prior American and international interventions in Haiti must instill a sense of caution regarding the prospects for any transformation. Yet as a candidate for such assistance, Haiti has many advantages over other fragile states, including ones where the nation or state building process has yielded positive results. Most of those states were surrounded by conflict prone and predatory neighbors. Haiti sits in the midst of a zone of peace and relative prosperity. All of its neighbors are much richer, and none have any interest in destabilizing Haiti or inhibiting its development. Neither is Haiti divided by competing ethnic or religious groups. Haitians have a strong sense of national identity, and no serious sectarian divides. Haiti also has a large and relatively prosperous diaspora, many of whom are located at no great distance and enjoy frequent contact with their families on the island. So Haiti does have certain inherent advantages. In addition, there are three newer factors which provide some hope that future efforts to help Haiti can yield more enduring results than those of the past.
First, the final departure of ex-President Aristide in 2004 has greatly diminished partisan rancor in
both Port-au-Prince and Washington. At a moment when Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are
campaigning together for relief to Haiti, one may hope that this American divide, which so
hobbled American efforts to help Haiti in the past, has definitively closed.Second, the outpouring of sympathy for Haiti as a result of the recent earthquake seems likely to
yield a substantial increase in American and international aid levels. More money means more
assistance and also more leverage to promote change.Finally, the very immensity of the recent disaster has administered a shock to the Haitian political
structure that can help ease resistance to reform and undermine longstanding barriers to
My personal experience with Haiti dates back to the American intervention of 1994. This was one
of five such nation-building operations with which I became associated, beginning with Somalia
earlier in that decade, and ending with Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. Since leaving
government, we at RAND have issued a series of studies looking at the results of post conflict
stabilization and reconstruction missions across each of these American led interventions, plus a
larger number of UN led operations. Based on this body of work, I offer the following suggested
guidelines for future aid to Haiti.
First, security is an essential prerequisite to reform, as it is to private investment. In the absence
of security, any positive changes will eventually be washed away. Fortunately, Haiti is not a
difficult society to secure. Contrary to the popular image, the Haitian population is neither heavily
armed, nor inclined to violence. One has only to regard the patience with which the people of
Port-au-Prince has awaited succor over the past two weeks to recognize its essentially peacefulnature. Haiti is no Somalia, Iraq, or Afghanistan. The comparative docility of the population is, in
fact, one reason why very small numbers of armed men have on occasion been able to threaten
the state and overturn governments.
In 2004, for instance, Aristide was driven out of office by an
insurgency numbering in the very low hundreds, equipped with nothing but small arms.
American troops are, therefore, unlikely to be required once the immediate humanitarian
emergency passes. Securing Haiti should be well within the capability of the current UN
peacekeeping force, modestly strengthened as it is being to help cope with the new, post
earthquake challenges. Nevertheless, the United States can and should help the UN in this task
by assigning an increased number of American police to the UN international police contingent. In
doing so, the United States should draw, in particular, on Creole speaking Haitian American
policemen from places like Miami and New York.
Second, stabilization and reconstruction operations take time. The 1994 American-led
international intervention was a case in point. That operation was almost entirely successful in its
own terms, but those terms were much too narrow. In launching the intervention, President
Clinton promised to restore a freely elected President and then to keep American troops in Haiti
only long enough to organize new elections, inaugurate a new President, parliament and local
officials. He promised to do this all within the space of two years. This his administration
preceded to do, hitting every benchmark, achieving every target, and suffering almost no
casualties in the process. But two years was too short a time to fix a society as troubled as Haiti’s.
In the end the 1994 intervention accomplished little of lasting value.
Recent post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction operations have been lasting eight to ten
years. The current effort in Haiti began in 2004, but the country has since suffered devastating
flood damage and now the earthquake. The clock on this operation therefore needs to be set
back to zero hour, and the UN Security Council should plan on keeping a peacekeeping force in
Haiti for another eight to ten years.
Third, in a post-conflict environment, economic development and political reform programs need
to be evaluated not just on their potential to promote growth and social justice, but for their
capacity to ease tensions in the society and promote reconciliation between long hostile groups.
In Haiti, these competing groups are not ethnic or religious but rather economic and social.
Programs that might exacerbate such tensions should be scrapped or adjusted, in favor of those
that draw competing groups into collaboration, even where the immediate economic payoff of
such programs may be less. This means that programs to relieve poverty and create jobs will be
a necessary part of any larger aid effort, even if their immediate impact is ephemeral
, for without such visible signs of progress, significant elements of the population may be inclined to block
longer term, larger pay off efforts at reform.Fourth, assistance should be focused on building a more competent and efficient state. Haiti’s
vulnerability to natural disaster is not just a matter of weak building codes and poor infrastructure,
but more fundamentally the result of having an exceptionally weak state that cannot provide even
minimal public services – security, power, water, health and education – to the vast majority of its
people. Haiti is, for instance, the only state in the entire Western Hemisphere that does not
provide free primary education to most of its children.
The urgency of the immediate crisis requires that donor countries themselves provide people with
food, water, medicine and shelter, bypassing the Haitian state. As we move beyond this
emergency relief phase, the next priority will be to repair the country’s most basic infrastructure –
hospitals, schools, roads, electricity, telephones and government buildings. But these institutions
should not be rebuilt on the old, inefficient, corrupt foundations. Rather the scale of this disaster
offers the opportunity to accelerate long planned, oft delayed reforms in each of these sectors.
The port of Port-au-Prince has, for instance, long had the highest cost per ton in the hemisphere
despite having the lowest wage rate. We should help rebuild this port, but not with the same
grossly inefficient management and distorted cost structure. The same goes for the education
ministry, the electric company, the telephone monopoly, the health ministry and the court system.Repair or replace the buildings, by all means, but also insist upon fundamental reforms in the
management of these institutions.Large amounts of American and other donor money will flow into Haiti in coming weeks. The
temptation will be to spend most of it on American and foreign NGOs that can deliver essential
services with fair reliability and good accountability, which Western legislators insist upon. But this
sort of aid leaves behind no lasting local capacity to sustain those services. The second priority
will be on bricks and mortar construction. This too will leave the underlying Haitian institutions
unaltered. Such aid should, thus, be oriented to the extent possible on enhancing Haiti’s capacity
to govern. This means providing the Haitian government the wherewithal to hire well qualified
staff at competitive wages, and programs to further train such staff and provide them the
information systems and other support serviced needed to maximize their efficiency.
Fifth, the Haitian state should be built from the bottom up as well as the top down. This means
assistance to mayors and local councils, and funding which will allow key government agencies to
establish a presence beyond Port-au-Prince. For decades the population has moved off the land and into the big cities, particularly the capital. This exodus has now, as a result of the earthquake,
been reversed. Assistance efforts should be designed to help those who have left the city to find
a livelihood in the countryside, rather than return to the shanty towns from whence the have fled.
Sixth, the U.S. government needs to organize itself for a sustained high intensity effort to
promote these reforms. The President and Secretary of State should invest a single individual
with authority and responsibility for Haiti comparable to that Ambassador Richard Holbrook
currently exercises for Afghanistan.
Congress should authorize and appropriate new money for
Haiti not in the usual categories of development assistance, security assistance, counternarcotics
assistance, refugee assistance, etc., but in a single account unencumbered by earmarks and
special limitations, and then work through the consultative and oversight processes with
whomever the Administration designates as its point person to ensure that this money is carefully
targeted and well spent.[/b]
Seventh, it is important that the international program to reform Haitian institutions not bear a
made-in-Washington imprint. Large-scale international assistance will carry with it significant
leverage to promote change, but this pressure needs to be exerted in a carefully calibrated
manner. Candidate programs for reform need to be carefully chosen, local champions identified
and empowered, local opponents co-opted, politicians lobbied and the public informed. The
United Nations and the World Bank, the two major international institutions most heavily engaged
in Haiti should be out in front, choosing and designing the necessary reforms and conditioning
assistance on their achievement. The United Nations should continue to lead in reforming the
security sector, to include police, courts and prisons, and in supporting elections and promoting
political reform. The World Bank should assume leadership throughout the economic and social
sphere, identifying the key changes needed and setting the conditions for assistance. The United
States should work in concert with the other key donors, particularly Canada, France and the
European Union, forming a small core group to quietly help the UN and the World Bank define
their reform objectives and then working largely behind the scenes to ensure these objectives are
achieved. The United States should contribute directly to UN and World Bank funds for Haiti, and
should make sure that its own bilateral programs, and those of other donors contribute to, rather
than undercut the reform programs set out by these institutions.
Finally, there are a couple of things that the United States is uniquely positioned to do by reason
of its proximity to Haiti. These involve trade and immigration.In 2006 Congress passed legislation providing Haiti uniquely generous but time limited access to
the U.S. market. As with the UN peacekeeping mission, the time clock on this access should beset back to zero, recognizing that the earthquake has more than swept away whatever had been
accomplished since these preferences originally went into effect.
The United States should also consider temporarily raising its annual quota for Haitian
immigration. Haitian society may be economically dysfunctional, but Haitian immigrants have,
quite to the contrary, proved to be hard working, family oriented, law abiding contributors to our
society, even as they are one of the largest sources of support for those they leave behind in Haiti.
Every dollar that they remit to relatives in Haiti is another dollar that does not need to come from
the U.S. taxpayer. Expanding legal Haitian immigration thus seems a classic win-win proposition.
The current crisis, though tragic, offers the chance to boost Haiti out of decades of poverty and
misrule. A successful strategy for doing so will require several elements: care in the design,
sustained U.S. commitment, effective international coordination, and, above all, a focus on
strengthening Haiti’s governing institutions.