The door on Haiti’s Villa d’Accueil (seat of the prime minister) revolves; the most recent temporary occupant was Prime Minister Garry Conille, who resigned on Feb. 23 after just four months in office. His resignation came as a result of a number of issues, as the New York Times reports:
Months of tension had been building between the Prime Minister, Garry Conille, a former United Nations bureaucrat who runs the day-to-day operation of government, and President Michel Martelly, a former Carnival singer who insists that he is in charge.
There are reports of an armed militia occupying old army barracks outside Port-au-Prince. Irregular and former soldiers marched through the streets of the capital recently. On the radio, militia leaders argue for the restoration of the army and claim millions in back pay.When Conille was prime minister the civilian government was ineffective. Without him, it is worse. Martelly, the president, has said he will evict the soldiers who have occupied training camps and an army base outside the capital, but he did not say when or how. Former soldiers defy him. In camps they brandish automatic rifles and say they are there to defend the country. (Haiti’s regular military was disbanded decades ago, and until then was recognized as one of the most brutal and irresponsible in the western hemisphere.)Only about half of the billions of aid dollars promised to Haiti by international organizations has been delivered. With no civilian government, the rest is unlikely to be immediately forthcoming. Meanwhile, 500,000 civilians are still living in slums erected after the earthquake.My grandfather, an internist, used to say that dermatologists were the luckiest of doctors: their patients never died and never recovered. Haiti is that kind of client for aid bureaucracies, and over the years billions of dollars have been poured into the country with little to show as a result. Americans first intervened in Haiti in the early 1800s, and the US occupied the country for much of the first third of the twentieth century.There is a story that when Franklin Roosevelt was president an aide was briefing him on some Haitian problem and FDR snapped, “What’s wrong with those people down there!” Haiti, the aide said, suffers from bad government, and didn’t even have a constitution.“Nonsense,” said FDR. “They have an excellent constitution. I wrote it myself!” (As Assistant Secretary of the Navy during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, the young FDR had been responsible for Caribbean affairs.)Much of the discourse about Haiti consists of finger pointing: Haitians blame foreign powers who have interfered and meddled, and supported horrible rulers like the Duvalier père et fils. French greed, American racism and imperialism, global indifference: all these have influenced Haitian development and none are without fault. But Haiti is hard to help, and nothing about that has changed.Some of the best work on Haiti is small scale: people to people and church to church projects often work better than anything that involves Haiti’s feeble and crooked government. There are limits to what such aid can accomplish, but realism and decades of painful experience suggest that official government aid should go only to countries that have demonstrated some capacity to use it effectively. Until Haitians develop a government that works, it is hard for outsiders to be of real use.