mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
In Haiti, No New News is Bad News

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.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Kris

    “Nonsense,” said FDR. “They have an excellent constitution. I wrote it myself!”

    I am surprised that none of your commenters have fallen for this catnip.

  • Luke Lea

    Haiti doesn’t have the human capital to administer a modern society, much less a democracy. They need help, not money.

  • UncleSammy

    Makes me laugh , when tese BUFOONs are writing [profanity removed] About my country
    , first of all you do not understand Haiti ,
    Second , you keep lying in the foreign press about how 500 000 people are leaving in camps you ve been saying this since September last year , President Martelly just built a community for 400 families last month , which was in a lot of newspapers , why is your number still the same , just example in the mean time Believe at least 120 000 has been given new homes every since last September that number is in all your news papers that 500 000 that you keep talking about , I can’t believe how lazy you hypocrite journalists are , you are using copy and paste , it seems

  • UncleSammy

    Again , you keep talking about Gary Conille ,
    So what that he’s gone
    What can’t understand with people Is that if one says it it mus be true , not because Gary Conille worked with Bill Clinton , doesn’t make him the best thing ever , I am lad that he is gone , I personally never liked him any way
    PResident Martelly ist good President , whether you understand him or not .
    I guess one should just accept anything USA says and just to hem all because a few pennies were thrown at us because of the earth quake , for the same reason we ve been insulted and called names by your people , our president says never again ,
    The bit of cash which was promised still sits in Washington at the same time we must do magic with the few pennies . HAITI NEEDS 12 BILLION DOLLARS and our prime minister is trying to get it from Hugo Chavez , who happens to be a good friend of our country , our president was at a meeting with the Cubans and Venezuela few months ago and because The Iranian President happened to be there and rumors said that he wanted to visit our country , but MR AMERICA says no that s not going to happen , listen we ll be friends to whom so ever is willing to help our county no matter what , not because of your charity we must be your dogs ,this is 12 billions in the talks like it or not we will get it if it comes tru no matter what, Hugo Chavez is a friend of ours and no one will tell us who we should visit or not , you have so many enemies because you made them , we didn’t

  • UncleSammy

    The reason why our president wanted , I repeat wanted to restore the Army is because , we have foreign troops in our country that have been paid lots of money to be there while a lot of our men are not working , so his message was why dont we give some our men these occupiers job positions and have them employed and have them trained ? The UN definitely doesn’t have a good image in our country , had we been a richer country , there’d be none of this nonsense going on .
    No NEWS is BAD NEWS , I beg to differ.

  • UncleSammy

    Sure the old military had created issues , but they are in their country and want jobs , they should be trained and tested to make sure they have the standards , you people don’t have no clues of what you are talking about , you just copy from everyone else s papers and repeat stuff , which is why if one says it , it is then everywhere , written the same way and identical.


  • UncleSammy

    You are are shelling billions each week in Afghanistan for what ? Is still everyone s guess.

  • Mark in Texas

    So Haiti is aligning with Venezuala and Iran?

    That is excellent news. It absolves the US of any responsibility for a country that has demonstrated repeatedly since the early 19th century that it cannot seem to progress beyond what Hobbes described as the state of nature. Haiti might have an excellent constitution written by FDR but it seems to have adopted “Lord of the Flies” as its founding document.

    We might want to beef up military assistance to the Dominican Republic a little bit but we can take the money from the unspent Hatian charity funds.

    I hope things work out with Venezuala better for the Hatian people better than they did with US aid.

  • Dave

    This is the first time in our country we have a President who prefers the international community assist us to better the lives of my people rather than just handing out money to us, which they would use later to insult us irrespective when most of it goes back anyway into their pockets. Wherever america touches she ruins, because her intentions have and always will be in the interest of the american people.

    Whether america likes or not, Haiti will be free of her influences and will be a member of ALBA and the African Union. You can take that to the World Bank and stamp it!!!

    You want to know the truth about my country. Read you morons.

  • Kris

    Ron Paul thanks UncleSammy and Dave, and wishes Haiti good luck in its independent path, free of filthy American lucre.

  • HW

    The U.S. didn’t intervene in Haiti in the early 1800s. No foreign power occupied Haiti until the U.S. intervened in 1915 and stayed until 1934.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service