An Open Letter to Ban Ki-Moon: Why Haiti Can’t Forget Its Past By RICHARD MORSE

Dear Mr Ban Ki-Moon,

Thank you for the attention you have brought to the country of Haiti.

In response to your New York Times op ed piece [see below] I wanted to widen your perspective a bit.

I don’t pretend to represent anyone.

I’ve been living in Haiti since 1985. I grew up in New England with my Haitian mother and my American father during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Though my parents were both teachers, I’m nothing more than a musician/innkeeper. When I arrived in Haiti, the Creole pig, an indigenous Haitian pig which was the backbone of Haitian peasant life, had recently been wiped out because of a supposed threat of swine flu.

At the same time, Leslie Delatour and “the boys from Chicago” (an economic club) were convincing everyone that Haitians ought to be importing inferior rice and sugar instead of producing it themselves.

Those three acts (Pig, sugar, and rice) have destroyed the rural lifestyle in Haiti and created overcrowding in the cities. Those three acts also enriched the Gang of Eleven, Haiti’s economic elite, who aside from profiting from all that happens in Haiti, also gave us the repressive regimes of, Henri Namphy, Raoul Cedras and Gerard Latortue.

Health care in Haiti; non existent. Public education in Haiti; non existent, infrastructure in Haiti; non existent, foreign aid getting to the people in Haiti; non existent.

How many hundred million dollars were allocated to Gonaives since Hurricane Jeanne in 2004? The last time I drove through Gonaives I couldn’t tell if more than a few hundred dollars had been spent.

The textile act that you’re supporting (HOPE) will further enrich Haiti’s wealthy elite but will only provide an opportunity for a small part of the Haitian masses to “tread water”, as most of the salaries made at these factories only cover transportation to and from work along with a meal at lunch time. If, however, you’re considering providing health care, a meal and an education for at least two children for all the factory workers plus a reasonable wage, then I think you’re working towards something. Otherwise, I think you may be on the wrong side of the fence.

When cell phones first came to Haiti, the companies were run by Haitian elites and their representatives. The phones and phone cards were too expensive for the general population. The “Communication Club” in Haiti was an exclusive club and meant to be that way. The “families” wanted it that way. Out of Ireland came Digicel to the rescue: inexpensive phones, low rates, superior service. Anyone who wants to communicate in Haiti can now communicate. Democracy in communication. Digicel has had so much success in Haiti that they’ve moved their Caribbean headquarters here. When the government saw Digicel’s success they immediately wanted to raise all communication taxes. Digicel threatened to leave.

If you’re preaching democracy in the Haitian economy, I’ll support you, but if you’re preaching the Gang of Eleven gets richer and every one else gets poorer then I wouldn’t even know how to support you. The Haitian people vote the governments in and the gang of Eleven buys them.

The last time Mr Clinton was in town, I had the opportunity to meet him here at my home, the Hotel Oloffson. He asked me how long I’ve been in Haiti and I replied “22 governments”.

On your recent trip, Mr Clinton asked us to forget our past and look towards the future. Haitians can’t forget their past.

Aristide is a phenomenon created as a reaction to the way the Gang of Eleven likes to rule this country. Haitians have an obligation to try and forgive but we don’t have the luxury to forget the trials and tribulations of our past.

We also have a culture with deep roots in the past that makes this comment a bit insensitive. I understand and want to believe that you and Mr Clinton have all the best intentions for Haiti, but some times decisions are made and the potential impact of the decisions aren’t well represented in the decision making process.

We desperately need National Production coming out of Haiti’s countryside. Perhaps President Preval is not in a position to tell you this, but it’s a reality. We also need to provide jobs for the urban sector. That’s where your HOPE bill comes in. If your support is only for the HOPE bill everyone from the countryside is going to be moving to the capital looking for a job. Please don’t forget the irrigation in the countryside, the farmers in the countryside, schools in the countryside and infrastructure in the countryside and don’t forget that when you make your inevitable deals with the Gang of Eleven, they’re often looking to suck Haiti dry and spend their long weekends in Miami.

Most Haitians aren’t allowed into Miami.

My personal issues are with Culture and Tourism; I’ll save those subjects for another day. Hopefully, by then, it won’t be too late to correct the path we’re heading down.

Yours truly,

Richard Morse
Port-au-Prince Haiti

Richard Morse runs the Oloffson Hotel Port-au-Prince Haiti and the leads the Haitian band RAM.


Haiti’s Big Chance

Published: March 30, 2009

It is easy to visit Haiti and see only poverty. But when I visited recently with former President Bill Clinton, we saw opportunity.

Yes, Haiti remains desperately poor. It has yet to fully recover from last year’s devastating hurricanes, not to mention decades of malign dictatorship. Yet we can report what President René Préval told us: “Haiti is at a turning point.” It can slide backwards into darkness and deeper misery, sacrificing all the country’s progress and hard work with the United Nations and international community. Or it can break out, into the light toward a brighter and more hopeful future.

Next month, major international donors will gather in Washington to consider further help for this unfortunate land, so battered by forces beyond its control. Outwardly, there seems little cause of optimism. The financial crisis has crimped aid budgets. Haiti’s own problems ? runaway population growth, acute shortages of food and life’s basic necessities, environmental degradation ? often appear insuperable.

Yet in fact, Haiti stands a better chance than almost any emerging economy, not only to weather the current economic storms but to prosper. The reason: new U.S. trade legislation, passed last year, throws open a huge window of opportunity.

HOPE II, as the act is known, offers Haiti duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets for the next nine years. No other nation enjoys a similar advantage. This is a foundation to build on. It is a chance to consolidate the progress Haiti has made in winning a measure of political stability, with the help of the U.N. peacekeeping mission, and move beyond aid to genuine economic development. Given the country’s massive unemployment, particularly among youth, that means one thing above all else: jobs.

My special adviser on Haiti, the Oxford University development economist Paul Collier, has worked with the government to devise a strategy. It identifies specific steps and policies to create those jobs, with particular emphasis on the country’s traditional strengths ? the garment industry and agriculture. Among them: enacting new regulations lowering port fees (among the highest in the Caribbean) and creating the sort of industrial “clusters” that have come to dominate global trade.

In practical terms, this means dramatically expanding the country’s export zones, so that a new generation of textile firms can invest and do business in one place. By creating a market sufficiently large to generate economies of scale, they can drive down production costs and, once a certain threshold is crossed, spark potentially explosive growth constrained only by the size of the labor pool.

That may seem ambitious in a country of 9 million people, where 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day and half of the food is imported. Yet we know it can work. We have seen it happen in Bangladesh, which boasts a garment industry supporting 2.5 million jobs. We have seen it happen in Uganda and Rwanda.

President Clinton and I saw many good signs during our trip, both large and small. One day we visited an elementary school in Cité Soleil, a slum in Port au Prince long controlled by violent gangs before U.N. peacekeepers reclaimed it.

It did my heart good to see these children. They were well-fed, thanks to the U.N. World Food Program. Even better, they were happy and they were learning ? as children should. It was a sign of more normal times.

We visited a second school, as well — this one for gifted students called HELP, short for the Haitian Education Leadership Program. With money raised privately in the United States, it provides scholarships to the very poorest Haitian children who could not otherwise dream of attending university. All these young people go on to lead productive careers. They make good salaries. They embark upon lives of promise — and virtually all of them stay in Haiti.

I told these young people that I thought of them as “seeds of hope,” for they represent a better tomorrow.

To an outsider, it is striking how modest the obstacles are in relation to Haiti’s potential. Visiting a clean and efficient factory in the capital, we met workers earning $7 a day making T-shirts for export ? vaulting them into the Haitian middle class. Under HOPE II, the owner figures he can double or triple production within a year.

All this is why, in Washington, we will be asking donors to invest in Haiti, to step beyond traditional humanitarian aid. This is Haiti’s moment, a break-out opportunity for one of the poorest nations to lift itself toward a future of real economic prospects and genuine hope.

Ban Ki-moon is secretary general of the United Nations.

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