U.S., Other Donors Eye Billions To Rebuild Haiti

Haiti's President Rene Preval and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton i i

hide captionHaiti's President Rene Preval answers questions from the press as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on in Port-au-Prince on Saturday. Preval and Clinton met to discuss the state of emergency after last week's deadly earthquake.

Julie Jacobson/AP
Haiti's President Rene Preval and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Haiti's President Rene Preval answers questions from the press as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on in Port-au-Prince on Saturday. Preval and Clinton met to discuss the state of emergency after last week's deadly earthquake.

Julie Jacobson/AP

The U.S. and its partners are discussing a multiyear, multibillion-dollar aid package to help rebuild Haiti after last week's devastating earthquake.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with her counterparts in Montreal on Monday at a conference of international donors with the aim of "helping Haiti build back better," Clinton said.

The assistant secretary general of the Organization of American States, Albert Ramdin, says he will try to keep Haiti high on the political agenda to make sure that donor countries have some staying power.

He told the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, that coordination will be key. "There is a role for everybody to play. Nobody needs feel they need to take a lead in this or that. There is so much to be done," he said.

But experts say the U.S. needs to learn from past mistakes, because American interventions in Haiti often have done more harm than good.

Haiti was damaged well before the earthquake, according to Robert Maguire, a professor of international studies and specialist on Haiti at Trinity Washington University.

"Haiti has been damaged by decades of misrule ... but, most of all, I think Haiti has been damaged by development policies and programs over the past 40 years that have not taken into account the aspirations of Haiti's people," Maguire said.

Maguire, who has traveled often to Haiti, said the capital, Port-au-Prince, grew from 750,000 people in 1982 to well over 2.5 million by the time the earthquake struck.

Haitians watch as a U.S. Navy helicopter lands at the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

hide captionHaitians watch as a U.S. Navy helicopter lands Tuesday in front of the heavily damaged presidential palace in Port-au-Prince.

Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

One reason was that development policies in the 1990s focused on building up factories and the "Taiwanization" of Haiti, Maguire said, without considering factors that made Taiwan successful, such as investments in agriculture and universal education.

In Taiwan, "you had a human resource base that could benefit from the factories and not just be taken advantage of because of their cheap labor, and you had an agricultural base that could feed a growing urbanization. Haiti had neither of those and this is one of the reasons why this has been a failure and has done damage to Haiti," Maguire said.

Jeffrey Sachs, who runs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says Haiti has also been the victim of U.S. political battles, including the Clinton administration's decision in the 1990s to impose sanctions to restore former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power and the Bush administration's squeezing the economy to push Aristide back out of power again a decade later.

“It goes back a long, long time, but in the 20th century, the U.S. was military occupier and then it was the backer of a long-term, pretty despotic military regime and it trained a lot of generals over time, including the generals that took out Aristide," Sachs said.

Sachs' advice is to "keep it simple, keep it transparent," by focusing on Haiti's rural areas and making the rebuilding of the country an international effort.

"It's just not so hard to build roads and to put in a power plant or to get bags of fertilizers to peasant farmers ... these are pretty straightforward tasks. They require money. It is money that we've not wanted to put in or it is money that has taken a distant back seat to political objectives," Sachs said.

Sachs describes the international donor community as "ponderous and bureaucratic." He says countries would be more helpful now if they pool their resources into one fund, managed by the Inter-American Development Bank, a 48-nation lending institution that promotes financing in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

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