Graham: Haiti Must Have Help From United States
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Haiti's Election Day has been postponed four times. Violence is widespread and preparations for voting are still incomplete. In the first of two commentaries on Haiti, former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida says the United States must help restore order before the election.
Former Senator BOB GRAHAM (Democrat, Florida): Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere is about to get poorer. Two hundred years of self-serving misrule, isolation and environmental degradation have left the island nation staggering. Haiti's meager domestic product is estimated to have declined another 1% this year. Three out of four employable Haitians don't have jobs. With the passage of the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement, Haiti has become even more competitively disadvantaged. Criminal and political elements that have benefited from the chaos are resisting efforts to hold credible elections.
In less than a year there have been 800 criminal or political murders. Kidnappings for ransom have soared. The United States has a real stake in avoiding Haiti's collapse. As we launch a global democracy initiative, can we ignore the chaos, the near anarchy in our own neighborhood? I recently visited Haiti with an international commission to assess the electoral process. In two regional capitals, Cap-Haitian and Jacmel, we met women and younger candidates with a clear vision of how to use their offices for the good of the Haitian people.
We visited a women's cooperative trying to prepare exotic foods for exports. They had to work in a primitive kitchen darkened by the absence of reliable electricity. U.N. troops stationed in Haiti under Brazilian leadership have tried to bring law and order. The U.N. requested that South Korea send an infantry company to Haiti.
The South Koreans declined. The reality may be that only the United States military has the respect and confidence of the Haitian people needed to bring stability. U.S. Marines and soldiers have intervened in Haiti three times in the last 80 years.
The numbers at this time would not be great, 2,000 deployed. The alternative is a sanctuary for lawlessness 700 miles from our shores and a lost partner in a shared political and economic future. The challenges after an election are daunting as well. Hundreds of millions of dollars of national and international financial commitments remain undistributed in Haiti, primarily due to political instability. Education is almost nonexistent. U.S. and international non-governmental agencies could lead the modernization of Haiti's schools and colleges.
Environmental restoration would begin with reforestation of the almost 90% of Haiti's native forest that has been destroyed. U.S. land grant colleges with experience in tropical agricultural could undertake this. A delay of days in bolstering security in Haiti could result in a failed state ruled by drug traffickers and terrorists. If we fail to make this commitment, the television cameras will divide their attention between the bloodshed in Port-au-Prince and the rickety boats approaching the shores of the United States.
(Soundbite of music)
WERTHEIMER: Former Senator Bob Graham of Florida is a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. His most recent book is called Intelligence Matters. Tomorrow, another perspective on Haiti.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.