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

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

Latin America

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

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Haitians may be hoping for a long term U.S. presence, but as NPRs Michele Kelemen reports, there are Haitian experts who say past interventions and attempts at development by the United States and other countries have done more harm than good.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Haiti was damaged well before the earthquake and not just because of decades of misrule; thats the view of Bob Maguire, a Haiti expert at Trinity Washington University.

Mr. BOB MAGUIRE (Trinity Washington University): Haiti has been damaged by those who peddle the denigration of Haiti and its people - the delusional televangelist or be it misinformed experts, who talk about things like basket case, failed state, trusteeship. 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.

KELEMEN: In the 1990s, Maguire said, outside experts wanted to turn Haiti into Taiwan, building up factories and a private sector without doing what Taiwan did to make it a success - investing first in agriculture and universal education.

Mr. MAGUIRE: So that 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 that has been a failure and has done damage to Haiti.

KELEMEN: Because development programs focused on Port-au-Prince, he says, the city grew from 750,000 people in 1982 to more than two-and-a-half million when the earthquake struck. Now many people are returning back to rural areas.

Jeffrey Sachs, who runs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says Haiti has also been the victim of U.S. political battles, whether it was the Clinton administration imposing sanctions to restore former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, or the Bush administration squeezing the economy to push Aristide back out again.

Professor JEFFREY SACHS (Columbia University): 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 the generals over time, including the generals that actually took out Aristide. So the U.S. involvement in this has not been pleasant, and it's a record that is widely ignored in this country.

KELEMEN: His advice going forward is keep it simple, keep it transparent, focus on Haiti's rural areas, and make rebuilding the country an international effort, not one made in Washington.

Prof. SACHS: It's just not so hard to build roads and to put in a power plant or to get bags of fertilizer to peasant farmers. These are pretty straightforward tasks. They require money, and it's money that we've not wanted to put in or it's money that has taken a distant back seat to political objectives.

KELEMEN: Sachs describes the donor community as typically ponderous and bureaucratic. He says countries would be more helpful now if they just pool their resources into one special fund, managed by the Inter-American Development Bank.

The assistant secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Albert Ramdin, also says that the key will be international coordination.

Mr. ALBERT RAMDIN (Organization of American States): There will be a role for everybody to play. Nobody needs to feel that they have to take a lead in this or that. There's so much to be done in rebuilding, reconstructing Haiti, Port-au-Prince, that there will be a role for everybody.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Ramdin told the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, that he intends to keep Haiti high on the political agenda to make sure that donor countries have more staying power this time around.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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