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A rebuilding Haiti faces some difficult new issues

Visiting Haiti last week, it was clear that the country is entering a different stage. The depth of poverty is shocking -- more like Kibera in Nairobi than an island in the western hemisphere. But there is food being sold in the markets. “The atmosphere of despair has subsided,” one Marine told me. Nongovernmental organizations are paying Haitians to clean the streets, putting $5 in their pockets. There are lines at the Western Union -- increased remittances from Haitian-Americans provide an infusion of cash. The most immediate need is better shelter. Blue plastic tarps will offer little protection as the rainy season arrives.

Stadium in Haiti

Non-governmental Organizations and Haitian officials are beginning to debate difficult issues. The services provided in the displaced persons camps need to be improved, with clinics and clean water. But, as one NGO worker told me, “the more comfortable, the more permanent” -- which is precisely what the government does not want. At least some of the Haitians in the camps could return safely to their homes and begin rebuilding. Many Haitians build their own homes by hand -- a process that can take years. For them, there is no insurance, just effort and a determination to start over.

Presidential Palace

Those who want to help Haiti have a challenge. It is a nation clearly in need of massive development assistance -- but it is also one of the world’s primary examples of failed development assistance. Haiti has received over $8 billion in foreign aid since 1969, and its people are poorer than they were in 1945. To be credible, the world’s help must somehow be different from the generosity of the past.


A variety of approaches have been proposed. Ultimately, Haiti needs more direct foreign investment -- the path from poverty for many developing nations. But who wants to invest in poorly run country? So Haiti could use massive technical assistance -- civilian technocrats who will stay in Haiti for years, work beside local officials and help build the management and financial systems that make economic progress possible. Some propose an emphasis on tourism, agriculture or reforestation. One Haiti expert suggests a 10-year United Nations trusteeship to set the country right.

A few days on the ground didn’t suggest to me a simple answer to the struggles of Haiti. But it did reveal one institution -- the United States military -- that is doing its job effectively, and differently than it has in the past. My column Wednesday will explore how the military has become a culturally sensitive, nation-building institution. It is a remarkable development -- and a long way from Patton to Petreaus.

By Michael Gerson  | February 16, 2010; 5:39 PM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
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Great column Michael! Our military doesn't get much press any longer. The Left hates that we are embroiled in war and Obama wouldn't even mention them in the State of the Union.

What the military is doing in Haiti is amazing - a logistics miracle. "Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now". Genesis 50:20 may apply.

I am very proud to be an American and of our military serving throughout the world.

Posted by: 2009frank | February 16, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

The trouble with helping Haiti is that neither the Left nor the Right (like Gerson) accept the simple fact that underlies Haiti's troubles:

It's overpopulated. It had 3 million people in 1950. It has 10 million now if you include the hordes of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic illegally.

The land of Haiti can't support 10 million people. It could barely support 3 million.

And now the Haitians, in their desperation (even before the earthquake), cut down 98% of their country's trees...for firewood.

Absent trees, every rainstorm washes more and more of Haiti's topsoil into the Caribbean, reducing Haiti's carrying capacity even more.

So nothing will help Haiti until or unless Haiti adopts China's one child policy and foreign aid is withheld until it does. And then the main focus should be planned parenthood clinics offering free abortions and sterilization.

I suggested all this on a talk show and the Haitian activist on the show summarily rejected this advice.

Well of course. Nobody wants to change. They want to stay the same and have someone else pay for any problems caused by staying the same.

But wishing it wasn't there won't make the elephant in the back yard vanish.

The comments to Gerson's piece will talk about what needs to be done to help the Haitians. All these comments are just designed to make the commenter feel good unless their solutions confront Haiti's reality: its culture is destroying Haiti, and so must change radically if Haiti is to survive.

Posted by: ehkzu | February 16, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

Survivors were promised a homeland in Africa and should relocate with the help of US troops and $2billion donated already. The USA, EU and the rest of the world are drowning in debt and must not sink another $14billion in this hellhole. Indians from Asia can be brought to manage plantations and rescue agriculture, like they do in Trinidad where they were indentured to the same French driven out in the Haiti revolt of 1804. This is the only solution lkeft.

Posted by: sallysr | February 17, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Haiti, like so many other poor countries, is a failed welfare state.

Perhaps, as Gerson suggests, some effective outside agency (not the UN) could come in for a few years to kick-start good governance.

Posted by: spamsux1 | February 17, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

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