Independent Foreign Affairs Consultant

13_Lohan_Carstenby Carsten Lohan ’13 –

Mr. President,

Seven hundred miles from the sunny shores of Miami lies the small nation of Haiti, burdened by poverty, stricken with disease, and crippled by a recent disaster.  American involvement in Haiti has been ongoing for nearly a century, with the US Marines occupying the nation from 1915-1934, advancing it’s infrastructure significantly, and strengthening its government.  But now, after numerous dictators, several military coups, and the 2010 earthquake, the people of Haiti need America, it’s diplomatic aid, and democratic skills more than ever.  Currently the United States has contributed over $3.1 Billion dollars to the country in the three year span since the January 2010 earthquake.[1]  Many involved believe US monetary aid to Haiti has not began to bear fruit, and feel as if America’s efforts have been in vain.  While our past actions have not been in vain, and the island nation has made significant economic gains in the past two years, America should re-examine its mission in Haiti .  American investment in Haiti through revised economic, humanitarian, and government ties, will strengthen the Haitian-American alliance, and secure Haiti as a future Carribean leader while raising it out from poverty.

The United States attempted to meddle with ‘nation building’ in Haiti during the American military occupation of the early 20th century, but left before the task was complete.  The American involvement produced substantial gains in infrastructure, with 1700 km of roads, and 189 bridges built, but did not accomplish much in lasting government stability.[2]  An unstable government, and numerous coups d’état have plagued Haiti since the nation was founded after a successful slave revolt against the French Colonial government in 1804.  Fought on similar principles as our Revolutionary War, the Slave Revolt brought liberty to the small nation, but not long-lasting stability.  The nation’s weak government is still evident in modern times, as a successful coup d’etat (US aided) was mounted in 2004.  Since May of 2011 Michel Martelly, a proponent of US-Haiti relations, has run the government and helped administer the recovery process.  With this popular and pro-American leader, now is the time to act, and increase US involvement in Haiti.

International aid came quickly after the crippling earthquake, and the Unites States responded quickly with a swift Military presence and a steady flow of supplies.  The Department of Defense had 20,458 personnel, 26 ships, 68 helicopters, and 50 aircraft involved in the humanitarian relief effort within a month.[3]  Medicine, temporary shelter, and 2.1 million bottled waters were delivered by the military, and the American public donated money to the relief efforts, united to help the small nation.  But, Mr. President, I must inform you, that we have utterly failed the Haitian people, and not lived up to our promises to rebuild the small, yet proud country.  The US Special Coordinator himself, Thomas C. Adams, has stated that “U.S. taxpayers, in the past, have spent billions of dollars in Haiti that haven’t resulted in sustainable improvement in the lives of Haitians.”[4]  Key insiders have commented that humanitarian aid to Haiti has been bottlenecked, due to the bureaucratic hurdles of the UN humanitarian mission, and understaffing of the American Embassy.  The global community, the United Nations and America have failed the people of Haiti, because they have been throwing more money at the problem, only to see it perpetuate.  Yet three years later, the nation is still in despair, and many are still homeless, sick or poor, hoping for a more prosperous future.  To truly aid the nation of Haiti one must sympathize with the people and understand their troubles, and work alongside them in this uphill battle.

Action must be taken immediately, but not in the form of more dubious blank checks to an unstable country or mismanaged UN effort, but in the form of more specific and diversified American aid and intervention.  I am not advocating for a military presence in Haiti, as we have learned with Iraq: “Once you break it, you own it,” but rather an aid mission rooted in unanimous understanding and mutual welfare.  Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere due to the vast shortcomings in its education system, as nearly 53% of Haitians are literate, and half of school aged children do not attend school regularly.[5]  Due to their lack of education, the people of Haiti have little opportunity for economic advancement, and thus are enslaved to a perpetual cycle of poverty.

To amend the economic, social and governmental troubles of Haiti I propose the following actions be considered by the executive office:  Increase the presence of American Peace Corp. volunteers to Haiti, allowing American faces (yielding smiles & not guns) access to the small villages of the country, where schools, wells, clinics and community can be constructed.  English will be taught to students, while trade skills, family planning information, and  HIV/AIDS knowledge shared with the adults.  A significant investment in the human capital of Haiti would allow the Haitians to help themselves and take command of their education system.  Training teachers and doctors in American universities, who would then carry their knowledge home with them would allow for a “trickle-down” form of education amongst educational and medical professionals. Also, reforming the agricultural industry of Haiti which has been declining since the 1980s due to the lack of capital investment, infrastructure and agricultural education would allow for more poverty stricken individuals to find work.  A commitment of resources for agricultural education, would educate farmers concerning crop rotation, irrigation, and harvesting techniques, and reap large dividends with more productive yields.  With the agricultural market folding, Haitians have since turned to exploding garment manufacturing sector.  The United States has provided certain trade agreements that are helping Haiti grow its garment sector.  Under the provisions of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) and further protected under the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE), products assembled in Haiti from American components are imported to the United States duty free.  Legislation like this is a step in the right direction, but it is flawed in several ways.  The chief beneficiary to legislation like this is American bank accounts, and is not benefiting the Haitian worker as it should.  The minimum wage in Haiti is around US $0.31 an hour[6], which gives workers less than $3 dollars a day to live on, while garment manufacturers like Hanes, Gildan and Levi Strauss post significant profits.  While CBTPA and HOPE have allowed the domestic textile industry to be more competitive in the global marketplace, and lined the pockets of American executives, it has not had a profound impact on the workers of Haiti.  Because of these laws, 90% of Haiti’s exports to the US are of apparel[7], and with this export dependance, Mr. President, your office and Congress can demand an increase in Haiti’s minimum wages, and basic worker benefits by threatening to revoke the duty-free trade provisions.  Haiti also benefits from a damaged, but optimistic tourism industry, but lacking a wealthy tourism ministry unable to afford advertising in America like other Caribbean island nations, the tourism industry in Haiti is stagnant.  Haiti has two deep-water ports that allow cruise ships to enter bringing dollar wielding tourists, but those ports should be seeing more tankers bringing American crude oil.  Haiti relies on significant shipments of (mainly OPEC) foreign oil, due to a lack of domestic production.  Establishing the trade of crude from US oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to Haiti, and partially subsidizing it, would initiate a major economic tie with American oil producers.  With a better understanding of the country of Haiti, it’s struggles and needs, I hopes your administration can help streamline the recovery process of this small, but proud nation.

Mr. President, I encourage you to review these notes and my suggestions and consider how the United States of America can better serve the needs of Haiti.  Haiti is a country founded on similar principles of the United States and their people yearn for a healthy, sustaining democratic nation. That we owe to them.  Above I have lambasted the aid efforts and policies of the US because I am convinced that we are not honoring our commitment to Haiti, and that we could be serving them and in turn ourselves much better.  There is an old saying that goes: “Give a man a fish and he will eat tonight, but teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.”  Mr. President, we have given the people of Haiti far too many fish, and must now swallow our pride and take them fishing.

Works Cited:

“USAID – Latin America & Caribbean: Latin America & the Caribbean – Haiti Country Profile.” USAID – Latin America & Caribbean: Latin America & the Caribbean – Haiti Country Profile. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://transition.usaid.gov/locations/latin_america_caribbean/country/haiti>.

“U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915–34.” US Dept. Of State. Office of the Historian, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/Haiti>.

“U.S. Fleet Forces Commander Provides Update on Navy Contributions to Haiti Relief Efforts.” By U.S. Fleet Forces Public Affairs. US Navy, 19 Jan. 2010. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=50631>.

“US Pledge to Rebuild Haiti Not Being Met” Fox News. Associated Press Report, 21 July 2012. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/07/21/us-pledge-to-rebuild-haiti-not-being-met/#ixzz2J3LhxP5q.”&gt;

“Factbook – Haiti.” The World Factbook. CIA, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html>.

Ives, Kim. “WikiLeaks Haiti: Let Them Live on $3 a Day.” The Nation. N.p., 1 June 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2013.


[1]USAID – Latin America & Caribbean

[2] U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915–34

[3] U.S. Fleet Forces Commander Provides Update on Navy Contributions to Haiti Relief Efforts.

[4] US Pledge to Rebuild Haiti Not Being Met – Fox News

[5] CIA Factbook – Haiti

[6] Wikileaks – Haiti: Let Them Live on $3 a Day.

[7] Ibid: CIA Factbook

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