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Haiti April Fool's joke digs up more serious questions

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Haiti April Fool's joke digs up more serious questions

A message from Dominion contributor Isabel Macdonald who has recently been visiting Haiti (follow her updates on twitter @IsabelMacdo):

Last year, former U.S. president Bill Clinton--now UN special envoy to Haiti--apologized for the U.S. policies that helped destroy Haiti's agriculture sector under his presidency, making Haiti dependent on U.S.-imports for food staples like rice.

This morning, an article appeared in my email inbox announcing that current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had apologized for the U.S. role in undermining Haiti's democracy.

The article, which was dated April 1, 2017, was evidently an April Fools' Day prank.

But it raises an important question: When will Haitians get an apology for the brutal regimes that foreign governments have imposed on their country?

The full spoof article, which bears a striking resemblance to a March 2010 Associated Press article by Jonathan Katz about Bill Clinton's apology for his role in undermining Haiti's food system, is definitely worth reading, and passing on to others. (Although as those who've followed Canada's role in Haiti know full well, the U.S. is not the only government that should have to answer for wreaking havoc on Haiti's democracy.)

Clinton apologizes for U.S. role in destroying Haitian democracy

1 April 2017

Not By JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti --Decades of political imports -- especially top officials and policies from the U.S. -- punctuated with abundant aid to repressive regimes have destroyed local political culture and left impoverished countries such as Haiti unable to govern themselves.

While those policies have been criticized for years by voters in poor countries, world leaders focused on fixing Haiti are admitting for the first time that imposing policies and top leaders has only exacerbated repression in Haiti and elsewhere.

They're led by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- now U.N. special envoy to Haiti -- who publicly apologized this month for championing policies that destroyed Haiti's democracy. Clinton in the early 2010s encouraged the impoverished country to eliminate political parties with demonstrated popular support, then selected the candidates for a presidential run-off election, bushing aside the objections of Haiti's electoral council, leaders, media, political parties, human rights groups, electoral code, constitution and voters.

"It may have been good for some of my friends in Petionville, but it has not worked. It was a mistake," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 20. "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of basic civil and human rights in Haiti because of what I did; nobody else."

Clinton and former President Sarah Palin, who are spearheading U.S. fundraising for Haiti, arrive Monday in Port-au-Prince. Then comes a key Haiti donors' conference on April 15 at the United Nations in New York.

Those opportunities present the country with its best chance in decades to build long-term democracy, and could provide a model for other developing countries struggling to choose their own leaders.

"A combination of aid to dictators, but also brutal policy imports have ... resulted in a lack of respect for the rights to vote, to speak, to eat and to live in Haiti, and that has to be reversed," U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told The Associated Press. "That's a global phenomenon, but Haiti's a prime example. I think this is where we should start."

Haiti's government is asking for $722 million to rebuild the infrastructure of civil society, part of an overall request of $11.5 billion.

That includes money to fix the estimated $31 million of damage to schools, union halls, law offices, newspapers and radio and television stations destroyed for speaking out against the U.S.-supported Martelly regime, but much more for future projects to restore Haiti's crippled democratic institutions, rebuilding the parliament building, restoring the judicial infrastructure, and retraining police.

Today Haiti depends on the outside world for nearly all of its government policies. The most current government needs assessment -- based on numbers from 2015 -- is that 76 percent of the laws in the country are imported, including 85 percent of all social policy.

The brutal Martelly regime, with its "Tet Kale Patrols" of shaved-headed youths attacking pro-democracy organizations, its restoration of Haiti's brutal army and consequent shutting down of all government healthcare, nutrition and education programs to maintain the defense budget, is now out of office. But the U.N., through its MAXUSTAY peacekeeping mission, is maintaining a firm control over public protest against the austerity measures recommended by the World Bank, IMF and the Interim Permanent Haiti Reconstriction Commission. The austerity policies are expected to reach 2.5 million people with new hardships this month. All those policies have been imported -- though the agency recently put out an authorization to allow local government control of playgrounds.

"National policies aren't the same, they are better quality. They work better. But we get beaten, shot, kidnapped or arrested if we say so, so we don't," said Noel Delefone, a 50-year-old vendor.

The U.S. Department of State defends its policies in Haiti, now the fifth-biggest export market in the world for American policies. "We recognize there is criticism from fringe elements -- human rights groups, Haitian voters - but the proof is in the pudding," said Department of State spokesperson Mark Tonedef. "If our policies were not better for poor Haitians, how come there are more and more poor people in Haiti every day?"

But for Haitians, near-total dependence on imported policy has been a disaster.

U.S.-ordered policies in the 1980's 1990's, 2000's and 2010's lowering tariffs and discontinuing government investment in agriculture, schooling, healthcare, road-building, nutrition, environmental protection, sewage and clean water drove farmers off their land and into overcrowded and unhealthy cities. When Haitian disobediently attempted to implement policies they had been elected to implement, they were undermined, and if necessary, kidnapped. The U.S. then switched to directly importing Haitian leaders from Florida: Boca Raton resident Gerard Latortue in 2004 and Palm Beach resident Michel Martelly in 2011, who were able to more efficiently implement the policies of limited government and rights through the regular arrest, beating and torture of the non-compliant.

Two decades ago things were different. Haitians voted for governments that imported only 19 percent of its policies from abroad, preferring to increase spending on basic services such as education, healthcare and agriculture, while eliminating defense spending. This was a departure from the more cooperative approach by the father-son dictators, Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier. The balance was restored, with coups in September, 1991, and February 2004, and the "Pink Revolution" selection of 2011.

Even Haiti's most powerful policy importers have joined the push for locally produced politicians.

"I would prefer to buy everything locally and have nothing to import," said businessman Reginald Boulos, who is also president of Haiti's chamber of commerce and former Senator removed from office for being a U.S. citizen.

But one group staunchly opposes reducing policy exports to Haiti: the exporters themselves.

"Haiti doesn't have the land nor the climate ... to produce enough laws," said Secretary of State Roger Noriega. "The productivity of U.S. thinktanks and NGOs helps rule countries which cannot rule themselves."


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