The inability of a central and autonomous Haitian government to react to the Jan. 12 earthquake and its aftermath reflects the failure of the development aid policies implemented by hemispheric leaders such as the United States and Canada. Some may point a finger at the United Nations and its conglomerate of helping nations, but in reality the responsibility may only fall on the two North American industrialized nations which backed up the military operations and popular movements that forcefully removed Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office back in 2004.
The natural disaster came at a time when the Haitian society was leaderless. American, Canadian and other U.N. military and aid personnel were unable to dig from under the rubble of Haitian political life a leader that would assume the command of the Caribbean nation and replace the populist Aristide.
The United States and Canada, together with France, Brazil and other United Nations members, promised the Haitian people a national reconstruction project not only at the democratic and public administration levels, but also in terms of social, economic and infrastructural reconstruction. The millions of dollars in development aid funneled into Haiti, together with the research and development projects and other aid-oriented initiatives, did little to help this nation emerge from the socioeconomic anguish which it has become used to since the days of Francois Duvalier, or Papa Doc, and Jean Claude Duvalier, or Baby Doc.
Development aid policies continue to be used by industrialized nations, and now by emerging nations, as a foreign policy tool that only furthers each nation’s agenda. The theoretical benevolence and social justice behind development aid policies are yet to be seen.
The catastrophe in Haiti represents a tremendous opportunity for nations such as Canada, France, Brazil and the United States to shift their development aid policies away from the old Cold War model and for the first time use the millions of dollars in aid for the sustainable reconstruction of Haitian society.
Haiti should become the headway of a new hemispheric policy for the Obama administration. The reconstruction of this hemispheric Katrina should come to represent America’s humanitarian policy toward the region. In cooperation with Canada, Brazil and other hemispheric partners, the United States may find itself leading a development aid policy that focuses on the social needs of Haitians. A humanitarian agenda would not only represent doing the right thing, but also improve its relations with other hemispheric partners. This may be an opportunity to move away from the free trade agenda, which has led the United States to leave hemispheric matters in the hands of the American private sector.
It is the responsibility of the Obama and the Harper administrations to mend the damage done in Haiti before the earthquake. It is time for the United Nations to carry out the job that in theory it has intended to do for the past three decades. It is time to set aside the ideological and political constraints that do not allow institutions and policymakers to carry out their mission.
Instead, it is time to concentrate on the humanitarian side. Let’s pressure our elected leaders so that they put forward policies and initiatives that will help Haitians get back on their feet.
If it is true that we are in the era of globalization, then let’s make sure that it is not just market globalization, media globalization or communications globalization. True globalization must bring us closer together with the happiness and the pain and suffering of our neighbors across the Western Hemisphere.
Humanitarian globalization must bring closer together the communities in Maine with those in Haiti. Not only should we demand greater responsibility from our federal government, we must also assume our own responsibility as citizens of the world. We must directly or indirectly help the people across Haiti get back on their feet.
Stefano Tijerina, a native of Colombia, is a doctoral candidate in history and an adjunct professor in the public administration department at the University of Maine.