Haiti Reconstruction

Reevaluating Foreign Engagement in Post-Quake Haiti: Insights from “Harvesting Haiti”

Reevaluating Foreign Engagement in Post-Quake Haiti: Insights from “Harvesting Haiti”

In his address to the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2023, Haiti’s Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, made a compelling appeal for immediate action against escalating gang violence in Haiti.

To combat the crisis, he called for the urgent deployment of a multinational support mission, combining police and military personnel, to assist Haiti’s national police force in combating gangs and restoring order.

“The use of force as an initial step remains essential to create an environment in which the State can function properly again. It is a necessary initial stage, but it is not enough in it of itself. Social and economic development must also be addressed to find a sustainable solution to extreme poverty which is the origin of all the ills facing my country,” stated Prime Minister Henry.

The key is for Haiti to lead in shaping this vision, with international efforts aligning to support the nation in achieving full independence rather than fostering dependency.

After careful consideration, the United Nations Security Council has granted approval for the dispatch of international troops, under the leadership of Kenya, in response to Haiti’s plea for global assistance. Concerns have been raised about the potential negative impact of international aid missions.

How can this endeavor distinguish itself? Analyzing past international interventions’ shortcomings can serve as a valuable tool in avoiding costly mistakes. The essential factor will be to prioritize Haiti and its citizens, with a firm commitment to fostering sustainable development.

 

Harvesting Haiti. University of Texas Press. Out on October 10, 2023.

 

Harvesting Haiti-Reflections on Unnatural Disasters holds lessons for new strategies in foreign involvement in Haiti. Published by University of Texas Press, Austin, 2023, the book, authored by Myriam J.A. Chancy calls attentions to lessons learned from Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery efforts. Chancy is a Caribbean scholar, Guggenheim Fellow & HBA Chair of the Humanities at Scripps College. She is a Haitian-Canadian/American writer born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

In Harvesting Haiti Chancy offers a profound examination of Haiti’s recovery efforts in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Chancy draws attention to critical lessons learned from this post-disaster landscape.

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, the 7.0 Richter-scale earthquake left 316,000 people dead, thousands more injured and approximately 1.7 million without shelter. In Harvesting Haiti, Chancy adds that communal land markers of national identity evaporated overnight (87).

The book assembles a collection of essays and discussions that Chancy crafted over several years following the earthquake. These writings provide a knowledgeable perspective on the consequences of the earthquake for vulnerable communities, recounting the events of January 12, 2010, and highlighting the challenges faced in the ensuing weeks, months, and years.

Structured into distinct sections, Harvesting Haiti delves into the earthquake’s aftermath and the concurrent political dynamics. It explores gender equity issues, particularly focusing on Haitian women, their responses to the earthquake, and the broader historical and social contexts crucial to understanding Haiti’s situation post-2010.

Chancy makes a compelling argument that democracy and human rights have often taken a backseat in the international community’s approach to Haiti. She emphasizes the paramount importance of preserving the dignity of Haitian lives and calls for a more context-sensitive framework for engagement with the nation.

“My chief concern in this collection and elsewhere is the right to both,” states Chancy (11).

The book offers a comprehensive overview of how foreign involvement has contributed to infrastructure failures during and after the earthquake. It meticulously examines how governmental inefficiency and corruption on the ground translated into what Chancy aptly terms “the reality of international ineptitude,” (4).

Chancy addresses the issue of corruption in Haiti, acknowledging its existence and its role in perpetuating monopolies and impeding civil society’s influence in governance.

“Does Haiti have a corruption problem? Well yes it does,” says Chancy (5).

Furthermore, Chancy reflects on Haiti’s leadership, highlighting the diversity of individuals who have held the presidency, raising questions about the authenticity of democratic elections in the country’s history.

“After the revolution, Haiti did not have a truly freely elected Head of State until the elections of 1990 that brought Jean Bertrand Aristide to power. Thereafter, it is unclear which of Haiti’s elections were in fact democraticHaven’t we seen everything in Haiti, from a former physician, former priest, former konpa king, to a banana plantation owner, become presidents? (Chancy, 5, 8).

She asserts that the international plan for Haiti’s stability clashes with the deeply rooted tradition of communal self-governance on which Haitian society was built.

Part of the problem with international assistance is that it arrived with conditions that undermined local governance and economies. Chancy explains,

“Aid from the US in Haiti has always been accompanied with demands and conditions that have crippled the workings of the local government and local economy,” details Chancy. The author points out that some international aid after the earthquake required Haiti to remove agricultural tariffs, “which swamped the country with cheap U.S. rice. Haiti’s loss of agricultural tariffs combined with continuous U.S. and European protective agricultural subsidies decimated poor Haitian’s farming livelihoods,” (Chancy, 9).

She laments the discouragement of South-South development and the disregard for local solutions by the international community.

“South-South development is actively discouraged whether it is the medical assistance once provided in Haiti by Cuban doctors, or the economic support brought by countries like Venezuela through trade agreements designed to assist and support the Haitian government and the Haitian population at large and why when Haitians themselves organize solutions to their own internal problems those solutions are disregarded or actively dismantled,” (Chancy, 9).

Citing Haitian advocate Velina Elysee Charlier, Chancy revisits the failures of intervention, highlighting the negative consequences that often accompany foreign boots on Haitian soil.

“The very reason why we do not want an intervention is because when there are boots on our soil, we get raped, we get killed, and we get cholera. It has never solved any problems in Haiti,” (Chancy, 10).

Chancy calls for new strategies, echoing Gina Ulysse’s post-earthquake plea for fresh narratives that envision Haiti as a nurtured and supported nation rather than one shunned in its infancy.

Chancy advocates for a comprehensive plan to rebuild public institutions, create jobs outside of agriculture, cheap factory work, baseball-making, pigs, and tourism and extend real support in bosltering Haiti’s democracy.

She stresses the need for genuine rebuilding and underscores that reconstruction must encompass not only physical and economic infrastructure but also Haiti’s ability to operate independently in the global arena. Reconstruction must include education, healthcare, infrastructure, and comprehensive development plans.

Harvesting Haiti makes urgent recommendations for safety and security measures for the local population. Chancy vividly describes the horrors of sexual assault and child abductions, the risks posed by impostors posing as relief workers, and the lack of safety experienced by women in supposedly secure camps. Furthermore, she highlights how international donations failed to reach grassroots Haitian initiatives.

She cautions against solutions that are not mutually beneficial, as they tend to favor donors while undermining and exploiting local communities, especially female workers. Chancy also calls for sound public policies. Without them, she states, “breaking out of the poverty cycle is not viable. Corruption, crime, and the drug trade become alternatives to legal economic activities,” (7). She also points to the very long history of entanglement between local gangs and government officials (Chancy, 7).

Chancy passionately advocates for a prominent role for Haitian women and voices in the political arena, emphasizing the presence of capable, intelligent, and visionary Haitian leaders who should guide the nation’s democratic vision.

Real rebuilding must set stereotypes aside. Chancy states that Haitians, “like all subjects of African descent are perceived as lesser constituents in global affairs; as such, they cannot be assisted into positions of sovereignty, they must forever be subjugated,” (51). Additionally, international presence should not appear as an occupation.

Chancy reminds readers that assistance should not be conflated with victimization. Harvesting Haiti invites us to recommit ourselves to understanding the role of global economics on small places and commit ourselves to supporting the dignity of individuals in such places (90).

Lastly, Chancy celebrates Haiti’s rich culture, spirituality, artistry, and literary heritage, emphasizing the nation’s historical significance as the first Black country in the Western Hemisphere.

As a new mission to Haiti takes form, we hope that those at the helm of the multilateral global aid effort and those actively involved will learn from past mistakes. Harvesting Haiti offers invaluable guidance to the international community responding to Haiti’s appeal for assistance in restoring peace within the country.

For More Information:

Harvesting Haiti-Reflections on Unnatural Disasters
by Myriam J. A. Chancy, published by University of Texas Press

Release Date: October 10, 2023

To learn more about the author visit:

myriamchancy.com

 


Soledad Quartucci | CEO/Founder, Latina Republic

Latina Republic is dedicated to promoting regional understanding through compelling narratives, articles, interviews, and reports that emanate from the heart of the Americas. Our foremost goal is to facilitate constructive dialogue by illuminating local viewpoints frequently overshadowed by mainstream media. Our mission is to equip all stakeholders with essential insights for addressing regional issues, thus empowering them in their efforts. We are committed to portraying the victories and hardships of everyday life in Latin America, while also chronicling the progression of social movements and amplifying the voices of those at the forefront of change.