Friday, December 31, 2010



In an interview published Monday in the newspaper "Le Temps" in Switzerland, the representative of the Secretary General of the OAS, Ricardo Seitenfus explains the causes and errors which led to the failure of the international community in Haiti.

Ten thousand peacekeepers in Haiti. In your opinion, a counter-productive presence?

Ricardo Seitenfus: The system of prevention of disputes within the UN system "cadre" is not adapted to the Haitian context. Haiti is not an international threat. We are not in a civil war situation. Haiti is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan. And yet the Security Council, lacking another alternative, have imposed peacekeepers since 2004, after the departure of President Aristide. Since 1990, we are here in our eighth UN mission. Haiti has seen since 1986 and the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier what I call a "low intensity conflict". We are confronted with power struggles among political actors who do not respect the "democratic game". But it seems to me that Haiti, on the international scene, pays essentially for its' proximity to the United States. Haiti has been the subject of negative attention on the part of the international system. It can be said that the UN has "frozen power" and transforms Haitians into prisoners on their own island. The anguish of boat people explains many of the international decisions concerning Haiti. We want at any price that they stay home.

What prevents the normalization of the Haitian case?

Ricardo Seitenfus: For two hundred years, the presence of foreign troops has alternated with that of dictators. It is force which defines international relations with Haiti and never dialogue. The original sin of Haiti, on the world scene is its' liberation'. The Haitians committed the unacceptable in 1804: a crime of "self-majesty" for a troubled world. The West has always been a colonial world. Slavery and racism are the foundation of its' wealth on the exploitation of conquered lands. Therefore, the Haitian revolutionary model scares the superpowers. The United States did not recognize Haiti's independence until 1865. France required payment of a ransom to accept its' liberation. From the beginning, independence is compromised and the development of the country hampered. The world has never known how to deal with Haiti, so it ended up ignoring it. Thus began two hundred years of solitude on the international scene. Today, the UN has blindly applied Chapter 7 of its' charter. It deploys troops to impose its' peace operation. Nothing is solved, only made worse. We want to make Haiti a capitalist country, an export platform for the American market. It is absurd. Haiti must return to what it is, that is to say, a predominantly agricultural country still fundamentally imbued with customary rights. The country is continually described in terms of its violence. But without a state, the level of violence reaches only a fraction of that of Latin American countries. There are elements that exist in this society that have prevented the violence from spreading beyond measure.

Is not a resignation to see a nation unassimilable in Haiti, whose only horizon is a return to traditional values?

Ricardo Seitenfus: There is a part of Haiti that is modern and urban. It is estimated that 4 million Haitians live beyond its' borders. It is a country open to the world. I do not dream of a return to the 16th century, to an agrarian society. But Haiti lives under the influence of the world, the NGOs, and universal charity. More than 90% of the education and health systems are in private hands. The country does not have the public resources to be able to operate a minimal state system. The UN fails to take account of cultural features. Condensing Haiti to a peace operation is making challenges to the country's economy. The problem is socio-economic. When the unemployment rate has reached 80%, it is not supportable to deploy a stabilization mission. There is nothing to stabilize and everything to build.

Haiti is one of the most subsidized countries in the world and yet the situation has only deteriorated over the past twenty-five years. Why?

Ricardo Seitenfus: The emergency aid is effective. But when it becomes structural, when it replaces the state in all its missions, it leads to a collective lack of responsibility. If there exists a proof of the failure of international aid, it is Haiti. The country has become a Mecca. The earthquake of January 12th and then the cholera epidemic only accentuate this phenomenon. The international community has the feeling of having to repeat every day what it ended up doing the previous day. Haiti fatigue begins to emerge. This small nation has startled the world's conscience with disaster after disaster. I had hoped that in the distress of January 12th, the world would understand what they had done wrong with Haiti. Unfortunately, it has reinforced the same policy. Instead of taking stock, we send more soldiers. We must build roads, erect dams, participate in the organization of the State, the judicial system. The UN says that it does not have the mandate for that. Its' mandate in Haiti "is to keep peace in the cemetery".

What role do NGOs play in this bankruptcy?

Ricardo Seitenfus: Since the earthquake, Haiti has become a crossroads. For the international NGOs, Haiti has become "a place of forced passage". I would say even worse that it is a "training ground". The age of those who arrived after the earthquake is very young; they landed in Haiti without any experience. And Haiti, I can tell you, is not suitable for amateurs. After Jan. 12, because of massive recruitment, the professional quality has declined significantly. There is a sad relationship between the strength of the NGOs and the weakness of the Haitian state. Some NGOs exist only because of the misfortune of Haiti.

What mistakes were made after the earthquake?

Ricardo Seitenfus: Faced with the massive importation of consumer goods to feed the homeless, the situation of Haitian agriculture has deteriorated further. The country offers an open field to all humanitarian experiences. It is unacceptable from a moral standpoint to consider Haiti as a laboratory. The reconstruction of Haiti and the promise of $ 11 billion inflames lust. It seems that a lot of people come to Haiti, not for Haiti, but to do business. For me as an American it is a disgrace, an affront to our conscience. An example: the Haitian doctors that Cuba trained. More than 500 have been educated in Havana. Nearly half of them, though they should be in Haiti, are working today in the United States, Canada or France. The Cuban revolution is currently financing the training of human resources for its capitalist neighbors...

We constantly describe Haiti as the margin of the world, you feel rather that the country is a concentrate of our contemporary world?

Ricardo Seitenfus: It is the concentration of our tragedies and failures of international solidarity. We do not rise to the challenge. The world press comes to Haiti and describes the chaos. The reaction of public opinion is not unexpected. For public opinion, Haiti is one of the worst countries in the world. We must go to the Haitian culture, we must go local. I think there are too many doctors at the bedside and the majority of these doctors are economists. But in Haiti, we need anthropologists, sociologists, historians, political scientists and even theologians. Haiti is too complex for people who are in a hurry. Nobody takes the time or tries to understand what I might call "the Haitian soul". The Haitians have well grasped, that we are considered, we the international community as "a milk cow". They want to take advantage of this presence and they do so with extraordinary mastery. If the Haitians consider us only for the money that we bring it is because we are presenting ourselves like that.

Beyond the admission of failure, what solutions do you offer?

Ricardo Seitenfus: In two months, I will complete a two-year mission in Haiti. To stay here and not be overwhelmed by what I see, I had to create a number of psychological defenses. I wanted to remain an independent voice despite the weight of the organization that I represent. I have taken this view because I wanted to express my profound doubts and tell the world that it is enough. It is enough of playing with Haiti. January 12th taught me that there exists a potential of extraordinary solidarity in the world. Also, we should not forget that in the first days, it was the Haitians themselves, with bare hands, who tried to save their loved ones. Compassion has been very important in this emergency. But charity can not be the driving force in international relations. It is autonomy, sovereignty, fair trade, respect for others which must be. We need to think simultaneously of providing export opportunities for Haiti but also protect the "family farm" which is essential for the country. Haiti is the last untapped Caribbean paradise for tourism, with 1700 kilometers of pristine coastline and we need to encourage cultural tourism and avoid paving the way for a "new Eldorado" of mass tourism. The lessons that we have given have been ineffective for too long. The reconstruction and the accompaniment of a rich society is one of the last great human adventures. For 200 years, Haiti has illuminated the history of mankind and of human rights. We must provide an opportunity for the Haitians to confirm their vision.

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