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  • Hugh Locke

Broadening the Scope of Haiti’s Headlines



The recent deluge of headlines about Haiti has largely focused on gang activity in Port-au-Prince. I would like to suggest this coverage be expanded to include two additional perspectives. First, that Haiti is more than just its capital city. Second, there is a significant regional security concern that should be taken into account.

 

This first perspective is best conveyed by Monday’s article Haiti Is Not Port-au-Prince from the widely respected Haiti Development Institute (HDI). “You might not know it from the news, but most of Haiti is quiet and life is proceeding close to normally, albeit the unacceptably impoverished normal,” explains the article, which goes on to say, “Rural Haiti is affected by the ongoing crisis; restrictions on the movement of people and goods are causing price increases and shortages, and hurting farmers’ ability to reach markets. But local organizations are still at work, implementing their projects and continuing their programs aimed at developing their communities.”

 

The HDI article also makes an important point that, “As the international community focuses on crises and the humanitarian sector gears up again, resources will be made available, but only for short-term relief interventions. Always overlooked is what is really needed—much more ongoing support to locally-led development, especially outside of Port-au-Prince.” Adding to HDI's call for supporting farmers in this regard, I would advocate for planning to begin now to rebuild the rural agricultural economy in this nation of farmers.

 

The second perspective is about regional and United States security interests. The reason for any external support, whether it is short or long-term, should be to reinforce Haitian-led solutions to restore and develop this nation. However, should additional rationale be required in order to provide that support, beyond the humanitarian impetus, the implications of a failed state in the Caribbean are cause for alarm. All manner of bad actors dealing in arms, drugs and terrorism could set up unfettered operations in Haiti if it devolves into a geopolitical black hole outside the rule of either domestic or international law.

 

I am not qualified to advocate for any specific solution or intervention to resolve the current security crisis in Haiti, be it by Kenyans or otherwise. I do, however, recommend reading the seminal work When States Fail: Causes and Consequences edited by Robert I. Rotberg and published by Princeton University Press. 

 

Rotberg is Founding Director of the Intrastate Conflict Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In this book’s opening chapter he defines and categorizes strong, weak, failing, and collapsed nation-states according to political, social, and economic criteria.

 

The first stage Rotberg describes is a “fragile state” in which the government and its institutions are vulnerable to internal and external shocks and conflicts, but they manage to keep it together and weather the storm. Beaten but able to rebound (my words).

 

The next level of turmoil is described as a “crisis state” in which the government and institutions are under acute stress and go through periods of being unable to maintain control of the situation, but eventually recover. This often opens the field for either new leadership or a consolidation of the existing power structure. Beaten and temporarily down, but potentially changed as a result—for good or bad.

 

The last and worst-case scenario is that of a “failed state” in which the government can no longer provide basic security and economic stability, while also unable to exercise control over its territory and borders. Beaten down and coming apart at the seams, with no ability to function and nobody left to steer the ship of state out of real and present danger.

 

I would suggest that Haiti has edged into failed state territory without having completely collapsed, however imminent that may be unless steps are taken soon.

 

The situation in Haiti is relevant to the rest of the Western Hemisphere because nation states are the bedrock of a legitimate world order. One failed state in a region functions like a vortex that will inevitably draw international organizations and countries into the fray whether they want it or not. Every ongoing regional conflict or strain or trade dispute between these organizations and nations will be overlayed onto the fracas in Haiti. The results could be messy and potentially destabilizing to the region… not to mention the inevitable exodus of people who are already fleeing by the boatload to the shores of Florida.    

 

The reading of When States Fail may echo calls to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, but it does have some useful recommendations for reconstructing those states that do fail. Economic jump-starting, legal refurbishing, elections, and the role of civil society are among the many topics discussed.

 

Meanwhile the 7,200 members of the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, located in 10 rural areas around Haiti, are safe and able to go about their work of growing food and planting trees. Travel is restricted, supplies are difficult to procure and expensive, and concern for the wellbeing of the nation is a constant companion. But we continue to uphold our motto of “farmers united to help feed and reforest Haiti.”

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