Two years since the earthquake of January, 2010, maybe one of the biggest ethical and foreign policy dilemmas regarding Haiti for the countries of today’s South America - for the most part committed to the respect of human rights, social inclusion and respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the people – has to do with discerning and making transparent how much interventionism, cooperation and solidarity will mark the relationship of the South American region with the Republic of Haiti from here on.
Although it is far from being perfect or enough, it is very good and necessary that the South American countries cooperate and relate themselves with Haiti. The governments of South America and some of the organisms of which they are a part (Union of South American Nations, UNASUR, and the International Development Bank, BID), have done a great deal for the people and institutions of Haiti since the January 10, 2010 earthquake. However, South America has to do much more for "and with" Haiti, and better. This is the appropriate time for the South American and Haitian rulers to think big, long term and to agree on forms of mutual cooperation and relationships of solidarity, and that are dignifying and transforming for both parts. If "another form of cooperation with Haiti is possible" (and necessary), who better than South America to think and attempt it.
To think through the present and the future of the complex South America-Haiti relationship, a constant effort will be necessary to avoid becoming distracted in places already far too travelled when it comes to Haiti. I am referring to: the demonizing or quick disqualification of all the "international aid" (that does not do justice to the countless examples of cooperation of solidarity and effectiveness); to the simplifying of the internal situation in Haiti, especially that of the dynamics of local power and the super inequitable distribution of wealth and power (that covers up the role of the Haitian elites, who have been far too comfortable for far too long, including during the process of reconstruction of the country) and, lastly; the self-complacency of many foreign actors - government and non government - working in Haiti, including here some South Americans that seemed sometimes to satisfy their need to do something "for or in" Haiti, observing or disseminating the images of "their" blue helmets as if these were mere humanitarian agents.
Having said that, it can be recognized that until now the numerous actions carried out and the gestures made by the governments of the region toward Haiti, offer a mixed panorama, with both “lights” and "shadows," with some things that are new and others that are "more of the same." While South America tries to have concrete expressions of fraternity and an intelligent approach to the people of Haiti, their authorities and institutions, there are still assignments pending and unresolved contradictions from before the January, 2010 earthquake, at the same time that new challenges emerge.
Successes and challenges
Standing out among the South American successes in Haiti that offer guidelines for thinking ahead, are: the intelligent decision by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to create and maintain a Technical Secretary UNASUR-Haiti in Port-au- Prince; the increasingly frequent visits by Haitian political authorities to countries of the region and vice versa, and; the growing Haitian presence and active participation at South American summits and meetings, as well as the exchange visits by Haitian technicians and specialists to countries of the region and centered on such varied matters as public policies to fight against hunger (to Brazil), family agriculture (Argentina), maintenance of roadways (Bolivia), and sports and peace (Colombia). Added to this are the several and interesting initiatives of South-South cooperation that take place in Haiti in key areas such as education (Chile, Uruguay), public health (Tripartite Collaboration Brazil-Cuba-Haiti), food security (Argentina), and the strengthening of the justice system and human rights, among others.
In general, and with some exceptions, these initiatives done "from and for" South America would seem to have little to do with demands or incidence by the South American civil society, but rather with initiatives that have come from political-diplomatic-administrative actors of the public administrations and governments of the region. Interesting enough, and with one or two exceptions having to do above all with the issue of the military presence in Haiti, the thematic networks and platforms of the civil society of the region would seem to be (very) behind their governments when it comes to cooperating, solidarity and relating themselves with Haiti.
It is less clear to be able to determine in what measure the South American countries and organisms like UNASUR really and effectively involve themselves in the discussion and defining of matters related to Haiti in key areas for the process of reconstruction of the country, such as the actions by the Inter-American Development Bank, or if the decisions on Haiti rest more in the bureaucracy (and consultants) of the Bank. Be it said in passing, after rivers of ink written about the importance of favoring the local social appropriation and control of the reconstruction process, the page on Haiti of the web-site of the Inter-American Development Bank says that the projects approved and those being considered by the organism are available only in Spanish and English.
In spite of the different agendas, visions and interests among the countries of the region, hopefully the cooperation for the South American development toward Haiti will be the closest to an "all coherent" and that it not repeat the already chronic "bad habits" of much of the cooperation by the North, such as the lack of coordination, the lack of knowledge of the capabilities, idiosyncrasy and local priorities, and the imposition, after all is said and done, of the "power of money” in the relationships of cooperation among sovereign countries.
South American contradictions and matters pending in Haiti
Beyond the campaigns and actions of communication that we see from time to time in South America to promote it, the foreign military presence in Haiti is very much questioned and experienced by many sectors as being a military occupation of the country. It is auspicious that the countries of UNASUR have had the political initiative to take the bull by the horns and initially have the number of personnel at pre-earthquake levels, but it is imperious that South America do its part (the Haitian rulers should do theirs) to avoid an automatic renewal and being accomplices in its participation in the MINUSTAH in 2012.
Four opportunities and challenges
In ending, here are some of the opportunities and challenges that the rulers from South America have or should consider in regard to their policies toward Haiti in the months and years to come:
1. Enrich the cooperation with Haiti taking advantage of the experience and lessons learned of fellow countries of the Caribbean like Cuba and Venezuela, cooperating and relating themselves in solidarity with the government and people of Haiti and which have had and continue to have important results in areas such as public health and the forming of university professionals. The tripartite collaboration Brazil-Cuba-Haiti marks a possible path to follow.
2. In dialogue with the authorities of Haiti, agree on a common migratory policy by South America toward Haiti that allows the receiving in a dignified and secure manner of our Haitian brothers and sisters who so desire, and which prevents and puts an end to the incipient trade and trafficking of persons.
3. Recognizing and always remembering the immense and spontaneous Dominican expressions of concrete solidarity with the Haitian people and authorities following the earthquake, a South American dialogue with the sister Republic of the Dominican Republic should be fostered, in a respectful and constructive form, on the situation and the rights of the Haitians and of the Dominicans of Haitian descent in that country, the majority of whom suffer harassment and clear violations of their human rights in the 21st century.
4. Create permanent mechanisms for the rendering of accounts and consultation with the South American civil society by the South American governments having to do with the policies toward Haiti, beginning with matters such as the South American military presence and the actions by the Inter-American Development Bank.
Two years since the earthquake, a lot has been done yet so very much remains to be done in Haiti so that justice and dignity are definitively established in that country, and it is the Haitians who should, can and will do it. What cannot be lacking from South America is the will to walk in a patient, humble and respectful way, alongside the people of Haiti and their institutions in their struggle to achieve it.
Author’s note: By “South America” the article refers to Brazil and the Southern Cone, with the particular case of Venezuela to be dealt with in a second article on the Caribbean countries.
Author Martín Coria is the Regional Coordinator of Church World Service (CWS) for Latin America and the Caribbean
Photo: Martín Coria (Tallu Schuyler)