Friday, 22 January 2010

22 January 2010

Here’s a thought for you: might the people of Haiti be a lot better off if they signed up as soon as possible to become the 51st state of the USA?

It’s not entirely a rhetorical question. Slightly over-stated, perhaps, but not entirely rhetorical. For one thing, if Time magazine is right, it’s already happened: “Haiti, for all intents and purposes, became the 51st state at 4:53 p.m. Tuesday in the wake of its deadly earthquake.”

It’s the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, with a recent history of decades of maladministration, violence, corruption and grinding poverty. Then came the earthquake.

What little Haiti had is now gone. And that includes its government.

All right, perhaps joining the US isn’t such a good idea. The gobbling up of other people’s lands is no longer as fashionable as it once was. So how about becoming a protectorate, either of the US, or of the UN?

Here’s what the Miami Herald suggested a few days ago: “Once the immediate challenges brought by the earthquake are under control, Haitians should request a formalisation of the country's dependence on the international community, i.e., a 25-year United Nations Protectorate (or some analogous political designation similar to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) …

“Under this framework, the international administration would, in effect, be able to perform or help in the performance of basic civilian administrative functions; facilitate a political process to strengthen self-government in Haiti; coordinate humanitarian and disaster relief of all international agencies; fund and support the reconstruction of key infrastructure; maintain civil law and order and promote human rights.”

Here’s how a letter-writer in the Baltimore Sun put it: “If ever a nation screamed in unrelenting agony to become a U.N. protectorate, it is Haiti. But that would assume the United Nations is capable of anything other than feeding upon itself at the expense of others …

“The United States has the resources to put tens of thousands of additional troops into Haiti, to establish order where order hasn't really existed in memory, and to bring the situation under control. But it takes no stretch of imagination to figure out what would happen then. However pure our motives, we would be accused of occupying another country, of nation building, of imperialism.”

Indeed so. Haiti has a sorry history of being occupied, ruled, pillaged and exploited by outsiders. And yet …

Might it be that it’ll need long-term, consistent international involvement long after the last victims of the earthquake have been buried? Might it be that whatever government can be re-formed in the weeks to come, it’ll need a lot of help – not just financial, but logistical, administrative and political – for many years?

There’s no shortage of candidates. Brazil has been running the UN peace-keeping force there since 2004, and does not take kindly to the idea that now the US is about to take over.

France is a former colonial power, and is just as unimpressed by the idea that the Americans have an automatic right to run the place.

So here’s the Lustig Plan: convene an international conference. (Yes, I know, another one. It can’t be helped.) Propose that Haiti applies for UN protectorate status under the umbrella of three nations: the US, France and Brazil, who will act as co-guarantors of its independence.

Establish a multi-billion dollar development fund, to operate over a period of 50 years, to approve, finance and oversee the construction of schools, clinics, roads and industries which will enable Haiti to start developing a viable economy.

Oh yes, and write off all remaining debts. That means mainly Venezuela ($167 million) and Taiwan ($91 million).

The world’s richest nations have not been good to Haiti over the 300 years since France took possession in 1697. It may have become the Western hemisphere’s second independent republic (after the US) in 1804, thanks to a successful slave revolt under Toussaint Louverture, but its history since then has not been a happy one. The US occupied it from 1915 to 1934, then came the ghastly Duvaliers, with their Tonton Macoutes thugs, and then another US invasion in 2004.

Maybe this time the world – and Haiti – can do better. What do you think?

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