The Métropolitain

Adopt Haiti

By David T. Jones on February 11, 2010

Washington, DC…Even before the seminal January 12 earthquake, Haiti was in trouble.  It was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with per capita income of less than $2 per day ($660/year) where 1 percent of the citizens held half of Haiti's wealth.  Even before the earthquake, statistics indicated that only a third of the population could access electricity and only 11 percent had piped water.  No city had a sanitation system; life expectancy at 61 years was the hemisphere's lowest, and the UN Human Development Index placed it 149 of 182 countries with all below it being African states.  The best and brightest of its citizens long ago escaped.
Now the devastation is so awesome, the destruction so comprehensive, the societal breakdown so massive that one might almost be tempted to say, "Sweep the boards clean and start over."  After all, Haiti, in effect, has nothing:  no natural energy resources (gas, oil, coal); a devastated country side as a picture postcard for environmental disaster--denuded of forest and with agricultural land eroded from subsequent rainfall.  Add to this bleak circumstance the absence of industry and the rising prevalence of the drug trade and the economic picture is beneath bleak.
The economic/social horror story is complemented by predatory politics:  a generation of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier succeeded by chaotic malfeasance featuring two rounds of corrupt incompetent rule by Jean-Bertrand Aristide separated by an equally corrupt and incompetent military dictatorship.  Having again pushed Aristide to the sidelines (and into exile), the subsequent Haitian government proved to be a pitiful façade with now president Rene Préval speaking more frequently to foreign leaders/visitors than to his beleaguered population. 
Now Haiti is the cause of the day--maybe even the relief project of the year.  Every year another crisis:  Lebanon in 2006; Katrina in 2005; the tsunami in 2004; Darfur, forever.  And now it is Haiti's turn again, just as it has been in the past when various efforts to get the country to "straighten up and fly right" have marked its history--and failed.   The U.S. Marine Corps occupied and administered Haiti from 1915-34.  The U.S. tried again in 1994 partly to stem the tide of "boat people" who were attempting to escape to the U.S. and to jettison the military dictatorship.  The UN force has operated with band aid, palliative effort ever since.
What is needed is a long term "trusteeship" (in another name).  A country-to-country mentoring that is a project for a generation that will provide protracted economic and social support to Haiti independent of political vagaries.
There are three obvious candidate countries:  France; the United States; and Canada.  Despite the advantage of a more-or-less common language, France can be eliminated. 
Its invidious colonial history and a separating ocean reduce real possibilities of extended support.  The United States has the might--but not the interest--to make a difference in Haiti.  We are endlessly distracted by other crises with two wars now in play and global responsibilities addressing nuclear challenges in North Korea/Iran; a revanchist Russia; a surging China; and a Middle East that always verges on explosive collapse.  And we have already failed twice in Haiti.
That leaves Canada.  And I, for one, nominate Ottawa to take the lead on Haiti for the indefinite future.
Ottawa is well-qualified for the responsibility.  Over the past several decades, driven by UN commitments and backed by the reality of a significant percentage of the Haitian exodus residing in Montreal has taken a major role in Haiti. 
Haiti desperately needs "adult supervision"--and Canada located in the same hemisphere and with tens of thousands of its citizens, including the Governor General, with ethnic roots is exceptionally qualified.
In its response to the current crisis, Canada has been exemplary:  quick off the mark with assistance both military and economic and hitting the right tone in public commentary by both the prime minister and the governor general.  It has been an effort in which both Government and Opposition have united--almost as rare as a Republican victory in Massachusetts.
There is also a nationalistic and idealistic facet.  Canada and Quebec have a Peace Corps style project for the next generation.  And Canada can succeed where the United States has failed.