The earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti’s physical infrastructure and cost thousands of lives could represent a “coup de grace” for a nation that has been for many years on the brink of social collapse. A romantic early history has not been enough to cement a sufficient sense of national identity to allow the country to move forward. Even Jean Dessalines, one of the heroes of independence from the French became a despot. His assassination started Haiti on a succession of strongmen, corrupt regimes and foreign interventions that always seemed to leave the country worse than before. The cruel, 30-year regime of the Duvaliers, father and son, accentuated Haiti’s social fragility. The Duvaliers replaced order with terror and governance with rapacity. The presidents who came after them have not done much better. The nation shows a persistent lack of governance, almost no public service capabilities, high levels of corruption and a much-degraded environment. The population of the country, about ten million, lives in poverty while thousands have emigrated to the U.S., Canada or Europe, searching for a way out of their plight.
Some observers, like George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen, are predicting the end of the Haitian nation-state as a result of the accumulation of its afflictions. Intuitively one feels that a major reform of Haiti’s social and political structure has to take place if the country has any hopes of viability. The question is: what can be done? How can it be implemented? How long would it take? What role can the international community play in this reform?
There are some alternatives that could be considered. One has already been presented in a September 2009 study: “Haiti’s Changing Tide”, by Reuben Brigety, II and Natalie Ondiak of the Center for American Progress. In this study the authors propose to meet the six most pressing challenges facing Haiti: Governance, Security, Migration, Crime, Financing and Environment with the help of what they call a Governance Capacity Partnership, a program promoted by the United States and major donor countries, to help Haiti to utilize outside financing effectively and to train a cadre of civil servants that can give the nation the degree of governance that is lacking today. Another alternative could be the creation of a Puerto Rico-like type of Free, Associate State that would make Haiti a political appendix of, say, France or the United States, for an agreed number of years, or until a popular referendum decides differently. Conceivably such an association would provide Haiti with a stable political, social and economic situation that could allow for the creation of a civil service capable of running the country in an acceptable manner.
Of course, Haitians might refuse to consider any alternative that could be perceived as detrimental to their “sovereignty”. They would have to ask themselves if the country today is truly sovereign, beyond the political make believe. Haitians would have to face very hard questions and choices if they want to find their way out of their labyrinth. For potentially helping countries the problem will be further complicated given its sociological implications. In our hyper sensible societies any discussion about failed states that could imply racial or cultural inferiority would be considered “politically incorrect”. This would tend to obscure the real issues that have to be tackled.