The Multinational Monitor


G L O B A L   S I G H T I N G S

Why Aid Haiti?

Western aid donors responded to Haiti's recent crackdown on political dissidents not by cutting off funds, but by upping the ante.

Just prior to a meeting of international lenders in Port-au-Prince last month, Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier arrested 50 persons and expelled 12 Haitian journalists, politicians, and human rights activists from the country.

Duvalier was reportedly angered by criticism of his handling of the nation's economy, and wanted to prevent critics from denouncing the government while it met with Western supporters.

Despite Duvalier's heavy handedness, the Port-au-Prince meeting awarded Haiti a record amount of financial assistance. And just one week after the massive roundup, the International Monetary Fund approved a new U.S. $7.3 million loan for Haiti.

The IMF also chose to relax the requirements it had established for Haiti's three-year U.S. $41 million loan which expires this year. Although usually rigid on its conditionality terms, the IMF claimed that "extensive" hurricane damage in August 1979-"together with other developments"-convinced the Fund to modify some of the performance criteria under the extended arrangement.

The U.S. State Department and its Agency for International Development were present at the international donor's conference in Port-au-Prince. Though concrete pledges were not given, reports from the meeting indicate that the U.S., Canada, France and West Germany all agreed to increase aid.

Currently the U.S. sends $33.2 million in aid to Haiti, and according to Howard Davis, Caribbean officer for the State Department, "some programs will be upcosted."

Haiti would appear to be a country well-suited for aid on humanitarian grounds. It is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with roughly 90 percent of its six million people subsisting below the World Bank's "absolute poverty level."

But Western aid has been widely criticized by human rights activists in Haiti and elsewhere for principally going to the Duvalier family itself. Even the State Department recognizes this flaw in their aid policy. "We do see the corruption as a problem and we are taking a hard look at our aid programs to see whether they can reach the people we want them to reach," Davis said.

The past decade of aid-involving hundreds of millions of dollars-has left Haiti's population in virtually a constant impoverished condition.

The most recent Western aid-in the face of its past failures - has raised suspicions as to the real motives of the donors. "The foreign governments know that this money is not really given to the Haitian people, but to the Duvalier family," said Marcus Garcia, one of Haiti's most prominent journalists, and among those Duvalier expelled in November. "They have other reasons for giving the aid," he said in a phone interview.

When asked about U.S. intentions underlying aid to Haiti, the State Department's Davis cited humanitarian reasons. But he also added: "We would prefer to see a Haiti that was friendly rather than hostile to Western interests and the interests of the free world."

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