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EDITORIAL - CARICOM must assert itself in Haiti's reconstruction

Published:Friday | January 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The plan for an international conference to consider the reconstruction of Haiti beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis is a good one. We also welcome the decision by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), apparently on the recommendation of Prime Minister Bruce Golding, to name Mr P.J. Patterson as CARICOM's representative in the committee organising this conference.

Mr Patterson served for nearly a dozen years as Jamaica's prime minister and before that held senior ministerial positions in Jamaican governments, including the job of foreign minister. He has excellent global contacts and is highly regarded as a negotiator, with the ability to elicit compromise and consensus.

But perhaps more important in the context of this assignment is the high esteem in which Mr Patterson is held in this region and his commitment to having Haiti assuming its rightful place in the family of Caribbean nations. Indeed, more than any other CARICOM leader of the time, Mr Patterson was, and remains, a strong proponent of, and fought for Haiti's membership in the community.

It is unfortunate that more than a decade of the Caribbean's ambivalence towards Haiti persists and that more has not been done, even within the ambit of CARICOM's limited capacity, to integrate Haiti more firmly into the community. It is a failure that contributed, we believe, to the slowness in transitioning to a stable democracy and in building an effective bureaucracy.

What little administrative and physical infrastructure that existed in Haiti was cruelly compromised by the earthquake that killed perhaps 200,000 people, maimed many more and displaced millions.

Haiti will, for some time, require humanitarian relief and will need money to rehabilitate basic infrastructure to make life, if only barely, tolerable. But as Mr Patterson will most likely tell his colleagues, Haiti will require far more fundamental reconstruction over the medium to long term.

The process, perhaps, has to start with the re-building of the Haitian state and its administrative infrastructure. These have to be followed closely by laying new foundations for an organised economy. As we have said before, rebuilding Haiti will require an international commitment akin to America's Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II.

Financial commitment

CARICOM, of course, does not have the resources that could put it at the forefront of the financial commitment to this project, but that does not preclude it offering the necessary intellectual leadership and critical support that will be necessary for success. Indeed, whatever friction may exist between Haitians and their Caribbean neighbours, we dare say that CARICOM will enjoy and engender more trust from them than the powerful metropolitan blocs. There are too many unhealed scabs from Haiti's relationship, historic and recent, with, for instance, the United States, France and Canada that can easily be rubbed raw, even in an attempt at perfect altruism.

CARICOM, therefore, is in a position to provide a bridge between Haiti and its supporters. Moreover, this community of relatively stable and functioning democracies offers Haiti a working model upon which it can improve. It is important, therefore, that CARICOM quickly drafts its own Haiti strategy, and be prepared to offer the necessary political and administrative leadership that will be required.

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