Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

POLITICS-HAITI: A National Plan Without the People?

Jane Regan

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jun 21 2004 (IPS) - Haiti has a new, all-embracing plan aimed at pulling the country out of its economic, social and political rut with new roads and schools, policy changes and millions upon millions of dollars.

The only problem, critics say, is that it was written behind closed doors, it follows a neo-liberal economic recipe and is little more than "disguised colonialism" because of the large role played by international institutions.

The Cadre de Cooperation International (CCI) or Interim Cooperation Framework, a draft summary of which was released earlier this month, does have a generally neo-liberal economic orientation. It calls for more free trade zones (FTZs), stresses tourism and export agriculture, and hints at the eventual privatisation of the country’s state enterprises.

But it also promises broad social and economic interventions, including the immediate repair or building of hundreds of kilometres of roads, the promotion of alternative energy sources and a radical improvement of the education system.

The CCI – which represents the first time that donors and lenders have sat down with one another and with the government to coordinate efforts in this overwhelmingly aid-dependent country – will be used to orient the aid "pledging conference" scheduled for Jul. 19-20 in Washington, DC.

Donors and lenders like the World Bank and the European Union are expected to make financial commitments to Haiti during those two days.

The plan was developed over the past six weeks by about 300 mostly foreign technicians and consultants, some 200 from institutions like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank, and the rest mainly government cadres.

That means that a two-year social and economic plan for a country of eight million has been drawn up by people nobody elected.

Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and his ministers were hand-picked last March to run the country by an eight-person "Council of Eminent Persons" who had backing from the world’s powers – led by the United States and France and backed by the United Nations Security Council.

Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned Feb. 29 following more than a year of protests and after an armed group took over half of the country’s police stations.

The ex-president – in exile in South Africa – continues to claim he was overthrown in a "coup d’etat", and Haiti’s fellow members in the Caribbean Community have refused to recognise the new administration and continue to insist on a probe into what exactly happened the night Aristide was flown from his country.

And the CCI will be carried out in a country where a U.N. peacekeeping mission of what will eventually be over 8,000 soldiers and police is rolling into place. The Brazilian-led force is charged with providing security and stability so that elections and development projects can be carried out.

One three-page criticism issued last week said the CCI "reinforces the structures and forms of (foreign) domination" of Haiti.

Almost no one from the country’s large and experienced national non-governmental organisation (NGO) community, the local and national peasant associations, unions, women’s groups or the hundreds of producers’ cooperatives or numerous other associations was invited to participate in the CCI’s 10 working groups.

And while the CCI documents have been available on-line for several weeks, only a tiny number of Haitians have access to the Internet. Further, the papers are written in English or French, a language that only 5-10 percent of Haitians speak and read. Most people here speak only Creole.

Even the seven-person Council of Eminent Persons, meant to serve as a kind for counter-balance for Latortue, was not aware of or invited to participate in the process.

"They didn’t ask us," Anne-Marie Issa, one of seven "eminent people" and the director of Radio Signal FM, told IPS. "We only heard about it like everybody else, in the press after it was all over."

On Jun. 11, some 60 representatives of more than three-dozen organisations and NGOs met at a religious retreat to learn about the CCI and to launch a counter-offensive. The room was full of anger, according to Joseph Georges, director of the Society for the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), an NGO that works with community radio stations.

"We thought we were finished with the habit of exclusion," he told IPS, referring to Haiti’s previous governments, including the recent Aristide administration.

"The document is completely lacking in any kind of nationalist vision. It calls for privatisation, for development only for tourism areas. And it was drawn up by ‘experts’, most of them from overseas. You can’t plan the country’s development without including the peasants," Georges said.

Among those organisations not invited to the table are groups like the National Association of Haitian Agronomists (ANDAH), the Haitian Platform for an Alternative Development (PAPDA), the Papaye and the Tet Kole peasant movements and women’s associations, he added.

Georges was among the signatories of a three-page document denouncing the CCI as "disguised colonialism" developed without "any concern for transparency," which "took place in a context of a growing loss of sovereignty."

"The CCI is on the way to becoming the provisional government’s programme," the groups said. "But so far, except for the ministries of agriculture and health, the (Boniface) Alexandre-Latortue government has not told the nation what its overall policy orientation will be for what remains of its 18-month mandate. This information deficit is all the more worrying since it is occurring while there is no sitting parliament."

Government officials reject the criticisms.

Minister of Economy and Finances Henri Bazin told IPS critics are misreading the CCI if they say it calls for privatisation.

A summary of the CCI released in early June calls for audits, training for directors and "the engagement of private management of certain public enterprises," but not privatisation, he noted. Bazin said he was "overall very satisfied" with the plan’s orientation.

Minister of Planning Roland Pierre, who helped coordinate the CCI, also rejected the criticism, and described it as "a Haiti-led effort".

"Ministry employees who have worked for the government 10 or 20 years oriented the CCI," he said in an interview.

The economic orientation of the CCI is not much different from the broad economic lines followed by the governments of Aristide and Rene Preval. (Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically chosen ruler, was president from 1991-1995, although that term was interrupted by a three-year coup, and from 2000 until his recent resignation. Preval, his former prime minister, ruled from 1995 to 2000.)

Both administrations pursued neo-liberal economic policies. In the mid-nineties, Aristide and Preval began the process of privatising state enterprises with the sale of the country’s flour mill and cement plant, and Aristide lowered tariffs on agricultural goods to zero or near-zero. During his second term, Aristide vowed to open 14 FTZs around the country.

Still, it is also clear the CCI planning process excluded most sectors, although Pierre told IPS he and other planners gave groups ample time to make their criticisms known.

"The documents are available at various ministries," noted the minister, adding that at meetings he attended, he heard little criticism, nor has anyone offered alternative ideas.

But consultative meetings took place in late May or June, after the bulk of the CCI documents were written, and the ones in the countryside were very poorly attended, according to Georges. Groups like SAKS and ANDAH have not yet been invited to give their opinions, he added, and are working on an alternative proposal.

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