Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How best to rebuild Haiti?

The Inter Press Service has been running a series of articles exploring ways to best rebuild Haiti. Many ideas have been proposed including changing the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba military base into a field hospital and distribution center, even to using the voodoo priests of the island to provide care.

From the third and last installment of the series, writer William Fisher asks experts their ideas on worker service corps and education rebuilding.

For example, two veterans of aid to Haiti, Robert Maguire and Robert Muggah, have proposed a 700,000-strong national civic service corps to energise the reconstruction effort. They say it could harness untapped labour rapidly and instill national pride and confidence.

"A civic service corps would get the young and able out of the tent cities in and around Port-au-Prince and into work. They could start with the once-iconic center of the capital, but also could begin planting trees, working the fields and providing services in Haiti's countryside. At a minimum, this would reverse generations of unfair stigmatising of the youth there," they write.

Creation of such a group "would be a symbolic first step toward renewing the social contract with the people," they say.

Muggah, based at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, is a principal of the SecDev Group and is currently advising multilateral and bilateral organisations on Haiti's recovery. Maguire is on the faculty of Trinity Washington University and chairs the Haiti Working Group of the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

Another expert, Mark L. Schneider, Peace Corps director in the administration of President Bill Clinton, has been weighing in on Haiti, focusing on restoring and improving education.

He says, "Let's take the Ministry of Education: What you need to do now is not just put back the same bricks. You need to build a new education policy in Haiti."

"Some forty percent of the kids weren't in school before the earthquake. And eighty percent of those who were in school were in private schools where they had to pay and those schools weren't very good," he noted.

"There's very little public education. You need to have a commitment to a public school education system that offers a decent education to the kids in Haiti. That needs to be built. So you need to have education experts from around the world come and partner with the new Ministry of Education in Haiti."

But Prof. Maguire told IPS that the history of aid to Haiti has been a toxic combination of corruption among the government and business elites of the country, a politically-driven agenda of the U.S., and the selfish interests of private sector international investors who "wanted to maintain the status quo" and who viewed Haiti only as "a low-wage and stable dictatorship" able to manufacture basic garments and other textile products.

In a 2003 report, "U.S. Policy Toward Haiti: Engagement or Estrangement?", Maguire noted that "Great attention was paid to Haiti in the period leading up to and following the demise of the Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986, and then again in the period following the 1990 presidential election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his subsequent removal from office in 1991 as a result of a violent military coup d'etat, and his later restoration to office as a result of a U.N.-sanctioned and U.S.-led military intervention."

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