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Haiti needs a Green New Deal, not another military intervention

In Opinions, World
June 08, 2024

Earlier this year, my paternal grandmother passed away in northern Haiti at the age of 94. Although my father wanted to attend her funeral, he decided not to travel to his country of birth for fear of being kidnapped or, worse, killed. My father’s alarm is not unwarranted.

During the first several months of 2024, more than 2,500 people were killed in the capital, Port-au-Prince, amid an escalating armed conflict between local gangs. At least 300,000 people have fled their homes due to the violence, many migrating to southern cities, including Les Cayes and Jacmel, or northern communes like Cap-Haitien.

Although leaving dangerous areas has provided some temporary relief, internally displaced people face harsh living conditions, not just due to inadequate aid provision. Speaking with the Haitian Times, Paul Petit Franc, who moved from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien, noted, “I feel like a stranger in my own country.”

This sense of estrangement did not happen overnight and speaks to a broader problem in Haitian society. Years of mismanagement, corruption and violence have torn the social fabric of the country.

Instead of addressing the crisis in Haiti in all its complexity, the international response has been to propose a $600m security mission. Even with the surge in violence in Port-au-Prince, many Haitians are doubtful that another foreign military intervention would solve the systemic problems in the country.

While the international community seemingly refuses to learn the lessons of the past, many Haitians in the country and the diaspora are reflecting on other possibilities. Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat posed a noteworthy query in the New Yorker: “How can we reignite that communal grit and resolve that inspired us to defeat the world’s greatest armies and then pin to our flag the motto, ‘L’union fait la force’ [Unity is strength]?” Danticat is right: what Haiti needs is a new revival of unity.

I would expand her missive to ask: What if the intervention in Haiti was not a militarised mission, but a rebuilding project that prioritises sustainability, economic redistribution and guaranteed social services?

What Haiti truly needs is a revitalisation plan that would not only ensure employment for many Haitians but provide the much-needed infrastructure to modernise the country and help its social fabric heal.

This would mean investing in the country in a way that Haitian elites and foreign actors have never intended. It would mean introducing a Green New Deal.

This national programme can mirror what the United States did to address the socioeconomic inequalities during the Great Depression and what the Europeans did to rebuild their devastated countries after World War II. There is no reason why the same vision cannot be applied to Haiti.

An environmental-focused development programme would redistribute resources in a way that prioritises social issues rather than solely thinking in terms of security for security’s sake.

A Haitian Green New Deal would focus on sustainable job creation by launching renewable energy projects, building energy-efficient buildings that can withstand hurricanes and earthquakes, developing a national recycling centre to reduce landfill waste, taking measures to climate-proof the country’s shoreline, and expanding clean water infrastructure.

To address the private sector’s failures in service provision, the plan would adopt a people-centred approach that establishes a social housing programme, a national railway system, universal healthcare and direct agricultural subsidies to Haitian farmers to modernise practices.

To address socioeconomic inequalities, the plan would seek to develop not just Port-au-Prince but also peripheral cities like Cap-Haitien, Jacmel, Gonaives, and Port-de-Paix, as well as the rural areas.

Financial provisions would also have to be made to rebuild state institutions, expand existing structures and hire adequate Haitian staff to manage climate-oriented programmes.

The Green New Deal would be modelled and built by Haitians with Haitian needs in mind. It would not only provide jobs but improve the quality of life, stabilise the country, stimulate the economy, reduce people’s reliance on gangs, and provide a sense of security.

To implement the Green New Deal, three major issues would have to be addressed.

First, Haiti’s external debt, which currently stands at $2.35bn or nearly 12 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), has to be forgiven. The country’s struggle with repaying debt and stabilising its economy has a long history, which goes back to colonial France forcing its former colony to pay indemnity for 100 years for declaring independence in 1791. Eliminating the burden of this debt on the Haitian economy is a key step in helping stabilise it.

Second, securing funding for the Green New Deal should start with Caribbean countries and the United States reframing how they view and politically engage with Haiti. Rather than seeing their neighbour as a charity case or a pariah state, these countries should embrace the Green New Deal as a sustainable solution to the Haitian crisis which can bring regional stability and challenge the hostility displayed by some states, such as the Dominican Republic, where Haitian refugees face mistreatment. It makes much more sense to fund a long-term plan that can ensure economic prosperity and security than a short-term military intervention which may worsen the situation.

Third, corruption should be dealt with domestically and internationally. Haitians have already repeatedly demonstrated their rejection of corrupt elites who have embezzled billions of dollars from the state coffers. To prevent further theft of public funds, anticorruption laws must be established and enforced. Regional actors and international institutions must support anticorruption efforts by refusing to engage with corrupt members of the political elite.

Many Haitians living in the country and abroad have felt the weight of the violence in their personal lives. Whether they have had to flee their homes or are unable to give a proper farewell to a deceased loved one (as was the case with my father), they do not believe that the crisis is inevitable or ordained.

As Jacky Lumarque wrote in the Financial Times, “Haiti is a very complex society. Those who seek solutions for us need humility, nuance, and historical depth to come up with appropriate answers.” Giving hope and highlighting Haitians’ humanity is essential. A Green New Deal can provide both. It is a plan that does not make empty promises and values Haitian lives.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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