Suffering within America’s Third Border and in its “Backyard”
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(01 October 2021) — It is difficult, perhaps imprudent, to point accusatory fingers at all those who bear some level of culpability and responsibility for the suffering of the people of Haiti without being accused of bias, or of pursuing an anti-‘whomever’ campaign. I choose instead to focus on those with the power to ameliorate the suffering and deprivation which is a perpetual Haitian pandemic. Solutions to the Haitian condition seem to evade the collective intelligence and wisdom of the development and humanitarian communities of the north and south, exacerbated by the lack of political will or incompetence of Haitian leaders over several decades.
I have heard enough “excuses” about outside interference into Haitian affairs. Instead, tell me how Haiti can solve its problems on its own. Show me how Haitian political leaders “elected by the people of Haiti” have shown competence in governance. I am curious to learn of a Haitian leader in the past century who has not been stained by accusations of corruption. I would like to learn of a period in Haiti’s recent history when the rule of law and democracy characterized Haitian society and political culture. I am not so naïve to believe there is any easy solution; there is no magic wand.
But I believe the trajectory of Haitian history can change. The continuing tragedy of desperate Haitians fleeing their country because of the conditions wrought by natural disasters exacerbated by political tragedies and physical insecurity, and the lack of any semblance of human security should awaken the conscience of the global community. Most importantly, Haiti’s neighbors in the region and in the hemisphere, particularly the United States and Canada don’t seem to accept the reality of their moral obligation to invest heavily in the human security of Haitians. CARICOM leaders are not absolved. They have a special obligation to assist Haiti in areas of governance and rule of law institutional capacity-building, as well as providing humanitarian assistance within their means to do so. CARICOM states with a profile on the international stage must use the platform they have to be advocates for Haiti, not just advocates for themselves.
The US government, particularly the Biden-Harris Administration, has a special responsibility to act to ameliorate the suffering of the Haitian people. Returning desperate Haitians who crossed the US-Mexico border seeking refuge in the US defies humanitarian standards. There is no justification for summary removal of Haitians. All Haitians who make it across the border into US territory should be accorded an opportunity to qualify for refugee status. Using the COVID-19 pandemic and a law invoked by the anti-immigration and xenophobic Trump Administration to remove Haitians is contrary to the promises and hope for an “America of immigrants” offered the electorate, including the immigrant community by the Biden-Harris campaign. Race should not be a factor in determining which immigrants are welcome in America.
Haiti is a part of the US Third Border formally recognized by former president George W. Bush in 2001. Haiti is located in a region often referred to as America’s “backyard”. America is home to over two million Haitians, and millions more of Haitian descent, who live legally in the US as citizens and permanent residents. Haitian immigrants in the US contribute and have contributed since the dawn of American history in the development of America as the greatest economic and military power of all time. Another hundred thousand Haitians on Temporary Protected Status contribute to America’s development. Haiti deserves more, and Americans of good conscience and morality should be abhorred by the sight of Haitian nationals being returned by the thousands to a life without hope in a country devastated by natural disasters, political instability, and a country devoid of human security.
What should be the minimum expected of the Biden-Harris Administration?
Firstly, immediately end the removal of Haitians and, for those already returned to Haiti, provide resettlement assistance. Such assistance should not only aim at immediate humanitarian aid but on creating viable options in Haiti for employment and human security development. The United Nations is currently providing humanitarian assistance to the returnees but was already overwhelmed by the extent of need in the general population and desperately need increased support from the United States and other donor countries.
Secondly, the Biden-Harris Administration must commit the same level of support to Haiti, at least proportionately, as is being offered to the northern triangle countries of Central America – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, with an estimated population of just over 17 million people. The Biden-Administration recently pledged $4 billion dollars in economic assistance to the northern triangle countries in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars already being spent in these countries. Haiti’s current population of 11.5 million would mean a proportionate minimum of $2.7 billion in US economic assistance to Haiti.
Thirdly, the Biden-Harris Administration must consider Haiti for increased legal immigration by lifting the limit currently imposed and clearing the backlog of intending immigrants. Many on the waiting list can be admitted on humanitarian grounds.
Fourthly, the Biden-Harris Administration should ensure there are no impediments to imports of Haitian agricultural products and manufactures.
Fifthly, the Biden-Harris Administration should empower the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) to increase and promote investment guarantees to potential American investors in Haiti.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I welcome constructive feedback from the experts, particularly Haitian development and security experts. But from my perspective this is the minimum the US government can do for Haiti, a country within its Third Border, a country in America’s “backyard”, and a country that has been contributing to US development history since the US Declaration of Independence.
© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post