- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

This season, we Americans have much for which to be grateful as our economy remains strong and we remain united in the enduring strength of our 225-year old democracy. Meanwhile, the world's financial chiefs initiated a new era of giving as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced an impressive $50 billion program to double multilateral lending to the poorest nations. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill upped the ante by reiterating his proposal to supplement loans with grants to the same poor nations.

But in Haiti, recent days marked a season of misery for the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. Sadly, Haiti's deteriorating condition was punctuated by the drowning of another 150 Haitians attempting to cross the Windward Passage to Miami. In another incident, a little girl drowned as an unseaworthy boat carrying 127 Haitians sank as it sailed just off the Haitian shoreline.

Haiti's economic conditions, the primary cause of flight, are the result of many differing factors, but the embargo of loans by the same development banks that pledged to double the world's aid deserves a significant portion of the blame. The Bretton Woods Institutions were founded on the ideal that these organizations would work to circumvent the ebbs and flows of world politics to stabilize the global economic system one nation at a time. Yet the United States is using its veto prerogative through multilateral lending organizations to punish Haiti because of a few electoral discrepancies that were not much different than our own just one year ago. National political negotiations are continuing to resolve the differences between Haiti's parties, and there has been substantial progress achieved in the talks since they began in June.

However, the central question for multilateral lending organizations is whether it is appropriate for these institutions to use monetary leverage to intervene in the political evolution of an indigenous process. Was there a coup d'etat that materially changed Haiti's political fabric and subsequently tripped such a disproportionate response by the U.S. through its multilateral proxy? No, in fact there were two successful elections, one of which the Organization of American States (OAS) declared as "the high point of the electoral process" and "a great success for the Haitian population."

Does Haiti possess weapons of mass destruction that threaten world security, or is it a major producer of illicit drugs? No and no. In fact, Haiti has been deemed as a nation now cooperating fully with U.S. objectives in the drug trade, money laundering and corruption. Its parliament has aggressively enacted laws and its police force is learning to enforce those laws effectively.

Could it be then that Haiti's circumstances triggered a huge global bail out such as the one that we are considering for Argentina, and which is reminiscent of the 1980s debt crisis? No, the fact is that Haiti actually has very little official debt and carries hardly any private -debt schedules. Moreover, to keep in good standing with the same financial institutions that are embargoing critical development and humanitarian loans, Haiti is now making payments to the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) on its arrears and credit commissions on loans that Haiti has signed and yet has never received. As a result, Haiti is now in a negative cash-flow position with the IADB to the tune of $10 million. In essence, Haiti is financing the IADB instead of vice-versa.

The consequences are stark and disturbing. Haiti's health-care sector is in shambles and the HIV/AIDS rate continues to rise exponentially. In a country of 8 million people, Haiti has an infected population of more than 300,000. Its infant mortality rate is 74 deaths out every 1,000 live births out of the same number of births, five mothers die. This is one of the highest rates in the world. In the health-care system, there are only 1.2 physicians for every 10,000 patients. And access to potable water, essential for maintaining good health, is only available to 40 percent of all Haitians.

The reality for us is that Haiti resides in our own neighborhood and its living standards fall well below the standards met for the remainder of the hemisphere's nations.

What then can the Bush administration do to refocus U.S. policy to Haiti? Well, first President Bush should act immediately to disburse all critical humanitarian and development loans to Haiti now being blocked by the Departments of State and Treasury. Second, it should back a plan that gives all sides in Haiti legitimate confidence-building measures so that all negotiating parties feel compelled to resolve their differences. The Haitian government has made a number of significant concessions in the talks and the opposition needs to make equally serious efforts. Third, the administration should lead a comprehensive effort with other developed nations to assist Haiti in rebuilding its economy in a manner that bolsters currency value, creates broader trading opportunities with the developed world and expands opportunities for poor, unemployed Haitians and those now operating in the informal sector.

One little known impact of the September 11th attacks is the resulting high unemployment in the Haitian-American community that, until recently, sent almost $900 million per year to help families and relatives in Haiti. This loss to the Haitian economy, exacerbated by the loan embargo, will certainly cause a human calamity in Haiti.

The question for Americans on the start of our season of giving is whether we will engage Mr. Bush to do the right thing in Haiti or will we simply stand by and watch a season of misery right in our own neighborhood.

Ronald V. Dellums, a former congressman, is a consultant to the government of Haiti.

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