- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

HOPE for Haiti

Haiti’s finance minister and two leading businessmen are in Washington to urge Congress to reduce tariffs on its garment industry in a desperate attempt to save jobs in a country gripped by armed gangs that attack U.N. peacekeepers and kidnap foreigners and Haitians alike.

Finance Minister Daniel Dorsainvil and his colleagues, Richard Coles, former president of the Haitian Manufacturing Association, and business consultant Lionel Delatour, plan to meet with members of Congress, including Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and likely chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. They want Congress to pass the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, also called the “HOPE” bill.

“HOPE is very important for us,” Mr. Dorsainvil said over lunch at The Washington Times. “It would send the right signal that Haiti is back in business. HOPE and debt relief will provide Haiti with the relief needed to foster growth.”

Beside the increase in gang violence and kidnappings, Haiti suffers from an unemployment rate of up to 70 percent. HOPE would remove all tariffs on apparel made in Haiti from imported U.S. fabric. Supporters say HOPE would create as many as 60,000 jobs.

“It’s about making a better partner and extending areas of cooperation,” Mr. Dorsainvil told our correspondent Sharon Behn. “The political philosophy of the government is good, pragmatism is good,” he said.

The minister said political leaders recognized that the only way forward for the country’s 8.5 million residents was to put politics aside and focus on reducing violence and improving infrastructure to attract investment that is being lost to more competitive Asian economies.

Haiti’s textile industry, which in the 1980s employed about 150,000 people, now employs about 20,000. Mr. Coles, president of the Multitex apparel company, said he employed 6,000 workers until he lost major contractors such as J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and had to lay off 3,000 employees.

Mr. Coles warned that without some forward movement on the job front, Haiti could collapse under the force of criminal violence.

“If nothing changes in 12 to 18 months, if there is no momentum, the devils will come back,” he said.

Although President Rene Preval has achieved some economic success and low-cost labor is attractive to investors, Mr. Dorsainvil acknowledged that Haiti still faces considerable challenges in security and infrastructure. Kidnappings and drug-related violence also are on the rise and need to be dealt with, he said.

He called on the 9,000 U.N. forces currently in Haiti to remain “for some time to come” and said the government hopes the troops can expand their mandate and do more to help stabilize the country.

Mr. Delatour said the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, while not forbidden by the current government, should not be encouraged. Mr. Aristide, he warned, “would be a major element of destabilization.”

At least 14 peacekeepers have been killed since the deployment of the U.N. force in June 2004. Two Jordanian peacekeepers died in an ambush on Friday. Police reported 40 kidnappings last month, compared with 30 in September, although many abductions go unreported.

Army moving

The U.S. Army headquarters for operations in Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa will be relocated to a newly expanded base in Qatar, the U.S. ambassador to the Gulf emirate said yesterday.

“Qatar and the USA are cooperating on building a new forward headquarters for the U.S. Central Command,” Ambassador Chase Untermeyer told reporters in the capital, Doha.

The headquarters of Centcom have been based in As Sayliyah since 2002, after moving from Saudi Arabia before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The new location will be at the al-Udeid air base, which also serves the Qatari air force.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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