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Haiti's Improved Situation Tied To Better Security

Haiti's Improved Economic Situation Tied to Better Security

Haiti, long associated with desperate poverty, political instability and rampant violence, now has reason to see a better future, two U.S. officials say.

Velia De Pirro of the State Department and Paul Tuebner from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said in separate interviews with USINFO at the December 3-5 Miami Conference on the Caribbean Basin that an improved economy in Haiti is tied to the better security the country now has, especially in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

De Pirro, director of State's Office of Caribbean Affairs, said a U.N. peacekeeping mission supported by the international community in the past year has "cleaned out" criminal gangs operating in Cité Soleil, an impoverished section of Port-au-Prince, "and that has made a huge difference in the ability of people to move around the capital and to feel safer."

The improved security situation is "probably the most significant change we have seen" in Haiti in the past year, De Pirro said.

She added that the country's improved economic growth has resulted in increased employment and investment in Haiti. She said Haiti will have a growth rate of 4.5 percent in fiscal year 2007 with the same growth rate projected for 2008.

"There's still a lot of work to do" in Haiti -- "we don't deny that. But there's a foundation to build on now," said De Pirro.

She said the United States contributed $600 million to Haiti over fiscal years 2004-2006, with another $200 million in U.S. aid going to the Caribbean nation in fiscal year 2007.

De Pirro said the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE), signed by President Bush in December 2006, has created about 5,000 new jobs for Haitians, "and we believe the [measure] is working and will continue to work." The HOPE Act grants preferential access to Haitian exports for entry into the U.S. market.

De Pirro said Haiti plans to hold elections for the Haitian Senate in early 2008. The United States is providing about $4 million to support those elections.

Haiti's democratically elected president, René Préval, has talked about the need for constitutional reform in his country, said De Pirro. Although Haiti's constitution is "quite cumbersome," De Pirro said, "we believe the discussion and conversation about constitutional reform go in parallel with continuing the election cycle in Haiti." De Pirro said the "building and strengthening of democratic institutions is crucial to Haiti's continued success."

"It's not enough to bring security" to Haiti, said De Pirro. "You [also] have to build institutions that will maintain it."


Tuebner, USAID's mission director for Haiti, personally has been on the scene to watch the country's security situation improve.

A year ago "you couldn't drive around Port-au-Prince without being worried about getting kidnapped," he said. Now, he said, he is able to walk around Cité Soleil, albeit with heavy security, when a year ago that would have been too risky.

Tuebner did not minimize the reality that Haiti is still a "very dangerous place to go," but emphasized the situation is much better than before when there were frequent killings, kidnappings and massive political demonstrations that could turn violent.

"I'm very optimistic how things are changing" for the better in Haiti, Tuebner said.

Tuebner touted his agency's "tremendous success" in providing, through local Haitian banks, microcredit loans to support the country's small- and medium-sized businesses.

He said USAID works with a number of lending institutions, including the Canadian-based Scotiabank, the lead sponsor for the Miami conference, to support the "informal sector" -- the small entrepreneurs who want to create a business with USAID helping to "grow" that business.

Tuebner cited the success story of a Haitian female entrepreneur who used a $200 microcredit loan through USAID to start a restaurant. The restaurant expanded so much that she was able to use her earnings to send her two sons to college in the United States. She eventually sold her business and now is retired, he said.

Haiti is "changing," and offers a "lot of opportunity" for investors, said Tuebner.

He praised Préval for "taking the actions necessary to bring" Haiti "out of conflict and into development."

USAID has a number of new programs for Haiti in the next few months, Tuebner said, especially in agriculture, watershed management, the environment and trade to "encourage investors to come back to Haiti."

Tuebner said he is trying to convince shipping companies attending the Miami conference to return to Haiti "because we're going to need their support" to ship Haitian projects to the Caribbean with "that market wide open" for trade.


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