Haiti’s Challenges

December 3, 2010 — Haiti specialist Dr. Robert Maguire joined us for a discussion on Haiti’s recent elections and the country’s continuing struggle to rebuild following the January earthquake. Dr. Maguire is chairman of the Haiti Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace and an associate professor of International Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences at Trinity Washington University. He has analyzed Haiti for more than three decades and visited the country over a hundred times.

Dr. Maguire opened the discussion by addressing three important points from Haiti’s elections. A few days before the December 7 announcement of the election results, Dr. Maguire assessed Haitian public opinion as primarily discontent with the René Préval government. The Haitian people are dissatisfied with the government’s failure to address post-disaster needs, as well as its general absence from their lives. This loss of faith in President Préval paved the way for public support of two popular candidates, Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly. Manigat is a longtime opposition leader, professor and former first lady, and Martelly is a compass musician and popular entertainer. While both lack an extensive political background, they nonetheless offer an attractive alternative to the current government. Dr. Maguire also pointed out that the public’s embrace of these two candidates stems in part from their disappointment in the international community, in addition to their disappointment with President Préval. Second, the cholera outbreak demonstrates an underlying symptom of poverty in Haiti. There is a yawning chasm between rural and urban Haiti, and the poor’s lack of clean water and proper living conditions have created an environment conducive to the spread of the cholera bacterium. Dr. Maguire’s third and last point addressed long-term development activities. Haiti’s dilemma lies in its inability to develop with a weak, inefficient, and corrupt government that lacks a proper institutional framework. The international community, as a whole, works mostly with NGO’s and non-state actors in the area. But without a unified and coordinated Haitian effort with these NGO’s, there is little hope for substantial change.

During the question and answer segment, Dr. Maguire discussed the lack of attention given to Haitians who left Port-au-Prince and are seeking continued relief. He also addressed the response to the cholera outbreak on the ground, and the need for higher-quality facilities and more sanitation and hygiene education programs to prevent future outbreaks. Dr. Maguire wrapped up the discussion by answering questions regarding foreign aid, U.S. efforts to battle corruption, and reasons to hope for a better future in Haiti.

Security for a New Century is a nonpartisan discussion group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are OFF-THE-RECORD. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please contact Mark Yarnell at [email protected] or 202-224-7560.


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