One year after an earthquake devastated Haiti, the country faces enormous political and development challenges. Jacques-Philippe Piverger, a philanthropist and the founder/chairman of The Global Syndicate, says it is likely Haiti’s President Rene Preval will remain in power until the second presidential candidate for the runoff--set for March20--can be sorted out. "At the end of the day, Preval is definitely going to step down, it’s just a matter of when," he says. On the issue of reconstruction efforts, Piverger says that it is "a copout" to blame the slow pace of construction on Haiti’s lack of capacity. He adds that what will be needed for Haiti to flourish is better education, a stricter and more transparent legal system, greater integration of the expatriate community, and more. "At the end of the day, this is definitely not a sprint, a four hundred-yard dash, or even a mile," says Piverger. "It’s a super marathon."
Haiti’s ruling party Inite is pressuring its presidential candidate, Jude Celestin, to withdraw from the runoff after an investigation by the Organization of American States into presidential election found that he came in third. What happens if he continues to refuse to step down?
It will make the process take a lot longer than the people in Haiti and the international community think necessary. One of the things unique about Haiti is that the population is quite vocal when they’re discontent, and that’s part of the reason that we’re having these issues now. Part of what Inite is realizing is that in order to move things forward, it’s likely in their best interest to make sure that the voice of the people is heard. As has been mentioned in a number of articles recently, the U.S. government and the international community have been putting some pressure, along with the OAS, in order to make sure that the voice of the people is appropriately heard.
Inite still wields considerable power, regardless of who’s president.
Inite still has the majority in the parliament. That’s the body that selects the prime minister. Obviously the prime minister in Haiti has a lot of influence and power. That’s part of the logic behind Inite’s willingness to potentially have their candidate step down for the presidency. Because, if they were to continue along this track, they may lose everything.
If you look at the GDP, in 2009 it was about $6 billion and remittances from the Diaspora were $2 billion, so it represents a third of the GDP. That’s more than any donors anywhere after the earthquake and that’s just on a normal basis.
How much does this affect Preval? There’s supposed to be a change of power February 7, and it’s not clear what going to happen. Will he step down?
At the end of the day, Preval is definitely going to step down, it’s just a matter of when. His term was supposed to be done in February. If he were to step down in February, there’d be a temporary government. Historically that hasn’t quite worked so well for Haiti, and that might cause some more setbacks because they’d have to figure out who’s going to fill in during that gap. So it’s likely both in Preval and Inite’s best interest, as well as the international community’s, that Preval stay a bit longer.
Could Celestin run as prime minister?
It’s unclear. Many people believe that the current prime minister will stay on. It really comes down to the parliament. So it could very well be Celestin that’s put into prime minister. [But] from what I heard on the ground in Haiti, that’s not going to be the case.
Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned to Haiti after twenty-five years of exile in France. Can you speculate about why he thinks it’s safe to return?
I have yet to meet an individual who claims to know. We can all speculate. He’s aging and becoming more feeble and wants to go back to his home. So even though he caused tremendous pain and suffering, for him, that’s still where he’s from . Another opinion is that he sees a void in leadership and he sees this as an opportunity to go in and play a leadership role. The third piece of that is why would he assume it’s OK? Does he think that people forgot the level of atrocities he was linked to? Haiti’s at a place right now where the issues are immense. To focus on any individual regardless of what they did at some point for me is kind of a distraction. That’s part of what’s problematic with his return. Instead of talking about the problems at hand, we’re talking about Duvalier.
Exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, living in South Africa since 2004, also wants to come home. How worried are people about Aristide’s return? What could be the political impact?
It would be destabilizing since there’s a large faction of the population that would potentially be supportive of him being in the government. Aristide has a lot of support in Haiti, especially among people who don’t necessarily have all the information about the different things he’s been involved in that may have not been above board. Many [other] people were most disappointed by Aristide because he came in with so much support and fanfare and high regard. The Haitian presidency doesn’t pay that much, but he left a millionaire. So there are two very distinct factions.
I guess Aristide is getting to that point in his life where he’s thinking about the good old days and he’d like to be back there. He claims that he’d want to focus on education and being helpful. What are his actual ambitions? Who knows? [But] the likelihood of him going to Haiti is smaller than Baby Doc, because from what I understand, there are actually U.S. cases linking him to wrongdoing.
There’s been a lot of criticism about the humanitarian response to the earthquake. What do you think of the response over the last year?
The immediate response was tremendous. The follow-through by most measures would be considered inadequate. [Around] $9 to $10 billion was committed, but only a fraction of that has actually been allocated.
Generally the biggest obstacle that’s stated for the subpar support long term has to do with capacity in Haiti for managing the redevelopment. To most people, that’s kind of a cop-out as well. Going in, you knew that a large part of the government actually perished and what was left was inadequate. So you would suppose that in order to repair, there’d have to be some sort of internal [governance] mechanism put in place maybe a bit quicker than what has been done.
There has been some progress. A number of the NGOs have been very helpful. But in the greater scheme of things, if you spoke to the average person on January 20, 2010, when it was said that a lot of support was coming in, and said that a year later you’d still have a million and a half people on the streets, you’d still have people starving, and that you would have had a hurricane and a bout of cholera, people might have not believed you because they wouldn’t think it possible.
There’s been criticism from the Haitian diaspora that there’s been a lack of opportunity to participate. What should be done to bring more expats into the process?
It really comes down to having a thoughtful plan for engaging that community. It also has to do with properly valuing that community for what it can bring to the table. It’s like with any other job. I’ve heard the argument that they just haven’t been available. They haven’t applied for the positions. What that says to me is that the opportunities have not been presented in a way that makes them appealing to the best candidates.
People need to pace themselves and be realistic as to their expectations for the next five, six years. We’re not trying to rebuild what was there before, but we’re trying to create something innovative that’s reflective of the beauty of Haiti’s history.
One of the largest exports by Haiti is human capital. If you look at all the upper echelons of the United States, whether it’s the Ivies, hospitals, banks, you have Haitians at or near the top. To say the applicants are not there is just not accurate. It’s part of what stunts the process, because you have individuals in positions who don’t speak Creole, who don’t speak French. They had been to Haiti for the first time last year. So there’s a whole learning curve, which is almost impossible to really cut through in any meaningful way.
From what I understand, the Obama administration is trying to take steps to resolve this situation. With that said, until you see results, most people in the Haitian diaspora won’t believe there’s real interest.
What’s the state of international business investment in the country? What needs to happen in order for it to increase?
In order for business to flourish in a country, you need a certain level of stability, especially with politics and the legal system and property rights. Those areas are very important, and those are all areas sorely missing in Haiti in many ways. We need to have strategic plans in place on how we’re going to make the opportunities more robust.
At this point, much of the funds available for investment in Haiti are available to companies that have a track record of investing in Haiti. That cuts out basically the entire Haitian diaspora, because they’ve been living abroad for decades so they don’t have businesses in Haiti and they can’t get access to capital to invest in Haiti. That further empowers a very small group of people in business in Haiti to continue to do so and continues to expand the gap and sort of the exploitation that’s been going on.
What policies should be put in place for Haiti to become more stable and prosperous?
There needs to be a stricter, more transparent legal system with clear, enforced regulations: everything from property rights to laws that protect women and children such that people aren’t able to take the liberties that they currently take. There needs to be greater focus on education. Right now, you’re looking at a nation that’s over 50 percent illiterate. In 2011, it’s hard for any country to move forward if their people can’t read or take care of themselves in that way.
Then there’s the question of integrating the diaspora. The question of dual citizenship has come up many times. If you look at the GDP, in 2009 it was about #6 billion dollars and remittances from the diaspora was 2 billion, a third of the GDP. That’s more than any donors anywhere after the earthquake. In terms of the political establishment, there needs to be development with respect to people who actually work in the system so that there isn’t a new wave of individuals every time there’s a new presidential cycle. Also there’s a bit of a vacuum from the skills perspective.
Another thing is the environment: reforestation. If you take an aerial shot of Haiti, of the island of Hispaniola, one side is brown and one side is green. That’s because all the trees have been cut. Just replanting trees is probably one-third of the solution, because the other two-thirds has to do with the underlying issue of providing alternative means of creating fuel and charcoal and that type of thing.
There are so many things in Haiti that need to be done. At the end of the day, this is definitely not a sprint, a four hundred-yard dash, or even a mile. It’s a super marathon. People need to pace themselves and be realistic as to their expectations for the next five, six years. We’re not trying to rebuild what was there before, but we’re trying to create something innovative that’s reflective of the beauty of Haiti’s history.