Happy Anniversary?

February 29th marked the fourth anniversary of President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s departure from Haiti. Since that time the United Nations’ seventh peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) has been on the ground ensuring that Haiti’s transformation to a more secure, stable and capable state is on track. Progress has been made since 2004, thanks to the UN, the leadership of Brazil in peacekeeping, and the support of donors, the U.S. and Canada. Successful national elections in 2006 gave Haiti a democratically elected president, Rene Preval. It also ushered in an unprecedented period of consensual politics, where a broad range of political parties have engaged in the rebuilding institutions, and more important, the Haitian state. Finally, on-the-ground security has also improved since last year. MINUSTAH, with the full agreement of the Government of Haiti, launched a very aggressive gang eradication program that has reduced violence and kidnappings in Port au Prince. But the clock is ticking.Real progress on the ground has been slow for Haitians. In spite of improved economic growth (at 3 percent last year) Haitians remain dependent on international humanitarian aid and Diaspora resources to survive ($1.65 billion, or 35% of GDP). Job creation programs have been slow to bring in the vast ranks of the unemployed, and decentralized assistance outside of the capital is still lagging. Finally, elections scheduled for this April that would have completed a cycle of constitutionally mandated votes for new Senators have been postponed, and the head of the electoral council dismissed. Such delays are not new to Haiti. But these signal a need to monitor more closely conditions on the ground which could become a tipping point if left to fester.

Although the UN has learned its lessons about early exits from unstable countries from the its experiences in Haiti, and more recently Timor, it will take at least three to five years more of continuous UN presence in Haiti to ensure that a new police force is in place, and that a successive democratic election for president allows for a non-violent succession. UN Security Council Resolution 1780, approved in October 2007, renewed the MINUSTAH mission through 2008. But it also required that in this unique effort to provide security and development in the hemisphere’s poorest nation, that there be benchmarks of progress for the mission to continue. This is a tall order for the international community, but one that it avoids at its peril. For the U.S. Haiti should remain a priority as the presence of a weak state at our third border not only invites trouble, but also threatens the future of the Dominican Republic, and other regional neighbors. Saving Haiti should again be a priority of U.S. foreign policy and also for the UN. Only Haitians, however, in country and abroad, can help realize a more secure future. A policy of partnership could go a long way to achieving this goal.