Experts gathered at CIGI to discuss the pitfalls and possibilities of Haiti
* Image By: Yusuf Kidwai
In an attempt to tackle the internal challenges Haiti has been facing recently, experts on the subject of Haiti’s governance compiled their thoughts at a three-day conference last weekend in Waterloo at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).
The small Caribbean country is often regarded as a nation ridden with poverty and violence. CIGI and the Laurier Centre for Military and Strategic Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) decided to put together the conference, entitled “Haiti’s Governance Challenges and the International Community,” in an attempt to take a closer look at the solutions needed to create a better life for Haitians.
Last Thursday night the conference began with keynote speaker Ambassador Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), a group he calls a “small UN.”
Ramdin spoke briefly on Haitian history, but couldn’t avoid commenting on the devastating blow the country took with the tragedy of four hurricanes hitting in three weeks.
Since flying over Haiti after the hurricanes hit, and seeing the “massive piece of land under water,” Ramdin told the audience that “Haiti is going through another difficult time, not caused by man but rather by nature.” The country is now covered in waist-high mud, depriving the population of any opportunity to feed themselves. Ramdin also explained that over 800,000 people are now displaced.
Ramdin has learned, from over 60 visits to Haiti in the past ten years, that Haitians have an “intense pride in culture,” noting their “enormous creativity in arts, dance, music and politics.” Yet he also stated that what they needed to put their creativity into was “an environment of stability and peace.”
Throughout the closed sessions on Friday and Saturday, panelists spoke openly – often disagreeing – on the steps Haitians need to take in order to create a country that meets the basic needs of its people. During one of the sessions, there was a clear divide when it came to the aspect of constitutionalism. One of the participants explained that through the search for political stability, “any society will evolve more rapidly when implementing a constitution.” They went on to say that there also needs to be a “closer relationship between people and the local officials.”
The opposing view stated that although a constitution is needed, it didn’t seem to be very realistic.
“Constitutionalism requires a balance in forces, which is not found in Haiti.” One person expanded on this saying that “Haiti is not democratic; it is elite.”
Most panelists agreed that Haitians need to work on a grassroots level in order to correct their problems and enhance the international community’s perception of the country.
Another closed session encouraged the discussion of security and the overall well-being of Haitians. There was a focus on women’s rights, as one panelist told the group that women’s groups are making strides.
Rape used to be considered a moral offence, but is now criminal and offenders will receive ten to 15 years in prison. There are still only six to eight cases per year but the group was encouraged to remember that “women are not better off now than they were eight years ago… keep in mind among all the statistics that only one in four women seek a practitioner.”
There was also a hot debate on the merits of a military-run state or a police-run state. A couple of attendees had personal experiences with the military-run society but had very different views on what is necessary for Haiti.
Overall, the conference in itself proved that the international community, including Haitians themselves, is working toward a better future for Haiti. One panelist wrapped it all up, after one disagreement in particular, in three simple words: “Haiti has hope.”