Forty years ago, Haiti had a slight economic advantage over the neighbouring Dominican Republic and investor confidence could place the embattled Caribbean nation back on a growth trajectory.
This was the sentiment expressed by Thomas Adams, the U.S. State Department’s special co-ordinator for Haiti, in a recent interview with Canadian media.
Adams said that in the past 20 large American corporations had set up their Caribbean headquarters in Haiti and investors were crucial to Haiti’s long-term recovery, as long as the country built credible democratic institutions.
However, Adams still predicted that it could take Haiti the better part of three decades to become a middle income country on par with the Dominican Republic.
He reportedly told the Canadian press that this “realistic” estimate should not be seen as daunting to countries like Canada that are heavily invested in helping the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, still struggling after its devastating 2010 earthquake.
“There is no reason why Haiti can’t become a middle income country. But because they’re starting so low, it’s going be to be 25-30 years even if they have good economic growth,” Adams is quoted as saying after two days of meetings in Ottawa with various government officials.
“It’s not a quick fix. These problems in Haiti – their educational system, their health system, cholera, the infrastructure – these aren’t quick fixes,” he added.
Adams pointed to the textiles, agriculture and tourism industries as key pillars of economic growth for Haiti.
“Haiti needs private investment. All the donor money, as generous as it is – and I think Canada and a lot of countries have been very generous – isn’t enough to fix Haiti,” he is reported to have said.
The U.S. and Canada, said Adams, remain in lock-step when it comes to helping Haiti recover from the devastating January 2010 earthquake that left 300,000 dead and displaced 1.5 million. Canada has pledged more than CAN$1 billion to Haiti, making it the second largest aid recipient after Afghanistan.
However, Adams is very clear that the US is in favour of holding Haitian officials accountable for all the foreign aid flowing into the island.
Canada’s former governor general, Haitian-born Michaelle Jean, who is now the UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti, recently expressed frustration with the pace of change in her native country.
“The aid and handout system has become kind of a business model, a scheme used by some to wheel and deal as it generates opportunities for embezzlement and corruption. It can’t go on like this,” Jean said during a recent speech in Ottawa to government officials and non-governmental organizations according to text posted on her website.
Adams said that’s the message the U.S., Canada and other allies continue to deliver to Haiti.
“We’re on the same message too. Again, cut the chaos,” he said. “That’s all we’re saying there: come on guys, let’s keep our eye on the ball here.”