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Interview: Aiding Haiti

News & Features | February 25, 2010

Underlying the headlines about the recent crisis in Haiti are complex issues of international relations, aid, and the road ahead.  The Observer consults Professor Margaret McMillan and Junior James Dillon, Jr. about international aid and development in Haiti.

Tufts Observer: How would you characterize the international aid reaction to the recent earthquake?

Margaret McMillan: The US has sent food, water, medical supplies, transportation equipment, and people to Haiti…The logistical challenges appear to be enormous.

There is a tendency to blame Haitians for creating this mess…I think this is outrageous. People who take this position need to step back and remember what we (the US) have done in Haiti.

In the early 1990s, we imposed a trade embargo on Haiti to bring about democratization…

Then, under the Bush administration, we (the US) brazenly froze all foreign aid to Haiti and tricked Aristide onto a plane.

O: There have been debates about the efficacy of international aid— could you elaborate?

MM: For the most part, foreign aid from the US government is politically driven with very little regard for development outcomes. The largest recipients of US foreign aid used to be Israel and Egypt. Iraq is currently in first place. Clearly, these are decisions motivated by geo-political concerns.

O: From a development perspective, what are some of the major obstacles Haiti faced before the earthquake? Was it a lack of aid?

MM: No country has become rich because of foreign aid. I don’t think the root of Haiti’s problems is in too little foreign aid. The root of Haiti’s problems lay in foreign exploitation to a large degree.

James Dillon: The country has a history of extremely violent and corrupt governments that exist solely to extract as much money out of the country that they can for the short time that they are in power (they are “predatory states”).

A lack of any type of stable or trustworthy government has led past foreign aid to be ineffective. [For example] when the Duvalier family ruled Haiti, almost all aid given to the country was stolen.

O: Now, what are the best forms of aid to help Haiti develop rather than just recover?

MM: Jeff Sachs has proposed a Haiti Recovery Fund that would receive emergency donations from the US and other donors…to rebuild Haiti once the emergency is contained. It would be like a Marshall Plan for Haiti…The only problem with Sach’s proposal is that he is saying that we should finance it by taxing Wall Street bonuses.

JD: The country has extremely low human capital …[and] foreign aid could be beneficial if directed at schooling where supplies are scarce and teachers uneducated … reforestation without education would lead to farmers quickly depleting the land again. O