The most in-demand toys for children are becoming more complex, and some can turn dangerous if not properly vetted or used.
As Kojo wraps up his visit to Haiti, we explore what the island nation’s future may hold. Will the manufacturing sector see a resurgence? How will the upcoming presidential race play out? What can a graffiti artist tell us about Haitian culture?
- Joseph Guyler Delva Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC
- Johanna Mendelson-Forman Senior Associate, Americas Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Edmond Mulet Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of mission of MINUSTAH in Haiti
- Ambassador Colin Granderson CARICOM-OAS Joint Electoral Observation Mission Chief
- Georges Barau Sassine Executive Director, Commission Presidentielle Tripartite de Mise en Oeuvre de la Loi Hope (CTMO-HOPE) / President, Association des Industries d'Haiti
Haiti’s Politics: A Graffiti Artist’s Take
Street artist Jerry Rosembert talks about his work on the walls of Port-au-Prince. Rosembert sees his art as a positive influence even as some politicians try to use it, against his wishes, for their own benefit.
Extended Audio Interviews
Ambassador Colin Granderson, CARICOM-OAS Joint Electoral Observation Mission Chief
Georges Barau Sassine, Executive Director, Commission Presidentielle Tripartite de Mise en Oeuvre de la Loi Hope (CTMO-HOPE) / President, Association des Industries d’Haiti
Edmond Mulet, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of mission of MINUSTAH in Haiti
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 in Washington and from the studios of Radio Metropole in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDriving through the streets of Port-au-Prince the other day, we saw two men who seem to be having a fight. One was driving a tap-tap, the trucks that serve as buses around here and the other man wanted to wash the truck so badly that he was blocking the vehicle while it was moving, shouting and waving his arms. People here badly want to work to help their families and to help Haiti become a more prosperous nation. But figuring out how to get there is the challenge many people say the Haitian government is not up to the task of, the task of rebuilding this country. And yet, they also think that thousands of NGOs operating here are actually making things worse rather than better.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn this hour, we'll have a broad-ranging discussion of Haiti's future, looking at politics, economics, arts and the competing visions to build Haiti back better. Joining us in studio is Johanna Mendelson-Forman. She is senior associate with the Americas Program at CSIS. That is the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She's been with us on our trip as an adviser on Haiti. Johanna, I should say welcome back.
MS. JOHANNA MENDELSON-FORMANThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Joseph Guyler Delva. Gee Delva is a Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC. Gee Delva, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. JOSEPH GUYLER DELVAThank you, Kojo, for having me.
NNAMDIJohanna, you've been to Haiti on a number of occasions. First of all, how do things look compared to how they were looking earlier this year after the earthquake?
MENDELSON-FORMANI'm actually pleasantly surprised by what I saw. I was here in June for the Clinton global initiatives reading. And one of the things that struck me was the vast amount of destruction and the rubble on the streets that was creating massive traffic jams. There still is rubble and there certainly still is destruction, but I do think that I see progress on the streets, more people moving, more vehicles moving, things starting to move forward at last.
NNAMDIIt's all relative, I guess.
MENDELSON-FORMANI think it is. But I do feel that there has been visually a greater improvement in the city since I was here in the month of June.
NNAMDIGee, all over the city we're seeing people rebuilding their houses, cleaning up their streets, and yet there are still destroyed buildings everywhere, including most symbolically the presidential palace. How would you assess the pace of the reconstruction efforts?
DELVAYes, the reconstruction effort is a big, big challenge and it would be -- could have been a challenge for any country. But for Haiti, which has been a very poor country and also a very -- I mean we've had a very weak government. And, of course, it's even worse to handle by the government. But at the same time, people -- many people in the camps and also people around the country, many believe that more could have been done. The international community could have been -- could have done more. The government of Haiti could have done more and the NGOs, you know, they think that some more could have been done because those people who are under the tents, they don't know for how long, and they, of course, they'll be in some progress, as my colleague just said. But at the same time, people can't see it because of problems so huge and not very much has been done so the problem is still there.
NNAMDIYou know, Gee, we were driving around the city the other day and our driver, fixer extraordinaire and translator, Sebastian Petion pointed to a collapsed building and said, that used to be Gee's office. Tell us about how this earthquake personally affected you.
DELVAYeah, that was the office of SOS Journalist. It was a three-story building.
NNAMDIWhat is SOS Journalist?
DELVASOS Journalist is a media professionals organization defending press freedom, assisting...
NNAMDIThat you were the head.
DELVAYes, that I head -- and training journalists around the country, working with journalists, assisting journalists in every way possible. So, on January 12, actually my daughter stayed with me because I was supposed to be in the building and every time I pass in front of the building I see my chair under the concrete, so I would have been there. If it was not for my daughter who wanted me to buy her a snow cone, here we call it fresco.
DELVAOkay, she insisted she wanted me to buy the snow cone while I was trying to rush to the office. She said, no, I want, I want. I said, I have to be at the office, then I have to stop somewhere and buy the snow cone and I spent about 15 minutes there. And I was talking to some friends, then when the earthquake, I was just 100 meters from the office.
NNAMDIIn your car.
DELVAYeah, in the car.
NNAMDIIt lasted 35 seconds. Did you sit in your car?
DELVAI was in the car. Yeah, I was in the car with my daughter and with the driver.
NNAMDIWhen you were sitting in that car for those 35 seconds, couple of things, A, what went through your mind, and B, what did you see going on around you?
DELVAFirst, I felt somebody bumped into my car, like somebody was coming from behind. Just but I said, hey, what was it? Then I turned my head and I saw nobody...
DELVANo, I mean there were people behind me because of traffic but nobody hit my car. Then afterwards, you know, it keeps shaking, then I looked around me then I saw dust coming up, you know, from, I mean, everywhere. Then I saw building coming down, buildings coming down, you know, and people screaming, screaming Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, everywhere people screaming. Then, you know, I knew it was an earthquake, then I couldn't even move the car anymore, so but before, when we had the first shake, my wife called me and she was at the office and she called me, she said she felt that building was coming down with her. Then when I rushed to the office and I saw the building completely down...
NNAMDIYour wife was able to get out?
DELVALike a miracle. The only place, the only place in the building where you could be and not be killed, that's exactly where she was, just one place. And she just walked out. She came from the third floor, down and she didn't go down in the stairs, she just walked to the street. She would -- miracle.
NNAMDISo you owe a great deal of thanks, one, to a snow cone and, two, to one room in a building.
DELVAYes, I mean, the room, it's down, but just it is, it sits like that. If you saw the building, there is one part that stays like that.
NNAMDIIt just kid of slanted...
DELVAIt's just kind of slant, yeah. And that's exactly where she was. In any other at least, she had -- I mean, she could be found, she was gonna be killed.
NNAMDIJohanna Mendelson-Forman, we drove through a camp downtown that's home to 60,000 people and the tension in that camp was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Why do you think we haven't seen more widespread violence or rioting in these camps?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, first, I think that there is a peacekeeping mission whose job it is to maintain security. And they've done a very successful job and I think a very respectful job under difficult circumstances. But a peacekeeping mission is not a solution in the long term for maintaining stability in Haiti. I think the Haitians know it, the Haitian government knows it and the U.N. knows it. But the ability to maintain stability when you have all kinds of problems, be it the color epidemic which is still not over or the potential of a devastating hurricane creates panic. And at some point in time, there will be some tremendous upheaval. And it is like a tinder box, you just need to throw a match on it.
MENDELSON-FORMANI do think the president of the country is aware of it and the leaders are aware of it. But at some point, this is no longer an international sideshow, it's human lives. And we are going to have to contend with that, particularly as we have a very contentious election coming up in the next few weeks.
NNAMDIGee, Johanna mentioned the peacekeeping mission here with thousands of troops. Do most people see the U.N. presence here as helpful or harmful? I know some people who are of the opinion that international investors will never put significant sums of money into Haiti as long as there is this perception that it's a highly dangerous place.
DELVAYes, Haitians have mixed feelings about the presence of the U.N. troops, of U.N. troops here. Of course, they've come to understand that without the presence of the U.N. troops, we could have a lot of violence here and all the kidnappings that we had here before could not have, you know -- yeah, no, I mean, it could continue.
NNAMDIOh, they could continue.
DELVAThey could continue. And also, somebody -- and groups could take over the presidential palace anytime and overthrow the government. But with the U.N. troops, they cannot do that. So that's one thing they think is positive. But at the same time, Haitians, you know, they are -- we are, as you know, like, the first black independent republic of the world.
NNAMDITwo hundred and six years.
DELVAYeah. So we are the Haitians, I mean, you know, we don't want the blan, you know, the foreigners who come in, occupy the country, you know, you have some people, nationalists, you know, who are saying that. But at the same time, I think most Haitians believe that it was necessary to have the support of the United Nations and we are part of the United Nations. And without them, I think we wouldn't have been able to go through that very difficult times we had after January -- after February 2004.
NNAMDIWe spoke on Monday night with the head of the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission, Ambassador Edmond Mulet. He started by talking about why Haiti has such a large peacekeeping force despite the fact that there's no war taking place here.
MR. EDMOND MULETMany people ask what is a peacekeeping mission doing in Haiti where you don't have an open conflict, you don't have a rebellion, you don't have an ethnic conflict, you don't have a religious conflict? I mean, this is not Sudan or Eastern Congo or Lebanon or Afghanistan. What we have in Haiti is mainly a failed state, a very weak state. It is true that when the mission was established in 2004, the country was in a verge of a civil war. But then, very soon after the mission was deployed, I mean that risk was gone. And then we have been in Haiti now for six years. I must say this is the seventh or eighth time in the last 20 years that there's an international presence in Haiti.
MR. EDMOND MULETWe have many interventions before from the Organization of American States, from the U.N., U.S. Marines, multinational forces, in and out, in and out. And now, we are here now for six years. And now, we are more like the backbone of the state, of the government in Haiti because these structures are very, very weak.
NNAMDII'm wondering just how long can people be contained in the camps, so to speak, in a stable manner? Because it seems that the longer people are living in these camps, the more volatile the situation can become.
MULETSo the people who have been in Port-au-Prince and in Haiti before the earthquake, they will understand what I'm going to say, and I don't want to sound cynical, I'm not going to say that for most of them, but for many, many of the people right now in the camps, they're better off now than before the earthquake. And it's extremely difficult to ask them to come, to go back where they came from.
NNAMDIWhere did they come from?
MULETFrom the bottom of the ravines, in far away places. Right now, they're in flat areas and flat places, in public parks and on the streets, on avenues. As you say in the U.S., location, location, location. It's not the same to be at the bottom of the ravine receiving all the dirty water from people above than living next to the national palace, where you have now the trains which we don't have before, where they have potable water, where they have medical services, they have electricity, they have light. So the -- what we see now in Haiti in these displaced camps is not only the effects of the earthquake but also a social problem that was in Port-au-Prince and in Haiti way before the earthquake.
NNAMDIExactly how important is this election in terms of the ongoing U.N. presence here? In terms of beginning to look at a Haiti that does not need the size of the kind of peace keeping mission the U.N. now has here?
MULETWell, I think, that these elections are extremely important because they are a fundamental benchmark in order for us to start the downsizing or even the -- thinking about the withdraw of the mission. In October 2009, over a year ago, the security counsel and it's debates on the renewal of the mandate for the mission. A mandate that is renewed every year, they were already thinking about downsizing and the withdraw of the mission. Because the political stability of the country was there. Social stability was there. They were going to have elections -- Parliamentary elections in February of this year that had to be postponed because of the earthquake.
MULETThey were preparing for Presidential and general elections at the end of 2010. And investments were coming. So that stability was there and economic development was coming. But then the earthquake changed all of that. And all those plans will have to be delayed, I would say, two or three years. But these elections are absolutely fundamental. Because they will bring that needed political stability to the country.
NNAMDIThat's Ambassador Edmond Mulet, he is the head of the U.N. peace keeping mission in Haiti. We'll take a short break, we'll be right back.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about Haiti's future. We're coming to you from Port-au-Prince. Having that conversation with Joseph Guyler Delva. Guy Delva is Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC. And Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior associate with the Americas Program at CSIS. She's been with us on our trip as an advisor on Haiti. Johanna, I guess, everything is context and a number of our listeners, listening to the Ambassador may have thought of what former first lady Barbara Bush said in New Orleans when there were refugees in the super dome after the hurricane there. But, I guess, context is everything.
NNAMDISo when you heard him say that there were people who are living in the camps who are probably in a more stable environment than they were before the earthquake, what was your response?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. And that statement has become a cliché. The fact that you have so many people living in poverty, part of the bottom billion of the worlds population. The part of the world that is most conflictive because of poverty. You have to think what aide has done, not in the last year because aide has been stupendous but what it's done in the last 20 years. And, I think, what comes to my mind is the whole context of what we as the international donors community have done to keep a country so close to the United States in this state of impoverishment, in the state of having to have the international community provide security.
MENDELSON-FORMANAnd to perhaps not allow the Haitian community itself to flourish. I don't have the answers but that's what I think of.
NNAMDIGuy, one of the things that, I guess, members of our audience wont fully understand is where some of these people were living before they came to the camps.
DELVAYes. Well, there are slums in the metropolitan area. And you see -- if you look at the mountains, you see a lot of little houses and when it rains, the water comes down from the mountain and, you know, go through those houses and take away, you know, belongings of those living in those areas. And you have also, you know, a lot of other slums in -- as Mr. Mulet said, have people living in river beds, actually. And you have people living in very difficult situations. Of course, you might -- you will find a number of people who will be in a better situation in the camps than they were before, it's true.
DELVABut, I think, most people here, I don't think they are comfortable, that they are satisfied with this situation. I think, they want to get out of the situation immediately. And, I think, they've been asking for housing. They've been asking for, you know, the basic. They need to live in. So I -- it's true, some of them -- a number of them might have been living in a worse situation but, I think, the reality now, those people don’t want to be -- don't want to live in the -- this inhumane situation. They want to get out...
NNAMDIAll of them want to be living in a better situation right now.
NNAMDILet's talk about the general election coming up on November 28th. First of all, Johanna, do you think Haiti is ready to have an election right now with the Cholera outbreak on it's hands and so many other pressing issues to deal with?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, elections in Haiti have always been a challenge. They've been a challenge because of the lack of civil registries. They've been a challenge for many reasons but, I think, they're as ready as they'll ever be. These elections, if you recall, were postponed. Certainly the legislator of elections which would've occurred in February of 2010 had to be postponed because of the tragedy of the earthquake. The Presidential elections are on time and, I think, it's important for Haiti to move forward. "Building back better," as everybody uses that quote means, not only building back the physical infrastructure but the governance infrastructure.
MENDELSON-FORMANAnd I do think part of the rest of population wants to see a change. And that's why whether or not it's a perfect election, is up to the observers to determine. But whether it moves the country forward as Ambassador Mulet said prior to this, is an important factor. So I do think that even though the circumstances will be hard, there may be some irregularities. On the whole, people want to move and participate and use their franchise.
NNAMDIGuy, do you think this election can be, will be free and fair? We've been asking a lot of people about what they think about candidates. Some people have complained about what they see as the exclusion of the party Fanmi Lavalas, some people complain about what they see as the rejection of the singer Wyclef Jean.
DELVAYes. But first I'd like to agree with Johanna, that, I mean, it's true. You need to have elections. If you have to have a government, you're not going to sit in hotel and gather a number of people and say, we set up a government. We need a government. I mean, you can't do it this way. So you need to have elections, of course, those elections might, you know, have a lot of problems and elections have always been problematic here. You'll find, you know, things that -- things to criticize and things that should have been done otherwise. But you need to have government.
DELVAYou need the leadership and if you going to rebuild, you need people to take leadership. People who have the legitimacy to act on behalf of the population. And to take the measures that the population need taken. So it is those elections, I mean, there was one chance that those elections could be fair or let me put it this way, that the result could reflect the foot of the population. You know why, because the election is going to play at the booth -- voting booth not at the level of the electoral counsel. Not at the level of the governor or other institutions. But at the -- in the voting booth, if any candidate, any party who can have representatives because the parties, they are allowed to have representatives in the voting booth.
DELVAOf course, they will be observers, they'll be other people who, you know, people working at the voting booth. But if you can have representatives there, they can have a copy of the, how do you call that?
NNAMDIThe voter registration roles?
DELVAYeah, the paper, the sheet where they count.
NNAMDIThe tallies. Oh, I see.
DELVAThe tallies, yes, yeah. They'll have a copy of that. So if you have a copy, so if somebody and it's signed by everybody, everybody will have to sign that, okay, this candidate have four, that have five, that have 10. That if you can have that, then they can't steal the election from you. I mean, there's no way because you can always come up with this and say, this is what everybody signed. This is what holds, you know, so, I think, there are some parties, like, at least four or five parties, I think, who have the possibility, the capacity to do that and they are the leading parties or leading candidates.
DELVASo, I think, and it's for the first time also in Haiti. That you don't know for sure whose going to be the winner. In 2006, everybody could tell you Preval, before anybody could tell you Aristide. You know, every time you have that but now there is a competition and I think it's good. And, of course, there have been -- along the process there have been a lot of problems with Fanmi Lavalas and other parties who had not had a chance to participate. But I think in the end all those parties who said that they didn't want to participate or they were going to boycott the election, now they are part of it either directly or indirectly, even people from the Lavalas party, you have them running. Not under the banner of the party but on the banner -- under the banner of other parties.
NNAMDISo what you having here is a competitive election?
NNAMDIWe spoke about that election last night with Ambassador Colin Granderson. He's head of a special electoral observation mission sent to Haiti by the organization of American states and Caricom or the Caribbean community. We interviewed him at the site of the former Hotel Montana where many people died during the earthquake. Here's what he had to say.
AMBASSADOR COLIN GRANDERSONWell, I think, you know, if you don't have to try and imagine a full face story building which is one of the premier hotels in Haiti, which basically vanished in the space of five seconds on the 12th of January. At the moment, obviously, the site has been cleared. Most of the rubble has been removed. And the foundations of the hotel and some of the garage to the hotel and all are being removed. So it's basically -- for those who knew the place previously, obviously, it's utter ending. And it's symptomatic of what one sees, obviously, at Port-au-Prince. And other towns, like, Leogane to south of Port-au-Prince and Jacmel.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the electoral observation mission that you're heading has been on the ground here since August. Tell us about what you've been doing since then?
GRANDERSONYes, sir. This joined election observation mission of the OAS and of Caricom. The first elements or what we call the core group, that's basically five, six of us arrived here in early August just in time for the start of the registration of the Presidential candidates. With regard to the legislative elections, the preparations have already been put in place since late last year. As elections were due to take place in February. And because of the earthquake, obviously, the legislative site of elections had to be postponed. And therefore be taking place on the 20th along with the Presidential elections.
GRANDERSONWhat basically we have been doing is monitoring, observing the various phases of electoral process in particular with regard to the Presidential elections. The registration of candidates. The challenge process which took place both at the local level and the national level. Publication of the list, obviously. A number of the candidates, there were 34 candidates at the outset, 19 were validated, 15 were not. We as members of the mission, we made an effort to try to better understand the reasons given for the non-validation of a good number of these candidates.
NNAMDIThere are a number of people, both inside and outside Haiti who are concerned that some candidates are being unfairly excluded from the election. How do you respond to those concerns?
GRANDERSONWhen the, for example, when the list of validated candidates speaking of the Presidential elections, we weren't here for the registration process for the legislative side. But when the list of validated candidates was published in our press release, we took note of what had been done but we also said that for the transparency of the process, the electoral counsel should explain why certain candidates were not validated. This was done subsequently by the electoral counsel in it's own communicate which...
NNAMDITo your satisfaction?
GRANDERSON...well, basically, pointing out that the reasons why the candidates are not been validated. What they had to do was a residency. What they'd have to do is what is called a discharge which is basically a document which says that you've been given the, how should I put it, the approval of the auditor generals office. That you've been able to account for the public money's that were part -- that were you responsibility under your portfolio. Others...
NNAMDII'm not sure I understand that. What are the public money's on your...
GRANDERSONThe public funds, if you're a Minister, for example, or Prime Minister, therefore you have to be able to account for the money's that were given to your ministry or to your offices as Prime Minister. Normally this is a two step process. The technical work is done by the office of the auditor general. And then it goes to Parliament. Where bicameral commission, therefore gives the green light to -- gives it approval. One of the problems that took place this time is that the law host that's mandated expired in May. Therefore when the registration for the Presidential elections started it was impossible to bring together bicameral commission.
GRANDERSONThe electoral counsel took a decision that with the approval of the auditor generals office that, that would be sufficient. That obviously causes some controversy. But I comeback to the efforts made by the electoral counsel to explain the reasons for the non-validation in addition to it's own press conference and to putting out a public release. They also made available the judicial offices of the electoral counsel to be able to explain to the candidates who were not validated, the reasons why. As we will imagine as far as all the candidates were concerned, they should've been validated and they were not all very happy obviously with the explanations that were given.
NNAMDIIs the infrastructure in place? Particularly in rural areas outside of Port-au-Prince for this election to take place.
GRANDERSONYes, I think, we need to be in mind that the earthquake really struck the capital city in particular. One or two of their towns, like, Leogane and Jacmel. But they remainder of the country was not really affected so that'll -- what infrastructure is required is still up. Also in Port-au-Prince on -- with regard to the polling stations, normally schools are used as much as it's possible can. So, yes, the infrastructure is in place. With regard to the larger stakes because obviously the voting material, the kits and so on will have to be moved from Port-au-Prince into the countryside and elsewhere.
GRANDERSONThis is going to be done with the assistance of the peace keeping mission, a minister. They'll be using helicopters, they'll be using their own trucks and other means of transport to get the material to the various voting centers and polling stations.
NNAMDIWhat's at stake in this election, in your view?
GRANDERSONElections are always important. This one is -- it's perhaps a bit more important than previous elections in the sense that it's quite clear that there has to be a huge, a considerable reconstruction process underway in Haiti in the coming years. It's not just amount of months but of coming years. It's also quite clear that a process of that magnitude is going to require difficult decisions. Will require also asking the citizens of the country to make sacrifices. Therefore means that these elections need to be very good elections. They need to be free, fair, credible elections.
GRANDERSONThere needs to be a very high participation. So that whatever the government, the President, the legislature that results from these elections that would offer full creditability and full legitimacy.
NNAMDIThere are extended versions of our interviews with Ambassadors Colin Granderson and Edmond Mulet at kojoshow.org. Johanna Mendelson, lets say the election does take place successfully. Regardless of who wins, either the Presidency or in the legislature, people in Haiti want jobs and they're hustling to try to get jobs. What is a reasonable strategy that can be expected of a new government in Haiti in order to create jobs given the current environment of the earthquake and the Cholera outbreak?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I think, I want to go back to something that Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the UN said, he said that, Haiti was not a one year project, it was a 20 year project. Whoever wins on November 29th, the day after the election will have a 20 year project. But I think this time the 20 year project is possible.
MENDELSON-FORMANThere's enough resources whoever becomes president, for the first time, they'll have a full treasury if the donors live up to their commitment. So they have something to work with. The second thing they have is a population that's resilient and willing to work. They need to embrace the help of the international community to help organize it. It's still a weak government.
MENDELSON-FORMANIt still needs infrastructure. It still needs ministries filled with help. In the meantime, instead of rejecting some of this help, there needs to be a way for this to be embraced so that they can move forward because it's a historic moment. You have a competitive election, and you have money. Those are two of three things you need. The third you need is leadership. If the right leader is picked, then I think Haiti can move ahead.
NNAMDIGuy, there are some people who feel that Port-au-Prince is way too crowded, and that more people need to move to other parts of the country and maybe find jobs there. How realistic an expectation is that?
DELVAYeah. I mean it's feasible. That depends on the measures the next government will take. President Preval and even some of the candidates here have been talking about decentralization. And I think if there's one way to do it is to create jobs elsewhere and get people to leave Port-au-Prince to stay where they are outside of Port-au-Prince so that they don't have to come here to overcrowd Port-au-Prince.
DELVABut like you could put new factories in those places, you know, create an economic movement that could cause people to understand and to believe that we can live here, so we don't have to elsewhere where we don't even have our family. So I don't think people want to come to Port-au-Prince because they want to come to Port-au-Prince. They're looking for something, something that they cannot find where they are.
DELVAThey hope they can find it in Port-au-Prince, but actually, when they get here, they can't find it, and they are frustrated and they don't know what to do. So I think it seems, you know, if we're going to have a good deal of investments in the country, they need to focus on the provinces, on the provincial areas, to encourage people to stay there.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. We'll be right back to continue this conversation on Haiti in the future. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're having a conversation in Port-au-Prince, Haiti about Haiti's future, with Joseph Guyler Delva. Guy Delva is Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC, and Johanna Mendelson-Forman, senior associate with the America's Program at CSIS. She's been with us on our trip as an advisor in Haiti. Well, we've talked so far about the elections that are coming up in Haiti and assuming that those elections maybe successfully concluded, and talked about whether or not that can bring jobs to Haiti.
NNAMDIBut there are some other issues. We already talked about the focus on Port-au-Prince, but three decades ago, Haiti was a major manufacturer. Haitian factories produced every baseball used in the major leagues, they churned out clothing for the global market, they even made the iconic Rubik's Cube toy. But that changed in the 90's. Johanna, why did so many businesses leave Haiti?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I think it's very clear that in 1991 after President Aristide was elected and then overthrown by a military coup ten months after his election, that stability was not yet a factor in this country's future. And when you're in business, what you want is a stable and secure environment. What survived were just a few of the apparel industry groups that are in Haiti, but most people felt that their future was better on the other side of the border in the Dominican Republic.
MENDELSON-FORMANI think the opportunities, however, for that business to return if Haiti can successfully complete this election are great. This is a window for not only the social stabilization of Haiti, but for an economic unification of Kiskeya, the entire island, that's the name and title, of bringing the island together as a whole economically. But right now we still have a lot of hurdles to overcome.
NNAMDIWhat do you think, Guy? What would it take to bring that kind of business investment back to Haiti?
DELVAYeah. Stability is the key as Johanna said. I think as long as people believe that, you know, if we invest our money here, you know, somebody could come and destroy your property or, you know, you don't have an environment in which you can -- your business can flourish and that you can get profits. But also, at the same time, while we're saying that, others say that there are countries where you don't have that stability but people still invest.
DELVAWe have violence of like, you know, even in Jamaica, in Kingston, there's more violence in Kingston that in Port-au-Prince. There is more violence in other major cities than in Port-au-Prince. But I think, you know, there is also the reputation, like people say, ah, Port-au-Prince, not safe. And also you have the whole -- all those communiques, travel warnings, from the United States, from Canada, but I know Canada has a lower, you know, the level of, you know, they have downgrade, if you please, their warnings.
DELVABut in the United States, you know, the U.S. and other countries, you know, sometimes say, oh, don't go to Haiti. So when you tell an investor that who has not been in Haiti, he says, oh, I should not put my money there.
NNAMDIGlad you mentioned that, because our producer, Brendan Sweeney, talked with Georges Sassine, a factory owner and president of the Haitian Manufacturer's Association, and he began by explaining how actions in Washington are effecting factories in Port-au-Prince.
MR. GEORGES BARAU SASSINESuffice it to say three -- four years ago, we were reduced to 12 factories, all of them sewing white t-shirts for Hanes and Gildan. Today those t-shirts are still being manufactured to the tune of 700,000 dozens a week. But all of the new factories that have come in, manufacturing much value-added garments. For instance, across the street here, there is one making men's suits for Joseph A. Banks.
MR. GEORGES BARAU SASSINEYou see those things, buy one get one free. They are made here.
MR. BRENDAN SWEENEYSo I guess one of the things that we're also curious about is what role manufacturing will play sort of in the reconstruction effort. I mean, my understanding is that one of the criticisms that the value added that comes in at sort of the bottom rung of the manufacturing value chain, is not quite as much as as you sort of move up. I'm curious about sort of where you see manufacturing -- what roles it's going to play sort of moving forward?
SASSINEThat's what I was saying. It's true what you just said that it's at the bottom rung when you're sewing t-shirts at $1.45 a dozen. But as again is happening, we are manufacturing higher-valued garments, but most important is those new investments that are coming in the manufacturing process, but higher on the value chain. Knitting, dyeing, finishing, all these, of course, they are less labor intensive, but this report and they permit other companies to come in.
SWEENEYI'm curious what you think companies see when they look at Haiti. Because in speaking with some people, they had indicated that there are sort of a checklist of various situations they look at, whether it's security or governance and all those types of things. I mean, how does Haiti stack up do you think, or what do you think they see when they're considering investing there?
SASSINEThe first thing that they look at is the proximity to the United States. An hour and 20 minutes away from Miami by plane, 72 hours by boat, all that kind of things. You know it takes eight weeks from China to here. So that's a big advantage. Then the work -- the availability of workers and their skill levels and their work ethic. Unfortunately, due to recent history, we lost a lot of our skilled people.
SASSINEToday you are sitting in a training center that we immediately saw the need for, and that's why we put it up.
NNAMDIThat was George Sassine, president of the Haitian Manufacturer's Association. We heard Mr. Sassine talk about the importance of a factory sector in Haiti, but other people have told us that the focus on manufacturing was something that was enforced by the World Bank in the 1980's as part of structural adjustment. And they say the focus on urban industry ended up diverting attention and resources away from rural development and agriculture. Who is right, Guy, and what does that mean looking into the future?
DELVAI think they're both right or both wrong. But it's true. You cannot develop a country only by, I mean, through the garment industry, or -- it's good, I mean, it helps create jobs, you know. There are a lot people who are working, and that's fine. But if you want to develop a country, that's not what you're going to choose as a (speaks foreign language) I don't know how to say that in English.
DELVAI mean, you need to develop agriculture. You need to develop other productive industries that could help you, I mean, find products to export. That's what you want to do, and at least also to feed the population. Because one of Haiti's, you know, biggest problems, is because we have to import everything. We import everything.
DELVASo if you import everything, so that means, you're going to be running after foreign currency all the time, and your money will lose value, and you can have -- you can have the problem of inflation. You have all kinds of problems. So you need to increase your national production, agriculture and other production like arts and all those things that we can produce, that we have the ability to produce, that we have not been. I know places -- I've been in different places in the world where people would ask me, how come we cannot find these.
DELVAWe would like to find these. But we do that in Haiti, but we don't have an industry -- we don't do it at an industrial level. We do things, you know, small, like you see like we have the beer here. Many people around the world would like to find Prestige. They can't find it on the foreign market. The rum, here, Barbancourt, many people around the world would like to find it, but they can't find it.
DELVAIf you go to a market, you can't find it. But they keep it a family level, a small level. They don't want to grow and to become big companies, and export the products.
NNAMDIJohanna Mendelson, do you think Haiti's economic future lies in diversification in general, and in expansion of the agricultural economy in particular?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I agree that the agricultural economy has to be expanded. But the one thing that neither of us has mentioned, is that Haiti needs infrastructure. There was a great neglect over the last 20 years to really invest in what I call the guts of a nation. The roads in this country are still the roads that many year ago the Marines built at the beginning of the 20th century, and they haven't been improved.
MENDELSON-FORMANMany villages are without access to electricity, with access to communications. And I think we're at a stage in our technology in the 21st century, where the cell phone revolution here has proven that you can leap frog over many steps so that people can communicate. You have mobile banking now, you can expand it. You have the possibility of using the old ferry system, which Haiti used in the 1950's and before to bring things around the country.
MENDELSON-FORMANSo to revive the agriculture industry per se, without building the infrastructure needed, will not help the country. But I do think that the international lenders and the people who are looking at development now are seeing without this no country can develop. So the focus has to be both on the structural part as well as on improving the agricultural development.
NNAMDIAnd Johanna, finally, if you were looking five years down the road at Haiti, what would you hope to see?
MENDELSON-FORMANWell, I'd hope to see that in five years they'll have another successful democratic election to start with, and leadership that really understands the needs of the people. But I'd also in five years like to see better roads and a decentralization that was promised after the earthquake beginning to unfold so that people do not have to migrate only into a hub, but can be able to fulfill their lives in all parts of the country.
MENDELSON-FORMANThere is great potential in tourism and agriculture in the ability for Haitians to have a normal future. It will take 20 years, but in five years I think we can see progress.
NNAMDIGuy, in five years, what kind of country would you be hoping to buy a snow cone in in Haiti? (laugh)
DELVASure. A country where children can go to school, where people can get access to basic health care. A country, as Johanna said, with the basic infrastructure because as she said, if you're producing and what you produce cannot get to the market, you will lose it, because of lack of roads. A country in which people can have a job. I mean, because that's one thing you need, have a job then you can take care of the rest.
DELVASo I seen a plan -- a project set up by the government and other partners. I see a nice Port-au-Prince, a nice capital, nice neighborhoods. I see it on -- they have it, it's a plan, how do you call that...
NNAMDIThe drawing board.
NNAMDIThey have it on the drawing board.
DELVAYeah. Yeah, exactly.
DELVAYeah. It's nice. If I could see that in Port-au-Prince, even not all of it, part of it, half of it, in Port-au-Prince for the next five years, I think Haiti would be way ahead from where it is now.
NNAMDIAnd on that hopeful note, we come to the end of this series of broadcasts in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Joseph Guyler Delva, thank you very much for joining us.
DELVAThank you, Kojo. Thanks. It was a pleasure.
NNAMDIGuy Delva is Haiti reporter for Reuters and the BBC. Johanna Mendelson-Forman, thank you for joining us and for everything you've done to help facilitate this trip and these broadcasts.
NNAMDIJohanna Mendelson-Foreman is senior associate with the America's Program at CSIS. She's been with us on our trip as an advisor on Haiti. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez, and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, with help from Kathy Goldgeyer and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. Our engineer here at Radio Metropole in Port-au-Prince is Andrew Chadwick.
NNAMDITimmy Olmstead is our engineer back in Washington D.C. today. Dorie Anisman is on the phones. Special thanks to Joel Widmaier of Radio Metropole, as well as to our Haitian translators and fixers extraordinaire, Sebastian Petion, Emmanuel Midi, as well as our driver Joseph Blanchard. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CD's, and transcripts are available at our website kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIYou're also invited to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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