As a Canadian who has been working in Haiti for the last two years, I was deeply disappointment and incensed to read that the Canadian government has moved to suspend new aid to that country.
As has been the case for many years, aid to Haitians is apparently again conditional upon their doing what our and other donor countries’ politicians and bureaucrats want, which is always for them to open their doors to allow our businesses access to their country’s resources and markets. We also claim the right to meddle in their internal affairs. The results have always been devastating to Haiti, recently driving it from being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere to being designated by the World Bank as the poorest country in the world.
The comments of Canada’s international co-operation minister, subsequent to his brief visit to Haiti in November, demonstrate his lack of understanding of (or refusal to acknowledge) the issues facing that country. He trotted out the well-worn clichés about the weakness and corruption of the Haitian government. Does he not understand that a government without money can do little?
Certainly a federal government minister must know that. Is he unaware that virtually all of the aid money was diverted to other governments, NGOs and private contractors, with less than one per cent made available to Haiti’s government?
I have found the view from Haiti very different than the view from Canada. Canada’s official take on events in Haiti seems always to be aligned with the views of the country’s tiny wealthy elite. However what is portrayed in Canada as helpful is not necessarily seen that way by the more than 90 per cent of Haitians who daily struggle to survive.
The solutions to Haiti’s problems are far from simple. Made in Canada solutions simply will not work. Only through meaningful consultation with the Haitian people (not just the national government, the wealthy elite, and aid organizations) will initiatives that truly address the needs of the people be developed. I hope against hope that the minister and his department will realize this and redirect Canada’s aid money toward this end.
However, I see little reason for optimism. Canada and other donor countries have rarely deemed it necessary to consult Haitians as to what they believe they need; I see no real indication they intend to change their tack.
Despite our government giving lip service to change from time to time, the core of Canada’s foreign aid policy has remained unaltered for many years. Canadian aid is structured to benefit Canada first and foremost, and when taxpayers take notice that the poor are not being helped in proportion to the tax dollars being expended, the victims are branded as lazy, obstructive and corrupt.
But as I look into the faces of those with whom I have shared my life for the last two years, faces weathered by work and the burden of a Haitian's life, I cannot stand in judgment of Haitians. Rather, I stand in awe of their indomitable spirit, their amazing resourcefulness, their persistent resilience and their unwavering hope in the face of ongoing adversity and tragedy.
Haitians know what they want — a chance to determine their own future. They simply lack the resources to achieve that dream.
They certainly warrant our aid to achieve a reasonable standard of living, but they deserve much more. They deserve a different social order, one that does not contribute to and exacerbate their poverty.