Let Haitians Lead the Way


There have been calls to establish a United Nations protectorate in Haiti, but for a whole host of reasons the idea doesn't seem to be catching on.

The Brookings Institution held an event today in Washington, D.C., titled "Building Haiti's Future: Is Protectorate Status the Best Option?" Tellingly, they couldn't find a panelist who thought establishing a protectorate was a good idea.

The panelists agreed there is much work to be done; the country's roads and water system must be rebuilt, the police force must be strengthened, and corrupt judges weeded out. But all also agreed that the elected Haitian government should take the lead. Recognizing concerns about reinforcing democratic legitimacy—and Haitians' long-standing (and justified) suspicion of foreign intervention—the panelists unanimously rejected a foreign takeover of Haiti. Former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno even went so far as to call the idea "absurd."

The example of Kosovo provides an object lesson in the dangers of establishing a foreign protectorate. Donor nations are struggling to wean the formerly U.N.-administered territory off international aid. Two years after it declared its independence from Serbia, and more than 10 years after the U.N. took over administering the territory in the wake of the NATO bombing campaign, foreign aid represents 15 percent of Kosovo's GDP. Donor nations have supplied roughly €4 billion over the last decade. From Reuters:

"International assistance will continue but this will not be enough to solve the economic problems and start up a real progress of this country," said Michael Giffoni, the Italian ambassador in Pristina, whose country remains a big donor.

"There is a need to break this vicious circle of dependence on external assistance."

The Kosovar government plans to request further aid this year to close gaps in its budget. Kosovo does have mineral wealth going for it as it tries to build an independent economy, but corruption, organized crime, and ethnic tensions have hindered foreign investment.

There's no guarantee Haiti will be in any better shape in 10 years than Kosovo is now, but it seems much wiser to let Haitians themselves determine how their country moves forward.