Where is Haiti’s Marshall Plan?
J. KELLY LANGE Special to the Tribune
Published: April 4, 2010 | Updated: March 20, 2013 at 07:41 PM
At 4:53 p.m. Jan. 12, all was calm in Haiti. At 4:55 p.m., 300,000 Haitians were dead or badly injured, and millions were left homeless after the deadliest earthquake ever to hit the region.
If the human toll wasn’t catastrophic enough, 70 percent of Haiti’s permanent structures were destroyed. This is a tragedy of epic proportions.
Although most of us have never witnessed firsthand such horrors, the world has – on numerous occasions – seen the human condition reduced to its most basic, primal levels.
There is no better example than Europe at the end of World War II.
As 1947 came to an end, Europe lay in rubble, and humanity was teetering on the edge of chaos. Millions of people were practically starving, industry had collapsed and anarchy was building in the shadows. This was the view of U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall after touring Europe.
Marshall chose commencement day at Harvard University in June 1947 to unveil America’s plan for rebuilding Europe (first referred to as the European Recovery Act but better known today as the Marshall Plan).
“I need not tell you, gentlemen, that the world situation is very serious. That must be apparent to all intelligent people. I think one difficulty is that the problem is one of such enormous complexity that the very mass of facts presented to the public by press and radio make it exceedingly difficult for the man in the street to reach a clear appraisement of the situation,” he said.
These words could just as easily be applied to present-day Haiti.
To fully understand what Haiti’s recovery act should look like, we need to recall key tenets of the original Marshall Plan. America and 16 European nations (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Great Britain, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey) would work cooperatively to rebuild Europe.
To further enhance the joint enterprise mantra, great pains were taken to include the private sector. History had indicated that no sustainable development, let alone recovery, could be successful without business, labor, academia and agriculture working together.
Marshall’s other fundamental truths included maximum self-help, mutual aid, collaboration and tolerance.
Although no Haitian Marshall Plan has emerged, immense disaster-oriented initiatives have been mobilized to stabilize the country. Unfortunately, history has taught us that money and goodwill are never enough to change dire circumstances.
Long before the earthquake, Haiti struggled and failed to establish itself as a viable member of the modern world. Unstable government regimes, coups, corruption and other maladies have contributed in making Haiti one of the world’s poorest countries. Yet Haiti has displayed a resiliency that represents the best in mankind.
Haiti has become the mirror image of Europe after World War II, and total reconstruction is its only hope if anarchy is to be avoided.
Aside from aid and compassion, the most essential component to Haiti’s recovery is a new identity, a new nationalism. There will be many who say that focusing on this is a waste of time. After all, creating a new identity will not feed people, create clean drinking water or stop corruption. But Haitians need to feel like free people who have a future and purpose in life, not victims living in refugee camps waiting to die.
At the core of Haiti’s new sense of nationalism is the need to develop a self-sustaining economy so it can create, consume and sell its own products.
A first step should be the development of an enterprise (manufacturing) zone similar to the one created between the United States and Mexico, in Juarez. This would establish a manufacturing engine that could turn out construction and consumer products for Haiti’s use and resale, and provide a forum for the creation and mentoring of a pool of skilled tradespeople.
After the manufacturing facilities are operational and a competent work force has been established, Haiti could turn its attention and resources toward the foundation of a new urbanism – homes, commercial buildings, public spaces.
This can be done. We can help Haitians cultivate a new identity and an educated work force, one with lifelong skills. They will learn to do for themselves. We can give them a hand, not just a handout.
In time, the world will move on to other challenges. The question is, what kind of Haiti will we be leaving behind?
J. Kelly Lange is a writer and business consultant in the Tampa Bay area.
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