Goodbye Copenhagen, Hello Haiti!
The outpouring of financial aid in the wake of Haiti’s seismologic calamity is a welcome sign of global largesse. Though short-term monies will be disbursed for certain, past practice suggests long-run pledges are less likely to be, unless country leaders are proactive.
by Marquis Codjia
One of the most memorable “media circuses” in 2009 was the Copenhagen Climate Summit, COP-15, that gathered in the Danish metropolis late in the year a diverse mix of world leaders, social activists, interested financiers and the usual cohort of highly paid lobbyists. Although that meeting has justifiably yielded the meager results its divided participants were pushing for, the notable fact remains the political ‘tour de force’ that the United States and China eventually exhibited.
The antagonism was not limited to those two superpowers; it had metastasized into the broader North-South affairs, leaving, for instance, the once ebullient France and Germany deeply frustrated at India’s and Brazil’s lack of political will, and the surprisingly united African leaders – habitually ignored at international gatherings – irate about the richest nations’ disinclination to hand out the billions of dollars hitherto promised.
Apart from the millions of dollars disbursed, the temporary cut in local unemployment spawned by the hire of “climate experts” and media pundits, the direct economic boom momentarily enjoyed by Danish businesses, and the general “feel good attitude” espoused by politicians and green activists, the forum resulted in what everyone – except the staunchest idealists – expected: a failure.
A total collapse that all political analysts predicted, especially after COP-15 attending nations had showed, a month prior to the meeting, a divergence of views and interests that, cumulatively, were akin to ‘irreconcilable differences’ often cited in divorce proceedings.
Now that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has understood the limited power that Barack Obama, the(ir) “change agent”, can actually wield in certain fields of American foreign policy, and concomitantly, the solid structural power that lobbyists and other economic forces brandish when some fundamental systemic balances are threatened, the US leader needs a game changer to regain his ‘moral stature’ with Democrats and Independents.
The urgency of such initiative cannot be underestimated or addressed lightly by Democratic strategists, especially in the wake of an unheralded loss of the Massachusetts senate seat to GOP’s Scott Brown in a political bastion dominated by the late Senator Edward Kennedy for 40 years.
That major upset, while reshaping the current political landscape, is set to derail, or at a minimum, perturb the president’s agenda on major points, including health care reform, financial services regulatory overhaul, economic empowerment, education reform, and a successful conclusion in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Judging by the swiftness of US actions and the grandiosity of the country’s forces – diplomatic, military, logistics, humanitarian – deployed in Haiti over the past week, Barack Obama and his advisers seem to view the quake in the devastated nation as that game changer, their ‘eureka moment’.
Not that the leader of the free world is only gauging the political benefits of rapid intervention, he seems to truly believe in the moral leadership and capacity of America to aid countries in misfortune and spread its ‘good fortune’ wherever it can.
After one year in power, these altruistic endeavors have doubtless helped propel the president’s poll numbers to reasonable margins, after the bitter socio-political, partisan wrestling of 2009 gravely eroded his once stratospheric political capital, and brought it back to standards routinely enjoyed by politicians at that time in their tenure.
That surge in favorability, for the most part, is due to the supporting 1-million strong Haitian diaspora’s electoral base, the ‘collateral benefits’ of higher esteem in the larger Caribbean community, the de facto acquiescence of a majority of Americans for charitable intervention in crisis-stricken areas, the need to shun the nightmarish debacle and inertia of US emergency apparatus in a Hurricane Katrina-like situation, and last but not least, the opportunity to really start ‘earning’ that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Needless to say the latter was awarded as “encouragement for a work in progress”, a “call for action”.
Notwithstanding, Washington’s strong pledge to alleviating the repercussions of the seismologic calamity in Haiti is being matched by an equivalent degree of commitment from other international players.
Gone seems to be the period where a unipolar world dominated by American capitalism would render charitable outlays of this magnitude only affordable to the United States. Inspirited by massive foreign reserves and gargantuan balance sheets thanks to enviable growth rates and healthy exports, these rising stars are prying into an anemic US economy to solidify their presence on the global stage.
B.R.I.C. nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are, of course, atop this group, in tandem with other emerging market behemoths such as South Africa, Indonesia, and Mexico.
Traditionally munificent western donors such as the European Union, Canada, and Japan, are nowadays pecuniarily depleted after two years of exorbitant bailouts of their banking and industrial systems. Ergo, they cautiously guard against any further outflows for aid and prefer funding via established international financial channels (e.g.: World Bank, IMF).
The irony, or rather, the melancholy of this humanitarian imbroglio is that, eventually, the monies pledged along with the corresponding media blitz and political speeches are feared to be a mere publicity stunt, an ‘effet d’annonce’, in the strictest sense of the French phraseology.
Distinctive parameters are lining up to produce another media circus with plenty of zanies, small and big, who are all vying for the ‘top benefactor’ position in the global collective psyche, without actually paying the corresponding price.
Differently stated, past experience and the fact that Haiti represents a minuscule geo-economic target – if any, at all – suggest that odds are in favor of international inertia once journalists and the public take their emotional eyes off the country due to news fatigue or the eruption of another crisis or tragedy, be it man-made or ‘act of God’.
No doubt, the short term vital needs of Haitians will be fully met; however, big clouds of uncertainty shroud the fulfillment of medium- and long-run promises. Alas, this is no longer about saving the ecosystem, which is an arguably paramount ethos for replete Westerners’ stomachs; it is about saving the lives of millions of individuals and the political existence of a nation-state.
Assuming these predictions turn out wrong, that is, the amounts pledged are actually disbursed in full, and subsequently managed with the strictest governance standards, Haiti will embark on an enviable journey to turn around its chaotic legacy into an economically viable, socially stable, and politically independent state. Some sort of Marshall Plan, but those are big “if”.
International aid that is currently being directed at the devastated territory can be grouped in two chief categories: material and monetary. The former has so far consisted of all the logistical, military, medical, and humanitarian equipment needed for basic emergency activities; it also relates to the military, peace- keeping, and humanitarian personnel that a host of nations, mainly the United States and the United Nations, have already deployed.
Although hard to quantify, these operational initiatives are crucial to rescue the wounded, secure social peace, avoid business looting, and help safeguard the country’s (remaining) political fabric. They are also key in establishing a temporary medical infrastructure to keep pandemics at bay, provide food and potable water to the population, and restore or maintain international exchange.
Finally, and most importantly, these endeavors exist to assuage growing concerns from the twenty-five A.C.S. (Association of Caribbean States) leaders, particularly the neighboring Dominican Republic, who fear that social chaos in Haiti might metastasize into regional bedlam, thanks to refugee exodus and the ensuing social instability so deleterious to these tourism-dependent economies.
The monetary assistance earmarked for Haitians, by its very nature, can be (theoretically) quantified. It consists mainly of four sources, which can be often interconnected: governments, charitable and rescue organizations, private donors, and supranational institutions.
As the country falls into the second week after the tragedy struck, there exist a variety of news accounts narrating its pecuniary aid, and it can be expected such largesse will continue for some time.
In a recent study, the Associated Press estimated government quake aid to Haiti at nearly $1 billion, with more than half ($575 million) from the European Union’s 27 nations.
Individual donors, the world over, are indefatigably partaking in the effort, under the aegis of celebrity initiatives, humanitarian organizations, news outlets ‘telethons’, and internet campaigns.
Deep-pocketed Bretton Woods institutions have also lent a helping hand. IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn pledged $100 million from his institution to aid in reconstruction, while the World Bank waived for 5 years Haiti debt payments estimated at $38 million per annum.
A bird’s eye view of the various aid pledges at the moment put the total estimate at close to $1.5 billion, and it can be reasonably forecasted that the ongoing fundraising gumptions, once a more detailed analysis is conducted, can up that number to $2 billion.
Suffice to say, as already posited earlier, that there exists a strong possibility that a substantial portion of that pledged money – the medium- and long-term parts – will not be eventually disbursed, once global emotion tapers off.
Haiti’s President René Préval and his closest advisers must fathom that fact and act accordingly. They must see their country exactly as the global community has seen it hitherto: a minuscule, underdeveloped, and poverty-stricken land, the future of which – in the secret opinion of some top leaders present at COP-15 – is less important than global warming.
While recognizing the very notion that their country is not of any geostrategic interest to global superpowers and major investors, Haiti must equally see the current tragedy as an opportunity for renewed economic development.
Mr. Préval cannot underrate the necessity and vastness of such a task, especially given that his country will be competing with other nations or causes for aid money throughout the year. He must swiftly create a task force, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, and summon top minds in his country and abroad to reflect on a serious overall strategy coupled with an action plan to redeem that aid money. Country leaders also need to cogitate on the best way to coordinate relief efforts and avoid process duplication (e.g.: who should be the boss?)
Absent such a level of organization and commitment, Haiti will not access that $1.5 to $2 billion manna, which equates to 2 years of its fiscal revenue (2008 estimates), or 15% of its GDP that is expected to be lost as a result of the calamity. A phone call to 2004 tsunami victims, countless skeptical Third World leaders, or more recently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai might be a good wake up call.