Haiti’s State-Building Challenge

SANTO DOMINGO -- The $5 billion in short-term aid for Haiti, and the $10 billion pledged for its long-term reconstruction at the International Donors’ Conference on March 31, is a vote of confidence in the potential of collective international action. The question, however, is not only one of money; it is about whether Haiti’s agony is to be addressed as just one more humanitarian crisis or as a structural problem of state building – a long-term quest for institutional stability and sustainable development.

Conspicuously, Haiti’s Dominican neighbors were the first to gauge the magnitude of the problem and the global nature of the required solution. The Dominican government’s decision to hold a summit on Haiti’s future has the objective of securing the international community’s ongoing commitment to Haiti, beyond the generous response to the catastrophe produced by the earthquake in January.

In addition to harmonizing the flow of donations and an agreed-upon list of development projects, Dominican President Leonel Fernandez seeks to make clear that the task is a long-term enterprise: re-founding the failing Haitian state. A believer in the essentially political nature of Haiti’s tragedy, Fernandez rightly aspires to turn the current crisis into the lever for state-building, Haiti’s extraction from political isolation, and its maturation into an active member of the regional and world community.

It is to be hoped that the current global economic crisis does not undermine the reliability of the world’s commitments to Haiti. After all, even in times of prosperity, the international community has been notorious for making grand pledges, only to renege when it comes to following through with the money.