TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: At the United Nations in New York City today, talk was of Haiti. International donors met to discuss an extra $4 billion in aid the Haitian government says it needs to rebuild that country after January’s earthquake. The money, once it’s collected, will fund a reconstruction plan whose details were released this morning — 55 pages of how to rebuild Haiti, and its economy essentially from scratch. In part, by decentralizing away from Port-au-prince.
Robert Fatton is a professor of politics and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. We’ve got him on the line now. Professor, welcome to the program.
ROBERT FATTON: Very happy to be with you.
Ryssdal: Is there something in this plan, this rebuilding plan, that stands out to you, that really strikes you?
FATTON: Well, you have all kinds of very nice plans. But what I think is missing is a clear sense of priority. The plan talks about decentralization, it talks about education, it talks about rebuilding Port-au-Prince, it talks about creating a grade of electricity, it talks about so many things. And we don’t have a sense of which of those key elements is going to be really emphasized.
Ryssdal: Well, which one ought to be emphasized do you think?
FATTON: The key for Haiti at this moment is the rural sector, the development of agriculture, and in particular creating the infrastructure whereby Haiti could regain its self-sufficiency in terms of food production. The majority of the population still lives in the rural areas. So I think the beginning of a resolution of the Haitian predicament is in agriculture. I think it would lead to the decentralization of the country. It would alleviate some of the social pressures that exist in the urban areas, and it would contribute significantly to the alleviation of poverty.
Ryssdal: Does this decentralization plan play to Haiti’s economic strengths? It’s not a country that does well with major urban areas, right? It’s agriculture and tourism where it finds itself.
FATTON: The plan also emphasizes the idea that you’re going to have areas where you would generate some infrastructure, and they would contribute to growth. The idea is that you build a port, you build an airport. It sounds very good. But on the other hand, it’s extremely expensive. And to have a multiplicity of those centers of growth seems to me to go beyond the capacity of this state to implement that program. One of the problems obviously is that the plan to a large degree has been drafted by people who live in the urban areas. In spite of the fact that the plan itself calls for agricultural development.
Ryssdal: Let me explore that for a minute. You grew up in Haiti. You’ve studied the country for a long time. Do you think this plan can work?
FATTON: Well, we shall see. This is the first time the country is going to receive such significant amount of money. The questions that are posed then — if you receive that money, are you going to use it? And whether you’re going to use the reconstruction moment, as it were, to build a new and more efficient state. But in order to have state capacity, you need to channel the money through the state. And one of the issues that we have now is obviously that the foreign community does not have confidence in the state, not only because it lacks competence, but also because there’s been a tradition of corruption. On the other hand, if you bypass the state you will never be able to have a functioning government that is accountable to the Haitian population. So we have kind of a Catch-22 situation. My hope is that if reconstruction is done properly that there will be some sort of organic process whereby while you’re reconstructing the country with foreign assistance, at the same time you’re producing the Haitian cadres who can eventually take over and continue the process of development efficiently. But that’s a very complex issue, and it’s not clear to me that we have found the solution.
Ryssdal: Robert Fatton, a professor of politics and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. Professor, thank you so much for your time.
FATTON: Well, thank you very much.
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