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A look back away from Haiti’s cloudy future

Wednesday was a solemn and sorrowful day for everyone in Haiti and for all those who lost friends and loved ones on Jan. 12, 2010. The unsparing earthquake that struck one year ago killed 300,000 people, an unfathomable toll in a country so small.

The 7.0-magnitude shock represents one of the greatest catastrophes of modern times. One year later, a debate rages over Haiti’s future, but today it is appropriate, first of all, to look back for a moment and recall the nightmare that engulfed Haiti on the day when the Earth shook violently and the buildings collapsed. Many believed the world was coming to an end.

The earthquake left the nation shattered and the vast majority of survivors destitute. No one who lived through it will ever forget that horrible day. Nor will they likely forget the outpouring of help from around the world and the brigades of foreign workers ― medical personnel, aid providers, soldiers and caregivers of all kinds ― who surged into Haiti on those first days, asking only how they could serve. Many came from South Florida. All are owed a debt of gratitude.

On the one-year anniversary of this dreadful event, it is appropriate, as well, for all who care about Haiti to rededicate themselves to the cause of ensuring a better future for the country.

Given the magnitude of the tragedy and all that has been done to avoid a worsening picture, no one can declare the relief and recovery effort a failure. Yet today the promise to “build back better” remains unfulfilled, and many Haitians have difficulty believing it will happen.

The first order of business is to deal with the electoral crisis. Last November’s election was flawed ― how could it be otherwise, under the circumstances? ― but without a functioning, credible government to offer reliable leadership, no progress can be made.

President Rene Preval should step up by bringing all the main actors together to find a practical resolution. This is not a time for selfish self-promotion, but for Haiti’s leaders to come together in recognition that international donors require political stability if they are to invest in Haiti’s future, and only Haitians can provide that.

Then there is the question of recovery and development. The Haitian Interim Recovery Commission has gotten off to a disappointingly slow start. They must do better in 2011.

Seeing actual progress on the ground gives everyone confidence in the future, while the absence of real improvement is disheartening and opens the door to desperation and political chaos.

The commission can instill confidence in its work by producing a road map ― call it a set of goals with an achievable timeline ― that allows the government to set realistic benchmarks so that Haitians and the donor community can see that there is, in fact, a plan for Haiti and that it’s working.

Initially, the goals should be modest rather than ambitious, but they must be realistic and consensual to avoid disappointment and political bickering.

It has been a painful year for Haitians. Nou bouke (“We’re tired”) has become Haiti’s mantra.

It’s understandable, but giving up is not the answer. Haiti’s people and all those who care about Haiti must ensure that 2011 is a better year than 2010.

(The Miami Herald, Jan. 12)
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