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Elections alone will not solve Haiti's problems

News release from GAP (23 June 1995)

Contact Lise McGowan (202) 898-1566

While Haitians go to the polls Sunday to elect new municipal and parliamentary representatives, the quality of their lives will not change if the fundamental economic inequities under which they struggle are not reversed, a leading group monitoring economic trends on the island said today.

Lisa McGowan, an economist with the Washington-based Development GAP, said, Sadly, while the international community understands the urgency of free and fair elections as a step towards real peace and stability in Haiti, it has failed to act upon the equally urgent need to lay the basis for economic democracy.

McGowan pointed out that development assistance grants and loans are going into Haiti but, So far, the resources are not targeted at increasing the productive capacity or market power of the poor. The economic program imposed as a pre-condition for aid is a stuctural adjustment program (SAP) that has been applied and failed around the world. Ingredients of the SAP are privatization, wage restraint, high interest rates, removal of tariffs and reform of the civil service so that it can better facilitate private-sector activities. Investment strategies also favor the export sector.

In Haiti, as in scores of other countries where it has been tried, this model of development has served to further impoverish vulnerable populations, exacerbate income disparities between the rich and the poor, and undermine local production, McGowan said.

And it is being designed and implemented without input from the Haitian people, despite that fact that it impacts on virtually every aspect of their lives.

According to McGowan, This is cause for real concern: political democracy in a country as economically polarized as Haiti will go nowhere fast if it is not accompanied by economic democracy, where citizens are fully involved in shaping the economic policies that determine who gets what and how much of it they get.

The following points highlight the economic plight of Haiti:

McGowan concludes, The international community has moved mountains to support democracy and provide development assistance to Haiti. However, rather than supporting the development of an economic system that addresses the long-term development needs and priorities of Haiti's poor majority, what it appears to be creating is a juggernaut of development assistance that preferentially serves international and elite Haitian interests. Clearly, this is anathema to true democracy. The challenge for the newly elected Haitian officials will be to make the Haitian people, not international donors, the decisionmakers in Haiti's economic future.