A New Day in Haiti

Kenneth H. Merten
U.S. Ambassador to Haiti
Op-Ed in Miami Herald
Miami, FL
July 23, 2012

I’ve had the pleasure of spending three tours in Haiti. My first was in 1988, when the State Department assigned me here as a junior officer. I have since returned to the embassy in 1998 focusing on the economic and commercial sectors and in 2009 to serve as ambassador. Over the course of my 25 years working on Haiti, I accompanied the Haitian people through an earthquake, a major humanitarian relief mission, three coups d’état, two hurricanes, one embargo and at least four elections.

When I returned as ambassador, I spoke with Haitians about the importance of respect, partnership and responsibility — all central to the United States’ relationship with Haiti. I shared how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made Haiti a foreign-policy priority at the outset of her term and about our commitment to help the Haitian people and government realize their vision of a more prosperous country. I also spoke of the U.S. commitment to a new, and fundamentally different, approach that we would be taking.

In the past, our assistance did not always yield sustainable results, but moving forward we would shift from aid to investment — from what America can do to what the Haitian people want their partners, like America, to do, which is critical for Haiti to thrive.

For months we worked closely with the government to devise a strategy for the bulk of our developmental assistance to go to four priority sectors: agriculture, governance and the rule of law, infrastructure, and health.

We have leveraged the unique capabilities of U.S. government agencies and are working as one team to dramatically improve results. We are training Haitian police officers, helping increase agricultural productivity, building feeder roads, establishing sustainable health systems, building thousands of hurricane resistant shelters, and repairing and expanding access to electricity. These investments and programs will help Haiti build a strong foundation for future development.

We know that real, transformative change in Haiti — like countries around the world — can only come through private sector investments driving job creation and providing tax revenue. This was the case on my first day as ambassador and remains true today. When people have jobs they have the dignity that comes from being able to choose how they provide for their families and the freedom to make their own choices.

When the government has more revenue, it can fund better schools, hospitals, and roads, and police officers to keep Haiti’s streets safe. President Martelly has made economic development — inside and outside Port-au-Prince — a priority.

As I leave Haiti, I am encouraged. Haiti has reported a 21-percent increase in foreign direct investment since 2010. In the north, I saw the completion of the first factory buildings and modern power plant at the Caracol Industrial Park. There is palpable enthusiasm in the community for the jobs this park will bring, adding more factories over the coming months and years. Anchored by a $78 million investment from Korean apparel manufacturer Sae-A Co., Ltd., the park has the potential to create more than 60,000 jobs.

Its second tenant, Haitian paint company Peintures Caraibes, just signed a lease that will allow it to expand operations by opening a second factory that will ultimately create hundreds of jobs. But, the park is only part of the development across the northern corridor. Investments in agriculture and reliable electricity, the construction of a new port, schools, health clinics, and hospitals will fuel additional investments and open new domestic and foreign markets to farmers.

I am proud that the work we have done, and continue to do, helps Haitians build a stronger foundation for a prosperous future. My time as ambassador has given me a front row seat to history and has allowed me to be a part of a new chapter in Haiti’s story. I will not think of Haiti as a country that faced unimaginable devastation, but rather as a nation of vibrant, proud, hard-working and courageous people who faced adversity and kept climbing.

It is a nation with a bright future. I look forward to the day when Haiti is independent of development assistance and can join us in helping other developing nations. When that day comes we will know that Haiti’s dreams for its future have come true.