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28129: Craig (news) UN Wire: Benefits for Haiti seen in alternative energy (fwd)

From:  Dan Craig

A Non-Military Solution
Marcela Valente

*BUENOS AIRES, Mar 16 (IPS) - A proposal for producing energy from alternative sources along the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic could be a first step towards development for Haiti. *

"The solution for the crisis in Haiti should come from within the island" that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, Johanna Mendelson-Forman, director of the United Nations Foundation's Peace, Security and Human Rights Programme, told IPS.

The United Nations Foundation was created in 1998 by U.S. media mogul Ted Turner, to support U.N. programmes.

Although Haiti remains the poorest country in the hemisphere, solutions are possible, said Mendelson-Forman, who was invited to Buenos Aires by the Woodrow Wilson International Centre.

She recommended a focus on development that sees Hispaniola Island as a whole, noting that while the Dominican economy is much more advanced, the government in that country is afraid that if Haiti collapses, its failure would drag them both down.

On the Dominican side of the border are plantations of Jatropha curcas shrubs, which produce the physic nut (also known as Barbados nut), used to extract vegetable oil. The oil can be refined into biodiesel, an alternative fuel that could help ease dependence on costly oil imports, she said.

The idea, which has the support of Germany, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), and the private sector in the Dominican Republic, "is a development alternative that could also help restore the soil (in Haiti), which has been devastated by intense deforestation," she explained.

That is because the Jatropha curcas is a drought-resistant shrub that helps alleviate soil degradation, prevents soil erosion and serves as a natural boundary fence or live hedge.

Brazil, which heads up the international military mission in Haiti and has decades of experience producing fuel alcohol (ethanol) from sugar cane, can provide assistance in the form of know-how and experts, said Mendelson-Forman.

"The problem is that Haiti does not offer fast profits, which is why teams of experts specialising in development are needed, to carry this kind of project forward," she added. "Haitian entrepreneurs do not invest in their country, and it is unlikely that investment will come from abroad."

A development approach that focuses on Hispaniola Island as a whole can help boost cooperation between the two countries and the flow of international aid to the island, she argued. However, the government of the Dominican Republic cannot do it on its own.. It needs support from the United Nations, the Organisation of American States (OAS), and the multilateral lending institutions, she underlined.

Mendelson-Forman said the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is very concerned about the soaring international oil prices and that it is especially interested in programmes for the development of alternative, sustainable sources of energy, she said in a presentation on the Buenos Aires campus of the Italian Universitá di Bologna.

In addition, some officials in Washington believe that support for alternative energy initiatives can help counteract Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's growing influence in the Caribbean, she said.

Chávez, who has close ties with Dominican President Leonel Fernández, is backing the installation of an oil refinery in that Caribbean nation.

Mendelson-Forman's presentation coincided with the end of a tour by Haitian president-elect René Préval that took him to Brazil, Chile and Argentina ahead of his Mar. 29 inauguration. The leader asked for assistance and cooperation from the three countries "to draw up a development-focused government programme," a source with the Argentine Foreign Ministry told IPS.

The source, who asked to withhold his name, said that Haiti will be viable if the international pledge of aid is fulfilled, and if dialogue is strengthened among the country's internal sectors. He said it was unfortunate that countries like Spain have withdrawn their military presence, and that donor nations are delaying their promised financial assistance.

The three South American countries are major contributors of troops to the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) deployed in the Caribbean nation of 8.5 million people in mid-2004. Haiti has been without a government since Feb. 29 of that year, when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by armed opposition groups, reportedly backed by Washington.

In February, the U.N. Security Council extended the mission's mandate until June. And with the exception of Spain, the countries that contribute military or civilian personnel ratified their commitment to remaining a part of the stabilisation force, despite the criticisms levelled at its supposed ineffectiveness.

During his tour, Préval spoke of the need for MINUSTAH, made up of close to 9,000 troops, to stay in his country for a longer time.

Préval received strong support from the Brazilian government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, newly inaugurated Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, and Argentina's Néstor Kirchner. But the challenges he faces are many, and the support offered always seems to fall short.

In her presentation, Mendelson-Forman warned that Haiti runs the risk of becoming a "failed state", where neither government institutions nor civil society function effectively.

She stressed that Haiti remains the country with the highest rates of AIDS and illiteracy and the lowest life expectancy in the Americas.

She also emphasised that Haiti has become a transit route for transporting illegal drugs from Colombia to the United States. The main sources of income in the Caribbean nation are remittances sent by relatives living abroad, followed in second place by drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and other criminal activity like kidnapping, she said.

Mendelson-Forman further noted that a large percentage of farm workers and construction workers in the neighbouring Dominican Republic are Haitians who have emigrated there with no legal documents and no treaty to protect them. President Fernández met with Préval earlier this month to relaunch a bilateral commission established to address this issue.

The United States, a superpower that has had a major influence on Haiti throughout history, is not paying attention to what is happening in the hemisphere, because it is totally focussed on its war in Iraq. As such, it would be fruitless to expect solutions to come from the United States at this time, she remarked.

Mendelson-Forman warned of the danger that the Feb. 7 elections in Haiti would be seized upon as the "exit strategy" for countries currently cooperating with the stabilisation process, and that as a result, just when Haiti most urgently needs international assistance, it will be abandoned to its own fate. (END/2006)