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28176: Hermantin(News)Less poverty, more hope (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Wed, Mar. 29, 2006

Less poverty, more hope


Ten years ago, when I became the 55th president of Haiti through democratic elections, little did I realize that 196 years of strife, foreign interventions and poor governance would be so difficult to overcome. Yet even against the odds, our government worked to redress two centuries of inequality. We tried to tackle, with extremely limited means, some of the most daunting problems that have afflicted our country. We built schools, roads and irrigation systems. We initiated a much needed agrarian reform. We confronted the evil of corruption and addressed the dire shortcomings of an ailing judicial system.

Today, I believe, we could have done better.

So when a delegation of peasants urged me in the summer of 2005 to become a candidate for the upcoming elections, my immediate reaction was to decline. But the insistence of my neighbors, whose determination deserved respect, gradually weakened my resistance. I also had become increasingly involved in local projects and aware that successful local programs had to be extended to other distressed localities in Haiti via structured national policies.

Thus, on Feb. 7, nearly two million Haitians braved doomsday scenarios and organizational lapses to send a message to the world: We, too, want to live in peace and dignity and build a better life. They queued in the hot Caribbean sun for hours to demonstrate to the world that violence is not, as it had been too often written and uttered, a ``Haitian trait.''

Now I have become the 57th president of my troubled nation. Here is a thumbnail sketch of our predicament:

• An astonishing 50 percent of our population lives under poverty line.

• The infant mortality rate is 61 per thousand.

• The unemployment rate affects more than one fifth of our labor force.

• After years of willful neglect, our infrastructures are quasi nonexistent.

The challenges are great. I know that we are a resilient and proud people nurtured by a glorious past, but we have failed to take advantage of many opportunities to turn the tide. Now, we must reconcile and reunite to avoid getting deeper into this abyss in which we find ourselves.

The first thing that the government that emerges from parliamentary elections and I must do is to reach out to all our compatriots across the political and class divides that have paralyzed our country for two centuries. To that end, I have already begun consultations with many leaders of other political parties as well as those from society at large. Their positive response has, thus far, encouraged me to continue that dialogue and work on a positive agenda:

• Develop an environment to attract investments from local entrepreneurs, from Haitian living abroad and from international investors. That environment constitutes a prerequisite for job creation in the private sector. Providing security and building our basic infrastructures are key to that end.

• Create a truly independent justice system and a national police force that serves community interests.

• Restore our environment while affording farmers means to feed our children.

We cannot accomplish much of our goals alone.

While the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti has performed admirably, we believe its composition should be modified so as to focus more on the training and strengthening of our police force and on reinforcing our institutions. We hope that the international community will continue to help us lay the groundwork for a better Haiti.

We are further encouraged by recent reports suggesting that the Hemispheric Opportunity Through Partnership Encouragement Act, an offspring of an earlier version called Haitian Economic Recovery Opportunity Act, is being once again seriously considered. Introduced by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, the bill will allow up to 3.5 percent of total U.S. imports to arrive from Haiti duty free, a quite needed boost to Haiti's failing economy.

This will not be a panacea. But it is estimated that the passing of this bill could generate around 80,000 jobs. Jobs need to be created here. And we must do it fast to bring a lasting solution to the endemic violence that has plagued some of our cities.

We also strongly believe that the rich human resources of the Haitian diaspora can be an invaluable asset in rebuilding Haiti. We are appealing to the many Haitians living abroad and working in technology, the environment, health and education to provide our ailing country the resources it needs to recover and flourish.

A brighter future

We are aware that all the assistance in the world cannot make up for poor governance. And, as the state has grown to be the country's largest employer, corruption and lack of efficiency have permeated all levels of government. This must change.

Though ravaged, Haiti is not the wretched land as so often described in the media. It is a land of hope for more than eight million people. I cannot achieve miracles, nor have I been promising any. But I feel I have the responsibility to the Haitian people to open doorways on a brighter future: less poverty, less inequality, more wealth, more hope.

This is why I ran again for president.

René Garcia Préval is president-elect of Haiti.