Haiti at Crossroads, Experts Agree: Economic Reform, Human Rights Seen Vital to Its Future

Article excerpt

Liberals and conservatives are divided on Haiti's past and present, but there appears to be remarkable consensus among U.S. analysts and policy-makers on what President-elect Rene Preval must do when he takes office next week.

Mr. Preval takes over from Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Feb. 7, inheriting responsibility for a nation where unemployment stands at 70 to 80 percent, aid is being slashed and foreign investment is all but nonexistent.

In addition, in a country where political differences have long been settled with violence, the United States will withdraw its troops at the end of this month.

Most policy-watchers attending a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies yesterday agreed the way out of the morass must be paved with free-market reforms, the privatization of national industries and the creation of a security force that respects human rights.

"Everyone has the same economic advice and, at this stage, the same political advice [for Mr. Preval]," said James Dobbins, the State Department's special Haiti coordinator. "I don't see any disagreement on where we want Haiti to go."

The seminar, scheduled to introduce a new book on Haiti by Ernest Preeg, attracted experts from the Clinton administration, financial institutions and a wide range of foreign-policy think tanks.

While there was stark disagreement on whether to be hopeful or pessimistic about Haiti's future, there was wide agreement that the key to its fate lies with the people Mr. Preval selects to run his government.

"Who he [Mr. …