Saturday, January 16, 2010

Janet Napolitano Reads Arob's View

Actually probably not, but she did grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants yesterday as I called for a few days ago. Now we'll have to see how long that lasts. As I wrote earlier this week, they should've been granted TPS after the 4 hurricanes the country suffered last year but both Bush and Obama rejected the pleas of the Haitian government. It will take years for Haiti to recover from this earthquake much less to recover to its still-desperate situation prior to the hurricanes and food crisis of 2008. In addition, the remittances that Haitian immigrants send home account for more than 25% of the country's GDP and will be crucial for recovery. The deportation of any Haitian would be injurious to the future of that country. TPS must not be rescinded for Haitian immigrants for at least several years. We who support immigrant rights and just Global South development need to be vigilant and watch out for the anti-immigrant Department of Homeland Security rescinding TPS status for Haitians too soon.

So Haitian immigrants are secure from deportation, but there's another hitch. TransAfrica Forum has called out DHS for requiring Haitians to pay $340 for a work permit, which will hamper the ability of immigrants to get a permit and start working to send money back him. Join their call to President Obama to waive that stiff fee here as well as to thank him for granting TPS.

In other Haiti news, the International Monetary Fund has offered a loan of $100 million to Haiti, a move decried by development justice groups like Jubilee USA. How the hell does the IMF expect a country as poor as Haiti to pay that money back when 30-40% of its budget is comprised of foreign aid? Any disaster aid should come in the form of grants not loans. The IMF doesn't do grants, but, fresh from its resurrection in wake of the global financial crisis, it would love to stick its ugly head in every crisis.

Haiti still has $641 million in outstanding debt to foreign nations and international financial institutions like the IMF. Every dollar that goes to servicing the debt is a dollar that could go to education, police, health care, infrastructure, etc. Instead of adding to that debt, these institutions should be canceling it so that the Haitian government can get back on its feet. Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy has noted that President Obama can push for that through his prestige as well as the US's voting seats on the IMF's Board of Directors. As he writes, the IMF mostly defers to the US Treasury, so Obama can manhandle them into canceling Haiti's debt if he so chooses.

Naomi Klein has been warning that the Haiti earthquake crisis is going to be an example of "disaster capitalism" a la the title of her recent book. I think this is somewhat overblown. True, much of the disaster aid will benefit non-profit and for-profit entities even as it goes to help the Haitian people. But that's unavoidable because Haiti's government is so weak and privatized already. Scant basic services were already performed mostly by aid groups before the disaster, so there is very little left to privatize. Professor Robert Fatton, an expert on Haiti at the University of Virginia, characterized Haiti back in 2004 as "probably the most open economy in the world" after US intervention and austerity programs forced by the IMF (check out the whole interview with him, great recent history of Haiti, including events running up to the CIA removing President Aristide in 2004). So even if the IMF convinces Haiti to take its loan, there's not many economic changes it can force on Haiti. I think the biggest thing to worry about is more debt getting in the way of Haiti re-building its government institutions and economy.

There are a couple things we need to watch out for in the coming months. Aid needs to take the form of grants and direct help and not loans. Initially these grants need to go to basics like food, shelter, emergency medical care, etc. Over time the focus must shift to building up the Haitian government. Also aid needs to go to agriculture or the country will persist in a permanent food crisis. As Haiti's markets were forcibly opened up by US and IMF mandate, subsidized US rice put most of Haiti's ag sector out of business. For the past two decades, US policy towards Haiti has been aimed at making it a home for multinational corporation export factories and little else. This is an opportunity to change that policy and help Haiti work for a more balanced and sustainable economy that benefits the broader populace instead of just the elite factory owners and landholders.

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