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Photo from @jorgeheinel on Twitter

Campus Speakers: Jorge Heine “Fixing Haiti: MINUSTAH and Beyond”

Campus Speakers: Jorge Heine

“Fixing Haiti: MINUSTAH and Beyond”

Photo from @jorgeheinel on Twitter

On October 26th, McGill University had the honor of welcoming Jorge Heine (PhD Stanford), a native of Santiago, Chile who has worked extensively in academia, public policy and diplomacy. Former deputy minister of defence and ambassador to South Africa, he has held various other positions, from deputy director for the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to vice-president of the International Political Science Association, and in 2010 was named one of the top ten most influential Hispanic Canadians. Aside from an exhaustive list of accomplishments, Jorge Heine is also a prolific author and it is his new publication “Fixing Haiti: MINUSTAH and Beyond” that brought him to our campus.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been in the country for the past 7 years and saw its mandate broaden after the devastating earthquake of January 2010. From peacekeeping and security to reconstruction and promotion of rule-of-law, the UN mission is, at least in Heine’s-sight, an overall positive force in Haiti. Recently however, it has found itself mired in controversy due to an abuse case involving Uruguayan troops.

Jorge Heine started off by describing the present situation in Haiti as hopeful. With the 2011 Presidential elections, the Caribbean country finds itself in one of the most stable periods in its turbulent history. However, as his new book’s rather eye-catching title suggests, there is still much work to be done.

Heine characterized Haiti as a fragile–but not failed–state. This is due to the presence of ungoverned areas that could pose a threat as a haven for drug-related organized crime.

Paul Collier, leading economist and Oxford professor, has spoken about a sort of “Marshall Plan” for Haiti. The main criticism against this, in Heine’s words, is the argument of “throwing good money after bad”. Some have wondered where the estimated $9 billion in aid to Haiti has actually gone. With a low score on Transparency International’s CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index), Haiti ranks next to Yemen and Iran “by their perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.”

Heine briefly explained the concept of “absorptive capacity” of a country, which predicts that when aid goes beyond 15% of the receiving country’s GDP, it cannot handle any more and the money gets lost. However in 2008, aid already represented 13% of GDP in Haiti. Pointing out that a “Marshall Plan” would definitely push Haiti over the 15% threshold, Heine sees the need for other types of foreign assistance, notably in the domain of “state capacity” and institution building.

Does this mean countries should stop sending aid to Haiti? Does the current political landscape offer enough stability for Haiti to manage on its own? Heine does not think so: “60% of the current government budget comes from abroad”. Though Haiti does find itself on a promising political track, progress made would not long be sustainable without the assistance received from abroad.

This brings into question another of Heine’s main points: national sovereignty. On November 18th Haiti’s government is stated to announce the re-launch of its military, with a predicted force of 3500 officers. For Heine, this is troubling. With the domestic police force far from where it needs to be, and MINUSTAH facing mounting pressure to find an exit strategy, this military project is nonetheless welcomed with much support from the population. The influence of the UN and all the NGOs in the world is ultimately limited, seeing as Haiti is an independent and sovereign country. Heine, though, remains sceptical about the benefits of a new army, other than the “chauvinistic and patriotic” ends it’s creation would achieve.

Though much remains to be seen in Haiti, the new political circumstances provide a hopeful outlook for transition into stable democracy. Jorge Heine gives us valuable insight into the present and future of the French-speaking Caribbean nation. For those looking to further inform themselves about the dynamic period in which Haiti finds itself, Fixing Haiti: MINUSTAH and Beyond is a great stepping-stone into the fascinatingly tumultuous world of Haitian political development.

–  Alexandre Moon



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