Part of the context for Haiti’s earthquake is that, unbeknownst to most people, we were just now in the midst of a pretty hopeful episode in Haiti’s history. Before the quake hit, Tyler Cowen was writing about this yesterday and observed that “Over the last year Haitian exports rose 23 percent and the country is expected to grow at a rate of 2.4 percent, only one of two countries in the Caribbean expected to have positive growth, Guyana being the other.”
Back in September, my then-colleagues Reuben Brigety and Natalie Ondiak did a report titled “Haiti’s Changing Tide: A Sustainable Security Case Study” that laid this out in some detail:
Haiti is currently experiencing one of the best combinations of open political space and physical security that the country has seen in decades. The stability is due in large part to the United Nations peacekeeping force, which has helped maintain order since 2004. Haiti’s President René Préval, elected in 2006, is also well regarded by the international community. And the democratically elected government is defined neither by corruption nor predatory behavior, unlike in many previous administrations. [...]
Analysis of the field research suggests that Haiti is experiencing a rare “dual-window” of opportunity in which conditions in Haiti and the United States make substantial change possible. These conditions will not last forever, however, and time is of the essence to take advantage of this rare opportunity. CAP’s research confirmed two vital points. The first is that the creation of large numbers of jobs in the near term is absolutely essential for preserving security in Haiti long enough to start a cycle of sustainable development. The second is that the Haitian government needs substantial help to improve its capacity to perform essential services that would stimulate economic growth and improve access to basic services for the population.
Haiti’s been a basketcase country for so long that most people probably still have that imagine in its head. But while nothing was certain, as of 24 hours ago real progress was being made. Let’s hope the tragedy currently unfolding isn’t compounded by a derailing of that progress.