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Project December 5, 2009

Haiti: Fragile States - Halting the Slide Toward Failure


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This project was produced in partnership with the Bureau for International Reporting.

The worst earthquake to strike Haiti in 200 years rattled the country on January 12, 2010, leaving the infrastructure in shambles and thousands dead. The quake hit just as many believed Haiti was achieving some semblance of stability. Kira Kay and Jason Maloney of the Bureau for International Reporting, which co-produced these reports with the Pulitzer Center, recently reported on these hopeful developments:

For decades, Haiti has struggled to pull itself out of failure. But just as things would start to look promising, chaos would strike again, in the form of coups, gang wars, natural disasters or often a combination of several of these crises at once.

Throughout this cycle of misery, Haiti has been the recipient of billions of dollars of foreign aid and repeated intervention by the international community. While this support has been vital to the survival of a great number of Haiti's people, it hasn't ever pushed Haiti over the threshold of any real stability.

But now, Haitians and international observers alike are once again speaking of a "moment of hope" for Haiti, as a confluence of security, brought by a large and aggressive United Nations presence, and relative political stability, under the tenure of President Rene Preval, has kept the country calm for a long-enough period that investors are tentatively starting to return to the country.

Haiti once had a lively manufacturing sector that made clothing, shoes, even baseballs and golf clubs for the American market; but the industry collapsed when sanctions were imposed following the coup against President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Now, some of those once-shuttered factories are being dusted, painted and reopened, and thousands of workers are once again producing clothing for the American market. To help spur the process, the US congress recently passed the HOPE 2 Act, dropping the usual import tariffs for all clothing originating from Haiti. And President Bill Clinton has been appointed UN special envoy to the country, tasked with convincing a new wave of potential investors – not just in textiles but in tourism, agriculture and other potential sectors – to take another look at Haiti.

Will this newest "moment of hope" for Haiti at last provide the real economic development the country so desperately needs? Will it be enough to help address the daunting challenges that still exist for the country? And can this moment of stability be leveraged quickly enough to keep Haiti from another slide towards catastrophe?

About the Fragile States series: Making peace is often thought to be the hardest part of dealing with the world's failing states. But while ending conflict is undoubtedly challenging, nation-building is often more difficult still. And then there are the countries that aren't failing but aren't succeeding, either: a so-called middle tier of "fragile states" that straddle a thin line of survival vs. returning to conflict or other social, environmental or economic distress. The Pulitzer Center's Fragile States project, in collaboration with the Bureau for International Reporting, offers a series of stories filmed in four of the world's most at-risk nations—nations that rarely make the headlines but that offer clear lessons for what it takes to stabilize a country emerging from trauma.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo: How can the world's largest United Nations Peacekeeping force protect civilians when it must partner with a national army that is almost as predatory on the local population as the rebels they are meant to fight against? Spend a day with UN Congo chief Alan Doss as he travels the eastern part of this massive country, trying to shore up a mission facing huge challenges.

In Bosnia: Rising nationalism is stoking ethnic and political tensions, threatening to undermine the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the bloodshed there in 1995. What are the political, societal and economic stresses behind the instability? Could Bosnia return to violent conflict?

In East Timor: 10 years after it voted for independence from Indonesia, this tiny new nation struggles to build itself up from scratch. What does it take to create a functioning army and police force or write national laws when four different languages are commonly spoken? How to combat an unemployment rate of 40%, or manage a promising but perhaps overwhelming natural resources wealth?