Photo Jonathan Blair

Monday, January 18, 2010

Canada in Haiti: The US connection

Chantal Hebert suggests that Canada should take a central role in Haiti's reconstruction. She lists a series of arguments: long involvement in the country, in all fields, tight social links through the large Haitian community in Montreal, significant expertise into Haiti's dreadful problems, at CIDA, but also in the various layers of the country's aid industry, from NGOs to consulting and engineering firms. The fit would be better than Afghanistan, where Canada is a true foreigner, lost in a losing cause, and from where it is about to take its troops out. And the humanitarian and development challenges are not less great.

What Hebert leaves out, however, is at least as important. She says at one point that Canada will still be there when the others have left. This is mostly true, with one huge exception: the US, which has always been there and which, in the relief and reconstruction effort, is taking the lead. This could seen as a problem for her proposal, but in fact, it is an opportunity, and a big one: Haiti matters for the US because of security and migration issues. At the same time, it is also a development quagmire into which it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars. A much-enhanced Canadian security and development involvement could very well substitute for the large --and now huge- US presence. And it could be sold as a kind of compensation for our retreat from Afghanistan.

This would suit everybody: Washington, which has enough on its hands in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Haitians, who have had enough of Washington since their Independence; and the Canadians electorate, who could at last feel that we are doing good, without collateral damages.