© 2024 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. State Dept.: Weak Government Has Slowed Haiti's Recovery


We're going to talk now about U.S. efforts in Haiti with the State Department's special coordinator for that country, Thomas Adams. He joined us in the studio earlier today. I asked him to describe one thing or person that illustrates the complications of the Haitian recovery.

THOMAS ADAMS: I met a young man who had been a crush victim. After the earthquake, his spine was crushed. He was taken to a U.S. Navy vessel and operated on. And then he was flown down to a rehabilitation center in the South that we support. And I arranged for him to get a scholarship and attend university, and he will graduate this year with a business degree and has a job offer. But when you talk to him and see all of his challenges, Haiti is not the most friendly - handicap friendly - and then you multiply that by all the other people, you realize that Haitians have struggled mightily since the earthquake - and even before that.

CORNISH: You mentioned some of the difficulties with the physical structures, obviously. There has been some development in Haiti, but a good deal of reconstruction is still required. What's some of the visible evidence of these challenges for you as you visit the country?

ADAMS: Sure. I go to Haiti once or twice a month and I've been doing that for the last four plus years. And if you were there right after the earthquake - and we all saw those tremendous pictures on TV - there were 1.5 million people in the tent camps after the earthquake. There are about 75,000 left, and the government estimates they'll all be pretty much settled by the middle of the 2015. The rubble's all gone. The United States paid for about a third of that removal. So you do see - you do see progress in Port-au-Prince. Haiti's still the poorest country in the hemisphere and is likely to remain so for a while. But they've had positive economic growth there. If they can attract foreign direct investment, and they've made a good start on that, Haiti has every chance of becoming a middle-income country, like the Dominican Republic next door, in about 25 years.

CORNISH: Five years on, the U.S. has spent upwards of $3 billion in Haiti, and we're still looking at a capital that doesn't have reliable electricity. We're looking at very high food prices, and still very extreme poverty. I mean, given this outlay of resources by the U.S., should progress have been greater?

ADAMS: Well, we certainly would've preferred for there to be more progress in Haiti than we've seen, and so, I think, would the Haitian people. But you have to realize there are other constraints than Haiti. Haiti has about 55,000 government employees for a population of 10 million. A lot of the delays in reconstruction have been due to weak government capacity, slowness on making decisions, slowness in settling land-tenure disputes, a judiciary system that's very weak. And yes, one of the things we would like to see happen over the next year is a real effort to strengthen governance down there. Donors are ready to support that. We have supported it. But we want to see...

CORNISH: But isn't the...

ADAMS: ...More political will there.

CORNISH: Essentially, isn't the opposition driven by concern about this governance, accusations that this government is corrupt? I mean, it seems like these things are tied. And this is a government that we're - essentially, for the time being - supporting.

ADAMS: Well, the opposition has kind of moved the goalposts on what they say they want over the last year. And I think President Martelly made a number of changes. He effectively embraced every single request they made, except for the one that he remove himself from office. So I think their reasons for not wanting to have elections now may be for other reasons. And the main reason might be they don't want to lose.

CORNISH: Thomas Adams, at the end of the day, when Americans see how much money - how much taxpayer money - went towards trying to rebuild Haiti, what's your response to people who say they don't see very much, and who see real problems with the way the kind of aid system works, right? That it didn't necessarily incentivize a Haiti that is rebuilt for some of its struggling citizens.

ADAMS: Well, I hear a lot of this criticism. And certainly, we have our sins. I think our greatest sin is some of our timelines were overly optimistic. We - for example, our health program, which has had great results, we thought we would spend a $1 billion over five years. It's probably going to be seven years before we can actually expend that money. But generally speaking, I think the American taxpayers should be proud of what's been accomplished down there. We've accomplished quite a bit, and we're going to stick with it.

CORNISH: Thomas Adams, he's the State Department's special coordinator for Haiti. Thank you so much for coming in.

ADAMS: Thank you for having me, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

More from Hawai‘i Public Radio