ATLANTA, Georgia — Congressional leaders sponsored a bill in the Senate and House of Representatives called the Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act on April 13, 2021. This legislation would evaluate the redevelopment efforts in Haiti and focus on mitigating corruption and human rights issues. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries [D-NY] and Rep. Mike Waltz [R-FL] introduced H.R. 2471, which has seven cosponsors composed of members from both parties. The bill went through the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which then passed it under “suspension of the rules.” The Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act of 2021 officially passed the House on June 29, 2021. Sen. Ben Cardin [D-MD] and Sen. Marco Rubio [R-FL] introduced S. 1104, which is currently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Haiti Development bill could improve Haiti’s political and economic situation.
Challenges in Haiti
According to the March 2020 Congressional Research Service report, “Haiti’s Political and Economic Conditions,” Haiti has approximately a 60% poverty rate, and nearly 25% of its population lives on an income of $1.23 per day. Additionally, many citizens survive off of remittances as a form of income. Moreover, Haiti still needs to continue rebuilding from the damages of the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. However, Haiti’s political and economic situation prevents further development.
President Jovenel Moïse raised government revenues and taxes, causing inflation to rise. Also, several members of his administration faced accusations of embezzlement and fraud, which resulted in public outrage. Many of those who were accused were fired, and conditions worsened. The Haitian government faced an intense halt when there was no budget for approval in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Additionally, in 2019, Moïse refused to hold an election for the legislature.
As Haiti’s political and economic situation worsened and there was no accountability for acts of corruption, more protests erupted. In addition, police brutality became a significant issue that required attention from the international community. Human rights groups noted that some of the violations that law enforcement officers committed were arbitrary arrests and killings. To add, prison conditions were deemed unsafe. The violation of the press’ rights was another primary concern for human rights groups.
How US Aid Helped Haiti in the Past
The U.S. Department of State reported that throughout the past decade, the U.S. assisted Haiti by sending $5.1 billion toward rebuilding and economic development. The aid created thousands of jobs, especially in the clothing industry. As a result, it allowed Haiti to participate more in trade, and international businesses began to invest in Haiti. U.S. aid also increased food production, improved health conditions and strengthened security. In 2019, the U.S. also provided $20 million in humanitarian assistance by sending food to those living in extreme poverty during a period of prolonged protests.
Mitigating Corruption in Haiti
The Center for Strategic and International Studies published Georges A. Fauroil’s article, “Good Governance and Corruption in the Caribbean: The Haitian Challenge,” on October 6, 2020. Fauroil indicated that the U.S. decided to act against corruption, as political conditions in Haiti progressively worsened. The House considered having a bipartisan commission that would work with the Haitian government on policy reforms to promote more democratic practices in December 2019. This measure would allow the Haitian government to become more transparent with its citizens. Although Haitians would have likely approved this measure, there was no indication of it ever being carried out.
According to the Miami Herald, many House leaders believe further assistance is necessary out of concern that Moïse will not hold the election and referendum scheduled for this year. Up to 69 leaders, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries [D-NY-8], the sponsor of H.R. 2471, wrote a letter to the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, urging him to keep this as a priority. The House leaders even asked Blinken to meet with Biden. They also told Blinken to notify the House of how Biden approaches the situation.
What the Proposed Legislation Aims to Do
According to Sen. Marco Rubio’s press release, the Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act of 2021 authorizes Blinken to work with Haitian officials to improve human rights practices and mitigate corruption. Blinken and the Haitian government will also investigate individuals accused of violating citizens’ fundamental human rights and hold them responsible for their actions. The legislation will also evaluate previous U.S. assistance measures, including whether its role in strengthening the Haitian National Police impacted the human rights situation.
This legislation would improve the political and economic situation in Haiti to prioritize development, which is vital to reducing poverty rates. This measure could aid the economic conditions in Haiti by offering higher employment rates and providing more citizens with access to essential resources to live a decent life.
– Cristina Velaz