Friday, January 15, 2010

How Not to Help Haiti: More Debt, More Deportations

By Matthew Kavanagh

World leaders including President Obama quickly took to the airwaves to pledge fast and bold support to Haiti--ravaged by the recent earthquake. "You will not be forsaken," the President said and I think we all hope that the search teams, food, temporary shelter, and needed medical help can get through the many barriers today to reach the Haitian people.

Some announcements, though, are less welcome:

The IMF announced yesterday that it would be adding $100 million to it's current program in Haiti--but this all comes in the form of a loan. Neil Watson, head of the debt campaigning group Jubilee USA put it clearly:
Haiti desperately needs money delivered quickly, but the last thing Haiti needs right now is more debt. Loans for disaster relief are totally inappropriate. The international community cannot possibly expect Haiti to pay back a loan for emergency relief in the wake of this disaster," said Neil Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA.

Haiti's debt burden has been, and continues to be unsustainable. What' is to blame? In part, a model of development--driven by agencies like the IMF--that loans money rather than granting it and applies conditions that countries restructure their economies in ways which actually undermine their ability to enhance the lives of their people. Recent conditions on Haiti's loans required, for example, that the country raise the price of electricity paid by Haitians too often trapped in poverty and that the government refuse to increase the pay of public sector employees like doctors, nurses, teachers, and others (even though poverty-level wages cause many of the most needed and talented Haitians to migrate).

What kind of world is it when we offer "help" to people whose lives, homes, and cities have been destroyed in an earthquake but require that it be paid back?

Meanwhile, now is the time to halt the deportation of undocumented Haitian immigrants. Since January 2009 U.S. immigration judges have issued deportation orders to over 30,000 undocumented Haitians and Homeland Security is holding many in detention. The U.S. has a policy of granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to immigrants whose home countries have been wracked by war, famine, earthquake or some other disaster--allowing them to work temporarily. Currently residents of countries including Honduras and Somalia are eligible and it only makes sense to add Haiti to the list.

As the New York Times notes:
It was not enough for the administration to announce this week that the Department of Homeland Security would halt the pending deportations of the 30,000 or so undocumented Haitians. Burdening a collapsed country with destitute deportees would be a true crime. But all that does is leave the potential deportees in limbo, unable to work without fear.

Everyone can take action on these issues--urging the administration and Congress to cancel Haiti's debt and grant TPS to Haitians.

Source: HuffingtonPost

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