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“Build Back Better,” Says Dr. Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti: Part I

posted by WadnerPierre Haiti Topics: development

September 28, 2009

“Build Back Better,” Says Dr. Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti: Part I


By: Wadner Pierre

Since 1983, Dr. Paul Farmer has been working in the Cange locality of the Central department of Haiti. His organization Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) has won international recognition for its work. In August, former US President Bill Clinton, currently the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, appointed Farmer as his Deputy Special Envoy.

In early September, Farmer toured Haiti for the first time in his official capacity with the UN. The stated goal of the mission, whose motto is “build back better,” is to explore short and long term solutions to Haiti’s ongoing economic crisis. Haiti’s educational system, environmental problems and agricultural productivity were addressed in discussions with numerous sectors.

Farmer explained:

“We are not coming to dictate to people who have already been working in Haiti, but we can coordinate their work to make for better results. During my five days I met and listened to everybody, the President, the Prime Minister and other ministers in the government. And I met with the private sector, MINUSTAH, NGOs and the farmers.” Farmer stressed, “When I talk about the private sector, I don’t mean big business people only, but the ‘Madanm Sara’ [street merchants], the peasants who represent an incredible workforce for this country. We need to sustain them. And we also need to make sure that these people find capital to grow their crops and small businesses. And finally, their children should be able to go to school.”

However, Dr. Farmer noted, “This is not a political mission, but a mission to help people build back better Haiti. Haiti has its own potentialities and we can use them to develop Haiti.”

According to Dr. Farmer, the “build back better” mission is supposed to reinforce, not displace, government initiatives. He cited among other things the Hospital of Las Cahobas that was built as a joint venture between Zanmi Lasante and Ministry of Health under the former Aristide administration as an example of how NGOs can work constructively with the public sector.

“I thought I could serve people alone. But I realized that I was wrong because I can’t reach the population, but the government can,” said Dr. Farmer. Even the Preval administration has been critical of the way the bilateral donors have used NGOs to bypass (harsher critics would say –deliberately weaken) the public sector.

Dr. Farmer cautioned that the mission will not go on indefinitely, he said" It should not last long. But I can’t tell right now, and I am not the Special Envoy, but only the Deputy.”

Father Fritz Lafontant, the Pastor of the Episcopal church of Saint Sauveur established in 1962 in the village of Cange, where Zanmi Lasante has its headquarters, said during a mass: 

"We are happy to see Dr. Polo [Farmer] here today, as we know he always brings good friends for us here in Cange, and also for Haiti. We hope this mission will help him to do more for Haiti." 
Guy Bastien, a farmer in the commune of La Croix-des-Bouquets, said during Farmer's visit: "We need help to grow our plants. If they want to help us, here is our pump, we need a bigger one to pump more water in order to water more farms. The more farms we can water, the more crops we will harvest." 

Natacha, one of Dr. Paul Farmer's team members, said: " I am happy because for the first time I see a mission focusing on the Haitian middle class, and meeting directly with ‘moun en deyo yo’ (the outside people). These are the people who are struggling to educate their children, and they are the motor of this country. This class has been left outside Haiti's decision making for too long. It's time to get these people in. " 

"We are not looking for charity, but for help. We have land and good people here, we can feed our people," said a member of SONAPA (National Society for Agricultural Production). 

Some argue that political reforms are crucial to any success. Many demand the return of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide to Haiti (from exile in South Africa) and would regard it as a powerful signal that political reform is finally taking place in Haiti. Moreover, the release of all political prisoners and the inclusion of party Fanmi Lavalas in the electoral process would be also a powerful signal that the political and social rights of people is being respected.


Coming up Part II: the realizations, the response to how long this special mission will last, and people’s views about Dr. Farmer and former President Clinton’s involvement in this mission.

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One can only continue to hope

One can only hope that with Paul Farmer there will be real action taken but this is not guaranteed. The US, Canadian and French supported coup to oust Aristide remains a factor. The support of an undemocratic interim government guilty of human rights abuses far greater than that of anything Aristide was accused of remains a factor. The fact that the UN MINISTAH force remains guilty of half the human rights violations continuing in Haiti is a factor.

The refusal of these countries to acknowledge any wrongdoing is a major factor in determining any sincerity of effort.

The main question remains unanswered. Is the task at hand designed to build a sovereign, sustainable, Haiti or is it just another avenue to create a better dressed Haitian subservience to the international community and a wealthy Haitian elite void of any compassion or morality?