Interview: Raymond A. Joseph

Haiti's ambassador on his hopes for the more than $5 billion pledged in aid at this week's donor conference -- and why Haiti can't be rebuilt as a republic of NGOs.

Nearly three months after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, killing as many as 230,000 and leaving another 1 million homeless, donors met this week in New York to pledge their help in reconstructing the impoverished island state. The aid response so far has been marked by unprecedented generosity -- from governments, NGOs, and the world's citizens. But it has also suffered from poor coordination, a slow start, and logistical complications that have led many Haitians and observers to question how helpful the help has been. Speaking with Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson, Haiti's ambassador to the United States says that the key to rebuilding his country in the coming months is simple: The money must come quickly, and rather than going through NGOs, it should be channeled through the government. He wants to see an end to Haiti as a "republic of NGOs."

Foreign Policy: You're just coming out of the donors conference for Haiti. Are you satisfied with the outcome?

Raymond A. Joseph: Very much satisfied. The government was asking for $3.5 billion over the next 18 months, and pledges amounted to $5.168 billion.

Now, it's going to be [about] disbursements. In the past, donors have pledged, and we've had problems getting these disbursements. This time, we have a trust fund in place that will be run by the World Bank. I think all the pieces are now in place for a good management of the money. And because of that, I think we will see quicker disbursement.

FP: How would you evaluate the aid response so far? What has worked and what hasn't?

RJ: What has not worked well is that about $2 billion have been collected for Haiti, but the Haitian government has only seen about $10 million. The money has been pledged and collected by NGOs. That's one thing we have to change in the future. Governments [of donor countries] have to work with the government of Haiti. I can understand in the past where they worked with NGOs [because at that time] the Haitian government was not responsible or transparent. However, Haiti has met quite a few benchmarks on corruption and [good governance] such that the international community forgave $1.2 billion of Haiti's debt last June. The remaining $800 million is being forgiven right now. We've shown we're on the way, so now donors should have more trust in the government to carry out the projects.

The money should not be sent to NGOs because NGOs cannot develop the country: NGOs cannot take care of the infrastructure, they cannot build the roads, and they cannot have electric plants. It has been said that Haiti is a republic of NGOs.

FP: What's your assessment of the U.S. aid package that was offered at the conference?

RJ: The Haitian government has made a plea for budget support because the earthquake destroyed the economic base of the country. One-fifth of the country was hit, but 80 percent of revenues were affected. For the government to operate, it needs some budget support. The U.S. does not usually give budget support.

I don't know what happened this time, but I know some of the money that was pledged was budget support. I don't know how much; we'll find out after the government figures are out. We're looking for $350 million, and I hope we got it all.

FP: What's the best way for the diaspora to contribute to the recovery?

RJ: The diaspora is going to try to find out how to volunteer their services to Haiti, and the government is trying to find [a way] to subsidize some of their pay. I would think we will see more diaspora people coming in. What's hindered them in the past is that they have to leave their family, they have to pay their bills, and the salary structure in Haiti is too low. So we are probably going back to a [program that took place about 10 years ago], when the Inter-American Development Bank, IDB, would subsidize the pay of some of the employees. I don't know how they're going to do it, if the IDB is still going to do it, or if they're going to do it differently, but I'm quite sure it's going to be done.

The other thing is that last year parliament acknowledged the need to change the Constitution regarding [the holding of] multiple nationalities. With that change in the Constitution, we expect more Haitian-Americans or hyphenated Haitians who feel a commitment to the country [to return].

FP: In the coming weeks and months, what are your goals in your relationship with U.S. interlocutors? What priorities will you be pushing for?

RJ: When I first came to Washington in 2004, I came with a slogan: "Haiti is open for business." I said the only way for Haiti to be open for business is for Congress to pass certain laws that give Haiti certain benefits, like tariff-free imports of Haitian markets to the American market. That happened with the HOPE Act and Hope Act II. Haiti's textiles and apparel coming to the United States now are duty free. With HOPE Act III, we hope to extend this from textiles to all other products. In fact, the foreign minister of Brazil, Celso Amorim, made it clear during the conference [that more countries should give Haiti duty-free access].

The other thing that's very helpful to Haiti is the fact that we have temporary protected status for Haitians, [which allows them to work in the United States for 18 months]. That will allow a lot of Haitians to work here and be able to send more transfers back home. I'm pushing for us to find a mechanism for all this money -- remittances that are coming to Haiti -- to redirect them from consumption to development.

FP: What's your prognosis for Haiti's recovery?

RJ: You have to give the Haitian people credit for their resilience. Although some projects are going to take time to be implemented, I'd like to see Haiti as a beehive of activity, where there are high-intensity jobs to clean up the place and put people to work. I expect to see employment rising in the next 18 months. That will give the people some hope that things are really changing. But if we are waiting for project [funds] to be disbursed and it's taking months to happen, we'll have some discouragement and real problems.

I expect also to see a movement toward improved agriculture. The fact that a lot of people left Port-au-Prince after the earthquake -- I think it was a very good thing. I'm suggesting that whatever aid is being given now be distributed, for the most part, to the countryside of Haiti. I want to see the rebuilding of the Republic of Haiti and not the rebuilding of the Republic of Port-au-Prince. If we have to rebuild Port-Au-Prince -- and I think we will -- it should be a streamlined city. We should take the lesson of the earthquake to heart. The minister of finance said that for the month of January he was able to collect only 20 percent of projected revenues. So that shows you the center of life, education, intellectual life -- everything was in Port-au-Prince. We don't need a rocket scientist to tell us that you need to decentralize. So I'm glad that the plan -- the vision -- presented to the United Nations made decentralization a theme.

Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images


Interview: António Guterres

From Darfur to Afghanistan, the U.N.’s point man on refugees says, the world’s conflicts are getting “more worrisome and more difficult to solve.”

As High Commissioner for refugees at the United Nations, António Guterres monitors the safety, security, and well being of the some 10.5 million refugees in the world today. And though that figure is down by 8 percent from 2009, thanks mostly to returns and changes of status among the displaced from Iraq and Colombia, the challenge it poses is still enormous. Now, as he comes to the end of his five-year term, Guterres reflects on fast-changing situations in Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. "Conflicts are not getting better," he tells Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson. Excerpts:

Foreign Policy: You just got back from the Central African Republic (CAR), a country caught in the middle of the continent, amid conflicts in Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). What did you see?

António Guterres: CAR represents the most ignored and forgotten human tragedy in the world. It's not the biggest human tragedy in the world -- DRC, for instance, presents a bigger tragedy -- but I believe the number of people aware of its existence is very small. CAR is a country of 4 million inhabitants, bigger than France and Belgium, in which you have about 200,000 people displaced. And you have a very complex governance problem. The truth is that half of the territory of the country is completely lawless, and it's becoming an international problem. You have Central African Republicans that go to Cameroon to kill, hijack, and rob.

FP: Many have cited improvements in the related conflicts in Darfur and Eastern Chad in recent months. Do you see that?

AG: It's still too early to fully [say], but there are recent developments that represent a potential change for the better. First, Chad and Sudan have made an agreement that's apparently more solid than past agreements [which have fallen apart]. They've agreed to fully normalize relations and establish common patrol forces along the border area. It's clear that there won't be any support for the other country's rebels, especially because the key rebel element in the Darfur situation that had been supported by Chad, the Justice and Equality Movement, has also made an agreement with Khartoum.

Some might argue that the key problem in Sudan is now the North-South relationship, because there will be a referendum [on southern independence in 2011], and the possible creation of a new state [South Sudan]. There might be a genuine interest in Khartoum to have a more manageable situation in Darfur.

FP: Is your agency preparing any contingencies for the April elections in Sudan?

AG: Everyone should contribute [to a peaceful elections environment] so that things take place in a harmonious way. But of course it's important to be prepared for whatever might occur. So today this is one of our key concerns. And for us, Southern Sudan has regained priority for our operations in Sudan.

FP: Let's move to the situation of Iraqi refugees and their slow return home. Are things progressing?

AG: There have been some returns from Syria and Jordan to Iraq. But we've been witnessing a trend for a core of people to remain [outside Iraq]. Our two key challenges now are: first, the preservation of asylum space and protection space in the surrounding countries, and second, to improve the functionality of the government's support to returning people from inside and outside Iraq. We now have a presence in 14 districts in Iraq, but there is no way the international community or civil society can replace the need to have a functioning state to deal with these problems.

FP: How about the situation in Afghanistan, given recent U.S. operations there?

AG: In Afghanistan, the key problem is still the security problem. We have control over only half the territory of the country. The number of returns to Afghanistan has dramatically decreased because obviously the conditions are not met for the easy reintegration of people. There's been some new displacement because of military operations taking place. [Because of the security situation,] we have reduced the footprint of the international presence by 30 to 40 percent both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We had three staff members killed in Pakistan last year, so that's been a major concern for us. But we have to go on.

If you look at the questions you've asked, they identify what we could call an "arc of crisis" from South Asia -- Afghanistan, Pakistan -- going into Iraq, the Middle East -- and then back to Sudan and Chad. We could also easily mention the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Yemen. This is an "arc of crises" from which two-thirds of the world's refugees originate. All these crises are becoming more and more interrelated. You see the links between Somalia and Yemen. If you look at Iraq, there's a clear connection between Iraq and what's happening the Middle East. The Palestinian question is invoked by many in the whole region.

FP: If you compare today's situation to that of 2005, when you became high commissioner, what's the biggest difference?

AG: Conflicts are not getting better. Conflicts are getting more worrisome and more difficult to solve. For example, the number of people we helped to return last year decreased dramatically. The three biggest countries where return operations are taking place face complex security challenges: Afghanistan, Southern Sudan, and DRC. Conflicts aren't getting better, the number of refugees and internally displaced people aren't decreasing. That's one point.

The second point is that in general the human rights agendas are losing ground to the national sovereignty agendas. That has many important implications.

The third -- and I don't want to look too pessimistic -- is that we're witnessing new trends of forced displacement. A refugee in the traditional vision is someone who flees from country to another because of persecution or conflict. But what we're witnessing now more and more is a certain number of mega-trends interacting with one another: population growth, urbanization, food insecurity, water scarcity, climate change, and conflict. More and more people are on the move for reasons that are sometimes difficult to differentiate. If a Somali crosses the Gulf of Aden, is it because of the conflict or because [there are no] jobs? Probably both. Climate change [also] enhances conflict. If resources become scarce, people tend to fight for them. This is increasing the number of people on the move and the number of people forced to move. They're not refugees, according to the legal definition, but they represent a major humanitarian and human rights challenge, as well as a major challenge for world politics.