By Jean H Charles
President Bill Clinton, the world’s president, may have taken a vow to improve his health to continue his mission of saving this world after his two mandates as president of the United States. He has engaged lately in a rigorous diet that excludes all meat and dairy products from his daily intake to nourish his body. As such, when I saw him at his most recent visit to Haiti, I had to ask him personally for his recipe, because he was lean and svelte, looking twenty years younger. He was pleased to share his newly found good health formula.
Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol
President Clinton is also excited about his latest mission to Haiti. Each one of them, including the fourth one, has been around a specific theme such as education, tourism or commerce. This one is focused on agriculture. I have been a constant attendee of the Clinton Global initiative Conference in New York but this is my first encounter with the Clinton initiative in Haiti, albeit I was present recently at the inauguration of the Caracol industrial park, where President Clinton was a host along with his wife, Hillary.
For most Haitian political pundits, the conclusion of Pierre Corneille, the French mogul writer about Cardinal Richelieu fits very well with President Clinton. He has done too much good for Haiti to say bad things about him. He has also done too much harm to Haiti to say good things about him. Those who hated the turbulent years of the Lavalas regime under President Jean Bertrand Arisitide blame President Clinton for supporting the embargo against the country that destroyed its ecology and for engaging 20.000 American troops to bring the so called despotic priest president back to Haiti.
Some also blame him for facilitating the destruction of the national rice industry with the vast imports of the Arkansas rice that replaced the Haitian diet that now includes rice for breakfast, rice for lunch as well as rice for dinner. Last but not least, he is also blamed for a poor performance and outcome of the billion dollars collected under the reconstruction fund appeal after the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
I was defending President Clinton’s conversion with a group of Haitian politicians when I could not get any more arguments to win my case. But later in a presentation by a travel agent with a large business in Europe, especially in France, he has repeated, without my collusion or information sharing, the same argument I was defending some minutes earlier.
Haiti is now the world laboratory for transforming the country into a Switzerland of the Caribbean, where the Haitian peasants would enjoy remaining in their idyllic hamlets dotted with good infrastructure and sane institutions.
That was the conclusion of President Bill Clinton at the end of his agricultural tour in the country. To repeat a mantra dear to the American Ambassador Mrs Pamela White, Haiti is too rich to be poor. The press conference at the end of the visit was in the yard of the Heineken plant that recently bought Prestige beer, the proud product of Haiti, winner of two gold medals. It must have been so, because the party that came with President Clinton departed with the Haitian Prestige beer as one accumulates a precious commodity or illegal product without sanction.
I told Mr John Nicolson, the British-born regional president of Heineken, to put Prestige on the back of Heineken so it can be introduced to the fine beer connoisseurs of the world. He snapped right back: you must first increase your production!
Indeed this is the story of Haiti. It cannot produce enough of those fine Haitian products that the world is desirous of, such as its succulent Francis mangoes, its world renowned Barbancourt rum, its beautiful bags made with sisal designed with voodoo motives, its coffee that gave taste to the lesser brands of the rest of the world, its art so diversified and so original that it is recognized even when plagiarized.
Before his arrival in Haiti, President Clinton stopped in Florida to highlight his initiative of luring retired NBA basketball players to engage into fundraising for education in Haiti.
On this trip, President Clinton brought along a plane full of entrepreneurs interested in the area of agriculture. He got John Nicolson to have Heineken International to commit $40 million to upgrade its plant in Haiti and outsource most of the ingredients in the fabrication of the beer from the country. Heineken will also invest $10 million to help Haitian farmers to grow enough sorghum that will be used in the fermentation of the beer.
The Clinton Foundation partnered with Virgin Group and with the Muhamad Yunus social business network to transform 22,000 hectares of Haitian land into virgin forests. A purse of $700,000 dollars from the Foundation was distributed to several institutions including:
• $150,000 to Smallholders Farmers Alliance to develop nurseries for trees and produce
• An amount of $150,000 to fund a Coffee Academy in Thiotte, the largest coffee growers in the country. This academy has for its mission to improve the quality and the quantity of the premium Haitian coffee.
• $100,000 dollars for solar electric pumps for agriculture purposes, enabling farmers to produce quality vegetables even in arid land.
• $100,000 dollars for the production of briquettes of coal made of cane sugar residues to replace the precious wood used in Haiti now for the production of cooking charcoal. President Clinton, as a true globetrotter, called on Haiti to follow the Guyanese model that has adopted this formula to maintain its pristine ecology.
President Clinton also visited two companies that represent the strongest muscle for the propulsion of the economic development of Haiti. Coffee Rebo is staged to become the next Starbuck’s of this world, if only it can get out of Haiti to let fine coffee connoisseurs of the world taste the delicate texture and aroma of the Haitian coffee.
He stopped at Sisalco, an indigenous company that revived the production of sisal, destroyed in the country some fifty years ago after the American company closed its doors. Sisalco is transforming processed sisal into cords, which are now the only export product from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. It is also transforming the sisal into magnificent bags for the grande dames of the world. His young entrepreneurs Pierre-Yves Gardere and Gilbert Hippolyte represent the new breed of Haitian industrialists who are not afraid of going global with the Haitian brand.
I was moved yet disappointed at the visit to the agricultural school and farm run by the Episcopal Church near Mirebalais, Haiti. Moved because of the manicured farm, well irrigated through drip-water provided with funding from the Clinton Foundation, but disappointed because steps away the peasant farms in the surrounding areas were faltering because of the dry season.
And this is the crux of the problem of Haiti. The endemic poverty of the people of Haiti should be measured not in the thousands but in the millions. President Clinton will have to endorse the zeal of Paul converted from Saul to help transform the lives of 9 million peasants who live either in the rural countryside of Haiti or the slums of Port au Prince and Cap Haitien into fully active citizens, engaged into husbandry, agriculture and art-crafts, transforming Haiti into an export oriented nation delivering its unique goods to Asia, Europe and the United States.
With a majority of the populace uneducated and unsophisticated, the project of “Haiti is open for business” is not well suited for the Haitian genre (I may have been instrumental in pushing forward in 2007 the slogan: Haiti is open for business and Bahamas is the first one to knock at its door). It should be transformed into the brand of “Haiti is seeking business” for the products of husbandry, agriculture and art-crafts produced by its creative population.
It might be anathema to link President Clinton to Hugo Chavez, but Haiti will be transformed into a rich nation if only it knows how to make good use of the resources brought into the country either by the Bolivarian revolution or by the Clinton Foundation.