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CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux has sent an open letter to major newspapers regarding the reconstruction of Haiti following the earthquake, Canada’s role there and the challenges facing that nation. 

The fact that Prime Minister Harper is devoting time and energy to Haiti is a good thing. But we have to question the relevance and usefulness of his actions, and in particular his trip to Haiti in mid-February. It is clearly disturbing to see Harper and his entourage parading for the photographers in Haiti without having anything new to say or offer. But few commentators have provided a critique or an analysis reflecting the underlying tragedy of Haiti: the country’s unimaginable and shocking vulnerability before the earthquake.

There is much talk of “reconstruction”, but what was life like for the people of this country before that fateful January 12? The unemployment rate hovered around 70 per cent, and a similar percentage of Haitians were attempting to survive on less than a dollar a day. When you consider that NGOs ran 92 per cent of the schools and 70 per cent of health care, and that there was a total absence of standards for earthquake-resistant buildings, you have to wonder if a Haitian state even existed.

What then does “reconstruction” mean: a return to the former state of the poorest country in the Americas? The neo-liberal “business as usual” prescription of a phantom state and public services, the permanent use of NGOs as crutches, and the establishment of a few “sweat shops”? Crumbs of financial aid doled out by Canada and the United States, countries that spend 0.3 per cent and 0.12 per cent of their GDP respectively for development aid, compared to the UN objective of 0.7 per cent?

Following the earthquake, another major tragedy is looming on the horizon: Haiti’s stalemate in an endless “emergency phase”, fuelled by the repetition of disastrous economic formulas, a stifling Western trusteeship and hurricanes exacerbated by the climate change denial of Harper and his ilk.

Of course, we must continue the relief effort to ensure that the disaster victims finally get the water, food, shelter and care that they need, and wholeheartedly support and congratulate all those involved in this effort. But there is now also a decisive battle for the dignity of the Haitian people. It will be lost without an ambitious plan to build physical and social infrastructure befitting a 21st-century nation: aqueducts, sewers, electricity, schools, hospitals, public transportation, self-sufficient agriculture, etc. Democracy and true independence in Haiti will require a massive construction of public services under the auspices of a government of national unity.

Can we expect the ultraconservative Stephen Harper, busy repairing the mess of his latest prorogation, to demonstrate the required leadership? Definitely not, unless the civil society and citizens of Canada mobilize and compel him to do so. It’s up to us.