Washington DC — “A Different Story Out of Haiti”

By Sam Grogg

Posted on Nov. 2, 2009

The University of Miami School of Communication's Knight Center for International Media and The Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) launched today Our Global Challenges: A Series of Dialogues on the Most Pressing Global Issues of our Time. The first dialogue focused on Meeting the Challenge of the Millennium Development Goals in Haiti: A Progress Report from the Poorest Country in the Americas. Over 200 Washington insiders gathered at the K Street headquarters of CSIS to listen to a conversation among Dr. Barth Green Project Medishare Co-Founder and Chairman of The Global Institute at the University of Miami; His Excellency Raymond Joseph Haiti's Ambassador to the United States; and Johanna Mendelson Forman Senior Associate, CSIS Americas Program. Mariam Atash Nawabi of America Abroad Media, Host of PUL (A weekly broadcast in Afghanistan) moderated the discussion.

The series is dedicated to discussions framed by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals as a way to articulate the biggest problems facing our world and to explore the nexus between strategic policy and the tactics of new and developing news media. Our contemporary media technology allows us to cover news at a pace that feeds on breaking, short duration events that ebb and flow for a cycle of a few days with little impact on the global stories that demand complex coverage over long periods of time with sensitivity to cross-cultural attitudes and customs.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and, as His Excellency Raymond Joseph reminded the audience, a country that hosted the explorers of the Old World well before the future United States. This little country sits in a peaceful neighborhood of island nations an hour by air to Miami and a super nation. Yet it remains a nation of dependence on others and a microcosm of the challenges facing our developing world.

The panel hailed the efforts of former President Clinton to embrace Haiti and work to gather the resources necessary for the country to address its challenges. But the $340 million of pledges made last April connected to the former President's efforts have been slow to turn into actual dollars on the ground. Competing NGO's find it difficult to navigate the realities on the ground in Haiti leaving good intentions and millions of dollars held in abeyance while the needs are critical and immediate.

Barth Green, whose Medi-share group is focusing on building a critical care health infrastructure, observes that the situation is changing radically, however. Much needed infrastructure is expanding in a dynamic and positive manner. The image of Haiti as crime and violence ridden is simply no longer the case. The Haitian police are standing out in front of a decreasing UN peacekeeping force and the government presence is dramatically replacing gang rule throughout the urban areas.

Johanna Mendelson underscored the bottom up development of the country and the importance of the recent change in government (the Prime Minister of Haiti was ousted by a vote of the legislature a few days ago) being a peaceful change with a sense of concern for continuity and stability.

Image and the messages that appear in the press and stick to the media coverage of the tiny island are of great concern. The media avoid talking of Haiti as a tourist destination, said Joseph, they still have an image of the country as largely violent and unfriendly to Americans. For decades, the story reported has been negative, Joseph reminded the group. All the panelists felt that Haiti is a success story-a home-run said Green. With much ahead and without glossing over the serious problems of the country, there is movement on all fronts to address health and basic sustenance issues for Haitian people. The ongoing challenge is to build on the stability to bring the country's talented professionals back to the nation. Nearly 85% of the professionals have left the country for lives in the developed neighbors.

The conversation attracted one of the largest audiences for a CSIS forum in recent years, said CSIS executive Andrew Schwartz. There is clearly an attraction to this corner of the world-a country that once hummed with industry-for instance, Haiti was the dominant maker of baseballs for the major American leagues until government upheaval pushed the industry to Honduras. There is also a creeping feeling of great opportunity in the Caribbean as Cuba and Haiti re-position themselves among nations.

The media will play an important role in the future of this country as it continues to develop-there are new and positive stories to report from Haiti.

Click here to read the post on the "Knight on the Road" blog.

Click here to watch the sessions on the CSIS site.