Ground Control to EU. HSG from Port-au-Prince, 25-04-2012
Its so far “up the hill” beyond Petionville you might as well be in space. Perhaps we are. The reality of Corail Cesselesse and the IDP camps in the Lower Delmas where we share a room are hardly specks from here as we look down what seems a vertical drop. So why are we here? EU development policy is in some flux — Agenda for Change is the blueprint, the EEAS, the new EU Foreign Service, the means, and the European Parliament (EP), with new powers over the Development Budget, increasingly the control.
We arrive in the wake of the publication of a report by the EP’s Budget Committee after a fact-finding trip to Haiti in February. Critical, with some fascinating recommendations, it has been rejected out of hand by the European Commission — still to aclimatise to the publication of such reports let alone any criticism in them — but not by the diplomats here, who show some real grounding in the reality of politico-economic power in Haiti and perhaps, just perhaps, some exasperation, at the economic elite’s opposition to change.
But it’s some way from there — if indeed we are there — to taking such kleptocratic cabals on. Indeed, the primacy placed on political-economic stability in conversations here is the main impediment. Challenging the elite, even minimally, involves risking a reaction, we point out. Their belief that they can always ultimately rely on their alliance with the outside funders and powers that underwrite Haiti’s bills, has in our view, been the core obstacle to change here for generations.
But the fact that we are here at all for a whole day of meetings with four different staff members illustrates two things: one, HSG’s profile and status is infinitely higher post-earthquake; two, the EU is trying to make good on the new emphasis on civil society consultation that runs through Agenda for Change. HSG finds itself defined as “civil society” but we point out that that very definition needs to be radically broadened beyond private sector groups such as chambers of commerce who have dominated any description, debate and discussion to date.
The EU agrees, but where to begin, when so much of progressive civil society, quite rightly views thirty years of neo-liberal economics from the international donors, the ultimate indulgence of the economic elite here, as the cause of so much of the misery and failure of development in Haiti? Trust is at best in short supply, at worst non-existent — it will take real outreach as well as mea culpae — at least privately– to convince those advocating for real changes that that change may now be part of the EU agenda. We agree to ask the progressive CSOs we work with to consider but stress as ever that it will be up to them.