Scott Freeman, George Washington University
Pierre Gary Mathieu, National Coordination for Food Security (CNSA)
Doudou Pierre Festile, Acul-du-Nord Peasant Movement
Patrick Delatour, Historic Architect & former Minister of Tourism
Decentralization & De-concentration
Reporting from Clementine Andre and Julia Sinsky. Edited by Nicholas Johnson.
Within discussions of Haiti and its development, one concept is hard to avoid: The “Republic of Haiti” versus the “Republic of Port-au-Prince.” With both Haitian scholars and local Haitians, the distinction between the county of Haiti as a whole and that of simply Port-au-Prince is revealed time and time again, particularly within aid distribution. In the report Youn Vwa Pou Pap La and the Voices of Haiti’s Voiceless symposium, importance was placed on the need for the Haitian government to work towards decentralization and de-concentration.
Within Haiti, the workings of the government are centralized in Port-au-Prince, denying the majority of the population outside of the capital access to the government and its ministries. Before the US occupation of Haiti in 1915, Festile and Mathieu discussed how Haiti had autonomous provinces, each independent and capable of functioning on their own, but the US and the authoritarian leaders that followed preferred centralized power and control. Decentralization, as discussed by Festile, became critically important after the fall of Duvalier.
Even though decentralization is a part of the 1987 Haitian Constitution, Festile said that Haitian leaders—even if they enter their positions placing importance on decentralizing power throughout the country—become power-hungry and change their minds to keep the control in Port-au-Prince. De-concentration mirrors the idea of decentralization, but extends the idea to the need to move social services outside of the capital city and the surrounding regions. Festile, the director of multiple Haitian movements said, “Haiti will be decentralized when the peasants in the mountains get the services they need,” but currently most of its population must either travel to Port-au-Prince, or face life without many necessities like access to schooling, medical care, and electricity.
While Festile’s discussion surrounded the basic needs of Haitian peasants and why decentralization and de-concentration are so important to them, Patrick Delatour, the former Minister of Tourism and a historical architect, described the two concepts in terms of the need to modernize three specific cities in Haiti in order to bring in more money, jobs, and tourists to the country. Delatour stated that he and Festile have “agreed to disagree” on many topics surrounding the country’s needs, but they both came from a place of hope and growth for the country. During his presentation, Delatour showed beautiful cityscapes designs of Cap Haitien, Jacmel, and an urbanized Port-au-Prince. He believes that with the help of a core of architects, the possibilities to renew three of Haiti’s key towns and ports would revitalize the country as a whole. After January 12, 2010, Delatour found that the key issues that needed to be addressed were: the need to solve the national transportation system, the reconstruction of devastated areas, preparation for hurricane season, urban reconstruction, and regional development. Although he noted that many people were rebuilding “aggressively,” they “do not take into consideration” building codes or the need for buildings resistant to natural disasters.
Pierre Gary Mathieu’s discussion revolved around his work with food security, believing that the diminished living conditions and the seesaw of Haitian GDP is why decentralization has not occurred. Drawing upon his organization’s data on food security and food sovereignty, Mathieu detailed how the peasants in the countryside struggle to meet basic needs, with many food aid programs falling short. Mathieu discussed how Hurricane Tomas, the 2010 earthquake, the cholera outbreak in October 2010, and the electoral crises both in 2010 and 2011 have had a negative impact on living conditions for both the city and the countryside.
The panelists focused on certain needs of the “voiceless”: access to medical care, government services, and food. Festile eloquently said that the further development of the country as a whole must come along with decentralization. He went further and claimed that because much of the aid is concentrated in Port-au-Prince, the idea that “Haiti is open for business” is not accurate, because what is being done is in Port-au-Prince, so the expression should be “Port-au-Prince is open for business.” The decentralization and de-concentration discussed by Mathieu and Festile was a call for greater attention to be paid for the voiceless peasants in the countryside. Festile said, “for Haiti to be decentralized, you need to stop regarding peasants like people on their own.” While Mathieu and Festile believe that Haiti needs to be reconstructed beginning with investment in the peasants and the poor, including aid distribution and agrarian reforms, Delatour spoke more of investment in the main ports and areas of business of Haiti in order to help the country as a whole grow and improve its centers of commerce and tourism.