Haiti is on the verge of collapse. Biden must give the island the attention it deserves | Opinion
At this month's Summit of the Americas, nations have come together to achieve a stronger and more secure Western Hemisphere. But one neighbor - Haiti - is on the brink of total collapse. Unless the Biden administration acts soon, the kind words and statements from the summit will be overshadowed by a humanitarian catastrophe less than a thousand miles from Florida's shore.
Haiti has long struggled with political, economic and environmental challenges. But recent events have plunged the island into a crisis. In 2020, the pandemic has put an enormous strain on national institutions. Last year, in July, mercenaries assassinated Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse, sowing political chaos. And just the next month, a massive earthquake killed more than 2,000 people and brought down thousands of buildings.
Since then it has only gotten worse. Haiti's economy is the smallest in the region and will grow just 0.3% this fiscal year but faces 25% inflation. Mortality rates remain extraordinarily high, both among infants and adults. Meanwhile, runaway gang violence is destroying communities, forcing businesses to close and discouraging foreign investment. And on top of that, Haiti's transitional government is hanging by a thread, with no official elections in sight.
To say that this is a recipe for disaster is putting it mildly. When the Haitian military seized power from the government in 1991, tens of thousands of Haitians fled to the United States. And the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 Haitians displaced another 1.5 million, many of whom fled to America to seek refuge. This time the island was doubly weakened by political unrest and a natural disaster. Our country is already inundated with illegal border crossings; Another collapse in Haiti, followed by waves of migration, would be a real problem.
President Biden and his administration have not given the situation the attention it deserves. USAID's recently announced funding package looks good on the surface, but none of that money will make a dent unless bigger issues are addressed. If Biden wants what is best for the United States -- and Haiti -- he can no longer afford to remain on the sidelines. Rather, he needs to get on the field and start playing ball.
That means following the advice that US Senator Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, and I gave to the government to strengthen Haiti's national police to fight criminal gangs. It means being open to another UN peacekeeping mission. It means expanding the Inter-American Development Bank's investments in Haitian infrastructure. And it means building closer economic ties between our country and Haiti, as my Haitian Economic Development Program Extension Act would do by guaranteeing jobs and trade benefits for Haiti's textile industry.
At the same time, the President must signal that the United States is not open to illegal immigration. Encouraging another exodus from Haiti would not help the island, which needs all the talent and resources it can get, nor would it help American citizens. Instead, Biden should promote political stability and credible elections that pave the way for Haitians to governability and prosperity at home.
The next few months will be difficult for Haiti - but they don't have to be disastrous for the entire region. Haiti's fate rests primarily in the hands of its own people. However, the United States should do whatever it takes to make the island safer, more stable, and more prosperous. Haitians and Americans alike would reap great benefits.
Senator Marco Rubio is Florida's senior US Senator.
46th and current President of the United States
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