Ten months after Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, Thomas Adams was plucked out of retirement by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and named special coordinator for Haiti. He came into the job with a 35-year career in the U.S. government, much of it focused on managing foreign assistance. In August, Adams, 66, will step down from the role and former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten will take the reins of overseeing U.S. government engagement.
Last week, Adams stopped in Miami, at the invitation of Haitian Americans for Progress and the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida, to meet with members of the Haitian diaspora. He sat down with the Miami Herald to discuss Haiti’s post-quake progress, its upcoming legislative, local and presidential elections and the final year of President Michel Martelly’s five-year term.
What was the purpose of this recent trip?
My main reason for going down there was to have a meeting on Caracol Industrial Park, which I do quarterly. It’s doing well. There is more demand for space there than we have and there are plans to build more buildings and take advantage of that interest in investing in Haiti.
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Can you highlight some of the progress in Haiti since the quake?
The tent camps that used to fill every available space are gone. The rubble’s gone. There are other [signs of] progress. In health, there are good outcomes. The police have grown in capacity and professionalism. Crime rates have gone down. There is a lot that’s been done there; at the same time, there is a lot that didn’t get done due primarily to political gridlock.
What is the impact of the political gridlock?
The political gridlock has been almost from day one of the Martelly administration. He and the parliament have not seen eye-to-eye on many things and that’s prevented lots of legislation that the country needs from getting through; things that would, say, deal with property rights, new criminal codes. A lot of things that Haiti needs to make it more business friendly, like electronic signatures, things like that have not gotten done. I think that this election will break some of that gridlock and allow some of this to occur.
There is a lot of speculation about whether the elections will happen this year?
Our main thrust for the past few years has been to get these overdue elections done, and that’s on track. They will happen this year. There is a lot of aspects to that going on over the registration of candidates, and the preparations because the CEP [Provisional Electoral Council] is only a couple of months old. They are playing catch up.
Are others in the international community optimistic about elections happening?
Everybody says we can do it. I talked to the elections people at the U.N. They said, “Yes, we agree we can manage the current three dates; we can handle security issues.” There’s planning going on. They are bringing in some additional resources. There will be more contracting this time because as you know the United Nations had about 13,000 police and troops last time and will be around 5,000 this time. They can’t do as much as they did last elections. But there is a lot of planning. Nobody I talked to said that the elections will not occur on schedule.
Some in Haiti accuse the international community of wanting a transition rather than elections. What is the U.S.’s position?
We come down on the side of elections. The constitution stipulates elections and it does not have a provision for a transitional government. I have heard the rumor, too, and I am astounded. We have pushed very hard for the last two years to have these elections. And for people to now turn around and say, ‘You now no longer want to have those elections,’ I don’t understand where that is coming from frankly.
What is the cost of the elections?
They’re still coming up with estimates; they are very close on that.
How important will the Haiti National Police’s (HNP) role be?
The HNP will have to play a greater role in these election than perhaps they have played in others. One of the things we’re doing through our law enforcement programs is help them get ready. For example, the police have not had funding for spare parts for automobiles this year, so we’re going to help buy them spare parts to help get an estimated 300 of the vehicles that are broken. We want to try and get at least 200 of them back on the road so they can have the necessary mobility during the elections.
How large is the election shortfall?
Depending on various factors, the gap could be somewhere between $18 million and $30 million, maybe a little, a little less.
How is the Provisional Electoral Council doing?
So far, they’re scrambling but they seem to be keeping their head above water. And we, of course, want to support them. This is the Haitians’ elections. We’re just there to support it; it’s not our elections.
Do you see elections happening this year?
Oh yeah, definitely. There are some ideas going around to perhaps narrow the budget gap; there’s some discussion about going to two rounds of elections instead of three. The pros and cons of that, I think they’ll decide fairly soon whether they want to do that. That would give a little more time to the CEP and it would also save some money if they want to go that route. That is an option.
What should Martelly’s priorities be in his final year?
He can do a lot without new legislation. He has indicated he does not want to use his emergency decree powers broadly; he basically just wants to use them for elections, which he has done, and let everything else wait until there is a new parliament, which I think is wise on his part. But be that as it may, you can still move forward on things like .. vetting judges; you can increase government revenue through better tax administration; you can more forcefully address corruption. You have to deal with international issues like the Dominican migration issue. I think there is plenty he can do in his final year in office.
There was recently a march against impunity in Haiti, which was prompted by the release of accused kidnapper Woodly Ethéart, aka Sonson Lafamilia. Is the U.S. still closely watching this case?
We have spoken out and believe that this judicial appeals process needs to happen rapidly and the best thing to do is to get these guys back in jail and let the judicial process of a trial take place.
The U.S. has been very concerned about the prospect of mass deportation of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian origin from the Dominican Republic into Haiti as of mid-June. Where does this stand?
The announcement by the Dominican government that there will be no mass deportations, the fact that they will wait at least 45 days from the middle of July to allow all of the ... cases to be processed ... I think this is heading in the right direction. The diplomatic efforts need to continue on both sides so that any deportations are done in accordance with international law and in a humanitarian fashion. The Dominican Republic, just like the United States, has a right to deport illegal migrants, but they’ve got to do it in accordance with international law and standards, and I think the Dominicans have pledged to do that.
How would you sum up your Haiti experience?
I was very lucky to be asked to be the Haiti coordinator by the Secretary of State. I’ve had a great staff and got to meet a lot of Haitians who are working hard to improve things in their country; a lot of Haitian Americans who are interested in this. There has been progress. I think all of us look back and wish there had been more at times, but we all knew going in that Haiti was not some quick fix. Haiti’s been declining for 40 or more years in many ways, certainly economically, and to turn that around, it’s going to take a while.
What is the biggest challenge?
To get economic growth there. Haiti has had positive economic growth since the earthquake. Before the earthquake it had slightly negative growth rate. And it’s been turned positive, but it’s 3, 4 percent a year and to eradicate poverty, you really need 7 percent or more. That’s the goal that has to be sought and hopefully with the political gridlock broken, you’ll see the government of Haiti take steps to increase the pace of economic growth.
Haiti expert and George Washington University professor Robert Maguire recently wrote that not much has changed in Haiti under Martelly and the country risks having its future look like its past.
Haiti’s future doesn’t have to look like its past. And I think that will be the case ultimately.