Twenty years have passed since the end of the Duvalier dictatorships, fifteen years since Haiti saw is first truly democratic election; but today Haiti still awaits a functioning government.  The Haitian proverb, Ki mele pis grangou chen (What concern is it to the flea that the dog is hungry) has too accurately described the failure of Haiti’s political class to live up to the aspirations of the Haitian people for democracy. Hopefully, last month’s presidential election signals the dawning of a new day. In a display of courage that parallels the courage of the Iraqis in their recent elections, the Haitian people voted to elect a new president.  They deserve our admiration. They have refused to give up – either on themselves or on the promise of democracy.  In spite of insecurity and other obstacles, there was a surprisingly substantial turn out; and, despite a few bumps along the road, a president was decisively elected.  If Haiti is to overcome two centuries of despotic misrule, an equally successful run off election for members of the two houses of Parliament scheduled for later this month will be crucial.

The challenges ahead are enormous and will require the cooperation of all sectors of Haitian society. The President, members of the legislature and the new Prime Minister when installed must immediately move to bring about significant and early improvements in the standard of living of all Haitians. This is best accomplished by seeking the active participation of political parties, the private sector, academia, the many vibrant organizations of civil society, the Haitian Diaspora and Haiti’s numerous friends throughout the world. The Catholic Church in Haiti will continue to fulfill its essential mission of fostering unity, peace and reconciliation. Statements of the Haitian bishops in recent years as well as the Holy Father’s 2006 Lenten Message which addresses development offer sage counsel to those who wish to work so that Haiti can offer a better future to its citizens. “Those who act according to the logic of the Gospel”, the Pope wrote, “live the faith as friendship with God Incarnate and, like Him, bear the burden of the material and spiritual needs of their neighbors”.

The international community must clearly increase its assistance and partner in the development of capacity for sustained economic growth and social transformation. As political stability, personal security and democratic practices and accountability are strengthened, the largely unemployed and underemployed Haitian workforce must be able to count on continued foreign and domestic investment to create employment opportunities. Specifically, the United States ought to help enable the apparel industry to thrive again. The U.S. Congress ought to act soon in moving stalled legislation that would grant meaningful trade preferences to Haiti, and thereby create thousands of new jobs. It is the least this great country can do to aid a neighbor in need.

The people of Haiti have taken an important step forward in electing a president. Now the United States and the international community must take additional steps to accompany the Haitian people as they walk the long road to a future of democratic and economic re-vitalization.