Interview
Thomas C. Adams
Special Coordinator for Haiti
Washington, DC
June 27, 2011


MS. BENTON: So our next speaker is from – is the coordinator of the – for Haiti and the reconstruction. He is Tom Adams, and he was named to that position in September of 2010 by the Secretary of State. He oversees U.S. Government engagement with Haiti, including diplomatic relations and the implementation of a reconstruction strategy in partnership with the Government of Haiti. Mr. Adams is returning to the Department after retiring in 2008 from a 35-year career in the U.S. Government, with much of it focused on managing foreign assistance. We are thrilled to have Tom with us this morning – this afternoon, so please welcome him. Please. (Applause.)

MR. ADAMS: Good afternoon. I want to cover three things today. Well, I want to do three things today. One, I want to talk a little bit about the rebuilding of Haiti and the U.S. Government’s ambitious plans in that area, along with those of the international community. I also want to talk a little bit about Haiti in the Caribbean. And I want to – I don’t want to put you to sleep. So if you start nodding off, raise your hand. I’m going to speak briefly and then, hopefully, have time to take your questions.

Let me just ask those of you who are from Haiti, or Haitian Americans, raise your hands, just so I get a count, see who they are. Well, welcome. Welcome. There’s a very active Haitian American diaspora in this country, and there are a lot of Haitians we interact with.

Let me start with Haiti in the Caribbean. Haiti has always been a bit of an outlier in a world that is Hispanic or English-speaking or something other than French-speaking. After the earthquake, the hemisphere embraced Haiti, and I think this is a very good thing. And no one has embraced Haiti more than the Caribbean. It has done this in a number of important ways, which the Secretary cited last week during her trip to Montego Bay.

And for starters, Haiti helped a lot – I mean the Caribbean helped a lot, through CARICOM, with the contested elections last year. There were two rounds of elections, both, unfortunately, filled with very – processes that were not free and fair, were very fraudulent. And sorting it out required a lot of work on the part of the Organization of American States and CARICOM, and they were led in this by Colin Granderson of CARICOM. They also sent very good elections monitors. And when we had to actually go toe-to-toe with the Haitians on sorting out the fraud, a very good representative from Jamaica on democracy came and helped us do that. The CARICOM has also helped by allowing a whole of goods duty-free entry into the CARICOM countries, similar to what the United States has done through the HELP Act, and this will help spur trade in the area. So already, the Caribbean is helping Haiti.

Let me switch now, first slide, to telling you a little bit about the broader U.S. and international effort to help Haiti. As you can see from the chart on the right, there’s about – if you can add quickly; I’ll do it for you – there’s almost $10 billion on the right that was pledged for Haiti at a donor’s conference in March of last year in New York. For the United States, about 1.1 billion of that is from us. That’s new money. We spent during the emergency phase right after the earthquake over $1 billion to stabilize Haiti. We also spent last year our regular annual appropriation for Haiti, which was $406 million. A lot of it went to agriculture and other development areas. And then we got a supplemental appropriation from the Congress late last year of another $1.1 billion.

So the United States has put its money where its mouth is, but as I keep telling people, we’re only 10 percent of the total. Other donors, as you see there, who are playing a major role, are the EU, Canada – Venezuela’s pledged a lot of money; we haven’t seen it all yet. World Bank is big and actually, on top of that 399 million, got an additional 500 million recently of IDA funds, thanks to the United States. The IDB is doing a job. And also, lots of NGOs, private donors. The Red Cross raised nearly half a billion dollars for Haiti. One out of every two American families texted money for Haiti and continue to give to this day. So this is good in a lot of – for a lot of reasons. One, the money is needed. But also, it provides a basis for strong congressional support. With this many Americans giving, with almost every town in America having sent a group to Haiti to help with the reconstruction, there’s broad political support in the United States for helping Haiti.

Haiti’s going to need help for a long time. Basically, Haiti needs to get where most other countries in the Caribbean already are, to a middle-income country. That is an average annual income of something like $5,000 a year instead of a few hundred dollars a year. Haiti, as you know, ranks at the bottom of nearly every indicator for the Americas – infant mortality, malnutrition; I could go on and on, but it needs to – it needs a lot of help to get above that.

Next. Our assistance is based on those five principles. We’re working really in four pillars, and we’re concentrating on our work in three corridors, three watershed corridors there, and for the end goal to have a stable and more prosperous Haiti.

Next slide. Here are three areas. Up north in Cap-Haïtien, we’re doing a lot, including putting in a very large industrial site in partnership with the EU and the IDB that would really restore garment manufacturing to Haiti that was lost during the embargo, and not just the low-end T-shirt business but also the upper-end, more profitable, parts of the industry, including the making of fabric. This will provide, when it opens next March, 20,000 jobs and – which will swell to 65,000 jobs over time. There may be a second one outside of Port-au-Prince, which is – to the east of Port-au-Prince is our other development zone. And also, this will help stimulate other private industrial efforts. And again, it gives – Haitians were given by Congress duty-free imports of textiles until 2018.

Now, just – whenever I talk in front of Haitians, they say I’m from Les Cayes or Saint-Marc – not Saint-Marc – Les Cayes or somewhere else in the south; how come you have no areas down there you’re helping? The answer to that is other donors, the Spaniards or Canadians, have taken some of the areas down there. So we are concentrating on all parts of Haiti through donor cooperation.

The areas we picked are – Haiti’s about 80 percent mountains, that is land that’s over 20 degrees in height, which is not really very good agricultural land. So these watersheds represent some of the most – some of the best agricultural lands. And Haiti, besides the industrial potential I mentioned, has a lot of potential in agriculture, mainly for the reason that there hasn’t been any real increase in agricultural productivity over the last 40 years in Haiti. So with very modest inputs, you can double or triple farm incomes, and farms are where 60 percent of the population lives in Haiti. So a lot of our effort is going into agriculture. And most of that will be for import substitution. Haiti imports 52 percent of its food. It doesn’t have too many export crops. Mangos and cacao are probably the most promising. There may be some possibility in coffee, citrus, avocado, some others. But again, the Haitians are going to have to be fairly efficient to compete in the world market on those other items.

Next one, please. These are areas we are concentrating on. Housing, of course, is a big need after the earthquake. And we have been working with other donors to provide – sort of move people out of tents into temporary shelters, into repaired homes. We’ve been paying for some guesting of people, and are now switching to more permanent solutions. There’re still lots of people in the tents after the earthquake. The tent camps swelled to about 1.5 million people. The latest count from IOM is about 600,000 people in the tent camps, and so we are working to get them out of there. It probably won’t happen before the hurricanes hit. It’s hurricane season now there, but there has been some effort to prepare the emergency shelters and so forth.

But the reality is that Haiti will be vulnerable to hurricanes because of its large deforestation. Haiti used to withstand direct hits of category three earthquakes as late as 1984 with no loss of life. Now, even a large scale rainstorm causes flooding and damage. So in some sense, the hurricane damage as well as the earthquake damage were somewhat manmade by environmental and – problems, and also the lack of construction standards. And both are due to widespread poverty. And that’s the solution, is to end that poverty.

Ports and economic growth polls, I mentioned these already. Energy – only about 12 percent of Haitians have regular access to energy, 24 hours a day. Probably only about twice that number, 24 percent, has access to any kind of electricity. And so we are involved in modernizing the electrical sector. We started after the earthquake by repairing the damage to their existing electrical infrastructure, and we are now working to privatize the management of their electric company, which has a lot of problems. Their electric company provides power to people who don’t pay and doesn’t provide it to people who want to pay, which isn’t a very sustainable business model. So they’ve agreed to allow the management to be privatized, and I think that can be turned around.

I mentioned agriculture. Agriculture is important not just for economic reasons, but also because of the widespread malnutrition in Haiti. We are not only developing agriculture, but we’re also helping to establish a social safety net to make sure that malnutrition diminishes. It has diminished somewhat since the earthquake, but more needs to be done. We have food vouchers and other things. We’re looking for ways that don’t disrupt the local farm industry.

We also have a lot of support to small and medium enterprises. The whole business environment in Haiti is very archaic, very 19th century. If you want to start a new business, you have to submit your company’s charter, handwritten in a French porte-plume. So we have a number of suggestions for the new government to try to launch their business practices into the 21st century – more rapid registration of new businesses, expedited construction permits – right now, you have to wait over a year to get a construction permit – use of the international arbitration for business disputes so that investors can avoid the clogged court system there, and some other things.

Next one, please – public health. We have taken a big stake in public health in the United States, where we are starting at the top, rebuilding the university hospital, going down refurbishing regional hospitals, setting up clinics, training medical providers.

One of the symptoms of Haiti’s problems is that somewhere between 80 and 87 percent of Haitians who have university degrees live outside of Haiti, and that includes doctors. There are more Haitian doctors in Miami than there are in Port-au-Prince. To make up the gap, the Haitians pay for Cuban doctors to come, who are very good, by the way, but there’s no reason why Haiti can’t train its own doctors with the proper medical school and infrastructure, and we’re helping to create that.

We also are working through really three U.S. Government programs to make sure every Haitian has access to basic healthcare – maternal and child health, immunizations against most diseases. Most Haitians do not have access to any kind of healthcare on a regular basis, so that’s a big effort. Again, like all the big efforts down there, it’s going to be multiyear, but again, the United States is playing a great role in that.

Education, we frankly do not have as large a stake in education but other donors have a large stake there. The Inter-American Development Bank has pledged a great deal of money for education. Haiti has a very poor educational system, only about half the children in Haiti even attend elementary or secondary school, about half the population’s illiterate. The schooling that does exist is largely private, only about 10 percent of the education there is public, and the quality is very poor. Often the teachers are illiterate. And that is a great focus of the new government, to tune that up.

We are doing more in vocational training, because frankly, at the end of the day, we think Haiti’s greatest need is jobs and want to get them as soon as possible. The – we are also – have special programs for really vulnerable members of society, which are women, youth, and the disabled. Haiti had a lot of disabled people before the earthquake and, of course, has a lot more afterwards, so we have programs in those areas.

Governance is a big challenge in Haiti. It ranks very high on corruption indices. We frankly had problems with the last government not being able to make key decisions, even simply ones like getting more rubble removal sites, land for new housing, et cetera. We are working with the new government to get some of those decisions made and they seem quite willing to make them.

Rule of law, Haiti has sort of the three aspects of this. One, we’ve been working for many years to build up the Haitian police, but it will be many more years before they can get along without the UN police and troops there. The prisons are walking human rights violations, and there is really no reason for about 80 percent of the prisoners in those prisons to be there. They are often people who are arrested on minor crimes, have never been before a judge. And even if they had been convicted of the crime they were accused of, they would have long ago served their sentence. Again, talking to the new government, they want to do something about that, empty out the prisons of the people who shouldn’t be there.

The court system is also needs – in need of reform, and we are willing to help there. Again, all three of these areas take some political will to get going and we want to help the government increase its capacity.

Talking about governance, the Haitian Government was not terribly strong before the earthquake, and after the earthquake they lost about 15 percent of their government workers. And guess which government workers were working at 5 o’clock in the evening when the earthquake struck? Probably the better ones. Probably another – as many as 20 or 25 percent of the government workers who had visas just fled the country. So again, rebuilding the government is a big challenge. Plus, Haiti needs a more decentralized government, more local authority, and that’s part of the plan, too.

So there are big challenges in Haiti, but I’m optimistic we’re going to meet them. But I think, realistically, it’s going to take – take probably 20 or 30 years before Haiti gets up to the rest – catches up to the rest of the Caribbean, and that’s if they make good macroeconomic decisions and things go well.

I think I will stop now and take a few questions.

MS. BENTON: Yeah. Just take a couple.

MR. ADAMS: Sure.

MS. BENTON: We’re running up, right on a break. Do we have any questions?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. BENTON: Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I’m wondering about the agricultural sector, since I’m a – my first training was in agriculture. Are you satisfied that enough is going into the basic question of land use versus land capability, number one?

Number two, are attempts being made to introduce new technologies into the agricultural sector, technologies that are well-known in other parts of the Caribbean. And indeed there are one or two very good agriculturists using drip irrigation, et cetera, right there in Haiti?

Number three, what type of partnership is being encouraged with farmers in the United States and other parts of the world to improve the agriculture sector?

And the final one: Is there a central plan for the overall development in that sector, and indeed in other sectors? I understand there are many, many NGOs floating all over the place, lots of little pockets doing little things here and there. But my impression, probably because of not knowing enough, is that there is not enough central coordination of all these activities so that we do not look towards the next 30 to 40 years, but something happening in the short, medium-term. Thank you.

MR. ADAMS: That’s a very good series of questions. Let me try to answer them. I think relatively speaking, agriculture is better organized and there’s a better plan than some of the other sectors. When the earthquake struck, the estimates from the IMF were that Haiti’s economy would contract quite a bit. It did not contract as much as expected because of unexpectedly high growth in the agricultural sector that was really set in place before the earthquake, and obviously fields of agriculture were not as affected by the earthquake, although distribution systems and other things were. So it’s already started.

The coordination mechanism for international donors is the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, which is co-chaired by Prime Minister Bellerive and Bill Clinton. And it has various working tables which haven’t all worked very well, in part because, frankly, the participation from the Haitian side has not been good. But the agricultural working table is an exception to that; there has been good participation. There are a lot very good Haitian agronomists and others who know agriculture. We employ some of them in our programs. Jean Robert Estime, you may know, for example, who runs our winter program and others.

And basically because there have been so little inputs in agriculture over the last 40 years, just better seeds, new methods of using fertilizer that don’t use so much fertilizer but produce greater results, better fertilizers. Also irrigation is very important. Most – in Haiti, most fields get two crops a year. They could easily get three if they could solve the irrigation problem. And Haiti has lots of water. It’s just a question of doing it.

Erosion is a big problem. Haiti is almost 100 percent deforested for all practical purposes – trees cut down for charcoal. One way of dealing with that is to plant trees that farmers will protect, like big mango trees, because the farmers will protect them for the mangos they produce being more valuable than the charcoal; shade trees for coffee is another area.

In other areas at our Agriculture Research Center there’s a weed they’ll show. It’s a weed called (inaudible), which, quickly – you know it – quickly seeks very – sinks very deep roots, but it’s not woody so no one is going to pull it up, chop it down for wood, and that can be used to stabilize hillsides and other things until you can get the reforestation.

On reforestation, the other thing – the enemy of reforestation is charcoal and poverty. And right now, Haiti – I mentioned electricity – Haiti subsidizes electricity by about $100 million or more a year, and what they should be subsidizing is cooking fuel – natural gas or even charcoal imports, although charcoal should not be used at all because they use it in small, enclosed buildings, large particle pollution, so Haiti has very high respiratory ailments. So somehow we have to get them off. So somehow we have to get them off. We have a tender out now for natural gas cooking to get – trying to use natural gas in school and on street vendors to try to get it acceptable, culturally acceptable and then move on to larger uses of it.

So I don’t if I answered all five of your questions but – (laughter) – thank you.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Daniel Lamoud (ph) with several of the disapora groups. The recovery commission in Haiti has been coordinating the donors’ efforts to help rebuild Haiti. To areas we feel that they have – that hasn’t worked well – so well – is one, the involvement and participation partnership with the diaspora, getting the diaspora involved in the reconstruction effort. And the other part is that, in addition to individuals responding very well to the catastrophe in Haiti, a lot of corporations and large organizations also wanted to respond, and not necessarily in terms of just giving money going to the reconstruction commission, but to various efforts. And there doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to help coordinate the efforts from the private sector so that they can respond to the crisis. We would like to see efforts from the State Department to help coordinate the effort – help coordinating one in terms of getting the diaspora more involved and also in the response from the private sector to the disaster relief.

MR. ADAMS: Okay. Thank you. Yeah, let me speak to both of those. First of all, on the Haitian American Diaspora, the Haitian American Diaspora plays a very important role in Haiti in a sense that, first and foremost, they send back well over a billion dollars a year in remittances, and that’s key. The other thing, as I mention, is that there’s been a brain drain out of Haiti and there needs to be a way to get some of those brains back.

One incentive for that was a constitutional amendment that had been proposed under the Preval government that would restore dual citizenship to Haiti. Most countries allow dual citizenship; Haiti does not, and this would have allowed it, which, I think, would have encouraged some diaspora members to come back.

Through complications I won’t go into, these amendments were polluted at the end of the Preval administration and parliament, and may not pass this session, but President Martelly is committed to having them pass and trying to get more disapora involvement.

Now as your specific question about the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and the disaspora participation, there is a worldwide diaspora representative on the IHRC, a non-voting member by the name of Major Joseph Bernadel, who is very active. He testified in front of Congress last week, and he represents the diaspora very effectively on the coordination mechanism. And I’d be glad to give you his coordinates if you want to get in touch with him.

Now, as for U.S. corporations, they are involved. We do encourage them. USAID, for example, has a partnership with Coca-Cola where a lot of the mangoes in Haiti don’t survive the travel over bad roads very well or other things and aren’t saleable in Miami or here. Whole Foods had a special on Haitian mangoes last week, by the way. (Laughter.) But Coca-Cola will buy these slightly blemished mangoes and turn them into juice in a partnership down there. There are other U.S. companies looking down there. I think the biggest obstacle to them really getting involved is the perception and perhaps the reality of corruption down there – very tough. American companies have the Foreign Anti-Corruption Practices Act and other things. So I think if we can help the Haitians to regularize their business practices, both kind of ethically and also practically, more American companies will go down there.

MS. BENTON: Thank you so much, Tom. We’re running really right up on our break. And I want to ask to join me in thanking the coordinator for Haiti, Tom Adams. (Applause.)

MR. ADAMS: Thank you, guys.

MS. BENTON: So we’re going to take a break now. You can use the restrooms. We have staff from our public liaison office that are strategically placed out there. They’ll direct you to the Delegates Lounge, and I believe we have refreshments. And let’s take a 15-20 minute break, and then you will be alerted with our staff when they can usher you back in.

So thank you. Thank you, it’s been – for your attention.