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Gilman and Heideman: Reform Is Needed for Haiti to Move Forward

Little more than a year ago, the 10 million people of Haiti were devastated by a violent earthquake, which claimed the lives of 230,000 Haitians, displaced an additional 1.3 million, and destroyed churches, hospitals, schools and homes. Following the earthquake, Haitians lacked basic necessities such as food, clean water and medical attention. A cholera epidemic caused the death of another 3,300 Haitians.

The earthquake also devastated Haiti’s economy — since the earthquake, Haiti’s gross domestic product has plummeted 60 percent and an estimated $11.5 billion is needed to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

Before the 2010 earthquake, 58 percent of Haitians lived in abject poverty on an average daily income of just $2. Haiti also suffered from a corrupt government, rampant crime and an unjust legal system. Furthermore, there has been a pronounced lack of economic investment in the country for the last 25 years. All of these detrimental factors are connected.

In rebuilding Haiti, it is essential to provide priority attention to creating a secure environment for motivating economic development, which would enable Haiti’s business community to provide employment for its impoverished population and to attract international investment.

Regrettably, the Haitian government’s past conduct has given the country a negative reputation within the international business community and is responsible for the current lack of progress in economic growth, as exemplified by the Haitian government’s violations and scandalous treatment of many Haitian business people, including our client, Franck Ciné.

Ciné’s experience as an active businessman in Haiti is symbolic of the Haitian government’s mistreatment of commercial interests, which has stunted Haiti’s economic growth. Ciné founded two highly successful businesses in Port-au-Prince: Haitel Telecommunications Co. and Socabank.

In 2006, the Haitian government illegally expropriated Ciné’s Socabank, one of the country’s largest-growing banks and one of the main sources of microcredit for impoverished Haitians. The Haitian government also severely hindered and prevented the effective operation of Ciné’s Haitel Co., a leading Haitian telecommunications company. Moreover, Ciné was illegally incarcerated on false accusations by the Haitian government. Haiti’s Supreme Court has exonerated Ciné of all the government’s false accusations, but the government’s oppression still persists. All of Ciné’s assets and bank accounts remain frozen, which has greatly impeded his ability to contribute to Haiti’s redevelopment.

To rectify past wrongs and to improve Haiti’s business climate, it is incumbent upon our government to assist Ciné and other business victims of corruption to demand that the Haitian government take appropriate action to ensure that Haiti’s rule of law is fully implemented and respected and that the pervasive culture of corruption and crime be brought to a prompt conclusion.

In like manner, our government and its constituent branches should call out with a strong voice demanding the restoration of Ciné’s rightful economic interests in Socabank and Haitel and should seek assurances from the Haitian regime that Ciné’s legal rights be properly protected by the current administration and future Haitian governments. Only when those past injustices are properly rectified can the Haitian government improve its credibility within the business community and appropriate reforms be adopted to protect and foster business growth.

It is essential that we assist Haiti in changing its poor attitude toward the business community so that Haiti’s economic future can be assured.

Former President and Special U.N. Envoy for Haiti Bill Clinton stated, “Haiti isn’t doomed … the damage from the earthquake has meant a tragic loss of life, but it also means there are opportunities to rebuild … development projects of agriculture, reforestation, tourism, the airport … I still believe that if we rally around them now and support them in the right way, the Haitian people can reclaim their destiny.” To bring about such important changes and to encourage businesses in Haiti to flourish, Ciné and other similarly victimized Haitian businessmen must be protected within the framework of the Haitian law.

As Americans, we should encourage our neighbor to the south to adopt true reforms so that Haiti will be able to move forward into a new and brighter chapter of its economic and social history.

Former Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) served 15 terms in Congress and was chairman of the House International Relations Committee. He is now chairman of the Gilman Group. Richard Heideman serves as senior counsel of Heideman Nudelman Kalik.

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