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Opinion: US can give better aid to Haiti

Recovery in Haiti can be spurred by smarter US aid that promotes trade and immigration.

Third, the Haitian diaspora. The energy and skill of the extraordinary Haitian diaspora can help shore up management of public services. Dozens, even hundreds might be willing to return home for up to two years to help jumpstart and expand the school and health systems — replacing the skills of the huge number of Haitian civil servants who lost their lives. USAID could support the Clinton Foundation or even the Peace Corps to manage a program to screen applicants, arrange sensible matches of skills and provide modest expense or salary supplements (for example to cover mortgage payments in the United States). That kind of program has been working for Liberia during its recovery from civil war. Young Liberians and Americans work as special assistants to senior Liberian government officials, primarily cabinet members. Private donors can help, too, as has been the case in Liberia.

Finally, at least 10 percent of the U.S. aid pledge should be channeled through existing programs that catalyze local and foreign direct investment in Haiti. These include the United States Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean. The latter began as a U.S. initiative to support private sector investment and public-private partnerships in the region. We should build on these sound institutional foundations. If ever there was a need for investment in Haiti, it is now.

Whether Haiti can recover from the earthquake and overcome centuries of exploitation and misrule to build a safer and more just society is ultimately in the hands of the Haitians. Though outside help is vital, aid done badly can do more harm than good. And America’s real contribution ought to come via trade, immigration and diaspora initiatives that will bring jobs, open up opportunities, help build competent public services and ultimately help the people and government of Haiti to help themselves.

Nancy Birdsall is the president of the Center for Global Development.