Local Approaches Prove to Be the Best Solutions, Says LWF World Service Director Hitzler
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti/GENEVA, 18 July 2007 (LWI) – That migration is a dramatic problem in Latin America and the Caribbean is best depicted in numbers: “Every hour, around 58 inhabitants of this region leave their countries of origin with the intention of not coming back. That results in an average of 1,388 persons daily, 41,670 per month, and about 500,000 each year,” said Mr Jorge Rojas Rodriguez, director of the human rights organization Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement in Colombia (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento – CODHES).
Rojas was speaking at a regional consultation of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Department for World service (DWS) on “Violence, Migration and Their Impact on Citizenship and Democracy,” held 18-22 June in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The 43 representatives of LWF related agencies and partner organizations, from some of the member churches in the region, and LWF staff, from 13 different countries, discussed the various aspects of violence and migration in the Central America and Caribbean region, with a special focus on Colombia, El Salvador and Haiti. “Migration is a determining factor in globalization and its occurrence is linked to socio-economic imbalances, models of exclusion, violence and natural disasters,” said Rojas.
In Haiti, migration started at the end of the 19th century, with peasant workers migrating to Cuba to work in sugar-cane plantations owned by companies from the United States of America, Dr Michèle Oriol, professor at the University of Haiti, pointed out. Today, many poor Haitian families still regard migration as the only solution. They mainly move to the USA, Canada, Dominican Republic, Bahamas and other neighboring countries. But those countries “seem to close their doors more and more.” Statistics show that between 1981 and 1991, around 20,000 Haitians were intercepted on the sea by the US coast guards. Between 1991 and 1994, that number had risen to about 40,000 people, she said.
The people most affected by poverty and therefore most ready to migrate are farmers and peasants. In 1994, after the brutal reign of a military junta, the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was re-installed to power. In agreement with the International Monetary Fund, one of the government’s first measures was to lower trade barriers-today between zero and 15 percent-so that imported products such as rice, corn, meat, fish, milk, and sugar became far cheaper.
With 66 percent of the Haitian population involved in agriculture, the measure to reduce tariffs took away the livelihood of many farmers, and increased unemployment. “Day by day, we can see impoverished peasants coming from the countryside to the capital,” explained Oriol. The result is that rural areas are deserted, and slums are mushrooming not only on the city outskirts but also inside big cities like the capital Port-au-Prince, she told the consultation’s participants.
Mr Bernard Gianoli, program coordinator of the LWF office in Haiti, agreed that migration concerns most of all the rural community of Haiti. “To diminish the migration flow, the rural population-which is in its majority excluded from the economic and social life-must be able to earn a decent salary for their work that allows them to live in dignity with their families and [also] stabilize themselves,” he emphasized.
In order to tackle the root causes of migration and change the situation in Haiti, the LWF works closely with local organizations and partners, said DWS director Rev. Eberhard Hitzler. “External intervention is always the second-best solution. Local approaches in the end prove to be the best solutions,” he said.
In Haiti, LWF/DWS supports many local projects in the agricultural sector, for example milk production in Nan-Plak in the southeast, and a banana plantation site near Port-au-Prince. During the conference, participants had the opportunity to visit these field projects. (643 words)
(Written for LWI by Mexico-based German journalist, Julia Heyde, who participated in the LWF/DWS regional consultation.)