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Jan. 20 2010 - 3:03 pm | 19 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Hong Kong, Haiti?

Paul Romer doesn’t think a charter city in Haiti makes sense given the current circumstances:

Contrary to what some have suggested, a charter city in Haiti is simply not an option at this time. A charter city can only be created through voluntary agreement. Under the current conditions, the government and people of Haiti do not have the freedom of choice required for any agreement reached now to be voluntary.

In 2004, most knowledgeable observers concluded that the crisis in Haiti met the stringent criteria required for a humanitarian military intervention. A UN dispatched a force of 7000 soldiers and 2000 police officers. It made real progress, particularly after 2006. It reduced kidnappings and established a police presence in areas where criminal gangs had been so strong that Haitian police could not enter. The UN also paid for the expansion and training of the Haitian police force.

On top of its enormous human and economic cost, the earthquake has setback these efforts at strengthening the Haitian government. The case for a foreign military presence is now much stronger. The number of foreign troops is increasing rapidly. They are likely to stay much longer.

In the current circumstances, any attempt at creating a new city in Haiti under foreign control would turn a humanitarian military intervention into a humanitarian military occupation. This approach is fraught with risks that the concept of a charter city is designed to avoid.

As sensible as I think charter cities are for the third world – essentially little reproductions of Hong Kong in developing countries – this analysis makes sense to me.  Just like democracy can’t be produced at the barrel of a gun, neither can foreign powers force charter cities on developing countries.  Of course, Hong Kong itself was pretty much forced on the Chinese, but that was a different time.  Far from a freely chosen effort to bring investment and economic liberalism to Haiti, it would come across as paternalism of the worst sort, and would only succeed at this point with an accompanying military occupation.


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