Robert Maguire, a leading expert on Haiti, spoke at UCF about the country’s need to transcend its past problems while trying to rebuild its future.

Maguire is the director of programs in international affairs at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.  Since 1990, he has served as chair of Haiti Advanced Area Studies at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute.

He spoke to an audience of nearly 125 people at his presentation, which was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office as a feature of both the 2010-2011 “Haiti Speaker Series” and the “Global Peace and Security” theme.

He said that demographic, social and economic imbalances, in addition to struggles with international relations and development policies, are some of Haiti’s greatest challenges when it comes to rebuilding itself.

Haitians have been continually migrating to the capital of Port-au-Prince, leaving behind the rural areas and becoming vulnerable to natural disasters, he said.

Maguire said Haiti was once self-sufficient in food production, but immediately before the earthquake, the country was importing most of its goods and food.  A socio-economic imbalance means that 80 percent of Haitians live on just $2 a day, while one percent controls more than half of the GDP, he said.

Due to Haiti’s cheap labor and dictatorial governments of the past, there has been very little foreign investment in development and education, Maguire said. The rest of the world considered Haiti a nation with cheap labor.

Maguire said that in the 1980s, Haiti “was supposed to become the Taiwan of the Caribbean.” He argued that there needs to be an opportunity in Haiti for its population to increase its talent.

“We need to find a way to invest in the Haitian people and their involvement in the world economy,” he said.

But the nation faces obstacles, including the inhibition of the political leadership in decision-making, the tendency of the Haitian elite to benefit itself rather than the country and the exclusion of the voices of poor people from the decision-making processes.

Maguire made several recommendations that he thinks would bring balance to Haiti.

First, he said, there needs to be meaningful decentralization, since 85 percent of the economic activity is concentrated in Port-au-Prince. Next, according to Maguire, there should be a creation of a civic service core.

He also suggested reconstituting Haitian institutions to help support their ability to be present in the lives of the population, especially the poor. He argued for the creation of a conditional cash transfer program, such as those implemented in Brazil and Mexico, where families receive money as long as their children are sent to school daily and frequently attend health clinics.

In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners of Maguire’s presentation included UCF’s Task Force H.O.P.E.; the UCF Haitian Studies Project; the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program; the UCF Political Science Department; the UCF Diplomacy Program; the UCF Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies Program; The Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship Program; the UCF International Services Center; the UCF Office of Internationalization; UCF LIFE; and the Global Connections Foundation.