Merrie Archer serves as a Senior Planning Officer in the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization.
My name is Merrie Archer. I’m a senior planning officer at the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. I’ve been with S/CRS for three and a half years. And I deployed to Haiti several times over the course of 2006 and 2007, the first several times with a team of interagency partners from USAID, other areas of State Department, INL, Diplomatic Security, folks from SOUTHCOM, and other folks from DOD as well.
The conditions at the time, especially in 2006, were still very dangerous. It was impossible to travel around the country in anything other than armored vehicles. And even to and from the hotel, we had to be under guard with armored vehicles. And when we went to the areas that we were sent to work in, we had to go with a relatively large deployment of Diplomatic Security, and usually UN peacekeeping escorts as well.
We deployed because we were designing and then setting up a special initiative to respond to the instability in Port-au-Prince. It was called the Haiti Stabilization Initiative. And effectively, it was the very first time that this kind of initiative was set up. It’s a multisectoral activity really designed to pull together all of the different capabilities of the U.S. Government and target them toward one geographical area that was the locus of instability and, you know, provide some sort of assistance there.
We ended up calling it the Haiti Stabilization Initiative, affectionately known as the pointy end of the carrot, basically because the UN peacekeeping mission was supposed to be providing the pointy end of the stick, and our initiative was the development that would allow the security gains that they made to be sustained. So now, effectively, two years down the road, this particular area – Cite Soleil – we wouldn’t say it’s completely rid of the gang members and the political instability that was there, but life has resumed as usual, and it has reincorporated, for the first time in over a decade, into the rest of the broader city.
One of the really interesting parts of my time there was – having spent part of my career working in and on Haiti for different organizations, was going back and seeing some of the local and international partners that I had worked with in the past and interact with them, and have them be able to sort of have confidence in what we were putting forward because they knew me, they knew me from several incarnations down there in other activities. And seeing some of the folks, such as the women’s groups in Cite Soleil who, at one point, had been only focusing on the violence perpetuated against women by the gang members, the rapes and whatnot, transform themselves into an organization that was channeling assistance to folks to sort of regain productive lives.
Having spent much of my career in the field before coming to Washington to work with S/CRS – and it was exceptionally good for me to be able to get back out in the field and do a reality check – what it enabled me to do was to come back with the sense of what’s important, what we can accomplish, and how we can accomplish it. So I would go out again in a heartbeat.