I'm willing to agree that right now it is not feasible to create a charter city in Haiti due to the complexity in making it "optional" to the citizenry. However, if there isn't a level of order within 12-18 months that would allow a referendum on the issue, I'd call the global response a failure.
Putting that aside, let's assume that Professor Romer is right and that it would take a minimum 5-10 years before Haiti meets the preconditions for a successful charter city.
In that scenario, the best thing we can do, Romer argues, is let Haitians emigrate to other nations, or cities, to work and learn, creating wealth that can then (eventually) be brought back to Haiti, and then help make it a better place.
One problem with this scenario is the scale. It would take a global agreement, say among the G20, to accomodate the 500,000-1,000,000 people that have been displaced by the earthquake. It is unlikely that any one city/nation either had the infrastructure or willingness to accept so many, even on a temporary basis. The United States could, and arguably should, grant temporary (2-5 year) work visas to as many Haitians as want to come here (for one thing, it would help boost demand for some of our excess housing supply!).
Whatever we do in allowing emigration, though, won't help Haiti itself from lifting itself out of failed-state status, unless Haitians return home with respect and desire for the types of governmental institutions that make other communities work (e.g. rule of law, political continuity, property rights, capital markets, well-planned infrastructure) - charter cities do this really well, by the way. This is one problem with Senegal's offer to allow Haitians to "return" to Senegal permanently - it helps Haitians in the short-run, but it doesn't help Haiti in the long-run.
So, we need to balance the humanitarian needs of the present with the long-term goals for the future (isn't this the dilemma with all large social decisions?).
One way to do both: Make Guantanamo Bay the charter city (Romer himself suggested this in his TED Talk). But, instead of a majority-Cuban population, the city should begin with a mix of 50-75% Haitians, with 5-10 year work visas. Get them there, learning, working, recovering, ASAP. Then, as their visas expire, those Haitian citizens could return home with the 1) wealth, 2) skills, and 3) respect for good institutions necessary to improve their own country. The singular advantage of Guantanamo as a location is critical:
- It is available - the US wants to shut down the prison, and Obama will want to do so in a way that doesn't look like he's giving in to Cuba;
- It is large enough - roughly 2x the size of Manhattan;
- It is close to Haiti - very close. Guantanamo is about 100 miles from Northern Haiti and less than 200 miles away from Port-au-Prince; emigrants would be able to return home when needed and work visas would be much easier to facilitate than with a developed nation with 200 years of arcane bureaucracy;
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By the time the 5-10 year work visas are expiring, the rest of Haiti will have seen first-hand what a success Guantanamo-as-Charter-City has been, what a source for hope an opportunity it has given the people of Haiti. And then, perhaps, Haiti would be in a position to choose for itself to begin the process of bringing a charter city to that country. Even if they don't, they would still have likely benefitted enormously (both economically and socially) from the experience of building a functioning city elsewhere.