The United States and many other nations across the globe are sending water, food and troops to benighted Haiti. Charity groups and NGOs from New York to San Francisco are collecting money. The French are calling for a “conference on Haiti’s reconstruction and development.” At least in these first few weeks following the horrific earthquake that shook the once-beautiful Caribbean isle, it seems that the world wants to give Haiti everything — except the truth.
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When outsiders gush, as they have these last two weeks, about Haiti being an island particularly “ready” for economic and social development — and about Haitians on the island being essentially a “happy” and “resilient” people –I feel much of the same kind of sickness that I felt at the first pictures after the earthquake. This might very well be the last time, given Haiti’s tragic history, that truth will have any meaning.
Unless some effective force, from inside or outside, can (1) replant trees across the nation, (2) start an aggressive program of birth control, (3) forge a civilized police force, (4) get the upper-class mulatto elites to have minimal respect for the black majority and, (5) bring back small industries that will have to be protected from globalization, Haiti will just slip into another awful reconstitution of its historic experiences.
Unfortunately, one cannot see how such a force can come from inside that miserable, long-brutalized little nation, if only because it never has. But the problem that will soon face the world is that too many Haitians still have disastrously counterproductive ideas against foreigners.
The U.N. could form a quasi-protectorate, but would the Haitians accept it? The U.S. could repeat the 1915-1934 takeover of Haiti by the Marines (which left behind many palpable accomplishments, most of them immediately
destroyed by the people), but again, the same question.
On the other hand, without something like this, there will be no hope for Haiti. First, the trees. When I first went to Haiti in 1961, I flew into an incredibly beautiful paradise of mountains and valleys — vividly green, sensuously green, verdantly green. Every time I flew there after that, there were more and more patches of brown where the peasants had chopped down the trees to make charcoal, and you could see the top soil in great gray splotches having run out in the blue sea until nothing was left.
Today, 2 percent of the country is forested.
Second, the birth rates. The last time I was in Haiti, in 1995, the population was 6 million; now it is 10 million. The Haitian Catholic Church is against birth control. Too bad.
The police forces? They have always been utterly corrupt — from Papa Doc’s special Tonton Macoutes to the cops on the street. It would take a massive outside effort to change this. Meanwhile, the slums are run by the worst types of gangs, who make their own perverse “justice.”
The classes? You think the United States was race-bound and class-bound? You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen how the mulatto upper classes — 5 percent of the population — treat the poor black Haitians.
And last, but so important, the industries. It is quite Graham Greene-like “amusing” that Bill Clinton should be the Obama administration’s “man in Haiti” because it was under his presidency, in 1993, that the final blow was
given to Haiti as an even minimally workable nation. And it was all in the name of “democracy.”
The Clinton people wanted to get the strange former priest, elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, back in power after he was overthrown by the military in 1991, so Washington went along with Organization of American
States-imposed restrictions on trade with Haiti, which managed rather quickly to destroy all of the small industries that made Haiti a workable society. Haiti had made 80 percent of the world’s baseballs. Now those factories, along with others for clothing and other small products, closed for good, with only 10,000 of the former 80,000 workers still employed. (Those 80,000 workers and their extended families represented at least one-fifth of the population.)
Even before that, in 1986, under pressure from foreign governments, including Washington, Haiti removed its tariff on imported rice, and soon domestic rice production, by which Haitians had fed themselves, was replaced to the order of 75 percent by American rice. Another victory for the international elites’ favored globalization and anti-protectionism in a poor and helpless country! And more trees came down.
This is a country — valiant, surely, but tragic actually — that got independence too early, in fiery slave revolts in 1804. It did not have time to develop to a point where independence could work. Outside of the doomed great men of the independence, Haiti has been under one crazy dictator after another, and it has been little helped by well-meaning outsiders.
In thinking about the future of Haiti, we need to listen to the wise words of economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate. Liberalizing or globalizing trade for a small and undeveloped country will not work, he has written, until “its industries have matured sufficiently to reach a competitive level, but not before.” It needs good governance to “determine its own pace of change” and to see that “benefits are shared equitably.”
One can put virtually all of the successful societal models in this form: Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Poland, Oman, Tunisia. But will the world allow — or force — Haiti into such a mode? Not if we embargo them for democracy! Or destroy their rice crop for globalization! The next few months will tell.