Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is there a happy ending for Haiti?

The Haitian earthquake has the potential to be the greatest loss of life directly and indirectly from a natural disaster in the Americas since European settlement here. That story will play out over the next several weeks. Given the rapid response of the international community, however, I don’t see tens of thousands dying indirectly from disease, riots and the like—though that possibility can not be ignored.

I do wonder though what the future has in store for the already impoverished Caribbean nation.

Haiti has benefited and suffered for a Twentieth Century diaspora that sees, at least, two million Haitians living elsewhere, mainly in Dominican Republic, United States, Canada France and the Bahamas. Included in this figure are many of the well-educated Haitians under the age of fifty. One benefit of the diaspora, if there are any at all, is the lessoning of social pressures on Haiti’s society caused by a large workforce and precious few jobs.

The disadvantage is the “brain drain” that has left Haiti with a 10-million population of largely illiterate people, lacking in the training and skills most needed by a modern functioning state.

Haiti’s pre-earthquake economy was a basket case as was most of its social services. More than one-third of Haiti’s budget depends on foreign donations. To a great extent, foreign NGOs have been propping up what is a broken state. These NGOs support libraries and universities, run schools and hospitals. Without the NGOs social services in Haiti would be virtually non-existent.

Haiti’s GDP in 2008 was somewhat less than $7-billion. The tiny neighbouring island of Jamaica had twice that GDP with a third of the population and 40 per cent of the landmass. According to the International Monetary Fund, Haiti’s 2008 per capita GDP was $1,317 USD compared to Jamaica’s $8,967 USD.

I have little doubt that Haiti can be restored to its pre-earthquake status by the international community. There certainly seems to be the will to do so. But what then? Would that be nearly good enough? I do not believe it would.

Someone suggested in the media that Haiti temporarily become a U.S. dependency. I do not see that as an alternative. U.S. involvement will almost certainly be required, but not total rule of the country.

The United States occupied the Haiti from 1915 to 1934. U.S. intentions had more to do with limiting German influence that with helping Haiti to stand on it’s own feet. During American occupation, they behaved like conquerors.

They built roads to serve their own purposes and introduced cash crops of their own choosing. And although the occupation greatly improved some of Haiti’s infrastructure, American racial intolerance provoked indignation and resentment from Haitians, who did not accept foreign rule peacefully. The period was marked with revolts during which thousands of Haitians perished, many at the hands of American marines.

Many do agree that Haiti was in better shape after the occupation than before, but the economic improvements made by the U.S were built on a weak financial foundation that was doomed to failure.

If Haiti has any hope, it will need a far more ultraistic benefactor than the United States seems capable of being.

The U.S. rebuilt Germany and Japan, Korea and Taiwan, not for the Germans or Japanese, not for the Koreans or Taiwanese. Those massively successful enterprises were for the sole benefit of the Americans who wanted powerful economies and armies strategically placed so as to contain the spread of communism.

Haitians need benefactors who will rebuild Haiti for the Haitians, and I can’t see that really happening. But let us say it did happen. Then what would we say to countries like Jamaica and Dominican Republic? There are desperately poor—better off than Haiti, but desperately poor nevertheless.

We can’t help everyone though, can we?

I fear that Haiti, like this article, will not end well.

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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