Is Haiti Doomed?
Let there be jobs . . . and hurricane relief!
The United States and the Caribbean nation of Haiti seem inextricably linked - for better or worse. In February 2004, Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile of his own free will, so the story goes anyway. Reportedly, Aristide had requested that the United States escort him from the country, because a band of murderous rebels was wreaking havoc in northern parts of the country. But some think Aristide was essentially abducted by the United States before he could further his political agenda, which the U.S. found objectionable. There were also accusations that Aristide was guilty of embezzlement and corruption, though these charges have never been proven.
A good friend of Aristide's, author Randall Robinson, was on the flight from Haiti with Aristide, and he has written a book about the alleged coup d'état, as he called it. The title of the book is Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President: An unbroken Agony. Robinson wrote that Aristide would never have left Haiti just because some rebels were causing trouble. Robinson also wrote that Aristide alienated the United States by advocating relief to the poor people of Haiti, a decidedly populist ideal, and he also rankled Group 184, an assemblage of white, French-speaking capitalists in Haiti.
Robinson wrote that the United States orchestrated the coup, and that the rebels causing trouble in the north of Haiti, murdering people in fact, were equipped and trained by the U.S. These M16-wielding rebels Robinson had actually seen for himself. Randall called them "American-backed thugs."
Be that as it may, but an undeniable fact is that Haiti, like many other poor countries in the world, is in serious trouble. Haiti is a small country, only 27,750 square kilometers and has a relatively high population of eight to nine million, most of whom earn less than $1 per day. The literacy rate is around 50 per cent, and about 70 per cent of the people live by subsistence agriculture. Like most poor people throughout the world, their fuel is wood, which comes from the nation's dwindling forest, less than four per cent of which still exists. Unfortunately, denuding the land has created soil erosion. According to the September 2008 issue of National Geographic, Haiti's food production per capita fell 30 percent from 1991 to 2002. And the island nation has few natural resources - bauxite, copper, calcium carbonate, gold and marble, but mining comprises less than one per cent of the gross national product and employs less than one per cent of the work force. Unfortunately, Haiti has no fossil fuels and must import all it needs. It has one hydroelectric plant.
As is the case throughout Latin America, Haiti, despite being an exceeding poor country, is experiencing a population explosion. According to Joel Cohen’s book How Many People Can the Earth Support? global population is increasing from 1.5 to 2 percent per year, with most of that growth in developing countries such as Haiti. Worldwide this is an additional 90 million people per year. This growth rate doesn’t seem very large, but at this pace the world’s population could double by the year 2050. That’s well over 12 billion people – most of them dirt poor, a sobering realization indeed!
To make matters even worse, Haiti can't grow enough of its own food and must import large quantities of staples such as rice. Alas, the price of imported food has skyrocketed in recent months, a calamity which has precipitated the firing of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis. Reacting to such a price hike, people have rioted in the streets and, as of February 2006, 17 United Nations peacekeepers have been killed. Also, people have been reported eating "mud cookies" to fight off hunger pangs. President Rene Preval has been reluctant to cut taxes on food, and thereby reduce the cost, because such taxes pay for government programs such as job creation.
In June 2006, Aristide was replaced by Rene Preval, who seems determined to unite this fractious nation, ruled by a succession of dictators and provisional governments until Aristide's first election in 1991. Then a military coup ended Aristide's first term in office only months later.
When still in office, former president Aristide's goal was to improve the lot of Haiti's poor. His plan would have created 365 rural sections, each to have a primary school, a health clinic, and a business component, a cooperative of sorts, made viable by small loans and microcredits. Under the plan, raising the country's literacy rate would also be a major goal.
Work is life, you know, and without it, there’s nothing but fear and insecurity.— John Lennon
Again, like many other poor countries in the world, Haiti’s biggest problem is the lack of jobs. In fact, the world’s biggest problem could be unemployment. Haiti’s unemployment rate is about 60 per cent. The country needs to attract companies, corporations and entrepreneurs, so that jobs can be created, thereby generating taxes on wages and salaries and creating and fostering an infrastructure that will in turn create even more jobs. After that, genuine prosperity for Haiti might be possible.
Hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean, a native of Haiti, interviewed on a January 2009 edition of Sixty Minutes, said this on the subject: “We need to create jobs. We need job creations here (in Haiti).”
However, in order to create jobs, Haiti needs more money, because poor people seldom create jobs. To provide this money, the wealthy of the country, perhaps Group 184, could be taxed more – perhaps much more – but if this happened, President Preval probably wouldn’t remain in power much longer and the country doesn’t need even more political uncertainty and turmoil. Or Haiti could request more money from the international dole, perhaps a loan from the World Bank would suffice. But many poor countries in Africa have collected foreign aid for decades with dubious results. Simply put, these countries, like Haiti, are still poor. More handouts would do Haiti little good.
But Haiti could collect billions of dollars another way – without appearing the beggar nation. Before he departed suddenly, Aristide had applied for restitution from France. Aristide wanted France to return the $93 million francs Haiti had been forced to pay in reparations following Haiti’s successful slave revolt, which lasted for 13 years in the late 1700s to early 1800s. Comprised mostly of freed slaves, Haiti became the world’s first black-led nation in 1804. This application was cancelled after Aristide’s ouster, but it could be made again.
Perhaps the United Stated could help persuade France to pay this restitution. After all, the United States had their share of slaves as well. If the United States doesn’t want to help in this way, maybe it could help Haiti develop the infrastructure needed to produce industries and enhance the overall economic development. A little stewardship by the U.S. could have a miraculous effect on Haiti. Rather than spend countless billions of dollars fighting foes in the Middle East and elsewhere, perhaps the U.S. should spend some of that money instead on developing jobs in a country such as Haiti – a democratic republic, that is, after all, just miles away. Money spent on preventing revolution or war could be a wiser option.
Without a serious improvement in the creation of jobs in Haiti, revolution may not be far off. Starving, dirt-poor people, when faced with hopelessness, have little to do but revolt and fight. In a similar situation, what would anybody do?
Of course, if there is such a revolution, the United States will probably have to send in troops to quell the uprising. They’ve done so many times and will have to continue doing so until Haiti reaches a sustainable level of economic stability, political tranquility and perhaps even happiness.
In a small country such as Haiti with few natural resources and a high population, prosperity may seem little more than a pipe dream. But if economic behemoths such as France and the United States do their share, Haiti might still escape the list of impoverished nations.
Is Haiti doomed?
Clearly its chances are not good.
© 2008 Kelley Marks