Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Haiti: Ain't Learned a Thang

The global community has pledged $1 billion to help the country promote democracy and economic recovery. Donors and Haitian officials alike have vowed to learn from past mistakes. Donors blame past failures on themselves, while Haitian officials attribute it mostly to poor government under ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Two things jump out at me. Didn't Haiti already have a democracy before USA, France, and Canada got into the mix this year? Hardly a fantastic one (those 2000 parliamentary elections were suspect), but Haitians should've decided Jean-Bertrand Aristide's future, via elections. 

Two, the real blame goes to several areas: no free-market reforms, virtually no civil society, and rampant corruption. Haiti is a basket case. Its troubles precede Aristide by about 200 years. Rule of law is minimal, incentives to innovate virtually nil. This $1 billion will be totally wasted or siphoned off into somebody's Swiss bank account.

Had donors really learned from the past, they would forgo government foreign aid. Instead, they would be pushing for lower trade barriers - both in Haiti and in their countries so there is a more equitable relationship. No more giver and givee, which reinforces dependency. Focus on Haiti's competitive advantages - which are agriculture, tourism potential, and cheap unskilled labor - and go from there. Haiti's workers get more work, Western consumers get lower prices. Win-win. This is how China and India have rip-roaring economic and income growth.

I do agree with one quote in the article, "The time has come for this one-way contribution to stop," says Leonce Thelusma, former minister of economy of Haiti now living in Florida."The time has come for Haiti to offer advantages to the diaspora." Yes, instead of waiting for USA's Congressional Black Caucus to lead the way to bail it out of its mess.


  • In 1990/91, I did National Guard drills in Muncie, Indiana, where I knew a 21-year-old girl (as I pine...), a hairdresser, who had been to Haiti twice on vacation. She loved it and had had no problems during her trips there; I remember thinking she was perhaps mildly deranged, although I did remind myself that I hadn't been there, so what did I know.

    Haiti is a very sad case. It seems impervious to internal and external efforts at reform and improvement.

    I recently read "Talk of the Devil: Interview with Seven Dictators," which has a section on "Baby Doc" Duvalier and his father, "Papa Doc." With a history like that, can a nation escape from itself?

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