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Jan. 15 2010 - 8:35 am | 1,104 views | 0 recommendations | 14 comments

Haiti: or when the US cares about corruption

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - JANUARY 13:  A man hol...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

And therein lies the problem with Haiti: massive corruption.

There are nine million Haitians on the island, so there’s enough aid to provide for all of them. The nation could be a tourist mecca. It is rich in folklore and culture, including voodoo. It has the Caribbean Sea and very nice people. But there is little tourism in Haiti.

My travels there have been illuminating. Only half the population can read and write. Unemployment’s more than 50 percent. Most Haitians live on less than $2 a day. No matter how much charity is given, no matter how many good intentions there are, Haiti will remain chaotic until discipline is imposed.

– via Haiti, Liberalism and America

Ladies and Gentlemen, Bill O’Reilly, demonstrating why anyone watching Fox News cannot possibly understand even the most basic world history. I would recommend reading Billy’s entire Talking Points update, except I’m a bleeding heart liberal so I believe in human rights and thus opppose torture.

But I assure you there is no mention of slavery, The World Bank, IMF, or how the United States saddled Haiti with debt. Or how deforestation led to buildings sliding down hills during the quake. None of it. Why cloud a good diatribe with pesky facts?

Bill is right that the Haiti government is very corrupt. Given the history of exploitation in Haiti, corruption is to be expected. However, since when does America care about corruption? The US supports some of the most corrupt regimes in the world, including the cartoonishly fraudulent Karzai regime. That’s without going into the plethora of despotic monsters the US has supported throughout the decades.

Actually, one need look no further than Haiti to see a shining example of a US-supported — one might even dare to say “corrupt” — tyrant torturing his own people. François Duvalier, the leader installed by the US, was responsible for the deaths of around 30,000 people and the exile of thousands more. Corrupt? Sure. But he was our nightmare.

This is not to excuse corruption, of course. Corruption is a very bad thing that prevents aid from getting to the people who need it most. However, people like Billy use the “corruption” card as an excuse for why the US shouldn’t help Haiti, which is ridiculous.

Pretend the US is not so prosperous and rich (even during a recession, the US is still the wealthiest country in the world). Another hurricane of Katrina magnitude slams into the coast line. Thousands are displaced. Hundreds die. If closest ally, Britain, were to apply Billy’s standard of anti-corruption to the US, would they send aid?

Let’s see: An elite that hordes most of the wealth? Check. Government officials taking bribes, engaging in money laundering, and accepting donations from the private sector they’re supposed to be reforming/regulating? CheckDouble checkTriple check.

I’m pretty sure we’d be left to die. That, of course, would be unjust. It’s not Susan from Iowa’s fault that certain members of Congress are corrupt, nor is it the fault of millions of Haitians that their country has been so systematically destroyed by the west that they’re now at the mercy of a corrupt political class.

It’s nice that Billy likes Haiti, a country he appears to think is made up of voodoo priests and priestesses. But I’m wondering what Daddy Bill thinks “discipline” means? What does master want his voodoo children to do? Please, Jesus, don’t let it involve a loofah.

Maybe we can start publicly whipping people accused of corruption. No, you know what? Those people can’t even be trusted to determine their own fates. Let’s just reinstate slavery.

The “Haitians are lazy or undisciplined” language is — at the worst — extremely racist, and at the least highly inaccurate.

The level of human activity was tremendous. People were up at 5:30 A.M. walking to their favorite market spot, setting up lines of old Salvation Army clothing to sell, picking bananas to take to market, and bringing in small catches of fish from the beautiful capes and bays. Troy charcoal fires smoked up the towns and cities, children were off on errands, and women bartered and sold their produce.

In the midst of all this were the lines of children, all dressed in identifiable private school uniforms, walking to open air one-room school houses.

It’s no sitting in an air-conditioned studio for an hour, shouting one’s thoughts at a camera, but it does seem like industrious work. If anything, Billy should probably admire Haitians more because they’re not on welfare.

In Billy’s rant, we again see the “Blame Haiti” language as though they invited themselves to be exploited post-revolution — as though they begged to be saddled with debt from the west.

I agree with David Brooks’s assessment (latent racist remarks about some cultures being “progress-resistant” aside) that the solution cannot be to throw money blindly into the night, and that revolutions start from the bottom. The US cannot impose its will (even the generous aspects of its will in the form of aid) from abroad.

First, any aid that does go to Haiti should be grants, and not loans. Adding more debt to Haiti will only worsen the situation. Neo-liberal vultures like the Heritage Foundation should not be permitted to swoop in and impose their crazy schemes on vulnerable Haitians. Second, change has to begin at a local level.

That’s only going to happen if Haiti can produce goods and feed its own people. Back in 2008, the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, blamed the global food crisis on “inappropriate” policy decisions over the past two decades.

He said Wednesday that while investment in agriculture has been sharply reduced in poor countries, wealthy countries have maintained generous farm subsidies. An official from the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Rolf Traeger, faulted the Structural Adjustment Programs prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for gutting agricultural production in the developing world.

It’s seems like an axiom, but it bears repeating: people have to be able to grow their own food.

Thirty years ago, Haiti had all the rice it needed. Then in 1986, Haiti turned to the IMF for a loan. Now, after cutting tariff protections on local rice, Haiti imports most of its rice from the United States, which in turn remains heavily subsidized. US rice farmers get one billion dollars a year in government subsidies. Meanwhile in Haiti, hungry people are rioting in the streets because they cannot afford to buy rice.

If those tariff protections were reinstated and Haitians were permitted to grow their own rice, poverty and hunger would both greatly decrease. A good example of this strategy working is Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Movement. Over the last fifteen years, Cuba has developed one of the most successful examples of urban agriculture in the world.

The necessity for Cuba to turn to urban and organic agriculture in the early 1990s is both well known and understood. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of trade with COMECON on rather favorable terms spelled the end of the Soviet-style, large-scale, industrial agriculture that Cuba had been practicing since at least the 1970s. Almost overnight, diesel fuel, gasoline, trucks, agricultural machinery, spare parts for trucks and machinery, as well as petrochemical-based fertilizers and pesticides, all became very scarce. In view of the severe crisis in food production, a shift to urban agriculture seemed an obvious and necessary solution: urban production minimized transportation costs and smaller-scale production minimized the need for machinery. Agro-ecological production (applying the principles of ecology to agricultural practices), in part, necessitated production sites near the living areas of large concentrations of people, and at the same time avoided the use of toxic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, which were no longer available.

The urban agriculture movement produced 409,668 tons of fresh vegetables and herbs in the first quarter of 2009, and is now working to offer products even at the height of the northern summer season.

At least targeted aid into urban agriculture is a place to start. Or we can keep accusing Haitians of being lazy, corrupt black people unworthy of our cash. Does Karzai’s opium-dealing brother need more money?


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  1. collapse expand

    Where’s China, where are the other emerging and developing countries? Where’s Russia?

    Why does it always have to be the USA coming to peoples aid? We have sunk money into other countries for years and most don’t give a shit.

    It’s time to let China, Russia, Brazil and India take the ‘front and center’ on humanitarian aide for a while and if they fail or don’t do it quite as good as the USA at least they can say they tried.

    I get so sick of folks blaming the US for not doing enough when sometimes we are the only one to do anything. In my opinion its time to cut everyone off ‘the tit’ and let them learn to appreciate what they now don’t have for a while.

  2. collapse expand

    RE:The nation could be a tourist mecca.

    What if haitians prefer not to service tourists?

    Maybe they would like to be the world’s center for automobile manufacturing, or build supercomputers, or super software?

    Why are dark skinned people profiled as tourist industry servants? Why can’t they be tourists themselves?

  3. collapse expand

    countrygenious – My thoughts exactly… Why always the US and then get bad mouthed by America Haters like this…”bleeding heart liberal”. You should go to any of these countries with your liberal drivel and see how long you survive.

    • collapse expand

      Dearest, darlingest countrygenious and nfrazza- oh you two! You’re so right, I don’t think I could’ve said it better myself.

      Isn’t it great that we both feel that everything should be oursoursours and that indignant hording of prosperity is not only fun, but JUST too! YAY! I, too, get sick of people blaming the US simply because we have more of everything than everyone else. Mommy, it’s just not fair. Yes, yes, let’s “cut everyone off the tit and let them learn” and then let’s dash they’re brains against rocks until they’ve learned to grovel. What fun!

      I’m so glad I’ve found you two. Now we can turn our backs on everyone who isn’t exactly like us, and we can do it… together.

      (on a small note: other countries have already sent aid- including, according to DemNOW, China. certainly it’s nothing on the huge scale that it needs to be but oh wait a minute, I guess it’s more fun to sit back on the ol’ Chesterfield and watch them then to pitch it. Like Saturday night WWF.)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Adri,

        You missed my point because you assumed you knew what I meant, yet read too quickly.

        The USA is not the worlds savior, or police department, or moral compass, the USA is a screwed up country being ran by robber barons that will not resemble itself in the coming years. Greed and Crony Capitalism have taken their toll and the poor sheep called the US taxpayer have not yet seen the light.

        My whole point is, when there is a world tragedy, everyone including you, looks immediately to the USA for help. The USA is not an omnipotent father figure, it is a morally corrupt nation full of caring people that has lost its way for a moment.

        People need to start looking to other countries to carry the torch. That is my point.

        You seem to as others, especially others in the US, to have developed an entitlement mentality and when someone suggest taking away such entitlements we then become cruel rednecks who have lost all compassion.

        You don’t know me, yet you think because I want to cut off entitlements that I would bash another humans head in with a rock. What I see in you is someone that would truly bash another human head in because of your principles and use that principle to justify such harm. I would never harm another human being in the way you describe but I would hold them accountable.

        See the difference, you can’t distinguish accountability from harm and that’s wrong. Accountability does not automatically harm as your preconceived notions allow.

        You should have an open mind and not be so biased. If I give someone something I expect a thank you and not a cursing. For the last 20 years there have not been any “Thank you’s” and lots of cursing and that needs to stop.

        If you went home every night and offered up a hand of friendship and in return got a cursing how long would you stick around? Or would you bash their heads in because you finally had enough? Myself, I would find another place to go, just like I am suggesting the US do for a while.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Before I respond to the above, I have two questions for you:

          Well, why? Why do people look to the US for help?
          What form of ‘thank yous’ are you looking for?

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Answer to the first question: because all the dictators are backed up by the US Govt, they keep their personal stashes of stolen US Aid in the US banks and send their kids to the US colledges. Like, who else can talk strict to these dictators but the US?

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Adri,

            1)”Why do people look to the US for help?”

            Because the US is chocked full of caring compassionate people that always donate en masse. A long history of such speaks for itself, whether the government takes any action or not the US citizen is the most generous in the world. Habits are hard to break and human natures takes the path of least resistance. The world turns a face to where they can feel the love.

            2) “What form of ‘thank you’ am I looking for?”

            A thank you, that’s it. The action words uttered from human lips saying “thank” then “you”…. nothing more. The media voice of the world never utters a thank you. They pick and probe for the reasons of why. “Well the US donated but……..”

            But what? Because we wanted oil, because we wanted women, because we needed land, because this, because that, yet anyone that has a public voice ever just says , “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

            I donated to the Red Cross, I donated to Doctors Without Borders, and I donated as a taxpayer citizen of the US. Yet a plain Thank you is not uttered by anyone. The media, from TV to blogshpere, is trying catch ‘the angle’.

            There is no angle, I donated because I wanted to and would like a good old fashion “Thanks” nothing more. I would like some Muslims,some Jews some Palestinians, some Russians, some Iranians, some Pakistanis, some Venezuelans maybe even some Al Qaeda, etc, etc to say “Thanks, what a humanitarian effort. Even though we hate your governments guts you should be applauded as people. We couldn’t donate this time but we’ll try next time.”

            Just a “thanks”

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    Wow! Slavery is to be blamed again… Trumps, right.

  5. collapse expand

    Okay, that’s clear. And you’re really not asking much. So maybe I can help out: Dear Countrygenious, as an Iraqi, as a Czech, as a Canadian, as an American, as a citizen of this world, I thank that US of A for all it’s humanitarian efforts and donations.

    Now is it alright for them to send aid to currently-as-we-type dying people. Although I hear what you’re saying and respect it- I can’t help but feel that it’s a petty response to this situation.

    This is not about the USA flying in to save the day (as you seem to imply that I believe- no, we most certainly are no-one-in-their-right-minds moral compass) it’s a matter of how to get the most help there now. Now. Yes, certainly look to other countries as well, but not as a reason for the US to politely excuse themselves from the dinner table as you seem to suggest. I understand that you’d like a ‘thank you’ but I quite frankly, don’t care two shakes for a thank you. I’m, strangely enough, a little more worried about the concept that people living through a natural disaster are asking for help- yes asking for it- and someone can come up with any reason not to. I find that horrendous.

    In this case, your lack of ‘accountability’ IS harm.

  6. collapse expand

    While I agree with most of the points in this article, I have to take issue with one here:

    “I’m pretty sure we’d be left to die. That, of course, would be unjust.”

    Natural disasters happen. It’s a fact of life. Quite simply, humans have faced them for thousands of years. There’s no “justice” involved in that process. It’s farcical to suggest that I am morally obligated to help someone who is in trouble through no fault of my own. Do I think it should be done? Yes, and I think that those that do should be lauded for it. But it’s ridiculous to state that “of course” it would be unjust for people not to help.

    • collapse expand

      While natural disasters do happen everywhere, it’s important to consider why Haiti is such a poor society. Poverty affects all aspects of Haitians’ lives (including how they are equipped to deal with a natural disaster like an earthquake). In 1989, San Francisco was able to recover from a 6.5 magnitude earthquake relatively quickly because it was a wealthy city with many resources. Haiti is not so fortunate. UN doctors even abandoned Haitian patients post-earthquake because of security concerns.

      Everything that happens to Haiti is framed by the issue of poverty and neo-liberalism. Haiti has been very badly exploited by the west, and it’s important to keep that in mind when considering anything – even the response to a natural disaster like this. It’s also important not to take that kind of critical thinking personally. Of course, this is not YOUR fault. It’s not MY fault, but the system failed Haiti, and the system we can always criticize and critique.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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