Why the US Should Care about Haiti (Part 3)

  • Posted on: 4 September 2005
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

Looking forward, we must consider the possibility that Haiti, by itself, may never stabilize, never see economic growth, and never pull itself from abject poverty. Let's look back on where Haiti has been for the last two decades. Since 1986, we have seen the last full year the Duvalier regime controlled Haiti; one dictator ousted by another and then again by another; the first democratic elections in Haiti's 180+ year history, which too were curtailed; a hemisphere-wide, economic embargo of Haiti that in retrospect only hurt the poor and not the junta; the second US occupation, (check out Hideous Dream by Stan Goff); tainted election after tainted election; and the evaporation of the Haitian military and the Legislative Branch. Needless to say, Haiti has seen much turmoil.

In almost that same amount of time, since 1990 (as data would permit), the United States provided almost $1.7 billion in aid to Haiti, including $410M for Child Survival and Health, $638M for economic development, and $526M in food aid grants (see Report to Congress). In that same period, the US Coast Guard interdicted 87,000 Haitians en route to the US. Not to mention the 1980 Mariel Boatlift that brought 25,000 Haitians to the US in a seven-month period. Interdiction of Haitians was up last year by more than 1,000 people, and the DEA reported this year that cocaine shipments through Haiti have increased since the change in government took place in February 2004. It should also be pointed out that these statistics are only for those people caught by the USCG, we do not know how many actually leave Haiti and then are never seen again. This very easily could be an extremely high number.

Prudence suggests that had the US appropriately addressed Haiti and its problems early, much of this could have been ameliorated or even avoided completely. This is not to say that the US should have taken any sort of parental role, as many have described Haiti as the disobedient step-child, but the US certainly has left a less than noble legacy. As a former Peace Corps volunteer to Haiti, I experienced that ill will, distrust, and resentment still carried by many. On countless occasions, I was accused of being CIA (they pronounce it see-ah) or military or just a plumb racist for doing nothing more than existing.

“Blan,” they’d call out to us, anyone not Haitian, and in perfect English say, “Give me one dollar.” Who knows where it really started? But I know where it starts. While sitting with my neighbor one afternoon in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, she whispered into her infant daughter’s ear, “Ask him for money, and he will give it to you.” Of course, as a volunteer, I only marginally could afford to give money away and certainly not to everyone, but still, the mindset that I had infinite wealth, even though my accommodations were no better, my clothes were no better, because after all, I was a white American. There is legacy to this.

Change in Haiti must be comprehensive, not just developing the ports, or establishing the rule of law. From the bottom up, the people must be taught. They must be taught the value of their history and their culture. That folklore can be dignified, and must not be ignored lest it be forgotten forever. And well, to have all of these things, one can only offer the trough, and hope that they choose to drink.

Robert Miller
Haiti Innovation

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