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The Haitian miracle?

Jeffrey D SachsJeffrey D Sachs is the Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. His last Webdiary piece was Development aid for development's sake.

by Jeffrey D Sachs

This spring’s presidential election in Haiti sadly re-enforced the country’s blighted reputation. The paradox is that today Haiti has a chance, perhaps the best in its modern history, to escape from its long history of extreme poverty and turmoil.

A mere one-hour flight from Miami, the country struggles with poverty levels akin to the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But, whereas many parts of the world are extremely poor because of their isolation, Haiti is extremely poor despite its proximity to the world’s largest market. Now, Haiti can turn its geography into a competitive advantage, but only if the United States helps.

Haiti recalls a famous lament once heard about another US neighbor, Mexico: “So far from God and so close to the United States.” As with Mexico, Haiti’s proximity to the US has cut both ways in its history. Proximity to the US should, of course, be an advantage for exports and attracting investment.

However, proximity has also meant US meddling. Haiti was the second country, after the US, to win its independence from Europe, following a slave rebellion in 1804. But America regarded Haiti as a threat rather than as a colleague in freedom, refusing to extend diplomatic recognition until after the outbreak of the Civil War, which finally brought an end to slavery in the US.

Even after recognition by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, relations remained sour. Haiti was exploited and occasionally occupied by US troops, rather than being regarded as a legitimate partner in trade and diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Haiti’s ecological and demographic conditions posed huge development challenges that have never been overcome. The island is hit regularly by devastating hurricanes. It has been massively deforested, and its soils have been depleted of nutrients. Tropical diseases remain killers to this day.

A devastating economic blow occurred in the mid-nineteenth century, when Europe learned to produce sugar from a temperate zone crop, beets, rather than from tropical sugar cane. World sugar prices collapsed, and Haiti fell into deeper disarray. Extreme poverty bred illiteracy and miserable governance, which in turn intensified hunger, disease, and instability.

Haiti’s recent economic history is marked by a remarkable and tragic downslide since the mid-1980’s, exacerbated by sometimes well-intentioned but typically disastrously executed US diplomacy. In an attempt to push Haiti toward democracy, the US imposed economic sanctions, which crippled Haiti’s fragile and newly emerging export sector, especially apparel and other labor-intensive production. Unemployment soared. Urban violence spiraled.

The US then entered into a destructive 15-year relationship with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is massively popular among Haiti’s poor, but distrusted by most of the business sector and many leading US politicians. When Aristide came to power in 2001, the Bush administration cut off most international aid, thereby helping to send the economy into a freefall. Aristide’s government was ousted under highly contested circumstances in 2004.

The newly elected president, Rene Preval, is a highly talented and experienced agronomist, and thus has the perfect background to revive Haiti’s degraded rural economy. With the US market close by, Haiti could achieve a remarkable recovery of exports of horticulture, fruits, and other agricultural products, as well as tourism and light manufactured goods.

The key will be for the new government to provide a sound framework which combines key public investments – roads, power, soil nutrients, improved seed varieties, public health, safe water – with confidence-building outreach to the business community and fruitful relations with the US and other donor countries. This time, the US has a strong interest in cooperating fully to promote economic progress: another round of failure would only provoke chaos, including massive numbers of new refugees to the US.

The gap between Haiti’s performance and its potential is now so large that great gains can be achieved in income levels, farming, health, education, and more. Crop yields are below one ton of cereal per hectare of farmland – far less than half of what is readily achievable if farmers are helped to gain access to fertilisers, improved seeds, and basic infrastructure.

Similarly, health conditions are horrendous, but could be improved dramatically just with immunisation, de-worming, safe water, antibiotics, and anti-malaria bed nets. Community health workers could be trained in a matter of months to extend basic health care throughout rural areas, which could then be better mobilised to fend off the debilitating results of future hurricanes.

On the economic front, Haiti can become a profitable exporter of tropical crops such as groundnuts, mangos, cut flowers, string beans, and bamboo – a source of progress among Haiti’s Caribbean-basin neighbors. Preval’s own hometown has successfully used a modest level of external donor support to create new rural cooperatives to market improved crops. And, with its beautiful beaches and remarkable arts and music, Haiti could once again become a major tourist destination.

Indeed, Haiti can become an inspiration for many other fragile and impoverished new democracies. The US, France, Canada, and other major donor countries must not miss this historic opportunity to give vital help to Preval’s democratically elected new government.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.
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maybe he wants some F-16s too.

Canadians have close ties to Haiti,with a diaspora there and language compatability for business and education interests.The new neocon leader Harper has guaranteed Rene, sure, while he behaves methinks.

Trent University in Ontario has a sharp analysis that fills in a few of the rather glaring gaps about "rebuilding" Haiti. It suggests that yet again we have an issue of globalisation of markets and a resulting slave labour nation with forced cheap labour supply with sell off of public assets forced by the IMF et al.

Note the French issue of paying back the slave owners compensation money forced. Note also the dealings with which companies in the textile business and the connections to the current investigation going on in the USA.

While all the posturing about Iraq and Freedom Fries was going on (the French and) US neocons were happily doing business together in the process of deposing the elected representative President Aristide in Haiti and replacing him with a stooge to protect their big business as this article surmises:

"Rene Preval served as President from 1996-2001, and his record shows some ability to “perform.” .....

..."Preval’s performance record is published as the IMF’s Article IV Consultation with Haiti. To make sure that Haiti is behaving itself, the IMF implements staff-monitored programs, or SMPs. Haiti’s 1999 Article IV Consultation indicated that Preval was behaving very well. Preval was going along with the plan that had been set up for Haiti, and “revenues were higher and capital and wage expenditures were lower than projected.”

Foreign investors were getting rich off paying Haitians subsistence wages to sew t-shirts together. The IMF goes on to say that “all quantitative benchmarks of the SMP for June 1999 were met with ample margins.”

"...To understand the pressure that’s put on someone like Preval, you’ve got to look at what has happened to his successor, Aristide. Preval resisted the reforms, and as a result he was allowed to finish his term in office. Aristide opposed the reforms, and he’s been exiled to South Africa. Rather than ensuring that wages are kept as low as possible, Aristide increased the minimum wage. Rather than handing over the publicly owned and run services, Aristide held onto them.

But, what Haiti’s masters found particularly offensive was Aristide’s refusal to make payments on the country’s debt, 40% of which Aristide claimed was odious debt. It is odious debt that was run up by decades of dictatorship, just like all the debt run up by the recent interim government is also odious debt. Arguably all of the debt is odious because even when there was an elected government, it was under the threat of being violently removed if it didn’t capitulate to IMF demands. What pushed the slaveholders to violence was Aristide’s demand that France pay reparations to Haiti for the money that was coerced out of Haitians to reimburse 19th century French slaveholders.

That kind of radicalism is what lead Tim Carney to comment that “I think the elections confirmed that Aristide is a man of the past, unlikely to have any role in Haiti’s future.” Preval was elected by Aristide’s supporters, and hopefully Preval can deliver the same kind of poor performance as Aristide. Haiti has been in debt since it became a country, and it works roughly like any other debt system.

Because free Haitians were a loss to French slaveholders, Haitians had to reimburse the slaveholders. If this wasn’t done, Haiti would be attacked, and no country would deal with them. In 1915, the US invaded Haiti on the grounds that Haiti could not pay off its debt. US General Littleton Waller summed up the attitude that’s been present in all of the policy regarding Haiti, saying, “these people are niggers in spite of the thin varnish of education and refinement. Down in their hearts they are just the same happy, idle, irresponsible people we know of.”

This is exactly why France indebted Haiti, and the US invaded Haiti. This is exactly why the IMF tells the Haitian government what to do, and why the US, France, and now Canada are ready to terrorize Haiti into compliance. By bringing back Aristide, Rene Preval would send Haiti’s modern day slaveholders a very clear signal to back off............."

So what do the meetings with the leaders of Venezuela et al mean? Maybe Chavez will give him some F-16s like he just gave Cuba. Happy Birthday.

Préval too smart for Washington

Préval smart enough to form new alliances elsewhere, with Cuba and Venezuela for example, breaking away from a traditionally Washington-controlled Haiti.

See here.

Préval has  moved his diplomacy into new international arenas, somewhat to the dismay of Washington, which already warily associates him with Aristide — who the State Department abominated.

In April, Préval visited Cuba and Venezuela, where he discussed aid in health care, education, and electricity. The Préval-Castro meetings were particularly significant since the country is in dire need of the doctors Cuba could provide, as well as medical training for Haitian students in Cuba’s universities.

Following the Havana visit, Préval had a 24-hour stay in Venezuela on April 24, where he discussed with Chávez possible Venezuelan aid in health and education, as well as Haiti’s entry into Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, which provides poor Central American and Caribbean nations with discounted or bartered oil. Assistance from Cuba and Venezuela could play a key role in Préval’s attempt to rebuild Haiti.

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