Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Haiti and some realizations

I've never really come up with airtight examples of how corrupt Haiti really is. In my exposure to local experts and some of the reading I've done, the closest that I can come to describing it is that there is an instituted culture of expecting handouts and taking free aid. That in and of itself isn't bad, but there is strong evidence to suggest that the US gov't has taken steps to transform the country from an agricultural one to "The Taiwan of the Caribbean." The result is that there is an embedded culture of need and dependence that has become aggressive in its demands for assistance.

There was a real plan to change Haiti to a place that could produce our trinkets and sew our jeans for us, but in order to do that we had to shift their focus away from growing food - in stepped USAID. The free food in Haiti has watered down the market so that locals can't sell their own harvests at a profit, and it gets more malicious than that. At 2 different times (now 3) during the country's history there has been enormous need. One was during a US backed embargo and the other during a drought. Both times food aid slowed to a trickle and only resumed in full force after the problems were over and when bumper Haitian crops were being sold at a fair market value. The new crops dropped the price and ended up hurting Haitian villagers and farmers.

To top it off, most of the food never gets distributed for free. It ends up in the hands of an intermediary who is able to sell it to someone who can afford it and the poorest never get much aid at all. This cycle of unwanted and intercepted food aid has created animosity amongst the Haitians. They often resent the food aid and since they have (in an indirect way) been moved off of their farms, they come across as entitled to receive free food. In more than one case during my trip, an American told me a story of having a Haitian demand something from them in an aggressive way - "Give me some food" or "Give me your phone." This comes across as an aggressive entitlement that seems selfish and ungrateful to outsiders.

A brief aside - The bright spot in recent years for the Haitian economy has been the fact that the illegal drug trafficking through that country has managed to trickle down some wealth to some of the poor and middle class Haitian's. Timothy T Schwartz tells a story in his book that I mentioned in an earlier blog about a drug smuggle that got intercepted by Haitian peasants and transformed the lives of almost an entire village. He quips that the drug 'hijacking' did more for that village than decades of government focused food aid. This story actually made me wonder if the reason we still fight a war against drugs in our country is because of foreign drug lobbyists trying to maintain their unique ability to provide an agricultural crop that we don't openly grow in the US.

Continuing - Combine hopelessly entrenched selfishness with the overwhelming poverty that is, unlike some other places in the world, visibly obvious and as an outsider you are left wondering if there is any future for Haiti. I realize after reading my blogs that I tell a story with some hope in it because the trip was hopeful and reinvigorating for me, but in reality I can't really see much hope in store for the people of Porte-au-Prince. The people there are living in the absolute worst conditions that I've ever witnessed first hand.

I managed to accidentally catch this ESPN story about the under 17 girls national team yesterday and was struck (again) by the hopeless future of young Haitians. This story didn't really have much to do with sports for me, it was more the ending that really struck me as a powerful example of how journalists can change perspectives and have their own views of the world turned to the side.

E:60 tells the story of the Haitian under-17 girls' team, from the welcoming arms of the Dominican Republic and Panama for training, then Costa Rica for the CONCACAF tournament and back home to Haiti

Haitian Girls Attempt to Qualify for U-17 World Cup

When I take a look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however,

wool exports | cotton exports | milk exports

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