A few noteworthy tidbits about Haiti right now.

The canned outrage demonstrated in the comment section here and elsewhere is really aggravating. About the worst thing that can happen to Haiti right now is to lose their tourism industry. Their capital is in ruins, but there is a whole rest of the nation to think of. It’s easy for people in Britain and the US to talk about how the people on those boats should roll up their sleeves and volunteer or just give away the money that they were going to spend vacationing, but just because they’re on a boat near Haiti (or going there) does not make them obligated in a way that the rest of us are not. What they need most right now is money and if you’re spending money on anything except bare sustenance, by the logic applied to the tourists, you’re hating on Haiti.

It reminds me a bit of an old Hugo Schwyzer post where he basically apologizes for hiring a maid because the notion of paying someone else to do the housework you’re too “good” to do has moral implications. Being the capitalist drone that I am, my initial response is “better that they be unemployed?” Well no, better by their thinking that you do the housework yourself and pay the (would-be) maid so that she can lay the foundation for more gratifying work. It was hard to read through the comments and the self-lashing “I am a sinner!” tone by those that employ housekeepers and the smug superiority of those that clean their own filthy sheets. At some point it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the thrill of moral condemnation itself is part of the motivation.

The other part of the motivation is the frustration about the gulf between the haves and have-nots. The imagery of cruise folks maxin’ and relaxin’ on a beach while a bunch of poor people scramble for their very lives understandably doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. However, if you live in Britain or the US and you are living comfortably enough to have a computer and Internet connection to comment on the Guardian’s website and/or some blog, you have a whole lot more in common with the cruise folks than you do with the people rolling up their sleeves and helping the Haitians. If you’re going to get right down to it, there’s no excuse for living a lie of any comfort save for a belief that the ways of the world are not fair and your being miserable or indignant over it doesn’t change that. Easy for me to say that from the comfort of my apartment on my nice laptop.

My sister-in-law did some work in Haiti recently, but thankfully is not there now. Talk about how this could be the best thing to happen to Haiti because of the money they’re getting is, according to her, poppycock. Haiti doesn’t have the infrastructure to rebuild the same way that New Orleans is being rebuilt. The only way to rebuilt it is for entities to take the same sort of control over Haiti that the federal government has the latitude to take over New Orleans. In other words, we would need to try to rebuild it the same way that we’ve tried to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if the former is actually better off now than they were under Hussein’s rule, I don’t believe that we have the stomach or the resources to take that kind of control. New Orleans was also helped out by the diaspora and that’s not quite so much an option for Haiti, either, since adjacent states had to accept Katricians and there is no such obligation for Haitians.

It’s hard not to get a kick out of the second letter here. The gist is that the devil is writing to Pat Robertson saying that Pat is giving the Devil a bad name. The Devil takes his toll in the next life but pays out in the current one. Haiti, of course, has never had any outworldly entity (good or evil) looking out for it effectively. I’m not sure that’s right, though. While the Devil takes his due in the next life, he would only pay out as much as he had to in this one. The best deal for the Devil is to be able to give out some fake reward in this life, comparable to giving someone who wants a million bucks a million deer. According to the Robertson, the deal with the Devil was comparable to that: they asked for deliverance from French rule and got it. That it materially left them worse off is no skin of the Devil’s nose.

None of this is to say that Robertson isn’t deserving of every bit of ridicule he has received, and more.

I wrote a bit about the immigration repercussions of what’s going on, thinking of carving out an exception when talking about immigrants from Haiti and Cuba instead of those from (more potentially contentious) Mexico, but ultimately decided against it. So wherever we go with this conversation, let’s not go there. For that matter, let’s not go the typical areas where I ask us not to go, including badmouthing Katrician immigrants into other US cities.

Category: Newsroom

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3 Responses to The Fires of Haiti

  1. web says:

    Haiti has had bad luck, but bad luck is no stranger to post-“colonial” nations in general. Looking logically at it, most of the African countries and South American/Latin American countries go through their periodic cycles of violence and nobody seems to blink an eye, as if it’s more-or-less expected due to either their cultural or ethnic makeup.

    In many respects, the fact that the US and Canada have been more-or-less peaceful in government is a rarity.

    I suspect that the question of whether a nation evolves into representative government, dictatorship, or semi-anarchy contains both some elements of blind luck, but also needs to avoid any inherent emotional/cultural problem with the concepts that lead to a self-sustaining, representative government without need for major bloodshed. Haiti’s history is pretty ragged, but still, for the majority of the time they were “occupied”, it’s been by groups that would seem primed to generate towards a self-sustaining government, and I’m unsure as to why it hasn’t been managed.

    The most stable time it’s had was during a long run of dictatorship. Kind of sad to think about.

    Of course, were Cuba to be so completely ravaged, one wonders what might happen, especially without their dictatorship head (let’s face it, Castro’s followers will be hard-pressed once the cult leader is dead) in the picture.

  2. trumwill says:

    Haiti’s history is pretty ragged, but still, for the majority of the time they were “occupied”, it’s been by groups that would seem primed to generate towards a self-sustaining government, and I’m unsure as to why it hasn’t been managed.

    It seems that former French colonies in general have not done very well in comparison to former Spanish and British colonies. So you get situations like the Dominican Republic, which is doing okay, on the same island as Haiti, which is not. I don’t know enough world history to know what the French did differently or how the areas that they colonized tended to be markedly different than the others did.

  3. web says:

    Oddly, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are an interesting contrast. Their histories are about as similar as you can come. Both were hotly contested between France and Spain for a long while.

    The biggest difference I can see is in how their dictators handled the countries during the long-dictatorship periods. Trujillo, for his many faults (and he was scum, no question) was a relatively benevolent dictator who increased trade, built industry, instituted pension programs, and generally made the place a “reasonable” place to live so long as you didn’t publicly badmouth Trujillo. Haiti, by contrast, got the Duvalier family who basically bled the nation dry and drove most of the intelligentsia of their portion of the island away into exile, and then got the well-intentioned (but incredibly inept) Aristide, who promptly got himself overthrown by breaking with his own followers and plunged the nation back into a cycle of repeat military coups. The current President of Haiti, Preval (actually the one who, as Prime Minister, started the process of getting Aristide overthrown), is kind of part of a set of “revolving door joke” leaders the island has had since the final ouster of the Duvalier clan.

    It may actually be possible that one “germinating” factor for democratic-ish government is a certain level of preexisting economic success. Looking by that measure, the US and Canada were well-primed. Cuba could be reasonably primed for it whenever they do get around. Most of the African and Latin-American countries had a large amount of relative poverty (Mexico, for example, is mostly an impoverished nation with a history of violent revolutions and violent, corrupt governments). South Africa, even with Apartheid at the time, was one of the least impoverished African nations, especially compared to the central-African nations above it. A number of the pseudo-democratic republics in the Pacific Rim have been retaken by the militant political structure Islam (I’ve given up on calling it a real religion), which tends to feed on impoverished cultures.

    So maybe that’s the missing factor. Of course, you might also not be so far off the base in asking which colonial power was the “majority” holder. France did tend to leave its colonies a lot more impoverished than the others did, and I’m sure the memory of France’s own violent revolutions didn’t help establish as good a model for the former colonies.

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