Worlddesk

January 13, 2010
Haiti needs structural change to overcome tragic history


Images from the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti. Photo: Matthew Marek/American Red Cross

There are those who ask why Haiti has been hopelessly poor for so long. Yes, it is one of the first independent republics, but the Haitian people have suffered just as long, victims of colonial folly. It’s assumed benefactors in France and the United States have hardly been constant. I agree with Paul Farmer, who has long advocated a Marshall Plan for Haiti.

Here is part of what he wrote in the October 6, 2008 edition of The Nation.

Haiti is a veritable graveyard of development projects has less to do with Haitian culture and more to do with the nation’s place in the world. The history that turned the world’s wealthiest slave colony into the hemisphere’s poorest country has been tough, in part because of a lack of respect for democracy both among Haiti’s small elite and in successive French and US governments. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the US simply refused to acknowledge Haiti’s existence. In the latter half, gunboats pre-empted diplomacy. And in 1915 US Marines began a twenty-year military occupation and formed the modern Haitian army (whose only target has been the Haitian people). After the fall of Duvalier in 1986, Washington continued to support unelected, mainly military, governments. Indeed, it was not until after 1990, when Haiti had its first democratic elections, that assistance to the government was cut back and finally cut off. The decay of the public sector–through aid cutoffs and neoliberal policies–is one of the chief reasons Haiti, unlike neighboring Cuba, is unable to respond to hurricanes with effective relief.

Farmer wrote in response to devastation of the 2008 hurricane season. In 2010, structural change has never been more required. Tears must be replaced by an unprecedented international commitment to rescue Haiti for all times.

- Peter Eisner

For more Worldfocus coverage of Haiti, visit our extended coverage page: Haiti’s Poor.

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Comments

4 comments

#4

I too find it interesting that no news outlet has attempted to accurately report the reasons for Haiti’s poverty. In fact this blog is the only attempt I’ve found. Remember, Haiti’s problems began to a large part because america feared that the spirit of liberation among the slaves of Haiti would inspire the beyrayed slaves, who were denied the same freedom that europeans won even though some fought and died for the cause, in America to rebel and fight for their own freedom. Haiti has been paying for their insolence ever since. Who ever heard of the victor in a coflict paying reparations to the loser, as Haiti had with respect to france to the tune of twenty per cent of GDP for years? The US and france have been desablising Haitian domestic affairs ever since up to and including events mentioned above.
To comment on a point made by Mr. Andrews, US marines participated in the removal/kidnapping of President Aristide to a once french African colonial country.
Isn’t backgroud analysis of the causes of Haiti’s economic strife good journalism, even for TV? I am very tired of this epidemic of collective amnesia and selective memory. When will it stop?

#3

Однако

#2

Greg Andrews,

It is somewhat ironic that in accusing Worldfocus of a lapse in journalistic ethics, you are engaging in a distortion of facts to suit your own particular bias.

First, James Tobin proposed the idea that came to be known as a Tobin tax as an attempt to reduce exchange-rate fluctuations. He did not propose it as a general pool of money to “help the poor” or any other such cause. Second, he specifically felt that his idea had been hijacked by people such as you. His words (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobin_tax):

“I have absolutely nothing in common with those anti-globalisation rebels. Of course I am pleased; but the loudest applause is coming from the wrong side. Look, I am an economist and, like most economists, I support free trade. Furthermore, I am in favour of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation. They’ve hijacked my name …The tax on foreign exchange transactions was devised to cushion exchange rate fluctuations….”

Lastly, Tobin did not win the Nobel Prize for the idea of this tax. To quote from the press release announcing his Nobel win (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1981/press.html):

“His most outstanding and significant research contribution, for which he has been awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for 1981, belongs to the theory of financial markets and their relation to consumption and investment decisions, production, employment and prices.

Tobin’s most important contributions are based on a theory which describes how individual households and firms determine the composition of their assets. This theory, of which he is one of the foremost originators, is known as portfolio selection theory. Tobin has developed these ideas into a general equilibrium theory for financial and real assets and analyzed the interaction between financial and real markets. An essential component in this analysis is the study of transmission mechanisms which transfer changes on financial markets to households’ and firms’ expenditure decisions. This classic problem in economic research had, thus far, not been dealt with satisfactorily and conclusively. Tobin’s studies constitute a major breakthrough in the integration of real and financial conditions in central economic theory.”

#1

This is commentary that gets to the heart of why Haiti suffers so badly from such a disaster. Why was none of this systemic analysis present in your newscast? The American people need to know that their government has been complicit in Haiti’s failures–lastly seemingly orchestrating–certainly doing nothing to prevent–the removal of the people’s president (after he had vowed to raise the minimum wage–(is there a connection here?)Aristide. Why do we have to see these important underpinnings only on a blog? In the same vein, your reporting on derivatives trading–talking about the Tobin Tax was disappointing. I would have preferred that you did not let your guest, Andrews Clarke reduce the idea of whether or not enact a derivatives tax here in the U.S. to the weak argument that we here in the U.S. are “aspirational” (as if enacting a tiny .05% tax on derivatives trading would cripple progress)and by doing this we would be saying we “hate [rich people]“. Since when is enacting checks on the speculative growth of wealth (a wealth that is directly linked to the little people who do the actual labor) seen as a bad thing? In fact if your guest or Ms. Dhaliwal had told about the history of the tax, they would have reminded the viewers that originally, economist James Tobin had proposed this idea (for which he won a Nobel Prize)as a way to take this pool of money and help the poor. We need to begin to see that the manner in which the economies of the world are run is indeed an ethical and even moral issue that crosses all social, cultural and national boundaries. I am patiently waiting for news that really addresses these ideas in some depth. Please stop confusing people and begin to do the job that is in the journalists code of ethics. Sincerely, Greg Andrews, Manchester, CT

Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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