Does President Barack Obama have any more idea what to do with Haiti after the horrific earthquake than did President Woodrow Wilson when he sent the Marines in back in 1915? Obama has put his byline on the January 15 Newsweek cover story Why Haiti Matters, but he can't seem to come up with an answer to his headline question beyond typical Obamaesque self-absorption: “We look into the eyes of another and see ourselves”.
If we're looking for something to do for Haiti that will help it in the long term, it's just not at all clear how. (I do make a very modest proposal at the end of this article). The 1915-1934 U.S. occupation built some infrastructure, but isn't exactly remembered as ranking up there with Iwo Jima as the Corps' finest moment. The long run effect of U.S. rule through mulatto surrogates seems mostly to have paved the way for Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier's disastrous 1957-1971 black power government.
Other suggestions I've heard over the last week: handing Haiti back to France; handing it over to the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola (but little else besides deep mutual antipathy); and to Canada. I personally might choose to make it a protectorate of an independent Republic of Quebec.
But, truthfully, all these suggestions are fanciful. There's no chance that the international community will declare the first-ever black republic an official failure.
So, Haiti will nominally keep on keeping on—under the purview of the U.N. and the U.S. taxpayer.
Commentators have been competing to come up with ever more complex explanations for “Why Haiti Is So Poor“. The single most important cause is probably that Haiti attained its independence as early as 1805, culminating in a massacre of the remaining whites, before the end of the slave trade. Despite theoretically being a French-speaking, Roman Catholic, Western Hemisphere country, Haiti remains culturally rooted in Africa. Wikipedia's article on the History of Haiti notes [January 17, 2010]:
“At all times, a majority of slaves in the colony were African-born, as the brutal conditions of slavery prevented the population from experiencing growth through natural increase. African culture thus remained strong among slaves to the end of French rule, in particular the folk-religion of Vodou, which commingled Catholic liturgy and ritual with the beliefs and practices of Guinea, Congo, and Dahomey.”
Similarly, voodoo, with its black magic curses, makes up much of the substance of Haitian religion, with West African deities, such as the stylish and ominous loa “Baron Samedi”, demanding placation.
Thus Duvalier, a brilliant black doctor and sociologist turned maniacal dictator, used his study of voodoo and his resemblance to the popular depiction of Baron Samedi to convince the black masses that he was a powerful sorcerer and take power from Haiti's mulatto elite.
Unfortunately, Duvalier began to believe his own propaganda about the power of voodoo. For instance, as Time Magazine reported in 1963, when Duvalier had a falling out with Clement Barbot, the head of his notorious goon squad, the Tonton Macoutes:
“But in voodoo-entranced Haiti the whisper went around that no one could kill Barbot. He had the strange power, they said, to change himself into a black dog and escape at will. In Port-au-Prince, Duvalier's policemen went around shooting black dogs on sight.” [Haiti: The Living Dead, July 26, 1963]
Much of the educated classes emigrated, leaving Haiti brain-drained.
Papa Doc died in 1971, making his somewhat less sinister son, Baby Doc, the 19-year-old President-for-Life. This playboy squandered his popularity with the black peasants in 1980 by marrying a daughter of the mulatto elite, a stylish Lena Horne-lookalike with expensive tastes. By 1986, Baby Doc was in exile in France.
Since then, American Presidents have spasmodically hired and fired Haitian dictators. At the request of the Congressional Black Caucus, Bill Clinton invaded Haiti in 1994 to restore the black radical defrocked priest Jean-Baptiste Aristide, who had been overthrown in 1991 by mulatto military leaders. The Bush Administration apparently more or less kidnapped Aristide in 2004 and sent him into exile in South Africa. Bush turned nominal power over to a shadowy band of “rebels”. UN peacekeepers were brought in to occupy the country and keep the gangs from running quite so amok. Now the Obama Administration appears to be the main de facto power in Haiti.
A new book edited by Jared Diamond, Natural Experiments of History, focuses heavily on the comparison of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic that Diamond began in his last bestseller, Collapse. Diamond, the author of the Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, is both smart and about 90 percent honest. That makes him the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind that is contemporary intellectual discourse.
Diamond's January 15th article in the leftwing U.K. Guardian, A Divided Island: The forces working against Haiti, summarizes his thinking on how Haiti's quantity and quality of population have hurt Haiti compared to the D.R., which has a moderate per capita GDP of $8,200. It's dry, but more frank than most of what you've heard:
“But Haiti's area is only slightly more than half of that of the Dominican Republic so that Haiti, with a larger population and smaller area, has double its neighbour's population density.”
(Economist Tyler Cowen blogged yesterday that until a decade ago, when kidnappings became routine, he hadn't been afraid of crime when he visited Haiti because the population density was so extraordinary: “There's just not enough room for anyone to mug you, at least if you exercise due caution. Nor, for that matter, were there very many beggars, since usually there was no one to beg from.”)
Diamond goes on:
“The combination of that higher population density and lower rainfall was the main factor behind the more rapid deforestation and loss of soil fertility on the Haitian side.”
In Collapse, Diamond praised the D.R.'s old megalomaniacal dictator Rafael Trujillo (1891-1961) for stealing much of the forestland and exploiting it cautiously in a rational manner. Dominican kleptocracy helped avoid the tragedy of the commons that contributed to the ecological ruin of Haiti, where the common folk chop down all trees for cooking fuel.
Diamond goes on to point out,—cautiously!—another advantage the D.R. has over Haiti: it's whiter.
“A second social and political factor is that the Dominican Republic – with its Spanish-speaking population of predominantly European ancestry – was both more receptive and more attractive to European immigrants and investors than was Haiti with its Creole-speaking population composed overwhelmingly of black former slaves.”
The relative whiteness of Dominicans isn't widely understood in the U.S. because we are mostly familiar with the largely black Dominican baseball players, such as Sammy Sosa. But Dominicans generally tend to look more like the American-born Dominican mulatto slugger Alex Rodriguez than the black slugger Manny Ramirez. The current president of the D.R. looks like the fat guy in the Laurel and Hardy movies crossed with Muhammad Ali, and he's the only one of the last five presidents with any clear black ancestry.
Trujillo had an explicit policy of whitening the Dominican Republic's population through immigration from Europe—and expelling Haitian illegal immigrants. He was the only national leader actively to recruit Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany during the 1930s.
“Hence European immigration and investment were negligible and restricted by the constitution in Haiti after 1804 but eventually became important in the Dominican Republic. Those Dominican immigrants included many middle-class businesspeople and skilled professionals who contributed to the country's development.”
To summarize Diamond, Haiti has more people per fertile acre of farmland and less human capital per capita.
That human capital can be purely cultural. Thus another former sugar-growing black Caribbean country, Barbados, independent since 1966 although Queen Elizabeth II remains the official head of state, has a per capita GDP of $18,900, an average life expectancy of 74 years.
“The culture of slavery, as well as zero-sum traditional African culture, powerfully sustained by a religion (Voodoo) without an ethical code, are palpable to any foreigner who has lived [in Haiti], as I did for two years. Barbados, which I have visited several times, remained a British colony until 1966, by which time it had substantially absorbed British values, attitudes, and institutions. The Barbadians are sometimes referred to as Black Englishmen or Afro-Saxons.”
(Still, that raises the question of why Barbados has a lower crime rate and a higher literacy rate than some other ex-British colonies like Jamaica. The late Robert MacNeil's PBS series The Story Of English suggested that selection played a role: “[Barbados] was the first main port of call for the slave ships. It is said that unruly slaves from the least domesticated tribes were progressively shipped up the 'claw' of the West Indies until they reached Jamaica.” [p. 220])
Barbadian blacks were cut off from fresh infusions of African culture when the British Parliament voted the end of the slave trade in 1807. Sugar plantation owners could no longer afford to work their slaves to death and replace them with new slaves from Africa. The British government carried out an orderly emancipation, with compensation for slaveowners, in the 1830s.
Although 90 percent of Barbados' population is said to be “Afro-Bajan”, Barbados has a fairly large mixed race middle class who typically call themselves “white” (for example, the Barbadian pop singer Rihanna, who is considered black in America, recently complained “I Was Bullied At School For Being White“.) and espouse traditional white standards.
Ironically, more than few of these West Indians who call themselves white in the Islands have gone into the civil rights business as black leaders in the U.S. For example, President Obama's “African-American” Attorney General Eric Holder called America “a nation of cowards” last year for not talking enough about race, is a light-skinned Bajan-American.
Economist Thomas Malthus's insights are severely out of fashion in the Industrial Age. But what else is Haiti going to do besides subsistence farming?
There has been some growth in manufacturing jobs in Haiti. But the Chinese industrial juggernaut makes that unpromising.
Tourism? Back in the day, Bill and Hillary Clinton honeymooned there. But almost nobody goes to Haiti anymore. The poverty is just too depressing for tourists. As Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. famously pointed out in President Obama's favorite sermon, The Audacity to Hope:
"It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks' greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere …”
Sadly, therefore, much of the logic of Malthus applies to Haiti. Only outside charity and emigration keep it from starvation.
One obvious step that could help Haiti in the long run has, unfortunately, dropped almost into the realm of the unmentionable these days: increased funding of population control efforts. (Full disclosure: I'm a Catholic).
Third World birth control used to be a fashionable progressive cause. When I was a kid, Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, made about 20 guest appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The Rockefellers and George H.W. Bush were strong advocates of the need for Third Worlders to reduce their fertility.
But today, it's hard to find much on Google about Haiti and contraceptives. According to a 2001 World Health Organization report: “Among sexually active women, 13% used a modern method of contraception and 4% relied on traditional methods”.
And the other 83 percent?
It appears that Haitian women now wisely want to reduce the number of children they have—Haiti's total fertility rate is said to be down to 3.8 babies per lifetime, the same as Saudi Arabia's. But Haitians need to bring their fertility down to European below-replacement rates for a couple of generations to allow the land to recover—and the people, hopefully, improve their “human capital”.
Let's make long lasting Depo Provera contraceptive injections free to Haitian women.
Anyone got any better ideas?