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Sunday, July 22. 2012
Not California. Haiti. It's the culture, stupid.
You can try to rebuild buildings and ports, but buildings and ports are useless in what has become a feral, non-Western culture since the French abandoned it. In Haiti, guys with tire patches sit on the side of the road and throw nails onto the road to generate business. When people get a kid they don't want, they dump it off at the Catholic orphanages promising to return someday to pick the kid up if they get a bigger house. Many are oblivious to time and when they say next week they mean maybe next year. Haiti has two classes, the politicians and the rest. There are no oppressor Capitalists because there is no capital, so Socialism doesn't have a prayer.
Except that Haiti has tons of NGOs and GOs like AID with millions of dollars, and none of them make all that much difference. They seem to exist for purposes of moral vanity. The corrupt pols make deals with the NGOs. Foreign NGO administrators do stints there to earn their third-world stripes so they can earn a promotion while living in guarded NGO enclaves, then they get the heck out before they become clinically depressed or go postal from frustration. I've heard the stories from guys who have worked there for NGOs.
All you have to do is to compare the hell-hole of Haiti with the Dominican Republic on the other half of the island. The DR built itself and is now a major tourist, tobacco, and farming center. People in the DR work hard and worry like normal bourgeois people. Is that a good thing?
Culture is the ultimate infrastructure. You can quote me on that.
That's why it is so difficult to help Haiti get on a more solid footing, and why businesses are not eager to build plants there. Haiti's culture is dysfunctional from a Westerner's point of view but not necessarily from their point of view. They are fatalists ("Si Bondye testaman" is their key phrase), live day-to-day and there is lots of lying, cheating and stealing, bribery, and rape. That's why the NGOs so often fail in their efforts - except in providing the medical care which is entirely imported.
They are a happy, often amoral and hedonistic people, I am told, who don't bother with worrying the way we do. Go figure. OK, they are materially poor. They have a thriving black market in, I am told, extremely high-quality marijuana. The ports which receive donations are their cargo cults.
The Haitians will never become like New Hampshire Yankees, Germans, or Vietnamese no matter how much money people throw in there. If the West were truly multicultural, we would leave them alone to do their thing.
Just my amateur opinion. Debate, and better information, welcome.
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After the earthquake, I saw on TV thousands of young Haitian men sitting in the shade, complaining to foreign TV crews about how long it was taking foreigners to rebuild their country.
That, in essence, is the problem.
There is no solving it.
Refreshingly blunt assessment! Some whacko do-gooder asked me to contribute to rebuilding Haiti after the earthquake, and I said no, they can use voodoo to create an army of zombie slaves to do that.
The seemingly-willing haplessness of the Haitians almost makes one wonder if the legend of their culture selling themselves, or the soul of their nation, to the devil is true.
Of course if Americans went there not only to rebuild, but at the same time to try to change their toxic culture those persons would be excoriated for racism and other crimes against political correctness.
And then there is Detroit. And Chicago...
Why should Haitains do the work that foreigners are willing to do for them for free? Do-gooders and NGOs only make the problem worse. The educated and entrepreneurial classes leave as soon as they can, the same way educated, middle class blacks in this country leave their dysfunctional neighborhoods and polities. When you subsidize something, you make more of it.
But why is Haiti that way? How does a culture get that messed up? The Dominican Republic proves that it's not the location or the natural resources.
Texan99: But why is Haiti that way? How does a culture get that messed up?
Geography and history. Haiti is smaller and drier and lacks the rich plains of the eastern side of Hispaniola. When colonized, the French imported hundreds of thousands of slaves to the Haitian side of the island. The Spanish were in decline, so didn't import nearly as many slaves to their side. The resulting stresses of high population density and export of natural resources led to deforestation and the destruction of the soil base. In additional, Creole-speaking Haiti revolted relatively early, so wasn't as well integrated into the European market system as the Spanish-speaking east of the Island.
In the 1930s Haiti was a prosperous tourist destination with a busy economy. So was Cuba.
My great uncle was a Haiti fan, loved to go there and paint pictures. My grandpa was a Cuba fan, loved the sport fishing.
Both gone to hell.
" The resulting stresses of high population density and export of natural resources led to deforestation and the destruction of the soil base."
Gee. An impressive parade of cliches. Population density IS wealth. Haiti's problems have dick to do with natural resources. Their problem is the utter worthlessness and wholesale corruption of their most abundant natural resource...Haitians. Haiti is a basket case because it's the product of Haitians. Even Cuba has the excuse of being victimized by rapacious gang of Communist animals who've basically outlawed prosperity for the last half century. Haiti enjoys no such excuse.
You, Sir, are probably the only person in this forum who knows what they are talking about. Add to that the debt Haiti had to pay France for its independence and the economic embargo against Haiti by slave-holding nations, the rural migration during the Duvalier era, the Clinton trade policies and the CIA funded coup during the Bush administration.
Culture is the ultimate infrastructure.
A very sound summary of many of the world's ills.
We should leave them alone to do their thing, but Progressives always believe, "Oh, dear! We must help the poor Negroes."
Culture is the ultimate infrastructure.
Anyone know what that would be in latin?
Or, mock latin?
I was chuckling at how "infrastructure" sounds funny tacked on the end of that Latin, because of course Latin has no word for "infrastructure". But then I noticed "infra" - yep, Latin. Structure? Yep. Derived from Latin. Heh!!
What's "Torch" in Latin...?
Je pense..."facem"...n' est pas?
My family was stuck in Haiti at one point during the mid 1950's (Papa Doc-ish time) because the ship the parents had booked for our return to NY would not enter the harbor for fear of being overrun because of high feelings about an election. My memories of that time included seeing people from the mountains who were so poor they would go to the marketplace naked and unashamed. Also I remember having my hair constantly touched when I was with my wonderful Haitian caregiver on market day by strangers who had never seen blond hair and thought I was some sort of otherworldly apparition. Haiti is a very strange, corrupt, and evil place. There were, count 'em, 3 presidents between 1955 and 1957. I met two of them. Lasting impression: the bananas around our pool grew "upside down" and even my mother carried a gun when she went anywhere.
You are a liar. Haitians, particularly peasants, however poor they may be, put a great deal of effort on their appearance, some even going to the extent of borrowing clothes if they have to. Going to the market is a big deal for the peasants, second to going to church. No Haitian would ever let another Haitian walk around naked. If not out of compassion, at least out of modesty, someone would have offered them the shirt off their back. Men walking around shirtless was considered indecent until recently. There was also no reason at that time for your mother to carry a gun. Haiti in the 50's was far from a violent place.
The tonton macoutes were established in 1959. Their reign was felt in the 60's, when they grew in numbers. They never went after foreigners and targetted mainly political activists and Haitians of means and power that were considered a threat to Duvalier's reign.
What is stupid is when someone writes about a culture they know nothing about. Whoever is informing you about Haitian culture is ignorant. Many NGOs in Haiti are corrupt, lack expertise and do not care about acheiving results. You forgot to mention how those garded enclaves often come with swimming pools, cooks and SUV-driving chauffeurs. When they fail to show results, they like to blame the Haitian goverment. When in fact, the Haitian government has no control over their operations; they spend their money as they wish. What is interresting is that the most successful NGOs in Haiti are actually the ones that work with the Haitian government and local institutions. One such example is Partners in Health which collaborates with the Haitian health ministry and hires local doctors and nurses.
Haitians have been doing a lot to rebuild with their own funds in terms of road building, water filtration and power restoration. Just because your media is not highlighting their efforts, does not mean it's non-existant.
I recall reading a year or so back that an ordinary Haitian who has any money must spend it before he gets robbed.
I don't know where you got that peace of information, but it's false. Haitians are not under constant threat of robbery. Studies showed that only 15% of Haitian household in the capital have substained theft or damaged property the year following the earthquake. Outside the capital, theft has always been low. When Haitian have extra money, which is rare, they put it in the bank or buy farm animals which, for peasants, serve as an investments. The reason many were able to leave the camps is because they were able to save enough money to rent an appartment.
Lawrence Harrison, a former US diplomat, wrote Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind about the influence of culture on economic development. As others have done in this thread, he compared Haiti to the Dominican Republic- with predictable results. As I read the book a quarter century ago, I can't say much more. Unfortunately, Google Books has it only in snippet view.
When Fidel's gringo acolytes defend his half century of rule in Cuba, they will sometimes say something like "But Cuba isn't like [isn't as bad as] Haiti." [Which is a pretty good indication they are getting desperate.] The irony here is that in the 1950s, no one would have ever thought that Cuba was similar to Haiti. The current difference in life expectancy between Cuba and Haiti is about the same as the difference in life expectancy between the two countries in the 1950s. By contrast, the difference in life expectancy between Latin America and Cuba has narrowed from 8 years in the 1950s to 5 years today. Latin America- but not Haiti- is catching up with Cuba.
An interesting Haitian influence on US history can be found in Louisiana. After the overthrow of the French in Haiti circa 1800, a number of free blacks fled Haiti for Louisiana. As a result, the Creoles in New Orleans have a definite Haitian tinge. A number of people with New Orleans roots, in tracing their Creole ancestry, have found out that they had free black ancestors in antebellum Louisiana who were slaveowners. These slaveowning blacks, more often than not, were descended from free blacks who had fled Haiti. One Drop tells of one such family history.
John-- while I sympathize with your concern for the Haitian people, and I fully share your disgust with many NGOs, the ONLY way to improve the deplorable situation there is to see the truth as it is.
The Dominican War of Independence of 1848 was for independence from Haiti. Spain controlled (if you can call it that) part of Hispaniola east of Santo Domingo for about 12 years between 1798 and 1848; the rest was controlled by France, and then passed to Haiti. Zero percent of the difference between modern DR and Haiti comes from when the two detached from European imperialism, or from payments from Haiti to France (indeed, a primary cause of the Dominican rebellion was levies Haiti imposed on Dominicans). At the time of independence, Haiti was the richest part of the Americas, due to its excellent sugar cane growing land (which the DR lacks, BTW).
It does no good telling eyewitnesses that they did not see what they saw. It does no good simply announcing that Haitians are not living in a highly violent and crime-ridden society. Absolutely everyone who looks at the data comes to the same conclusion-- two examples are Human Rights Watch http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2012/haiti, and Amnesty International http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-haiti-2011. Indeed, MINUSTAH has (finally) seen fit to establish several refugee camps specifically for women who are fleeing reprisals from gangs after reporting organized rapes. Absolutely everyone who works with the Haitian government discovers it to be massively corrupt and incompetent. (My sister is a physician who consults for the Partners in Health that you mention as a shining example. You ought to hear her talk about what kind of clever tricks they use to keep the customs bribe-taking reasonably low when importing medicine.) One of the biggest (and best founded) complaints against the US was that we continued to fund the Haitian government (instead of bypassing them) under the Duvalier regimes. A different gang is in charge now; nothing substantive has changed.
Culture is the only thing that matters. We've already talked about DR vs Haiti. Let's look at some more: Iceland is a barren arctic island. South Korea suffered a genocidal occupation, near-complete destruction in the 1940s-50s, and still faces a nuclear-armed nutcase 30 miles from its capital (oh yes, and has very little arable land, and a population density of 462/km2, compared to Haiti's 367/km2; but they've reforested about half of their land since the 1960s). Singapore is so small it can't even provide all of its own drinking water, let alone natural resources; also totally flattened in WWII, and has 7,315 people/km2. Botswana is 70% desert and has no ports or rail connections out. Yet all of these countries are notable successes by any standard.
I'm with ccoffer on this one: the only resource Haiti needs to be successful are the Haitian people. Haitians who move here to the US (or to the DR, for that matter) are notable for their success, after all. The misery will continue until the Haitian people refuse to accept the violence, corruption, and squalor around them. There are a few sparkling embers that could become such a flame-- people forming neighborhood watches in the camps, clearing rubble with their bare hands, helping each other out. No foreigner can give it to them, and it only hurts them when NGOs or government aid bureaucracies try.
Culture can change. South Korea did. Poland is doing it now. If the Haitians start now, then in all seriousness, I can imagine watching the opening ceremonies of the 2044 Summer Olympics in a gleaming new stadium in Port au Prince.
It's probably a gross generalization, but it's been pointed out that former French colonies tend to be much more dysfunctional than former British colonies.
To Janet: Haiti was the richest colony in the Americas, not because of its size, but because of the sheer brutality if its slave trade. Colonial Haiti witnessed the most brutal slave treatment of all the Americas. Slave were worked to death; the average life expectancy for a Haitian slave was 21 years. Haitian slave were so dispensable it was cheaper for the French to continually ship in new slaves than to breed them. At the height of the slave trade the French were importing 40,000 slaves a year, a third of all the slaved shipped yearly to the Americas. When Haiti gained its independence, it started with roughly half a million ex-slaves while the Dominican Republic had a population of 80,000. Haiti is a mountainous country, with a relatively small central plateau, while the DR is twice Haiti's size, much flatter and receives more rain yearly than Haiti, making it better suited for agriculture. The DR effectively has much more arable land than Haiti. What it didn't have was cheap labor. For more than a century Haitian migrants have been going to the DR to cut sugar cane. The DR benefits from Haiti's poverty which provides it with farm labor, construction workers and its largest market.
Haiti also sufferered racist propaganda from slave-owning countries after gaining its indepence that effectively limited its foreign investments and trade opportunities, and still permeates narratives surrounding Haiti. The DR on the other benefited from investments not only from Spain, but also from the US. At the turn of the 19th century the DR already had 11 times Haiti's foreign investments. It took Haiti more than a century to repay its independence debt. It did so through shipments of precious woods, sugar and coffee and by borrowing from international banks.
If someone told you that they saw the Tooth Fairy having tea with the Easter Bunny, wouldn't you correct them? Haitian peasants value their dignity more than anything else. Haitians have been known to not attend church or school because they had no shoes and were ashamed to be seen in public shoeless. It very common for people to go online and make the most absurd claims about countries like Haiti. They do so because people are more than willing to believe just about any claims made about Haitians.
Claims that Haitians are living in a highly violent and crime-ridden society are greatly exaggerated and have been refuted several times. Violence in Haiti is mainly concentrated in the capital and even there it's concentrated in mainly certain neighborhoods and a few of the larger camps. Haiti has a per capita murder rate that is lower than Jamaica and the DR.
This is what was reported before the earthquake: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/11/unitednations.
Several journalists on ground in Haiti reported that the claims of mass looting and violence were exaggerated and how claims hindered aid. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/20/haiti-aid-agency-security.
Here's another study conducted after the earthquake: http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca/content/new-study-shows-crime-and-violence-exagerated-haiti-and-haitians-strongly-oppose-martellys-p.
MINUSTAH, which receives more than 800 million USD per year in funding, doesn't patrol the displacement camps. There mission is to provide support and training to the Haitian police force, not to protect Haitians.
I'm not claiming that there is no violence or corruption in Haiti. What I'm arguing is that there are too many armchair anthropologists disguised as bloggers and journalists who are not familiar with Haitian culture or society yet feel the need to make baseless claims and draw flawed conclusions.
If Haitian culture was so progress-resistant, how then are so many Haitians able to progress on foreign shores, even than the culturally progressive Dominicans who have less prejudices to overcome? If Haitians are so lazy, then why is it that they have half the welfare enrolment of Dominican immigrants, who have the highest rate of all immigrant groups? They had to devise strategies to get Haitian immigrants in Florida to enroll into welfare programs because not enough were utilizing welfare services despite their high poverty rates. What you didn't know is that in Haitian culture work is equated with dignity.
People keep saying that Haitians should have rebuilt their country by now. Rebuild what, where, with what means? Construction materials are expensive in Haiti. It take the average Haitians years to build a house because they lack resources. Most of the people in the camps did not own land to start with, they rented. Their best bet is to save enough money to be able to afford housing. Say what you will about the Haitian government but when provided with funds, they are much more effective than most NGOs. Chavez provided the Haitian government with 98 million USD after the flood in Gonaives. Guess what? They used it effectively: roads were rebuilt and electricity was restored
Roads and electricity for what? To do what?
You are basically saying they are a beggar state. That's their problem, if they indeed see it as a problem.
Infrastructure typically follows economic need. It cannot create commerce, only enhance it. Recall history: American roads were first private toll roads.
This is so wrong. Haitians aren't lazy at all. They work a lot in my country (Dominican Republic) which by the way, you talk about the DR as it was a rich country, and it's not. The DR compared by Haiti is Okay but it's full with corrupts and poverty.
It's really sad that hundreds of Haitians cross the border to come to the DR looking for a better life when hundreds of Dominicans leave this beautiful yet poor country risking their life to go to Puerto Rico just to get some dollars.
Another thing, Haiti's culture is beautiful and the people that live in the other side of Hispaniola are hardworking amazing people.