Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti's Obstacles

Pat Robertson claims Haiti is under a curse so that is why it is such a miserable place. Rush Limbaugh rants that we already give enough to Haiti through our income taxes. Bill O'Reilly asserts giving more money to Haiti is a lost cause, we will give more money to Haiti than anyone else and a year from now it will be in worse shape than it is today. The naysayers to Haiti relief are loud and influential. Nicholas Kristof in his column in the NY Times today says Americans have already given 22 million dollars to the Red Cross by text messaging! He asks the question, why is Haiti so poor? History shows that since Haiti's independence it has been impoverished by debts due. France imposed a large debt from day one. Foreigners looted Haiti for its resources and when they took a break, Haiti's own leaders took over. Much has made of the deforestation of Haiti and it's true Haiti's peasant population continue to cut the trees that are left to burn wood for heat and cooking. But, Kristof points out, most of the deforestation was from foreigners settling debts to other foreigners. To visit Haiti, he says, is to realize its problems are not its people. The people are its treasure - smart, industrious, and hospitable - and Haitians are successful where ever they go - outside of Haiti.

Haiti ranks 42nd among poor countries in worldwide aid received per person - that equals about 108 dollars per person. The US gives about a quarter of that aid which means each American - through his/her taxes - gave 92 cents in aid to Haiti in 2008. The US gives more to Haiti than to any other poor country but, per capita, 11 countries give more and Canadians give 5 times as much.

In the recent past Haiti has had good leadership and has showed some positive gains in its economy. Kristof thinks it has a chance to turn itself around. If... According to a leading British economist who led a UN study what Haiti needs is jobs (no surprise) but he proposed garment factories. It has worked for other desperately poor countries like Bangladesh. People in Haiti's slums want jobs.

In Haiti, pre - quake, you did see schools and hospitals and churches but what was missing were factories. Haitian children could go to school but the unemployment rate was over 50 percent.

Haiti's biggest obstacle to rebuilding may be the fatalistic attitude that says it will always be the way it has been and all we can do is send aid. We do need to do that now but in the long run Haiti needs to go to work.

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