Haiti - Land of Color or Mountain Top
Haiti - Island of Color and Extremes

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
Dr. Seuss coined that sentence and somehow it shot into my head and has me mesmerized ever since “experts” are venting cheap opinions about Haiti and its dreadful human misery that have locked up the front pages of the news.

From idiot Pat Robertson (Haiti made a pact with the Devil?!) to tasteless Rush Limbaugh politicizing human despair, now even Time Magazine went out to talk to Roger Maguire, director of the Haiti program at Trinity University in Washington DC, who seeks the microphone to explain to the world how Haiti can rebound from this unspeakable disaster, using poetic phrasing like “a potential silver lining in a deep, dark cloud”.

I know I’m not on a popularity mission with this story, but I’m kind of getting annoyed with all these salon experts that have no clue or are too lazy to gather the facts and put them together in a plausible way. My humble credentials for this developing anger and sharing my opinion are: economist, humanist, philanthropist and 25 years of hands-on Caribbean living deeply immersed in local politics, economy and tribal behavior.

About the island that used to be known as “Holy Sunday”

Deforested Haiti to the Left
Deforested Haiti to the Left

I have cruised around and into the ports of Hispaniola many times and I have traveled by ‘road’ from Soshua (DR) to Cap Haitien, Labadie and from Santo Domingo to Port au Prince, Jacmel and Gonaives many times and always witnessed the stark difference between the Dominican Republic with 2/3 of the surface and Haiti with the 1/3 western part of the island.

The starkest difference between the two countries has always been the lush tropical landscape of the Dominican Republic versus the eroded deforested sights of the Haitian land. The deforestation of Haiti started in the 1920’s as a direct consequence of the country not being able to develop economically due to huge loan repayments to the United States and France. From 1915 thru 1934 the US occupied the country, that before those years and afterward was politically dominated by tribal violence, often inflamed by colonizing powers providing finances and expertise.

President Wilson moved into Haiti to secure large loans to the Haitian government and the keep the Germans and their submarines at Bay. Not only did a small group of some 200 Germans in Haiti control about 80% of the international commerce of the country, with the recent opening of the US owned Panama Canal (1914) the US wanted to have several operational basis to prevent Germany to be able to attack the US on the Westcoast side or built submarine basis. Reason also why the US Virgin Islands were bought from Denmark in March 1917, the same month that neighboring Puerto Rico became a US territory and all Puerto Ricans became US Citizens.

The biggest reason however that Haiti became the human shame project of the Western Hemisphere was created by what today is called Citi-Bank. When in 1910-1911 the US State Department back a group of American investors, who were assembled by the National City Bank of New York, predecessor to today’s Citi Bank, they acquired complete control over Banque National d’Haiti, the young nation’s only commercial bank and the government treasury. From that point on 40% of the national income was used to ‘alleviate’ the debt repayment to American Banks, pretty much in the same way as bank now increase loan rates at will.

For purists who’d like to know a bit more about why Haiti never had a chance I recommend a book by twice recipient of the Medal of Honor, US General Smedley Butler, commander of the Haitian Police Force in his book “War is a Racket”
When the US left Haiti in 1934, on the slope side of an economic depression herself, Haiti had some roads, some hospitals and some port facilities but with everyone in the ruling clan raping the rest of the country’s assets, the population could only sustain itself by cutting and burning every tree they could find for construction and woodfires to cook on. Hence, a country completely deforested and exposed to every natural disaster that comes its way. Hurricanes in other Caribbean islands have some casualties, but in Haiti a minor tropical storm kills thousands because of landslides, mud avalanches and flooding, followed by diseases.

And then look at the following comparison numbers and check out the graph on Gross Domestic Product between Haiti versus neighboring island countries Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Jamaica:

Approximately the same population on one island. How? Why?
Approximately the same population on one island. How? Why?

Dominican Republic (neighbor on the Island of Hispaniola)
Total population: 9,650,054
0-14 years: 31.4% (male 1,543,141/female 1,488,016)
15-64 years: 62.7% (male 3,087,351/female 2,960,319)
65 years and over: 5.9% (male 264,476/female 306,751) (2009 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 73.7 years

Total population: 9,035,536
On the CIA website there is a special note that states: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2009 est.)

Islands in the immediate neighborhood comparison.
Islands in the immediate neighborhood comparison.

Age structure:
0-14 years: 38.1% (male 1,735,917/female 1,704,383)
15-64 years: 58.5% (male 2,621,059/female 2,665,447)
65 years and over: 3.4% (male 120,040/female 188,690) (2009 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 60.78 years

Puerto Rico (US Territory)
3,971,020 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 19.9% (male 404,635/female 386,733)
15-64 years: 66% (male 1,260,114/female 1,361,193)
65 years and over: 14.1% (male 240,318/female 318,027) (2009 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 78.53 years

2,825,928 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 31.4% (male 451,310/female 436,466)
15-64 years: 61.1% (male 851,372/female 875,132)
65 years and over: 7.5% (male 94,833/female 116,815) (2009 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 73.53 years

Jamaica with less then 1/3 of the population has an economy twice the size of Haiti. Haitians have a life expectancy 13 years less than the next neighbor up!  A quick glance at these figures tells the story abundantly clear; there was never an economy of any demand significance. Haiti doesn’t produce anything that the world needs. Manufacturing was never given a serious consideration because of the volatile political climate, the fact that 90% of the population has no other skill than some form of farming and fishing and tourism never developed as a result of lacking infrastructure and desolate country side. Still the only solution for Haiti is developing an economic significance for the area and beyond, because if we don’t we’ll find out that Haiti may not have anything to offer, but a lot of headache to give.

What is in the Future for Haiti?

Some form of Prosperity or a Security Risk?

Haiti's Central Caribbean Position in a straight shot to the Panama Canal
Haiti's Central Caribbean Position in a straight shot to the Panama Canal

Knowing that there is no natural economic contribution to benefit the Haitian nation any time soon, plans should only build on hemispheric economic activity such as the expansion of the Panama Canal to be finished by 2014 and strong IT developments. The first development will probably alter global shipping patterns and make the area a center of global logistics, while the latter is a quick one-two admission to today’s technology. I explained certain Chinese interests in Haiti for expected Caribbean storage facilities in an earlier story.

With a straight couple of hundred miles shot to the Atlantic entrance of the Panama Canal and the most direct deep water Caribbean passage from both the Eastcoast and Europe, we either allow Haiti an economic identity or it will develop ocean piracy and a security headache on a scale modern day Somalian pirates or old Caribbean Pirates could only dream of.

Major shipping lines
Major shipping lines

And the US has another reason to really develop a true and workable economic plan for Haiti because more or less 9 million Haitians on rafts and floats hitting the beaches may be a bit much to absorb between Florida and Louisiana.
It’s interesting to see that neighbor Dominican Republic quickly made the smart decision to daily bring as much food as possible to the camps across the Haitian border as they can round up, even to the point that there is scarcity in Santo Domingos supermarkets. The alternative would be hundreds of thousands of Haitians flooding the Dominican Republic.

Yes, it is cruel to say, but this incredible disaster of human misery, will probably create a Haiti that will have a better chance to obtain some form of economic future than ever in its 200 year history of independence.

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