Apr 14th 2009

Why Countries Like Haiti Matter to Well-Being of Everyday Americans

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.
Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere.
· It is a country of 8.2 million people ..
  • 6.2 million of them live in poverty.
  • One out of eight children die before the age of five.
  • Seventy percent are unemployed.
  • Life expectancy is 54 years.
  • It has been deforested and environmentally degraded for years.
  • 7.2 million Haitians do not have access to reliable energy.
Of course we've heard these kinds of statistics many times before - about Haiti and the other desperately poor developing countries of the world.

This week an international donors conference meets in Washington, DC that will have an enormous impact on the future of Haiti. But at a time like this, when our own economy itself is a basket case, what's wrong with a little "donor fatigue"? Why shouldn't we wait to focus on countries like Haiti until we've taken care of our own problems?

The reason is simple: because what happens to the people of Haiti affects us in at least four critical ways.

1). Our own long-term economic well-being. The world economy is not a zero sum game. For us to be richer, someone else doesn't have to be poorer. In fact just the opposite is true.
If you think of the earth as a huge space vehicle-or a ship at sea -- it just doesn't make sense that a big proportion of the crew isn't able to pull its weight because they are undereducated, unproductive and constantly in need of handouts from the rest of us. The Navy wouldn't tolerate it, neither should the world community.

The more skilled, the more educated, the more productive, the more efficient every one of us is, the more successful we will all be in our common mission of forging a better life for future generations.

Every kid in Haiti who grows up to be a surgeon or an engineer instead of a stoop laborer contributes to the common store of our wealth. If a woman is sentenced by the accident of her birth to spend hours each day cleaning clothes in a Haitian stream instead of going to school, all of us miss out on the possibility that she might contribute to finding a cure for cancer. Millions of minds are indeed a terrible thing to waste.

And the effect of this waste plays itself out in the terms of pure economics. Several years into the Great Depression, the New Deal began to close the gap between supply and demand in the American economy. Roosevelt began to use public sector demand to fill the demand gap and move the economy toward full employment. But Emperor Hirohito's attack on Pearl Harbor was necessary to give America the political will to fully utilize the tools of the New Deal - to stop worrying about short term deficits - and create full employment. After all, it was do or die.
There was great concern at the end of World War II that demobilization would result in a precipitous new economic downturn. One of the major factors that prevented that downturn - and fueled world economic growth for the next 20 years - was the Marshall Plan. America invested massively in rebuilding Europe. In the short term, that created a huge new market for American products. In the longer term it allowed the rebirth of an economically prosperous Europe that contributed to the store of our common productive capacity.
In the same way today, long-term economic growth in the developed world will require a massive investment to jumpstart the economies of countries like Haiti and the entire developing world. And like the Marshall Plan, we will all benefit.

2). Our own national security. The bottom line is that an island of relative prosperity can't exist forever in a sea of poverty. Ask Louis XIV of France how that works out. Kids who grow up in poverty in countries like Haiti don't see the "good life" in American commercials and movies and then resign themselves to suffer quietly. A recent survey showed that 75% of the people in Haiti want to leave the country. Many of them will try - even if they risk their lives in a leaky wooden boat. Many will try to come illegally to the United States.

People have never left their homes and families to immigrate to foreign lands unless they felt they had no choice. The millions of immigrants at our borders are the waves crashing over the seawalls of our island of relative prosperity. If you want to do something serious about illegal immigration, you need to help create economies in countries like Haiti and Mexico that allow people to believe they have a future there - everything else is a band-aid.

Without economic development in Haiti, other children will grow up to join criminal gangs that promise them a relative fortune of a few thousand dollars to transport drugs to the United States.
In other parts of the world kids like them will resort to strapping on bombs in the vain hope of giving their lives some meaning.=2 0Or they'll hijack ships. Or they will join revolutionary movements to challenge the wealth and power of those who have it.

A recent report made public by our own CIA described world poverty as the greatest single long-term threat to world stability and our own national security. There has never been a time when the old Catholic Worker slogan was more correct: "If you want peace, work for justice."

3). It is our moral responsibility. Well-being is not just a matter of the number of rooms in our houses or the quality of our vacations. People - especially young people - want meaning in their lives. They want to commit themselves to other people - not just for the sake of the other people - but because it fulfills them - it makes them feel that their lives matter. Our well-being as individuals and as a people is not simply measured by our GDP. It is measured by whether we can be proud of ourselves.

Unfortunately, with a few brief exceptions, the government of the United States has actually prevented the development of Haiti for much of its history. In fact, too often American policy has treated Haiti as one giant sweatshop - available for exploitation.

Over much of the last 50 years, the U.S. supported two vicious dictators - "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, "Baby Doc." These regimes, and the tiny group of elites that constituted their political base, systematically exploited and terrorized the island's population.

Much of their power was exercised through the Army - which was created during the U.S. occupation of the country in the early 1900s. In its history, the Haitian Army never fought a foreign foe. It was used exclusively to enforce domestic social control.

In 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a progressive priest and hero to the country's poor, was elected President by 70% of the vote. Within seven months he had been ousted by a military coup backed by his country's elite and their foreign backers. Aristide was returned to power in 1994 after President Clinton threatened to send American troops to re-establish democracy in Haiti, which is only 600 miles from Florida.

After Aristide returned, he abolished the Haitian army, but economic progress was slow and difficult. Over its history, Haiti has been almost entirely deforested. The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, is a stark line. On one side there are forests. On the other side there are none.

Aristide became the first president in Haiti's history to peacefully hand over power to another elected civilian, René Préval, in 1996.

Four years later, Aristide was re-elected. Unfortunately for Haiti, so was George W. Bush. The Neocons hated Aristide. They used purported election irregularities in the election for the Haitian Senate (and not for the Presidency) as the premise for an aid embargo to the fragile government, including $500 million in aid from the International Development Bank.

In 2004, The Boston Globe reported that the aid cutoff ravaged the economy of the nation, already twice as poor as any other in the Western Hemisphere:

"The cutoff, intended to pressure the government to adopt political reforms, left Haiti struggling to meet even basic needs and weakened the authority of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide…. Today, Haiti's government, which serves 8 million people, has an annual budget of about $300 million - less than that of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city of 100,000.… Many of Aristide's supporters, in Haiti and abroad, angrily countered that the international community, particularly the United States, abandoned the fledgling democracy when it needed aid. Many believe that Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order."

In fact, the U.S. may have done even more to undermine Aristide. In early 2004, a small group of well-equipped personnel from the former Haitian Army entered the country and marched on the capital. The exact role of the U.S. is unclear. But the International Republican Institute (IRI) spent $1.2 million of the U.S. taxpayer's money funding Aristide opposition.

We have a moral obligation to help Haiti be successful. Luckily, that now seems increasingly possible.

4). Success is possible. This is a turning point time for Haiti. A relatively small amount of money could make a huge difference in finally jumpstarting serious development. The UN mission there, and new government, have begun to give the country some stability and security.
The international community, the election of Barack Obama, and the volatile Haitian political scene may have finally aligned to allow for real progress.

Haiti needs $3 billion to execute the development plan that has been designed by the government and international community. That is the equivalent of the price of about ten F-22 fighters.

In a world where hundreds of billions of dollars are spent to bail out big banks, $3 billion from the international community to recreate the future of 8.2 million people would be a quite a bargain - for them, and for us.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.



Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Dec 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "In contrast to the index for consumer goods, which measures only the prices of final products, industrial producer prices capture all intermediate stages of production. They therefore have a certain prognostic significance for consumer prices, even though the final products won’t show such extreme spikes. ----- These new inflation figures are so extreme that the ECB’s position looks like willful denial. Germany is currently experiencing the strongest inflation in a lifetime. And the situation is not much better in other European countries. In September, France reported an 11.6% annual increase in industrial producer prices, and that figure stood at 15.6% in Italy, 18.1% in Finland, 21.4% in the Netherlands, and 23.6% in Spain."
Nov 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "So it could well be that, despite the faster spread of the infection, its ultimate health, social and economic impact proves negligible. We simply do not know at this point. But detecting more uncertainty than before, financial markets have reacted with panic. For example, the S&P500 tumbled 2.3% on Friday November 26 only to rise 1.1% on Monday November 29. Most markets gave up between 2% and 4%, which is a pretty substantial one-day fall."
Nov 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Momentous changes are casting a long shadow on China. The country’s political system will soon undergo a profound reform, pending final approval (a quasi-formality) at next year’s congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). President Xi Jinping, the Party chairman and the “navigator” of the country, has decided on a new course, abandoning the principle of collective leadership. Xi is leading China away from the path taken by Deng Xiaoping after the terror of the Cultural Revolution, and back toward a system of absolute rule by one person without term limits, as under Mao Zedong."
Nov 25th 2021
EXTRACTS: "”The biggest disappointment in Glasgow was the last-minute watering down of the proposed (and widely supported) agreement to “phase out” the use of coal in energy production. With India providing political cover for China in vetoing this language, the final conference proposal was to “phase down” coal”. ---- “China accounts for more than half of the world’s coal consumption, and has the largest amount of coal-fired generating capacity under construction. Pressed about why his country would not do more in Glasgow to help save the planet, China’s chief negotiator pointed to the commitments in the Communist Party of China’s current Five-Year Plan. So, our future now depends on the CPC’s program. The tragedy for the world is that the Party cannot be phased down, much less phased out, despite the fact that it is a huge threat to the future of all of us.” ------ “To save the planet, robust democratic leadership must be phased up – not phased down, let alone phased out. Rather than merely keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best, we should start by calling out the appalling behavior of dictatorships such as China and Russia.”
Nov 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The transitory inflation debate in the United States is over. The upsurge in US inflation has turned into something far worse than the Federal Reserve expected. Perpetually optimistic financial markets are taking this largely in stride. The Fed is widely presumed to have both the wisdom and the firepower to keep underlying inflation in check. That remains to be seen."
Nov 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "S&P projects that companies are planning to install 44 gigawatts of new solar in 2022. The year 2020, despite the onset of the pandemic, saw a record-breaking 19 gigawatts of new solar capacity installed in the U.S. So given the bids out there already, it appears that in 2022 solar installers will more than double their best year ever so far. The U.S. currently has 100 gigawatts of solar electricity-generating capacity, so in just one year we are poised to add nearly 50% of our current total. A gigawatt of power can provide electricity to about 750,000 homes. So the 44 new gigawatts we’ll put in next year have a nameplate capacity that would under ideal conditions allow them to power 33 million homes." ----- "Not only is there a lot of good news on the green energy front but there is good news in the bad news for fossil fuels. S&P finds that coal plants are being retired way before the utilities had expected. Some 29 gigawatts of coal retirements are expected from 2020 through 2025. "
Nov 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Zemmour’s way of thinking stems from a tradition going back to the French Revolution of 1789. Catholic conservatives and right-wing intellectuals, who hated the secular republic that emerged from the revolution, have long fulminated against liberals, cosmopolitans, immigrants, and other enemies of their idea of a society based on ethnic purity, obedience to the church, and family values. They were almost invariably anti-Semitic. When Jewish army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of betraying his country in the notorious scandal of the 1890s, they were on the side of Dreyfus’s accusers. ---- Germany’s invasion of France in 1940 gave reactionaries of this kind the chance to form a French puppet-government in Vichy. Zemmour has had kind things to say about the Vichy regime. He also has expressed some doubt about the innocence of Dreyfus. ---- None of these views would be surprising if they came from a far-right agitator like Jean-Marie Le Pen. But Zemmour is the son of Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Algeria who lived among the Muslim Berbers."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "performed strongly in last month’s parliamentary and regional elections. Officially, Communist Party candidates took 18.9% of the popular vote for the State Duma (parliament), compared to nearly 49.8% for the Kremlin’s United Russia party. But the Communists refused to recognize the results, insisting that the vote was rigged. And, indeed, some experts estimate that they should have gotten around 30% of the vote, with United Russia taking about 35%."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Powell was charismatic in the true sense of the term. Nowadays, this description is too often used to indicate an ability to attract supporters or generate celebrity interest. Internet lists of those who are regarded as charismatic include characters as varied as Adolf Hitler, Bono, Donald Trump, George Clooney, and Rihanna. But the ancient Greeks and Saint Paul used “charisma” to describe values-based leadership infused with a charm capable of inspiring devotion. The Greeks believed that this quality was a gift of grace, while Christian theology regarded it as a power given by the Holy Spirit."
Oct 17th 2021
EXTRACTS: "But property-sector woes are not the only economic danger China faces in 2021-22. The Chinese government’s mounting crackdown on the country’s burgeoning tech sector may pose an even greater threat." ---- "According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the share of Chinese urban employment supported by private enterprises more than quadrupled between 1995 and 2018, from just 18% to 87%. The share of exports generated by the private sector more than doubled over the same period, from 34% to 88%. And private-sector fixed-asset investment jumped from 42% to 65% of the total. The message in the data is clear: clamping down on the private sector and threatening innovators is not the way to ensure sustained rapid growth. Chinese entrepreneurs can read the writing on the wall. They understand that their political and regulatory room to maneuver is shrinking, and that the balance has shifted in favor of state-owned firms and public officials. And they understand that this uneasy atmosphere is likely to persist."
Oct 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "We designed a programme that incorporated data from over 300 million buildings and analysed 130 million km² of land – almost the entire land surface area of the planet. This estimated how much energy could be produced from the 0.2 million km² of rooftops present on that land, an area roughly the same size as the UK."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "Britain in the 1950s was wedded to the US, acting as a partner rather than leading the charge. Now, while the UK continues to support the US, the influence it has seems negligible. While it may bring comfort to the UK to feel it is a partner to a superpower, being its stooge or subordinate is an unpleasant place to be, no matter how much you tell yourself it values your opinion."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "That was then. Now, the Chinese government has doubled down, with President Xi Jinping throwing the full force of his power into a “common prosperity” campaign aimed at addressing inequalities of income and wealth. Moreover, the regulatory net has been broadened, not just to ban cryptocurrencies, but also to become an instrument of social engineering, with the government adding e-cigarettes, business drinking, and celebrity fan culture to its ever-lengthening list of bad social habits. All this only compounds the concerns I raised two months ago. The new dual thrust of Chinese policy – redistribution plus re-regulation – strikes at the heart of the market-based “reform and opening up” that have underpinned China’s growth miracle since the days of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It will subdue the entrepreneurial activity that has been so important in powering China’s dynamic private sector, with lasting consequences for the next, innovations-driven, phase of Chinese economic development. Without animal spirits, the case for indigenous innovation is in tatters."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Wartime nostalgia plays an important part in Britain’s instinctive fondness for the special relationship. Like former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some British politicians might believe that the United Kingdom is the only European country with serious armed forces and the political will to use them. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like Blair before him, seems to fancy himself a modern-day Churchill. Unfortunately (or not), Britain’s military power is insignificant compared to what Churchill could command in 1944. Wartime nostalgia has drawn Britain into several foolish American wars, which other European countries were wise to avoid."
Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."