Year 501 Copyright © 1993 by Noam Chomsky. Published by South End Press.
Chapter 8: The Tragedy of Haiti Segment 4/9
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Some contemporary scholars adopt the same stance. As Haiti reentered the sphere of public awareness with the fall of Duvalier, Harvard historian David Landes presented some background, explaining that the Marines had "provided the stability needed to make the political system work and to facilitate trade with the outside," though "even a benevolent occupation creates resistance...among the beneficiaries" and protest by "more enlightened members of the dominant society," a constant problem faced by benefactors. Another noted scholar, Professor Hewson Ryan of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was even more effusive in his praise for what we had accomplished in "two centuries of well-intentioned involvement." Indeed, he observed, Haiti has been uniquely privileged: "Few nations have been the object over such a sustained period of so much well-intentioned guidance and support." He described the achievements with no little awe, particularly our kind insistence on eliminating such "unprogressive" features of the constitutional system as the provisions against takeover of lands by foreigners.7
With the barriers to foreign ownership of the country now overcome -- admittedly, by somewhat "high handed methods" -- US investors quickly moved in to take large tracts of land for new plantations. Extremely cheap labor was another inducement. A New York business daily described Haiti in 1926 as "a marvelous opportunity for American investment": "The run-of-the-mill Haitian is handy, easily directed, and gives a hard day's labor for 20 cents, while in Panama the same day's work cost $3." These advantages gained prominence as the remnants of Haiti's agricultural wealth were steadily destroyed. From the 1960s, assembly operations for US corporations grew rapidly in the Caribbean region, in Haiti, from 13 companies in 1966 to 154 in 1981. These enterprises furnished about 40 percent of Haitian exports (100 percent having been primary commodities in 1960), though limited employment or other benefits for Haitians, apart from new opportunities for enrichment for the traditional elite.
In the 1980s, IMF Fundamentalism began to take its customary toll as the economy deteriorated under the impact of the structural adjustment programs, which caused agricultural production to decline along with investment, trade and consumption. Poverty became still more terrible. By the time "Baby Doc" Duvalier was driven out in 1986, 60 percent of the population had an annual per capita income of $60 or less according to the World Bank, child malnutrition had soared, the rate of infant mortality was shockingly high, and the country had become an ecological and human disaster, perhaps beyond hope of recovery. Through the 1970s, thousands of boat people fled the ravaged island, virtually all forced to return by US officials with little notice here, the usual treatment of refugees whose suffering lacks propaganda value. In 1981, the Reagan Administration initiated a new interdiction policy. Of the more than 24,000 Haitians intercepted by the US Coast Guard in the next ten years, 11 were granted asylum as victims of political persecution, in comparison with 75,000 out of 75,000 Cubans. During Aristide's brief tenure, the flow of refugees dropped dramatically as terror abated and there were hopes for a better future. The US response was to approve far more asylum claims. Twenty-eight had been allowed during the ten years of Duvalier and post-Duvalier terror; 20 during Aristide's seven and a half months in office. After Aristide's overthrow, a new surge of boat people reached several thousand a month, most of them forcibly returned in callous disregard of the grim circumstances that awaited them. For the few permitted to apply for asylum under a new policy, treatment was hardly better. One of the first was an Aristide supporter whose application was rejected on the grounds that he suffered only "petty harassment" when soldiers raked his home with gunfire and destroyed his shop.
A USAID-World Bank development strategy was initiated in 1981-1982, based on assembly plant and agro-industrial exports. The effect was to shift 30 percent of cultivated land from food for local consumption to export crops. AID forecast "a historic change toward deeper market interdependence with the United States" in this rising "Taiwan of the Caribbean." A 1985 World Bank report, "Haiti: Policy Proposals for Growth," developed the usual ideas further, calling for an export-oriented development strategy, with domestic consumption "markedly restrained in order to shift the required share of output increases into exports." Emphasis should be placed on "the expansion of private enterprises," the Bank recommended. Costs for education should be "minimized," and such "social objectives" as persist should be privatized. "Private projects with high economic returns should be strongly supported" in preference to "public expenditures in the social sectors," and "less emphasis should be placed on social objectives which increase consumption" -- "temporarily," until the famed trickle-down effects are detected, some time after the Messiah arrives. The recommendations, it is understood, are a precondition to aid, and a bright future is sure to follow.
Of the array of predictions, one came to pass: the intended migration of the rural population to urban areas, and for many, to leaky boats attempting the dangerous 800-mile passage to Florida, to face forcible return if they make it (many don't). Haiti remains Haiti, not Taiwan.
Reviewing US aid and development strategy for Haiti, Amy Wilentz writes that it "achieves two strategic U.S. goals -- one, a restructured and dependent agriculture that exports to U.S. markets and is open to American exploitation, and the other, a displaced rural population that not only can be employed in offshore U.S. industries in the towns, but is more susceptible to army control."8
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7 Trouillot, cited by Farmer, AIDS. Blassingame, Caribbean Studies, July 1969. Times editorials, DD, 280. Landes, NR, March 10; Ryan, CSM, Feb. 14, 1986. For more on these and other scholarly analyses, see PI, 68-9, TTT, 153f.
8 Deere, Shadows, 144, 35, 174-5 (excerpt from Josh DeWind and David Kinley, Aiding Migration [Westview, 1988]). McAfee, 17; PI, 68; Wilentz, Rainy Season, 272ff. Refugees, PEHR, II 50, 56 (1970s); Wilentz, NR, March 9; Bill Frelick, NACLA Report on the Americas, July 1992; Pamela Constable, BG, Aug. 21, 1992.