Saturday, May 17, 2008

Haiti Exasperata

While there are ample cries of "unfair trade, foreign imperialism" to account for the current state of Haiti, the DR, which - like Haiti- was both colonized, invaded and occupied (twice by the US, once by Haiti) and subject to the same unfair globalization and dumping - has posted the highest economic growth in the Caribbean for the third year in a row. The last president actually had rice fields here burned since he had an "in" with the imported cheap rice coming in from Haiti.

Bare with me now as I make some politically incorrect remarks destined to push the buttons and raise the ire of both friends and foes.

Some say that Haiti stopped producing rice (concrete, steel, cement, sugar, flour, shoes, pots and pans and eggs) because of "neoliberal globalization and economic dumping" , also known as "capitalism", a system in which businesses must remain adaptable and competitive.

We will pause for a moment to weep for the poor buggy whip manufacturers.

Haitians, having somehow gathered enough money from "other sources" such as remittances, selling their “cause” in the States and Canada, drug dealing, stealing from the public coffers, begging and scamming through various international NGOs and missionaries, have somehow been able to find enough money to buy their goods cheaper from the international market and abandoned their internal production. (EXCEPTIONS- Barbencourt Rum- the ORGANIC MANGOS -- Some of the ART... WHAT ELSE?)They have become dependent on foreign rice and frozen imported chicken. The people are now at the complete mercy of the international global food market dependent on the rise of petroleum prices.

There is also a valid argument to be made that Haiti stopped producing things like....etc/ etc... not only because of "neoliberal globalization and economic dumping" but because the merchant and political and clerical ( uppper and middle) classes just took and took and did not reinvest in their own country.

They did nothing to reforest even after they had ample knowledge of the devestation that it was causing. They did nothing to even educate the peasants to soak the beans overnight to reduce the cooking time to conserve charcoal. They thought only of their own comforts.

With the aid of the Church, (both Catholic and Episcopal at the least), they perpetuated a structured class system, divided by language, enforced by education. Only the elites spoke French. Only the elites could read and write. Only the elites would find employment, run the nation.

They did not support public education, just educated their own children, sent those who could make it safely abroad. They did not industrialize their agriculture but held to a sharecropping system. When the opportunity presented itself, they abandoned their land, abandoned their peasant workers, who have now flooded into Port au Prince looking for non- existant work.

Throughout the history of Haiti, they have enslaved their own people,giving over and taking in , children into restavec slavery who now number at 300,,000 and whose ranks are daily growing.

Rather than having created the “second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere” Haitians have created a nation which has never been freed from slavery, one born in blood and violence. It is now and always has been a predatory state whose officials have consistently abused the citizens.

The diaspora sends home guilt money in the form of remittances which allowed their relatives to survive without working. In the final act of turning their backs on their own nation, they allowed their country to write a constitution which disenfranchised themselves and their children. While continuing to send home money to support their own families, they have allowed the rest of the nation to become a ward of the international community.

Those Haitian public officials who have raped the public treasuries are exempted from prosecution, time and again - paving the way, perhaps, for the next gang of thieves. Duvalier is still entertained in France, Aristide is still interviewed in South Africa and revered by the American Left, and those who left the Embassies coffers empty in various posts are never prosecuted.

In the end, this ongoing victim mentality only serves to manifest more poverty. I winced when I heard my Haitian friend - college educated, speaking four languages- saying in a matter of fact tone - "Haiti will not succeed because the United States does not want it to" OH, I said-- perhaps that was true 100 years ago - perhaps even 50 years ago -

But now--- Well -- GO OBAMA!!

Tears rolled down my cheeks when I heard the young Haitians on the border sing the lullaby "The rich get richer and there is nothing for the poor." For certainly, surely, your dreams will absolutely come true.

I try to keep an eye on both these countries with a NY point of view. How are they recovering from the brutal dictatorships that we helped subjected them to? (Shame on us, but it was war and we were frightened). Haiti is twenty years behind the DR- coming out of the Duvalier's in 1986 while Trujuillo fell in 1965. There were similar armed interventions by the US in both countries - to a better result here in the DR perhaps in which the forces of the merchant "right" rather than the populist “left” took over the running of business and stability and development.

It was sad to read how Preval, in his first term, in 1996, redistributed farm land from private landlords to the peasants but did not give them tools or fertilizer or seed or transport, thus creating a net loss in food production. This seems odd since he himself has a successful bamboo farm and certainly knew what was needed! Although perhaps not since evidently the Taiwanese have some agreement with the government over the bamboo production in Haiti in return for the continuing vote to support Taiwan in the United Nations. So it may in fact be Taiwanese who are doing the farming for Preval.

Now Haiti, evidently having signed a contract with Venezuela which precludes purchasing oil from other sources, is short on diesel oil.

Contrary to the United States, which could perhaps feed the entire world, Cuba does not produce enough to feed its population. Why is that, in a climate in which everything grows? Puerto Rico is even worse - with iceberg lettuce coming in from California. The DR is a net food exporter - perhaps soon Puerto Rico will have some of the lovely curly lettuce from here.

The current Haitian government is in crisis over an argument about economic development and the minimum wage. A very odd argument to be having, it seems to me, in a nation with over 70% unemployment. Particularly in a nation which is listed as third most corrupt in the world. (PROGRESS -up from the MOST Corrupt Country in the WORLD -- Get the T Shirt MADE) In which it takes 192 days to start a business due to government regulations.(I risk crossing into satire here......)

To help with the perspective on the wages for Haiti - whether it is reasonable for the Ministry of Social Affairs to propose 150 gourdes a day as a new minimum wage while the minimum that the business community finds acceptable is 78, - I share the following.

The DR has no minimum hourly wage. Hourly work and day wages are paid as the worker is willing to accept.The minimum wage here in the DR, for monthly salaried workers jobs, is 4400 pesos (US$130) a month for a 40 hour week. In relation to the dollar -The peso is now at 34.xx to the dollar. Assuming 4.25 weeks a month, we arrive at the number of 170 hours a month. And then 25.88 pesos or 78 cents an hour or (207.04 pesos) $6.28 a day. Note that five years ago, the peso was at 50 to a dollar and the wages were lower so the daily wage was closer to $4 a day. The peso trades a little higher than the gourde against the dollar now.

These workers also have other legal benefits such as a month's extra pay for Christmas, paid holidays, some government health services - doctors but no pharmaceuticals-, protection against unreasonable termination, mandated severance pay, workers rights and other protections. By law, a business must employ at least 70% Dominicans in the labor force.

It is difficult to make more than $1000 a month as a salaried worker here - that is a good teacher's wage - in an English school in the Capital. Doctors in the State system went on strike to demand more than the 58.000 pesos which they are now paid. Maids work for 3 to 4,000 pesos. These days there are Haitians-particularly on the border- who are taken in by Domincan families as restavecs.... working for food.

The presence of the more that 600,000 Haitian immigrants, with an ongoing inflow, makes it difficult for the workers on the bottom of the ladder to organize and demand any sort of wage increases. However there is a strong transport workers union and an active social forum and in the past three years, I have witnessed two general strikes protesting the high cost of living, one of which shut down the entire nation into silence. Gandhi would have been proud.

Anyone who really makes any money here does so with owning a business or working in a family business. Lots of the population makes do with day labor, selling fruit or cell phone cards or their bodies or the growing business of crack and cocaine transport and human trafficking.

Or --- for the really BIG money- they go into politics. Since there is no independent civil service, all the government jobs go to political appointees, although there does seem to be some level of competence involved.

Haitians here are primarily employed at construction and agriculture. Some of the big hotels have full gangs of hundreds of Haitian workers who go from one construction site to another. They are usually paid about 300 pesos (less than $10) a day. They are often worked for 24 days straight and then paid. They are not fed. In at least one place the local Dominican picketed, saying that they wanted the jobs but at 600 pesos.

Conan Bohan of the HELP project says that the best jobs for COLLEGE grads in Haiti are with NGOs and pay $600 a month. But few NGOs really work to get the poor out of poverty. On the contrary, they make their living off the poor. (Of course- foreign NGO workers, like US Embassy workers recieve BONUS pay for working there - sort of like Iraq ) They themselves live on charity so how could they teach people to get on their feet? Fonkoze and ORE and Lait Agro go being the notable exceptions that I know of. Do the donors of rice know how to help the food producers? Are they interested in doing so?

So - Once again, I call on the Haitian Diaspora to rise up and deliver a plan for the restoration of the nation of Haiti. Since, clearly, the people whom you have left behind have proved themselves unable to manage your nation.

I ask that you demonstrate your concern for your once reknowned and respected and feared republic by calling for a constitutional reform allowing dual citizenship.

I ask that you not let your nation remain a ward of the international community.

A plan, if you please. Some internet petitions. Some leadership. Some bright minds moving forward.

Enough already with the conferences at the Montana and Kaliko Beach and the courses in Kreyole in Kansas and the newspapers in Massachusetts and the chic cocktail gatherings of “Haitian Professionals” in my nation’s capital.

Why not have some gatherings of Haitian Professionals in your own nation’s capital?

Surely you must be ASHAMED and ENRAGED right now.

I know that I am and I am only Haitian by affinity.

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