Whither Haiti?

Protests have been growing in Haiti, check out this link for some compelling visuals. It is becoming ever clearer than Aristide is simply another Haitian mafia. Our previous support for him represents one of the more gullible episodes in American foreign policy. Most Haitians are turning against him as well, most of all because living standards have continued to deteriorate.

How might Haiti recover? It is hard to see a case for optimism. In many ways the country was richer in 1840 than it was today. One huge problem has been unchecked environmental degradation, brought on by poorly-defined property rights and a tragedy of the commons. The destruction of trees and the erosion of soil are continuing unchecked. Haitians commonly cut down trees for firewood but the collective impact of this practice has taken the life out of the soil. The country, which already is a net importer of food, is on the verge of not being able to feed itself at all. It will struggle to maintain its current per capita income of $400, noting that some estimates run closer to $250. Many Haitians are now asking for reparations.

Add on a totally corrupt port, dishonest politicians, no good roads, hardly any infrastructure, the Duvaliers’ destruction of intermediate civil society institutions, a rampant brain drain, few protections for foreign investors, and the complete absence of rule of law, and you have some real problems. The question is not so much how to improve policy, since policy does not reach most Haitians. Previous policies have destroyed so much value that it would be hard to find an institutional framework for current reforms, if Haiti’s politicians were ever so inclined. Most Haitians live in something approximating the state of nature. They are ruled, if that word can be used, by local mafias rather than by the national government.

By the way, did I mention that 85 percent of the population is illiterate and 99.9 percent carry malaria?

Public safety is breaking down as well. I used to visit yearly, but the number of carjackings, many carried out in broad daylight, have scared me off for the time being.

As Daniel Drezner would say, “Continuing…”


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