Remember the Haitian embargo? One group of bad guys took over from another group of bad guys (i.e., Aristide and his cronies), so we stopped trading with them?
Georgie Anne Geyer offered some apt words on why this embargo was a disaster:
The economic part of the Haitian disaster was laid down in 1991, all with the best of intentions…The U.S. and other countries had imposed a severe embargo upon Haiti. This had the not-unexpected effect of (1) turning the military to smuggling, their first love anyway, and (2) utterly and tragically destroying the small businesses of Haiti.
“In the 1980s, we were planting up to 10 million trees a year in reforestation,” the ambassador to Haiti in that era, Ernest Preeg, reminisced sadly with me this week. “We had an anti-malaria program, secondary road programs and a brand-new container port. Haiti made textiles, footwear, toys, and baseballs. Three years of the embargo destroyed all the job-creating programs, and then Aristide destroyed the rest. After that, most of the aid went strictly to ‘democracy projects.’ In short, we took everything away from the long-term; we sacrificed the long-term for the short.”
Colin Powell has pledged, albeit in ambiguous words, that the U.S. will not intervene in the current collapse of order. Observers speculate that the prospect of Haitian refugees, mostly arriving in the electoral swing state of Florida, may change this calculus.
My view: The U.S. government built some valuable roads for Haiti in the 1920s, during our failed nation-building episode there. Otherwise our government has done many things to harm the Haitians, and few things to help. I’m all for greater free trade, but we are past the point where this would be very useful. Here is a previous post on Haiti, here is another.