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As I noted here yesterday, much of the media coverage (including the blogosphere) of the tragedy in Haiti lacks any sort of historical perspective and makes it impossible to understand events in the country. Why is Haiti so poor? Marginal Revolution asked in a post yesterday. Among the answers were that “Haiti cut its colonial ties too early, rebelling against the French in the early 19th century and achieving complete independence”; and that “Haiti has higher than average levels of polygamy.”
It’s pretty stunning that this almost entirely ignores the role of outside powers. Is Haiti poor simply because foreigners exploited it? Of course not, but one can’t understand why the country is in such terrible shape if you ignore the French and American roles in beggaring the country.
So here are a couple of suggested reading items: First, this post by Barbara Miller, a specialist in the anthropology of international development, who asks the exact same question posed by Marginal Revolution, and comes up with quite a different set of answers:
Colonial plantation owners grew fabulously rich from this island. It produced more wealth for France than all of France’s other colonies combined and more than the 13 colonies in North America produced for Britain. Why is Haiti so poor now?
Colonialism launched environmental degradation by clearing forests. After the revolution, the new citizens carried with them the traumatic history of slavery. Now, neocolonialism and globalization are leaving new scars. For decades, the United States has played, and still plays, a powerful role in supporting conservative political regimes.
Gee, I wonder if those small matters had anything to do with Haiti’s poverty?
For a lengthier account, also check out “The Historical Context of American Intervention”, by Robert F. Baumann, written for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Baumann offers a fairly American-friendly view of U.S. involvement, but he provides some interesting background on the Duvalier years:
The election of President Francois (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier in 1957 ushered in the modem phase of Haitian political life…Gradually, paranoia and a willingness to rule by terror became the trademarks of his presidency. In 1966, he declared himself “president for life.”
Duvalier further strengthened his grip on power with the founding of the Tonton Macoute (Haitian militia). This ill-trained body, which soon substantially outnumbered the army, operated as hired political thugs around the country at the behest of the Duvalier regime…In addition, Duvalier skillfully manipulated American anticommunism to enlist outside financial and material support, much of the latter in the form of weapons. Later, in 1971, the United States financed the training of a special counterinsurgency force in Haiti known as the Leopards.
Perhaps the most emblematic gesture of Papa Doc’s tenure was a referendum ensuring the direct succession of his son, Jean-Claude, which carried by the absurd total of 2,391,916 to 0!
Incidentally, Ron Brown, Bill Clinton’s former Commerce Secretary, once lobbied for Baby Doc. (As I first reported back in 1993).
Ok, so read up and continue sending support to help Haiti now. The easiest way to do that is to send a text message to 90999 with the word “Haiti” in the message.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
For the past three years my dosimeter had sat silently on a narrow shelf just inside the door of a house in Tokyo, upticking its final digit every twenty-four hours by one or two, the increase never failing — for radiation is the ruthless companion of time. Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly. During those three years, my American neighbors had lost sight of the accident at Fukushima. In March 2011, a tsunami had killed hundreds, or thousands; yes, they remembered that. Several also recollected the earthquake that caused it, but as for the hydrogen explosion and containment breach at Nuclear Plant No. 1, that must have been fixed by now — for its effluents no longer shone forth from our national news. Meanwhile, my dosimeter increased its figure, one or two digits per day, more or less as it would have in San Francisco — well, a trifle more, actually. And in Tokyo, as in San Francisco, people went about their business, except on Friday nights, when the stretch between the Kasumigaseki and Kokkai-Gijido-mae subway stations — half a dozen blocks of sidewalk, which commenced at an antinuclear tent that had already been on this spot for more than 900 days and ended at the prime minister’s lair — became a dim and feeble carnival of pamphleteers and Fukushima refugees peddling handicrafts.
One Friday evening, the refugees’ half of the sidewalk was demarcated by police barriers, and a line of officers slouched at ease in the street, some with yellow bullhorns hanging from their necks. At the very end of the street, where the National Diet glowed white and strange behind other buildings, a policeman set up a microphone, then deployed a small video camera in the direction of the muscular young people in drums against fascists jackets who now, at six-thirty sharp, began chanting: “We don’t need nuclear energy! Stop nuclear power plants! Stop them, stop them, stop them! No restart! No restart!” The police assumed a stiffer stance; the drumming and chanting were almost uncomfortably loud. Commuters hurried past along the open space between the police and the protesters, staring straight ahead, covering their ears. Finally, a fellow in a shabby sweater appeared, and murmured along with the chants as he rounded the corner. He was the only one who seemed to sympathize; few others reacted at all.
Number of U.S. congressional districts in which trade with China has produced more jobs than it has cost:
Young bilingual children who learned one language first are likelier than monolingual children and bilingual children who learned languages simultaneously to say that a dog adopted by owls will hoot.
An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to defund Advanced Placement U.S. History courses, accusing the curriculum of portraying the United States as “a nation of oppressors and exploiters.”
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