No better tribute to Martin Luther King … Why is Haiti so Poor?
The following essay was written by Bob Corbett, a longtime advocate for this sovereign island nation; Bob gave Singing Rooster permission to put his essay on our site.
Bob wrote this essay in 1986 — and EVERYTHING he said then still stands.
Another long-time supporter of the Rooster, Dr. Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, has published a more comprehensive book on Haiti: Haitian History: New Perspectives — an excellent compilation of articles. Plus, it takes readers into the impact of Haiti’s recent & devastating earthquake.
Bob’s essay will get the reader interested & Alyssa’s book will provide a broad and sophisticated interpretation of Haitian history — well beyond the scope of our website.
Backstories, present day stats provided by Singing Rooster in orange.
And now — Bob’s essay:
The question I am asked most frequently is: WHY IS HAITI SO POOR?
This is difficult for people to understand, especially for those of us living in a country as rich as the United States. There are some obvious conditions: the long history of political oppression, soil erosion, lack of knowledge and literacy, a large populace in a small country. But a question of CAUSES for such poverty is extremely complex.
This issue is difficult. I urge you to stick with it, to wade through. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitian masses suffer debilitating and depressing misery. Yet, virtually all that misery is human caused by a tiny minority inside and outside Haiti who have wealth and power to control.
HOPE AMIDST MISERY
The story of Haiti is heavy and depressing. Yet I see hope too. To know the causes of Haitian poverty is to clarify the problem. It helps people to know where to focus our energies, work and wealth in attempting to lessen this misery.
Not only is this a difficult issue, but a controversial one. I’ve tried to reflect various thrusts of the argument. But, ultimately I’ve had to decide where the evidence seemed strongest. I’m sure some will disagree and do so with vehemence.
I. Root, but Less Visible Causes of Haitian Misery
The ultimate causes of Haiti’s misery are human. They are rooted in greed and power. Both the international community and Haiti’s rulers have continuously assured the destruction of Haiti’s colonial wealth and the creation and continuance of her misery.
- The international community’s role
- French colonial contribution
- The international boycott of the new nation of 1804
- The French debt of 182
- The United States Occupation 1915-1934
- Post World War II United States domination
- The role of Haiti’s rulers
- Slave-like labor systems in the early republic
- The elite’s protection of its wealth
- Haitian corruption
- Human rights violations as a tool of oppression
II. Secondary, but Immediate Causes of Haitian Misery
The international and national political climate of Haiti has assured her misery. But, little by little these forces have caused other factors to emerge that assure the continuance of Haitian misery even if Haiti were to secure good local government free from international intervention. (An unlikely prospect in either instance!) Some of the most noticeable secondary causes of Haiti’s poverty are:
- Language as an oppressor
- Ignorance and illiteracy
- The system of education (or mis-education
- Soil erosion
- Export crops vs. local food crops
- The lack of a social infrastructure: inadequate roads, water systems, sewerage, medical services, schools
- Unemployment and underemployment
- Underdevelopment in an age of international economic competition
- Haitian self-image
III. A MYTH & TWO PUZZLES
As well as arguing why Haiti is so poor, I address two factors which are often claimed to be causes of Haitian poverty. One category I will call MYTH. The contention that the Voodoo religion is a serious factor in causing the misery of Haiti is a myth, and an exceptionally pernicious myth at that.
The second category I term PUZZLES. These are areas which are not clear to me. They may or may not be causes of misery. In this section I will try to point out the complexities of two cases: foreign investment in manufacturing and overpopulation.
HAITI: THE JEWEL OF THE ANTILLES
[Backstory: Before Europeans arrived, Hispaniola was an island of splendid rain forests and fertile plains. Native Caribbeans inhabited the island for centuries before Columbus arrived in 1492.
The Spanish, and soon after, the French, saw a land of opportunity. Spain and France divided Hispaniola in 1697 where the western 1/3 of the island became Haiti, ruled by the French and the other side ruled by Spain – present day Dominican Republic. The native population was decimated through warfare, slave labor, and European disease. Because the native population was largely killed, people were kidnapped by the hundreds of thousands from Africa and shipped to the island for slave labor. Some believe it was the world’s taste for coffee that lead to massive slave labor in Haiti.]
Haiti, once called The Jewel of the Antilles, was the richest colony in the world. In the 1750s, Haiti provided as much as 50% of the GNP of France. The French imported sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, cotton, indigo and other exotic products. In France they were refined, packaged and sold all over Europe. Incredible fortunes were made from this tiny colony on the island of Hispaniola. How could Haiti have once been the source of such wealth and today be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? How could this land that was once so productive be semi-barren? How did “The Jewel of the Antilles” become the Caribbean’s hell-hole?
ROOT CAUSES: A. INTERNATIONAL FORCES
- THE FRENCH COLONIAL CONTRIBUTION One of the primary reasons Haiti was such a productively rich land was because of slave labor. When people are willing to put productivity above all other values, then productivity is likely to soar. Not only did the slaves work long days under tremendously unsafe conditions, with little or no technology beyond hand labor, but Haiti’s slave system was the most brutal in the Caribbean. Many documents of Western slavery explain that the ultimate threat to a recalcitrant slave was that he or she would be sold to Haiti. Unfortunately, slavery did not die with French rule. Rather, forced cheap labor was passed on to the emerging native Haitian elite. The French system allowed for some slaves to earn their freedom by exceptional work. This system worked well to get more productivity, and the system was tough enough that very few slaves were able to earn their freedom. Thus slave owners got increased productivity with little loss of slaves through freedom.A second group of slaves who became free were the mulattoes, the children of white masters and slave women. These children were in a middle ground, uncomfortable to both slaves and whites. The slaves never knew how the white man would respond to his child, but often the slave owner didn’t want to be reminded of his paternity. Thus mulattoes were not welcomed in either community. Many mulattoes received their freedom and formed a special middle class in the colonial period.A special class of freed slaves emerged. About 1/2 of them were freed black slaves and about 1/2 of them were mulattoes. They could receive some education, operate businesses, own property and in general imitate the French.This imitation became the hallmark of these freedmen. They wanted a clear separation from their slave backgrounds. Thus they imitated the whites. They adopted their religion, language, dress, culture, education and ways. But, most importantly for this story, they learned the value of slave labor – an important factor in Haiti’s later misery.
- INTERNATIONAL BOYCOTT OF THE NEW Haiti After the revolution in 1804, Haiti became the second free country in the Western World (after the United States) and the first black republic. However, the United States was still a slave nation, as was England. While France had freed the Haitian slaves during the revolution, France and other European nations had slaves in Africa and Asia. The international community decided that Haiti’s model of a nation of freed slaves was a dangerous precedent. An international boycott of Haitian goods and commerce plunged the Haitian economy into chaos. It is difficult to measure the exact impact of this international conspiracy. Here was a nation of ex-slaves trying to rise to democratic self-rule, rising to run an economy in which the masses had only served as slaves. The international boycott of Haitian products at this time was devastating for Haiti’s long-term economic development.
- THE FRENCH DEBT OF 1838 The Haitian governments were extremely anxious to be recognized by France and the Europeans. But France would not recognize Haiti unless indemnities were paid for lands of former slave owners taken over after the revolution. Finally, in 1838 President Boyer of Haiti accepted a 150 million franc debt to pay this indemnity [estimated at $21 billion today]. This debt plagued the economy of Haiti for over 80 years and was finally paid off in 1922. In the meantime Haiti paid many times over 150 million francs in interest on this debt. It is difficult to measure the incredible harm which this caused, but by the most conservative measures it was extremely significant.
- THE UNITED STATES OCCUPATION OF 1915-1934Perhaps the most serious blow to Haitian independence and self-image was the occupation of the United States Marines in 1915. The marines took over control of the collection of revenues, the banks, and forced through a new “Haitian” constitution which repealed the 1804 provision that foreigners could never own land in Haiti. The U.S. decided who would and would not be government servants. The only factor of Haitian life which seemed to escape U.S. domination was education. The elite’s identification with French culture was too strong for even the marines to overcome and the schools remained French in language and structure.
- POST WORLD WAR II UNITED STATES DOMINATION The occupation ended in 1934. However, the U.S. presence in both the economy and internal government affairs was well established. Ever since the occupation and increasingly since 1946, the United States, through the power of its aid packages, has played a central role in Haitian politics. In this way the U.S. has contributed to the misery of Haiti since it has given oppressive governments comfortable aid packages which kept these rulers in power. The United States was not interested in furthering Haitian misery itself, rather this is the price the U.S. has had to pay to keep friendly governments in power so that American military, propaganda and economic interests could be served. The result may well have served the interests of U.S. control in the region, but the issue here is the cause of Haitian misery. U.S. backed governments have certainly been a major factor in this suffering.
ROOT CAUSES: B. HAITIAN ELITE
The international community has done and continues to do its share in causing Haitian misery. But the contribution of the Haitian elite and Haitian governments has been and continues to be a root cause of suffering.
- SLAVE-LIKE LABOR SYSTEMS IN THE EARLY REPUBLICAfter the French left, there was a scramble for power and control. The elite emerged as the dominant power. Given their superior education and experience in running businesses, their control was not surprising. But, a pattern arose because the only model they knew for successful agriculture was slave labor. It was impossible to return the masses to slavery, but Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first president, tried to enforce a system of labor on the peasants which resembled medieval serfdom. This system failed miserably and created a labor system which has been instrumental in the developing misery of Haiti.What happened between 1804-1820 set the tone for Haiti’s future and is directly responsible for much misery. The former slaves ran away from the lowlands, the plantations, away from the cruel rulers who would have effectively enslaved them again. They ran to the mountains where they would be safe from the soldiers and police of the realm. And here they remain. This pattern of relocation has defined several aspects of Haitian life which undermine the development of a healthy economy.
- The price the Haitian masses have paid for their freedom has been to live at or below subsistence, remaining in tiny huts and non-fertile mountain regions in order to have peace and freedom from oppression.
- For nearly two centuries they have sub-divided their small plots among generations of descendants until the plots of land are tiny and unproductive.
- A widespread attitude has developed holding that no government could ever be good. Folk wisdom demands that one retreat ever further from government and eke out an existence outside the mainstream of society.
- THE ELITE’S PROTECTION OF ITS WEALTH [When Haiti became the world’s first black republic in 1804, its leader promised to divide the land among the slaves who fought with him to end French colonial rule. Jean-Jacques Dessalines was assassinated for that policy. Instead, revolutionary war generals confiscated plantations, living in feudal luxury off the labor of freed slaves. The 3% of the people who constitute the Haitian elite are descendants of those same families who were free prior to the independence of 1804. There is an elite which is mainly black and an elite which is mainly mulatto. These two groups have their own fights and battles, but has rallied together using its wealth and power to crush the masses.The Duvalier family’s rise to power was just another in a series of such moves. [The Haitian government continued this pattern for decades. Prior to the devastating earthquake in January 2010, many thought Haiti had FINALLY made a dramatic turning point in terms of political leadership].
- HAITIAN CORRUPTION Corruption is common in all governments, especially in highly authoritarian regimes, and practiced beyond measure in Haiti. The elite have used their positions since 1804 to gather wealth and power. Foreign governments and humanitarian and religious organizations have attempted to aid the suffering people of Haiti. Time and again, over and over in the 182 years of so-called freedom, the Haitian elite and government officials have sidetracked much of this wealth for their own purpose. Haiti faces the difficult task of dealing with corruption that is so established, so all-persuasive as to be an accepted social practice. After an armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand ARISTIDE in February 2004, an interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally inaugurated a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006. Many thought Haiti was positioned for major changes for the first time in history; January 12, 2010 changed that.
- HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AS A TOOL OF OPPRESSION One would never expect that the Haitian masses would have sat placidly by and allowed such a tiny elite to inflict the conditions of misery on them. Indeed, the people did not sit willingly by. The history of Haiti from early colonial days to present is one of constant resistance, constant rebellion. But the elite have been equal to the challenge. For 182 years, Haitian rulers have used terror, killings, beatings, illegal arrests and detentions, and forced exile to keep masses in line.
SUMMARY OF ROOTS CAUSES
Poverty and misery in Haiti are human created. The root causes are the political and economic systems which have dominated Haiti for over 182 years. These oppressive factors come from the international community, especially France and the United States. However, the Haitian elite, comprising only 3% of Haitians has been a major factor in creating and continuing these oppressive conditions.
The causal roots are not visible. Rather, they are the basis of the more visible and immediate factors. Even the overt human rights abuses are not visible on a daily basis. However, the Duvalier years were especially bad. Tens of thousands of people died or disappeared. Hundreds of thousands more felt forced to flee their homeland and seek a safer life elsewhere. Nearly everyone in the country felt the terror of the Duvaliers and their Tonton Macoute [government-sponsored thugs who beat or killed for dominance].
SECONDARY, BUT MORE IMMEDIATE CAUSES OF HAITI’S POVERTY
- LANGUAGE AS AN OPPRESSOR Perhaps the oddest cause of poverty is imposing the French language on Haitians. French is the official language of the country. All state business is carried on in French, the schools educate mainly in French. Social prestige is related to the ability to speak French. Yet only about 10% of the people can even get along in French, with less than 5% knowing the language fluently. Creole is the language of the masses. 100% of the Haitians speak and understand Creole as their mother tongue. The road to social, economic and intellectual development is reserved French speakers. Creole is not a patois or dialect of French. It is a recognized language in its own right, with its own syntax which is significantly different from French. The Creole grammar is rooted in Central African languages, though most of its vocabulary is influenced by French.
- IGNORANCE AND ILLITERACY One of the results of this oppression of language is a national illiteracy rate of 90% in cities and higher in rural areas. It is hard to calculate the suffering tied to illiteracy and the ignorance of alternatives which comes with illiteracy and lack of education. When a whole people cannot read, they are cut off from advances in knowledge. Thus they are condemned to repeat the forms of life they have developed whether or not those practices have negative aspects. Haitian life has many disastrous practices and these account for much of her misery. These will be detailed below. The point here is to note that the immediate cause of many negative practices is rooted in ignorance of the alternatives. It is ignorance that allows traditional practices in agriculture or education, health care or house-hold hygiene. Some of these practices are killing Haitians unnecessarily and destroying the agricultural base of this land. This harmful ignorance is the direct result of the illiteracy which defines the nation.
- THE SYSTEM OF EDUCATION (OR, MORE PROPERLY, MIS-EDUCATION)Legally, education is free and open to all. Actually, state-sponsored education is limited and most secondary or university education goes to the children of the elite. Only 30% of Haitian children begin school, and of the 30%, only 2% stay in school beyond the 5th grade.There are many factors which contribute to the lack of education:
- Education is mainly in French, a foreign tongue to the masses. Creole has begun to creep into schools as part of a reform movement. However, books are still primarily in French, and after the 5th year in school, even classroom instruction reverts to French. More importantly is the indoctrination that only French is the language of intelligent and well-educated people. Thus peasants, who speak only Creole, despise their own language and demand that their children be educated in French, thereby assuring that their children will not succeed in school.
- After the fifth year, students must pass a difficult examination, the “sertifica” in order to continue. This examination is in French. Few children of the peasant masses pass this examination.
- Teachers are poorly prepared. Materials are inadequate. In rural schools, it is common that only teachers have books. Rote learning is the common, even in schools in the capital. Students are taught to parrot teachers. They learn little beyond the immediate textbook.
- Schools are overcrowded, and discipline is a problem. Of course, the fact that class centers around a language children do not know hinders learning. The response to serious discipline problems is harsh punishment which relies on beating and serious physical assaults on misbehaving children.
In a word, the school system is in shambles. It does very little to help Haiti out of her massive ignorance and illiteracy. If anything, it helps to continue the reliance on French, a primary controlling tool of the Haitian state.
- SOIL EROSION[Backstory: In 1923, over 60% of Haiti was covered by lush forests; by 2006, less than 2% remained. Initially, forests were pillaged for their beautiful wood – to pay off foreign debt – mostly to France. Since then, the forests have been a source of fuel and jobs. In a desperate society, little thought is given to ‘tomorrow’ because they’re hungry today].For the past 200 years, people have been cutting trees on mountains without replanting. Now, when the rainy season comes with its four or five months of daily pounding rains, brown rivers torrent down mountain sides and Haiti’s little remaining soil flows out into the Caribbean Sea. There are four primary reasons for the soil erosion:
The need for fuel. Haiti has no fuel except wood. People cook with charcoal. This requires massive amounts of wood to provide fuel for 6 million people. Thus the demand on wood as a crop is the immediate cause of the denuding of the mountains of Haiti.
The need to earn a living. Peasants are hungry. They have little available work. But wood is in constant demand as charcoal or to sell to others to make charcoal. Peasant wood-cutters who do understand the soil erosion problem will argue that they have no alternative.
Ignorance. Because of illiteracy and lack of education, Haitian wood cutters do not fully understand the implications of their cutting. Uneducated peasants have little sense of history. In their generation, Haiti has always looked denuded. When faced with hunger, the argument makes no sense.
Lack of motivation to reform. There is little motivation for wood cutters to replant trees. Mainly they do not own the land. They cut here or there as sharecroppers or renters, then move on to other lands. The land owners are often city people or more wealthy village folks, and they do not keep a close watch on their lands. Were they to replant, it is likely that the neighbors’ animals would eat the seedling trees since there is little forage left in Haiti.
- EXPORT CROPS VS. LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION The largest portions of Haiti’s best lands produce crops for export. Sugar cane is the dominant crop, but tropical fruit and other crops are grown as well. With most of the very best land out of production for local food crops (beans, rice and corn), the masses do not have access to land to grow food for eating or selling on local markets. Ironically, Haiti, a primarily agricultural land, is a net importer of food.Because land is controlled by the elite of Haiti, cash goes to these owner who spend their money in the United States and Europe. Not even a trickle down effect is felt from this flow of cash. Further, farm wages are among the lowest in Haiti. Cane cutters spend days in back-breaking work to cut a ton of sugar cane earning a $1.00 a day OR LESS! Imported food is expensive and can’t be afforded.
- THE LACK OF SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE Haiti does not have the basic social infrastructure to allow a viable economy. There are inadequate roads in the rural areas. Thus shipping goods to the market in Port-au-Prince is expensive and risky. Travel by workers is difficult and extremely time-consuming because of bad roads. During the rainy season many areas cannot be reached. Water presents other difficulties. Only the wealthy in Port-au-Prince and in major regional towns have running water. The masses do not have access to potable water and death and disease related to water is critical. 80% of all disease in Haiti is water-borne. Sewerage systems are limited to Port-au-Prince’s elite. The rest make do with outhouses or worse, just use the outdoors. This presents a terrible medical problem in the crowded slums of the capital. Electricity is not available except for a tiny percent. I’ve already written about the deplorable conditions of schools and the inadequate health care facilities. Haiti simply doesn’t provide the basic infrastructure which allows a healthy people in a healthy economy. Haitian governments plead that the country is too poor to provide such services. There is some truth to this claim. However, millions and millions of dollars donated by foreign governments and charitable groups for infrastructure projects have been stolen by government officials. Lastly, the economy is run for the benefit of the rich elite. There are too few just taxes to provide basic infrastructure which makes a decent life possible.
- UNEMPLOYMENT AND UNDEREMPLOYMENT Masses of people have no work, or work for pay which cannot come close to providing a living wage. Because of soil erosion and structure of agriculture, thousands pour into Port-au-Prince looking for work. Most of them have heard of a friend’s friend or an uncle’s cousin said to have found work in the tourist industry or manufacturing sector. But there are few jobs, and the slums grow. These unemployed masses put increasing pressure on the already inadequate city infrastructure. The problems of unemployment and underemployment are caused in large measure by the lack of an adequate infrastructure and the domination of all wealth by the few. The political instability of the present moment does not help. Members of the Haitian elite and foreign investors are leery of investing in Haiti since no one knows where the government will move.
- UNDERDEVELOPMENT IN AN AGE OF INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC COMPETITION Today’s world economy is international. Competition is bitter and severe. But this is a competition of the strong fighting the strong for a piece of the market. Haiti is in a disadvantageous position. Haiti is undeveloped. It is not even a developing nation. The economic structure of Haiti has deteriorated in 29 years of Duvalier rule. Haiti cannot compete. It’s a case of being hopelessly behind in a long distance race of superstars. Instead of catching up, Haiti falls farther and farther behind .
- HAITIAN SELF-IMAGE My own experience has been that Haitian people suffer from a self-defeating image. They know they are poor in a rich world. They have heard that they are ignorant and illiterate. They speak Creole and are told that this is not a “real” language. They experience their own powerlessness and are told it is their own fault. Such a self-image creates its own cycle of misery. The victim, the masses of Haitian people, blame themselves for their own suffering.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
I have painted a grim picture. Haiti is devastatingly poor. The causes are many and varied. Most of them are stubbornly resistant to change or amelioration. Many of the woes are beyond Haiti’s capacity to cure even if a just government and economic order were to appear, which, of course, is unlikely.
THE MYTH THAT VOODOO RELIGION CAUSES HAITI’S MISERY
Haiti suffers many ills which I’ve tried to catalog. Ironically, Voodoo is blamed as a major cause of misery. It is a complete myth. Voodoo in no serious way causes Haiti’s misery. Instead, this myth draws energy from more useful tasks.
Some missionaries claim Voodoo is some sort of satanic worship and thus Haiti’s suffering is caused by a combination of divine punishment and the ineptness of satanic powers.
The claim that Voodoo is a satanic worship is flatly mistaken. Voodoo is an African family-spirit religion. The spirits (not gods, but spirits –sort of like angels in Christianity) are invoked for moral advice and guidance with daily affairs. Additionally, Voodoo is a healing religion. Much of this healing is effective for local health problems. In general my strong impression is that people are very pragmatic about their healing. If a houngon or mambo (priest or priestess) heals, then people will use them again, otherwise not.
I don’t want to paint a romanticized picture. There is widespread use of healing practices which go beyond the houngon and mambo’s abilities. Wherever this occurs it should be combated as poor healing practice. Similarly, the Haitians have added a new rite to African Voodoo. This is the petro rite, a black magic rite which includes such exotic and socially damaging practices as death curses and the creation of zombies. There is no question that these practices are harmful, but they account for no more than 5% of Voodoo practice.
I have no personal stake in defending Voodoo. But, it is factually wrong to blame Voodoo’s excesses for seriously contributing to Haiti’s misery. The reason that this is such an important issue is tied to the question of Haitian self-image and the rights of the Haitian people to their own culture. The problem is not Voodoo, but some excesses and superstitions in an otherwise legitimate religion. More importantly, it is the religion of Haiti’s people.
My suspicion is that the criticism of Voodoo is not really because of its alleged harm, but because it is not the religion of Western missionaries. Christianity was riddled with superstition. Medieval Christianity was purged of its worst superstitions, and the religion survived. This is the need in Voodoo.
PUZZLE #1: FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN MANUFACTURING
[In 2010, Bill Clinton’s post earthquake call for clothing factories for PaP makes this part of the article, written in 1986, amazingly pertinent:] Haiti needs jobs. Hundred of thousands of people are unemployed in Port-au-Prince or can only find part-time work. American manufacturing operations in the 1970’s were thought be a boon to Haiti, but the case is not clear.
On the positive side, 350,000 jobs were created. However, the national minimum wage was $2.60 per day. Most companies evaded this pittance by shifting their pay system to piece work so that the typical wage was closer to $2.
Until the fall of Duvalier, labor unions and labor activity were illegal. Even now, few people know what a labor union is and the government continues to harass labor activity. Additionally, the press of the hundreds of thousands who have no work, and who would very much like even these $2 a day jobs, keeps workers disciplined not to rock the boat.
The $2 a day actual wage is nearly double the $1.00 typically earned in the agricultural sector. However, the American firms who own and run these plants earn fantastic rates of return.
Are these plants a way out of Haitian poverty? Yes and no. Immediately, they do employ the unemployed and that is a positive factor. But, the non-living wage which is paid insures people will not rise out of squalor.
This situation is like the early Industrial Revolution in the United States and England where workers fought long battles to get a fairer portion of the wealth their own labor created. The Haitian fight is hampered by many factors which were not as limiting in the United States–the high level of illiteracy, severe government oppression, more competition for jobs, etc.
So, I find this new development in Haiti to be a puzzle. Does it help or hinder Haitians? I don’t know. With just reforms this manufacturing sector could profit both Haiti and foreign investors. At present some Haitians do survive because of these jobs, and fortunes are made by investors.
PUZZLE #2: OVERPOPULATION
Haiti is a small country, about the size of Maryland. [In 2010 Haiti has about 9 million people.] The soil erosion, inability to compete internationally, backward agricultural technology and other factors make it impossible to support its population.
The overwhelming portions of the best Haitian lands are used to grow export crops for North America and Europe. This production benefits only a handful of Haitian elite. If this land were returned to the Haitian people and used for local food, Haiti would have no difficulty in providing a sound diet for all.
Even minimal improvements in agricultural technology (wider use of oxen and plow, for example), or improved understanding of agricultural problems (stronger national help in fighting soil erosion) and the land that is in production of local food crops could be more productive.
Since hunger is caused by the present social system, it would seem that it is not overpopulation which causes the crisis in Haiti. But this view is shortsighted. A reformed use and understanding of agriculture (both highly unlikely) would make it possible for Haiti to feed its present and expected population. But, eventually, Haiti will face a population crisis. Certainly by 2025, Haiti’s present 2.2% growth rate will make it incapable of feeding her people in the best of circumstances.
There are population control programs throughout Haiti. But they don’t work. Much research shows that moral preaching, sex education, contraception and even force do little to reduce populations in poor nations. This is because people NEED lots of children:
- As workers in the farm fields
- As old age insurance for parents who have no other security
- In a life of low material gratification, raising children is among the few joys and delights one can have
- Because they suffer high children mortality, people have many children so that enough will survive to accomplish 1-2-3
Sociologists know that economic development can effectively lower birthrates, and that providing old age security and some level of material comfort, lead people to voluntarily limit birthrates. Such a rise in material standard is also accompanied by higher levels of education, which further contributes to voluntary birthrate limits.
Is it really overpopulation which causes Haiti’s misery, or is the overpopulation another result of Haiti’s misery? It’s not clear. With more humane social planning, Haiti could provide for its people NOW. But what about in a few years? Population is a puzzle.