What does one do with a country like Haiti, where years of occupation, corruption, and many different types of aid from outside hasn’t worked?
Lots of “it’s your fault” type stuff all over the internet: a lot of it uses the left wing’s meme of “Blame America” (and the right shouts back “Blame France”). Not mentioned, except by Pat Robertson, is the devil. Actually, he is crazy, but he did point out a problem few talk about: The problem of Haitian government officials using pacts with the devil and voodoo inspired gangs to terrorize the locals. The function of the UN peacekeepers in that country are to try to stop these criminal gangs from terroizing the population (The Philippines has almost 100 peacekeepers there).
Not mentioned either, except by Danny Glover,the revenge of Gaia. Again, he is crazy, but his comments allowed some people to point out how the destruction of the environment, mainly by poor peasants who destroyed forests in order to eck out a meagre living, contributes to poverty in that country.
Part of the problem is cultural, but again no one wants to say: In some African cultures, when things are terrible, you just cope. In the west, this would be called passivity, but piety and passivity is a time proven way to survive in times of chaos (“The Meek will inherit the earth”). Of course, the “flip side” of the coin is rage: That there is a point when things get too bad, and the cultural passivity erupts in riots. In the Philippines, we call this going “amok”; in Africa, many of the most terrible atrocities are a reaction from years of holding in anger at being oppressed.
So how does one “cure” Haiti?
At The African Executive, Carl Lindskoog has an article lamenting how USAID tried to remake Haiti into another “Asian Tiger”, but failed.
From the standpoint of the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Haiti was the perfect candidate for this neoliberal facelift.Â The entrenched poverty of the Haitian masses could be used to force them into low-paying jobs sewing baseballs and assembling other products.
But USAID had plans for the countryside too.Â Not only were Haiti’s cities to become exporting bases but so was the countryside, with Haitian agriculture also reshaped along the lines of export-oriented, market-based production.
The result, says Lindskoog, was a flight by country people to the cities, where the expected jobs never developed.
What Lindskoog never mentions is why the factories didn’t develop. And that is the problem of Haiti, and of much of Africa, and of the poorer countries in Asia such as the Philippines and Indonesia.
In a phrase: It’s the corruption, stupid.
It was the corruption of various Haitian governments that spawned the gangs, stole the equipment and put bribes and red tape to stop development. Yes, you can blame “Western capitalism” for putting up with these government leaders, but this is easy. The problem is: What is the alternative?
Sustainable development, say the utopians. Ah, but if you actually live in these places, it means there is no one solution: There are many solutions, all of which may need to be done for different social problems.
The answer is to encourage some migration to the cities, while providing small loans, and modern seed/fertilizer and agricultural techniques to encourage farmers to remain on the land. But this means allowing roads and modern transportation, so that they can get their goods to market.
Alas, a lot of folks oppose capitalism andÂ see the flight to the cities as the wrong answer, without realizing the hardship of living in those picturesque villages so beloved of the National Geographic. Village life has it’s own good points and problems, but unless you are crass enough to be like “Papa Doc Duvalier” and ignore a high childhood mortality as a way to keep population growth low, what is the alternative?
One alternative is Haiti, where the population has destroyed the environment.
Another is much of the third world, where peasant migration to the cities is overwhelming. This destroys the culture of the villages, but often for those who migrate, it means hope for the children: education, an 8 hour job, no starvation. And with education and health care comes the acceptance of family planning: that now, if you have 4 children, you no longer have to worry that half of them will die.
Which brings us to Avatar, and China.
According to the BBC, the government of China is uneasy about showing the hit film “Avatar” in that country.
Writing in English-language newspaper China Daily, columnist Huang Hung said the smash-hit film mirrored China’s rules on forced eviction.
“All the forced removal of old neighbourhoods in China makes us the only earthlings today who can really feel the pain of the Na’vi,” she wrote.
There is pain by those who leave the villages, and there is pain by those who are forced out of villages.
The dirty little secret behind China’s dynamic development.
But again, what is your alternative? Staying in the rural areas and starving?
Change will come, with or without planning.
But please, don’t think the only alternative is an “apartheid” that allows villager to remain like animals in a zoo, pristine and beautiful, so that rich westerners can come and visit them and go home and talk about these people living in the Garden of Eden, never noticing the children dying of pneumonia, the elderly who lay in bed for years from a broken hip, the women with Fistulas from childbirth injuries, or that the smiling of the natives might be a cultural trait of those who learn to accept hardships as part of daily life.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She writes about human rights at MakaipaBlog.