Haiti vs Dominican Republic

Share the same island, similar histories - including colonial backgrounds (Haiti was French, Dominican was Spanish), almost identical ethnic backgrounds… and yet one is a festering hellhole, deforested (bring up both countries on Google Earth for a shock), starving and ghetto, while the other is a fairly stable developing country to whom foreigners flock for its beaches. And yet, until the 1960s, Dominican was just as volatile as Haiti.

Haiti’s problems are basically self-created. The contrast between its plight and Dominican’s is startling. Do we owe help to Haiti in a situation like this?

People (and countries) who make good choices dont tend to need help, so it follows that those we help have made bad choices.

But do we need to help someone who has no excuse for failure? Especially when such help has not, in the past, been effective, and this outside help cannot provide the necessary cultural change in the needy state?

Kinda strong language, innit? Save for being invaded by a foreign country, I tend to think of most countries’ failures as self-created, yet we still help a whole lot of them through various international organizations and measures. Plus there are different methods of help we can offer Haiti. So simple answer, yes, we do owe Haiti help.

It is somewhat telling that at the same time at the Dominican Republic was crawling out of their mire, Haiti was ruled by an insane dictator and terrorist whose iron-fisted rule was only bolstered by his claims to the powers of wizardry and his similarity to the voodoo god* of death. He would eventually claim to be the avatar of Haiti itself and while his claims were outlandish, they were born true by the fact that the nation was as mad as he was. He took credit for Kennedy’s assassination being the result of a hex he cast. He died nearly forty years ago and they haven’t really had much in the way of better leadership since.

*The use of the word god here is a knowing simplification.

So say you are born in Haiti. Are you now responsible for the entire social, political and environmental history of your country? I mean, if you had any gumption, you would build a time machine, go back to the 1950s, overthrow Papa Doc Duvalier and install a sane government.

Man, fucking Haiti, always wanting the US to help even though we didn’t contribute to their problems in any way. I mean, we’ve never backed any coups there, or like, occupied the country for two decades, or anything. What a bunch of whiny fuck-ups.

I don’t know about owe, but I agree that “they made their bed” isn’t really a good rationale to deny a country aid.

Really, the question we should ask is “Will our aid actually improve things?” Often, the answer is no.

I’m going to the Dominican on Saturday for a week. I’ll see what I can do.

Don’t forget our own support of Papa Doc’s government, extarbags. After all, he didn’t like Castro and enjoyed drowning Communists. What’s not to love?

No, but you’re responsible for its present and future.

You should really read those links before you paste them as arguments in your alleged favor. Well, the latter one anyway. globalresearch.ca might as well be “fuckinghatethecivilizedworldeverythingisamericasfault.com

As you note in your original post, Haiti is in really, really bad shape. The example of the Dominican Republic makes it clear that it didn’t have to be that way, but it is that way. The disastrous actions of the past are going to affect the country for a long, long time. So while at one point it was clearly possible that Haiti could be like the DR, at this point it would require an actual miracle for that to happen inside the next 40 years.

Also, most individuals have a very limited influence over the macro-scale course of their nation. I’m sure there are lots of Haitians right now working their hearts out to make a better country (more than you or I are for Canada anyway) but they must deal with the situation they are in.

Ah Mike, why ruin my fun with a sensible post. Here I was, nuking some microwave popcorn and waiting for extar to escalate and you had to make sense.

Well, if we’re going to be all reasonable about this, I agree with your statement that individuals, especially poorer individuals, have a limited impact on the state personally. However, it is the collective will and judgment of the people that at least tolerates the people in power, if not puts them in position to wield it in the first place. People must expect better. They must fight for it when things improve, cling to it when the improvements are challenged and fight for more. Every country has had bad leaders and disasters, and thousands more potential bad leaders and close calls.


This thread is Supertasteless.

I agree with the general sentiment here - that most of the nations that are in severely bad shape (not just Haiti, but many in Africa and some elsewhere) got there in large part due to a lot of bad (long-term) decisions by their leadership and others.

But I don’t think that negates the need for those of us who can help to do so. A homeless person may be that way largely because of his/her own poor choices (perhaps including substance abuse), but we can still try to help that person. With a nation like Haiti, it’s even more clear, because, as others have pointed out, those who are suffering are mostly not the ones who personally made the bad choices.

In turn, that leads to the more difficult question of WHAT should the more prosperous nations of the world, or the citizens of those nations individually, do to help out? We want to reduce the short term suffering while helping set the nation on a course for more self-sufficiency long-term. Sometimes, there may be a bit of conflict in the two. Zimbabwe is a more clear example - things are quite bad there and getting worse. We don’t want people to starve or die of easily preventable diseases, yet I would suspect that material aid shipped in has a significant chance of helping sustain the existing government, and thus delaying long-term solutions. I don’t really know the answer, but my inclination is some sort of balanced solution - don’t let people starve just because the dictator ruling them is incompetent or worse.

What’s the downside of trying to help Haiti? It seems to me like the sort of country for which they had to invent a new derogatory classification (fourth world) would the kind of place where the marginal returns for coordinated assistance could be stunning. Unlike an Iraq, it’s very hard to make it worse from the US perspective or that of other foreign countries unless you accidentally contract the job out to Umbrella Corporation or something.

I believe ever since the Monroe Doctrine we’ve adopted a mentality with Latin America and the Caribbean where it’s ok to intervene when it suits our interests. At best, that has had mixed results for our long term relationships in the area…many countries are stable in spite of our intervention, not because of it. So I think it couldn’t hurt to try intervening when there’s not a money carrot anywhere near the operation. I just don’t see a downside to a Haiti that isn’t horribly fucked.

I’m operating on the assumption that countries will only intervene when they see a benefit in it for themselves. I don’t think there’s ever been a case where we’ve had intervention based primarily on the host country’s gain. I’m trying to be realistic :)

If we’re off in Lala land where America comes bearing gifts even like coal-fired power plants so that the deforestation stops, here are the downsides:

  1. You need to somehow create a Haitian economy capable of paying for the coal and supporting the maintenance of the plants, including supporting the skilled and in-demand workers who work there. All without getting them or their families kidnapped.
  2. You’re looking at a huge investment in not just the coal plant, but creating an electric grid and then making sure that the millions of poor don’t ruin it by illegally tapping on.
  3. The maintenance and creation of the grid, as well as the spreading of it to homes or at least neighborhood kitchens requires a large, skilled work force. Electricians aren’t cheap. You have to pay them somehow, or pay to train them.
  4. Helping can create the expectation that more help will come. Past favors are soon forgotten. I’ll permit myself a bit of a liberty and stretch a personal anecdote into a nation-wide example. My crew on site just recently got free work gloves provided to them. First there was joy. Next there was “these gloves are shit”. Finally, the gloves started being thrown away and tossed aside quickly in the expectation that more will come. I do not see Haitians treasuring their Lala land power infrastructure unless they bled for it themselves. They don’t treasure their trees or land.

The problem in Haiti is like a chicken and egg scenario of culture vs. material inadequacy. What came first? Is it a culture of me-first with no regard for consequences when chopping down trees? Or is it the lack of alternatives that created the culture? Both feed off each other. If Bob Haitian doesn’t chop down that tree and use it to cook his food or sell it to feed his family, then John Haitian will.

Somewhere along the way, and this will probably be shortly after the point at which Dominicans start shooting on sight Haitians cutting down Dominican trees, the crisis will come to a head and a choice and sacrifice will have to be made.

A few comments:

  1. While self-interest runs high at a national and personal level, IMO there IS bona-fide altruism* at both levels. At a national level, our funding of various AIDS, malaria and other programs in Africa and elsewhere is, I think, primarily altruistic. Yes, you could find some elements of self-interest in it, but I still think the primary motivation is self-interest. Similarly, at a personal level, many Americans donate non-trivial amounts to charity, including charities focused in developing nations. If you are interested in such a thing yourself (and hey, it’s December - prime charity season), I’d recommend looking into The Carter Center’s disease reduction programs.
  • I’d define altruism here as helping others without expecting direct benefit in return. Spiritual/psychic rewards are a different story that I’ll leave unaddressed.
  1. There is no single reason why a country like Haiti is so messed up, nor any single quick fix way to make things better. Building one coal plant would at most be part of a broader solution. In general, large infrastructure projects funded from abroad in poor countries have, I think, a poor record. But there are other areas where outside assistance is more likely, IMO, to be helpful, including disease/health, nutrition and education.

  2. Yes, there is a legitimate concern about fostering dependency. Again, I don’t think there are easy answers here, other than thoughtful approaches to how to help, along with a good perspective of what has and hasn’t worked in various countries over the past few decades. I’m no expert, but I’ve tried to read up on this stuff - there are many books and other resources, but I’m not aware of any single unbiased, good, quick, easily digestible, source of information on effective aid (nationally or individually).