Charting A New Course for Haiti – Invest in the People

As pointed out by political scientist and development expert Fukuyama, true economic development requires patience.

President Jovenel Moise served as president of Haiti February 7, 2017 and was assassinated on July 7, 2021

President Jovenel Moise served as president of Haiti February 7, 2017 and was assassinated on July 7, 2021

The assassination of any head of state is a worldwide headline grabber. The killing of Haiti’s president Jovenel Moise, on the other hand, has sparked even greater attention with many intrigue elements because the mastermind is still unknown, many Colombian mercenaries are involved, and an inside job is implicated at the highest government level.

Actor Jimmy Jean-Louis

Actor Jimmy Jean-Louis

But more important than the search for answers to the above investigation is this question: What the future should look like for the people of Haiti?

It’s time to stop superimposing Western development models and political expediency on top of the existing settings in Haiti. Let’s change the settings by breaking up the comprador system and investing in the people to help themselves from the ground up.

A vicious circle over centuries
Every time a crisis hits this island nation Haiti – which unfortunately tends to happen quite frequently, everyone around the world would check the country’s statistics again for an update.

Street in Port Au Prince, Haiti

Street in Port Au Prince, Haiti | Photo Courtesy of Agencia Brazil under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil License

Haiti is essentially a failed state, located in less than 2-hour flight from the US, leader of global democracy and the richest and most powerful country in the world that had once occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934.

“But Haiti’s failure has deep historical roots, not caused entirely by its people,” says Jimmy Jean-Louis, Haitian-born activist and actor who has appeared in many Hollywood films including the title role in the biographical film of Toussaint Louverture, Haiti’s revolutionary leader and first president.

“Haiti was purposely kept poor from the start by Western colonial powers,” Jean-Louis adds.

Inspired by the French Revolution and the American Revolution, enslaved Africans, led by Louverture in the western Hispaniola island, rose up and defeated Napoleon’s army for freedom and declared themselves an independent nation called Haiti in 1802.

Haitian revolution 1802. Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, engraving by Hebert. Photo courtesy under Creative Commons CC0 License

Haitian revolution 1802. Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, engraving by Hebert.
Photo courtesy under Creative Commons CC0 License

That, of course, didn’t sit well with European colonial powers. They isolated and sanctioned Haiti to ensure failure in this republic to prevent people in their colonies around the world from rising up to break their chains like the Haitians.

Deforestation in Haiti Photo courtesy from NASA under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Deforestation in Haiti | Photo courtesy from NASA under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Haitis old options and compradors

Like its Caribbean neighbors, Haiti has beautiful sandy beaches and cool mountain ranges which are ideal for tourism. But due to sanctions and political instability, foreign investment in the country’s tourism has never been significant.

Ultimately, this basket case country can offer only two economic incentives to the outside world: a sizable market of eleven million consumers and a cheap unskilled labor supply. But these two very features are also a source of problem because to access these, international investors would need a group of compradors. In this country, that would be the Haitian elite.

By definition, compradors are those whose self interests rise above those of the nation’s wellbeing.

Throughout the history of the developing world, international corporations often resort to using local compradors as middlemen to facilitate their investment and trades by securing a steady supply of labor at low wages and keeping import/export tariffs as low as possible.

Global and regional political powers also use these same compradors to advance their political goals and guarantee stability to protect their companies’ investments.

Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier | Photo courtesy by Agencia Brasil under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier | Photo courtesy by Agencia Brasil under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

In modern Haitian history, both Papa and Baby Duvaliers were the classic compradors. They held absolute
political and economic powers as Haiti’s presidents for nearly three decades. They suppressed the entire
population as a cheap labor source and used their infamous paramilitary force Tonton Macoutes to prevent any uprising.
Since their downfall, many followed leaders in Haiti were also often accused of being corrupted compradors to business interests, including the recently assassinated president Moise.

So what is the solution for Haiti?
Should the country once again look to the advanced countries as development models and for help?

“Americans are not very good at nation-building,” writes Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama in his book The Origins of Political Orders. Professor Fukuyama is considered one of the world’s foremost political and development thinkers.

Nation building can take generations, Fukuyama writes, but Americans are impatient and their presidents often want things to happen under their watch.

Indeed, the list of America’s nation-building failures is long, which includes Somalia, El Salvador, Libya, Vietnam, and of course Haiti. Iraq and Afghanistan have also recently made the roster.

Haitian teacher and her students | Photo courtesy under Creative Commons CC0 License

Haitian teacher and her students | Photo courtesy under Creative Commons CC0 License

Since the Cold War is over, underdeveloped and developing nations now have a higher degree of autonomy to chart their own development paths. Notable successes are S. Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Singapore, India, China, and Chile — countries that are either on their way or have achieved advanced economic status.

All of these countries’ development paths have one thing in common: serious investment in education. Their greatest asset is the high skill workforce that can produce and export highly valuable products and services such as electronic devices, car parts, and computer coding contracts.

In fact, economies which heavily rely on traditional natural resources like oil, timber, and mining are often at standing still or even sliding back like Nigeria, Indonesia, Iraq, and Libya.

Though not a development economist, Jean-Louis believes education, the same impetus that has worked so well in countries mentioned above, can also work for Haiti.

He, like many Haitians, also thinks the grip of the Haitian elite, the compradors who are composed of only 3% of the population and yet control virtually all livelihood aspects of the country, must be broken. They have been pulling the strings to elect or depose any Haitian leaders who no longer deem beneficial in protecting their interests.

Moïse and other Caribbean leaders with former U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida in 2019 |  President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Caribbean leaders Friday, March 22, 2019, to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., from left, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet of Saint Lucia; President Danilo Medina Sanchez of the Dominican Republic; Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica; President Jovenel Moise of the Republic of Haiti and Prime Minister Hubert Minnis of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Moïse and other Caribbean leaders with former U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida in 2019 |
Former President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Caribbean leaders Friday, March 22, 2019, to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., from left, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet of Saint Lucia; President Danilo Medina Sanchez of the Dominican Republic; Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica; President Jovenel Moise of the Republic of Haiti and Prime Minister Hubert Minnis of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Impact investment for change and true development
In general, any leadership change is difficult. System change, on the other hand, like trying to break up the comprador arrangement to install a democratic system in Haiti, is even harder. But it’s not impossible.

For nearly five decades, the racist apartheid system in South Africa was so strong that many international investors and Western governments didn’t think it was possible to change and even went along. But it suddenly cracked due to a global boycott led by thousands of activists that placed pressure on corporations and investment funds to divest from South Africa in 1990.

Nine years later, in their study titled The Effect of Socially Activist Investment Policies on the Financial Markets: Evidence from the South African Boycott published in the Journal of Business in 1999, researchers Siew Hong Tech, Ivo Welch, and C. Paul Wazzan have discovered that “the South African boycott had little valuation effect on the financial sector” that it didn’t really hurt the country’s economy that much.

The study, however, notes that the sanctions did raise the people’s public moral outrage and that was the key to put pressures on businesses and governments, which in turn prodded the white controlled government to change.

Photo courtesy under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Photo courtesy under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

The case in Haiti should be a new public moral outrage. Activists and socially responsible investors can apply pressure on international companies that have been taking advantage of the cheap labor there to withdraw their collaboration with their compradors, the Haitian elite.

Impact investment or socially responsible investment funds can also play another important role by investing in people.  When people could gain skills and expand their capacities to help themselves, they would become productive contributors in their economy and take part in building a democratic and equitable system.

As pointed out by political scientist and development expert Fukuyama, true economic development requires patience. Continuing political and economic expediency would keep Haiti in a vicious cycle to no end.

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