At the suggestion of OD commentator Michael, I bought a copy of Philippe Gerard’s Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, which is by far the most impressive book that I have read so far about Haiti’s national decline.
Here’s an excerpt about the US occupation of Haiti which includes some statistics about the infrastructure that was built under American supervision which are usually omitted in accounts by Laurent Dubois and other liberal historians:
“Highways jumped from 3 miles to 470 in 1918, in which year the road between the capitol and Cap-Haïtien reopened.” (Philippe Gerard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, p.86)
This should ring a bell.
In my review of Laurent Dubois’ Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, we learned that Haiti only had 37 km of railway in 1900 compared to 2,250 km of railway in Cuba and 300 km of railway in Jamaica. By 1900, Jamaica also had 6,000 km of all-weather roads compared to the 3 miles of highway in Haiti in 1915.
Even before the US occupation, recall that Haitians had fiercely resisted the construction of railroads. The unpopular use of corvée labor to build roads and infrastructure in Haiti would later provoke a guerilla war led by Charlemange Péralte.
“Treaty officials could have easily used their prominent role to exploit Haiti economically, but they decided against it. American officials rejected investments by the Sinclair Oil corporation and the United Fruit Company because these U.S. companies expected economic concessions deemed too onerous for the Haitian government. U.S. authorities even refused to endorse special privileges that previous Haitian presidents had granted to the Haitian-American Sugar Company (HASCO), the largest U.S. investor in Haiti. So called American imperialists proved less submissive to the forces of international capital than their local predecessors.
Another innovation brought by the U.S. occupation was that absolute power, for once, served to benefit Haitians. Customs fees no longer financed revolutions and acquaintances of the president. Instead, they paid for public works and sanitation facilities, two of the five “treaty services” granted the United States under the 1915 treaty. Corruption had been so common among Haitian bureaucrats that it had become a standard prerequisite of public service (much like retirement benefits or health plan today); strict accounting virtually eliminated it. Political stability also strengthened Haitian credit abroad. When the public debt was consolidated in 1922, National City Bank floated it at a record 92.1 par and 7.9 percent yield on the assumption that the U.S. controlled treasury would pay back Haiti’s debts. The Haitian debt to the United States was repaid entirely ahead of schedule. Debt payments represented 80 percent of the Haitian budget before 1915, so the reduced load freed up funds for much-needed infrastructure projects.
The results were nothing short of spectacular. By the late 1920s, 210 bridges and 1,000 miles of all-weather roads crisscrossed Haiti. Ports were modernized, lighthouses introduced, and a weekly steamer stopped in Haiti on its way to Panama. Nine major airfields appeared, along with the first airplanes to fly in Haiti. In 1929, a clipper introduced the first regular air service from Haiti to Miami. Telephone lines, already existing but unusable because of poor maintenance, were repaired. A new presidential palace replaced the one that was blown up in 1912. The first radio station opened in 1926. The network of irrigation canals created by the French was renovated and expanded, which allowed renewed exports of cotton and sugar, along with a newcomer, sisal. An agricultural school opened. Running water and 11 modern hospitals considerably improved public health.
What was most damning to veteran Haitian politicians was that every single one of these projects was financed with Haitian taxes, not foreign aid. Americans only brought stability and technical expertise, proving that bad leadership, not lack of funds, had been the sole source of Haiti’s previous troubles.” (Philippe Gerard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, pp.89-90)
What happened to the roads and bridges that were built by Americans?
“Unskilled Haitians inherited the infrastructures built by Americans and neglected to maintain them properly. Within two decades, most roads and bridges were a potholed mess impassible during the rainy season and accessible only with all-wheel drive vehicles the rest of the year. Dictator François Duvalier later sneered that “foreigners don’t know how to build roads in Haiti.” “Foreigners don’t know how to train Haitians to build and maintain their own roads” would have been more accurate.” (Philippe Gerard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, p.95)
Like the garbage infested slums in Port-au-Prince and Kinshasa which look almost identical, we have seen here before that there was a similar decline in the infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo: