Black History Month 2014: The History of US Foreign Aid to Haiti

Foreigners distribute aid in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake
Are Haitians being infantilized by the aid industrial complex?

Haiti

The Daily Beast has a new article by a 31-year-old journalist who has figured out what is wrong with Haiti.

In “The Aid Industry Failed Haiti After Its 2010 Quake,” Elise Jordan notes that the “billions of dollars” spent by the “aid industrial complex” hasn’t brought running water to Haiti.

A mere 1 percent of donor funding has gone to the Haitian government since the 2010 earthquake. Thus, “that absurd funding imbalance guaranteed an addict/dependency state, where emergency needs are attended to by outsiders, but minimal effort is made to rebuild, train, or try out any sort of Haitian institutional infrastructure to attend to those same needs going forward.”

The obvious solution? Foreign do-gooders should reject the “paternalistic model” and start “actually trusting the Haitians as long-term partners.” Otherwise, the Haitians will be infantilized, the Haitian government will remain powerless and broke, and an entire society will be doomed to poverty!

It never occurs to Elise Jordan that there is a reason why so little of the foreign aid is channeled through the Haitian government:

History of Foreign Aid to Haiti

The US has been sending on-again, off-again foreign aid to Haiti since FDR began his foreign aid program in 1943. In particular, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – created by JFK through an executive order in 1961 – has been active in Haiti for almost fifty years now.

As one might expect, the corruption of Haiti’s leaders is the reason why foreign aid is now channeled through NGOs instead of the Haitian government:

“The Haitian economy quickly felt the consequences of Bébé Doc’s popularity. US aid to Papa Doc, offered as a counterpart for his anti-communist stand, averaged $3.8 million a year when Bébé Doc took over. By 1975, U.S. aid had jumped to $35.5 million because of the mistaken belief that Bébé Doc would soon abandon his father’s repressive policies. Millions were lost through corruption, for the son displayed a greed that had never been a part of his father’s capital sins, but some key projects were completed …

Haiti’s economy was virtually dependent on international charity by the late 1970s. Foreign aid provided 70 percent of the national treasury. …

Bébé Doc, in a stroke of genius, discovered that Haiti’s poverty could be its main source of wealth. He used starving children to increase aid, then siphoned off many of the funds to foreign bank accounts to maintain his people at an adequate level of misery. Donated funds not only failed to address the main impediment to progress – the rapacious Duvalier dynasty – but propped up the regime instead.” (Philippe Gerard, Haiti: The Tumultuous History – From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, pp.105-107)

Before he relocated to the French Riveria in 1986 to live off the $300 to $800 million dollars he had embezzled as Haiti’s president, Baby Doc used to throw money into the air from the window of his BMW as he drove through the provinces:

“Baby Doc reportedly embezzled somewhere between $300 million and $800 million (or upwards of 4.5 percent of Haiti’s GDP) during his tenure, in a country that was at the time one of the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Neither Baby Doc nor Papa Doc formulated a coherent economic policy for Haiti; their goals instead appeared to be to recklessly enjoy the fruits of their office. For example, in 1980 Baby Doc’s government was given $22 million by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Within weeks $20 million of this sum was mysteriously withdrawn from the government’s account. …

Former Haitian Minister of Finance and World Bank official Marc Bazin determined that at least “36% of government revenue in Haiti was embezzled” under Baby Doc, declaring the country the “most mismanaged in the region.” (Natasha Ezrow and Eric Frantz, Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders, p.137)

I’m still trying to nail down an exact dollar figure, but from the sources in my possession, I can say that Haiti has been the recipient of at least $16.4 billion dollars in foreign aid and an additional $1.2 billion dollars in debt relief since 1971. At least $9.1 billion of that was disbursed in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. This figure doesn’t include the billions of dollars that the US spent on “Operation Restore Democracy.”

The amount of foreign aid and debt relief that has been lavished on Haiti by Western countries since 1943 dwarfs the indemnity that Haiti contracted with France in 1825 and which was paid off at any rate in 1883. Like a freak thunderstorm in the Sahara desert, the effect of foreign aid quickly dissipates because Haitians lack the capacity to govern themselves and generate long term economic growth.

Giving foreign aid directly to the Haitian government will invite corruption and embezzlement. Spending the foreign aid through NGOs will alleviate short term suffering while fostering long term dependency.

Few people on earth have demonstrated that they possess less talent for self government than the people of Haiti. According to a recent poll, 67 percent of Haitians would emigrate from the Black Republic if it were possible to do so. Nearly two millions Haitians now live abroad – half of them in the United States.

Haiti is a failed state. No amount of foreign aid will ever change that.

2 Comments

  1. Somehow I suspect that shiploads and planeloads of ‘businessmen’ descend upon Haiti whenever there is a sizable aid package in order to supply the luxury goods desired by the government elite with their newly acquired embezzled wealth. Yes carrion eaters have to make a living as much as anyone.

  2. “Baby Doc used to throw money into the air from the window of his BMW as he drove through the provinces.”

    Baby Doc was a rapper! He was “makin’ it rain” for his “peeps”, “keepin’ it real”! Word!

Comments are closed.