Photo by John Carroll
Lance Durban is a friend of ours in Port-au-Prince.
Please read Lance's post below regarding his thoughts why Haitians remain poor.
You may agree or disagree with Lance but he makes many salient points.
My belief is that the poor Haitians are poor because
of the way they THINK. They think poor ( Se malere
mwen ye) so they stay poor.
Cause and effect may not be quite that simple, Pierre, but I do think you are onto something, and along the way you touch on why I got out of the NGO world many years ago. The difficulty of working with the Haitian government was another reason.
It's really a question of culture, and changing that through education is a long slow process that will encounter lots of resistance from people who feel it inappropriate to try. eg. anyone suggesting that maybe poor Haitians should be encouraged to practice birth control will likely face criticism, and not just from the Catholic church.
There is really no shortage of interesting work to be done in Haiti. Just this morning I visited the fish farm of Caribbean Harvest out near Croix de Bouquet... thousands upon thousands of tilapia raised from eggs to 16 oz fish ready for the barbeque. Needs someone to locally produce fish food (presently imported at great expense by container). Needs someone to process these fish into nice filets for sale to Costco, Wal-Mart, Publix and Safeway. I am not convinced that there is a shortage of financial capital. The more important shortage is human capital. That involves thinking, and attitude, and education (formal and informal), and other salient components of culture.
What percentage of Haitians would ship out tomorrow if they could but get a visa? How do you convince someone who wants to leave his country that there really are countless opportunities if you work hard and work smart? Why don't some of those young men who are sitting around doing nothing on streets with yawning potholes figure out a means of making some money by filling the potholes? I'm not talking about leaning on a shovel and begging for gourdes from passing drivers, but rather real people creating an entity to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, NGO's with the bulk of the "aid monies" are largely into relief efforts. Not that society shouldn't be caring for those who truly cannot care for themselves, but giving stuff away (health care, water, portapotties, new houses, etc) helps ensure that Haiti will remain a basket case.
To create something sustainable you first need to create sustainable employment, and right now there is very little incentive to create jobs in Haiti. One only needs to look at what the Haitian elite is investing in: Importing and distributing things to sell, local real estate, luxury goods for personal consumption, travel to Miami, etc. Very few give any thought about the impact their decisions have on job creation.
The Haitian government could help by adjusting incentives, but this calls for making a value judgement and then stepping in to alter the free market decisions of people with money to invest. Take the industrial park out near the airport; most of the buildings are now warehouses employing relatively few people. That's because the owners have done the math and come to realize that there is simply a better return on a warehouse that employs relatively few, than a factory that manufactures stuff and employs many. Less headache too, I might add.
If, however, government decided that it would be better to house a factory employing a few hundred people at $5 a day than a warehouse, it could simply alter the tax structure. Property tax on a warehouse might go way up, while building owners where the employee density per sq ft is particularly high might pay no property tax or even get a full or partial rent rebate.
So, while Pierre feels that Haitians are poor because of THE WAY THEY THINK, I would add that this poverty is aggravated by AN ALMOST TOTAL LACK OF THINKING, particularly by the policy-making segments of Haitian society. Social inclusion/social exclusion? I'll save that semantic debate for another day.