Commentary Magazine


Topic: Costa Rica

First-World Guilt Won’t Fix Haiti

As aid workers continue to sort through the rubble in Haiti and the world continues to focus on the suffering of the Haitians, some familiar tropes of journalism and Western liberalism are surfacing in the news coverage. Case in point is the piece in today’s New York Times sports section by sports-business columnist Richard Sandomir, titled “A Manufacturer’s Debt to Haiti,” about the Rawlings Sporting Goods company. According to Sandomir, Rawlings owes Haiti because 20 years ago, they shut down their baseball assembly plant in Port-au-Prince and moved to Costa Rica. From his point of view and that of Josh DeWind, who has written a book about aid to Haiti, Rawlings did well in Haiti when the country was friendly to foreign business because of cheap labor and then bailed on it when the country collapsed in violence and chaos after the fall of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. DeWind says that Rawlings now has a humanitarian obligation to go back. Sandomir thinks Major League Baseball, whose official baseball supplier is Rawlings, should pressure the company to return to the devastated country.

While the impulse behind this idea may be humanitarian — Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the world, and after the earthquake, it can use all the help it can get — it also speaks volumes about the way well-meaning liberals misunderstand the problems of Third World countries. Much like the calls from celebrities like the singer Bono for more foreign aid for poor countries and the cancellation of their accrued debt, demanding that Rawlings move back to Haiti says more about Western guilt than the prospects for economic development. In an era where the global economy is open for participation to any place, it is no longer possible to blame the ills of the Third World on colonialism or predatory international companies. It is the absence of the rule of law (which, in Haiti’s case, not only means the lack of confidence in property rights but also a level of violence that has made it impossible for a business to operate), restrictions on free-market activity, and endemic corruption that create such a wasteland for investment.

It is possible that the earthquake’s impact will be so great that it will actually change the culture of Haiti and open an era in which gangs and political gangsterism will no longer be sovereign. But that would require not only a sea change in Haitian culture but also a massive commitment from donor nations to administer projects in a manner that forces change. Such a transformation cannot be affected by mere good will. The problem is that NGOs have tended to reinforce local elites and corruption throughout the Third World. If a new Haiti is to be created, it will require transformation of both Haitian culture and of Western humanitarian groups that funnel aid there.

In the absence of such changes, if Rawlings were to throw money and personnel into the maelstrom that is post-earthquake Haiti, it would not only be a disaster for the company but also of no help to the people there. Western guilt makes for good newspaper columns, but it will not build a country in which business or freedom can thrive.

As aid workers continue to sort through the rubble in Haiti and the world continues to focus on the suffering of the Haitians, some familiar tropes of journalism and Western liberalism are surfacing in the news coverage. Case in point is the piece in today’s New York Times sports section by sports-business columnist Richard Sandomir, titled “A Manufacturer’s Debt to Haiti,” about the Rawlings Sporting Goods company. According to Sandomir, Rawlings owes Haiti because 20 years ago, they shut down their baseball assembly plant in Port-au-Prince and moved to Costa Rica. From his point of view and that of Josh DeWind, who has written a book about aid to Haiti, Rawlings did well in Haiti when the country was friendly to foreign business because of cheap labor and then bailed on it when the country collapsed in violence and chaos after the fall of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. DeWind says that Rawlings now has a humanitarian obligation to go back. Sandomir thinks Major League Baseball, whose official baseball supplier is Rawlings, should pressure the company to return to the devastated country.

While the impulse behind this idea may be humanitarian — Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the world, and after the earthquake, it can use all the help it can get — it also speaks volumes about the way well-meaning liberals misunderstand the problems of Third World countries. Much like the calls from celebrities like the singer Bono for more foreign aid for poor countries and the cancellation of their accrued debt, demanding that Rawlings move back to Haiti says more about Western guilt than the prospects for economic development. In an era where the global economy is open for participation to any place, it is no longer possible to blame the ills of the Third World on colonialism or predatory international companies. It is the absence of the rule of law (which, in Haiti’s case, not only means the lack of confidence in property rights but also a level of violence that has made it impossible for a business to operate), restrictions on free-market activity, and endemic corruption that create such a wasteland for investment.

It is possible that the earthquake’s impact will be so great that it will actually change the culture of Haiti and open an era in which gangs and political gangsterism will no longer be sovereign. But that would require not only a sea change in Haitian culture but also a massive commitment from donor nations to administer projects in a manner that forces change. Such a transformation cannot be affected by mere good will. The problem is that NGOs have tended to reinforce local elites and corruption throughout the Third World. If a new Haiti is to be created, it will require transformation of both Haitian culture and of Western humanitarian groups that funnel aid there.

In the absence of such changes, if Rawlings were to throw money and personnel into the maelstrom that is post-earthquake Haiti, it would not only be a disaster for the company but also of no help to the people there. Western guilt makes for good newspaper columns, but it will not build a country in which business or freedom can thrive.

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Grudgingly on the Side of Democracy

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of – the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of – the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Read Less




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