Commentary Magazine


Topic: Port-au-Prince

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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Man-Made Disaster

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

Read Less




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