What You're Not Hearing about Haiti (But Should Be)
Source Dave Anderson
Date 10/01/14/22:37
What You're Not Hearing about Haiti (But Should Be)
by Carl Lindskoog

IN THE HOURS following Haiti's devastating earthquake, CNN, the New
York Times and other major news sources adopted a common
interpretation for the severe destruction: the 7.0 earthquake was so
devastating because it struck an urban area that was extremely
over-populated and extremely poor. Houses "built on top of each
other" and constructed by the poor people themselves made for a
fragile city. And the country's many years of underdevelopment and
political turmoil made the Haitian government ill-prepared to respond
to such a disaster.

True enough. But that's not the whole story. What's missing is any
explanation of why there are so many Haitians living in and around
Port-au-Prince and why so many of them are forced to survive on so
little. Indeed, even when an explanation is ventured, it is often
outrageously false such as a former U.S. diplomat's testimony on CNN
that Port-au-Prince's overpopulation was due to the fact that
Haitians, like most Third World people, know nothing of birth control.

It may startle news-hungry Americans to learn that these conditions
the American media correctly attributes to magnifying the impact of
this tremendous disaster were largely the product of American policies
and an American-led development model.

From 1957-1971 Haitians lived under the dark shadow of "Papa Doc"
Duvalier, a brutal dictator who enjoyed U.S. backing because he was
seen by Americans as a reliable anti-Communist. After his death,
Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" became President-for-life at
the age of 19 and he ruled Haiti until he was finally overthrown in
1986. It was in the 1970s and 1980s that Baby Doc and the United
States government and business community worked together to put Haiti
and Haiti's capitol city on track to become what it was on January 12,

After the coronation of Baby Doc, American planners inside and outside
the U.S. government initiated their plan to transform Haiti into the
"Taiwan of the Caribbean." This small, poor country situated
conveniently close to the United States was instructed to abandon its
agricultural past and develop a robust, export-oriented manufacturing
sector. This, Duvalier and his allies were told, was the way toward
modernization and economic development.

>From the standpoint of the World Bank and the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID) Haiti was the perfect candidate for
this neoliberal facelift. The entrenched poverty of the Haitian
masses could be used to force them into low-paying jobs sewing
baseballs and assembling other products.

But USAID had plans for the countryside too. Not only were Haiti's
cities to become exporting bases but so was the countryside, with
Haitian agriculture also reshaped along the lines of export-oriented,
market-based production. To accomplish this USAID, along with urban
industrialists and large landholders, worked to create agro-processing
facilities, even while they increased their practice of dumping
surplus agricultural products from the U.S. on the Haitian people.

This "aid" from the Americans, along with the structural changes in
the countryside predictably forced Haitian peasants who could no
longer survive to migrate to the cities, especially Port-au-Prince
where the new manufacturing jobs were supposed to be. However, when
they got there they found there weren't nearly enough manufacturing
jobs go around. The city became more and more crowded. Slum areas
expanded. And to meet the housing needs of the displaced peasants,
quickly and cheaply constructed housing was put up, sometimes placing
houses right "on top of each other."

Before too long, however, American planners and Haitian elites decided
that perhaps their development model didn't work so well in Haiti and
they abandoned it. The consequences of these American-led changes
remain, however.

When on the afternoon and evening of January 12, 2010 Haiti
experienced that horrible earthquake and round after round of
aftershock the destruction was, no doubt, greatly worsened by the very
real over-crowding and poverty of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding
areas. But shocked Americans can do more than shake their heads and,
with pity, make a donation. They can confront their own country's
responsibility for the conditions in Port-au-Prince that magnified the
earthquake's impact, and they can acknowledge America's role in
keeping Haiti from achieving meaningful development. To accept the
incomplete story of Haiti offered by CNN and the New York Times is to
blame Haitians for being the victims of a scheme that was not of their
own making. As John Milton wrote, "they who have put out the people's
eyes, reproach them of their blindness."

Carl Lindskoog is a New York City-based activist and historian
completing a doctoral degree at the City University of New York. You
can contact him at

[View the list]

InternetBoard v1.0
Copyright (c) 1998, Joongpil Cho