It has long been an article of faith that Haitians lack serious business acumen because the country missed the industrial revolution. At that time, Haiti was under embargo from the United States and European countries. Haiti was viewed suspiciously for its independence zeal – having defeating the French in 1804- and the ruling countries of the day felt we needed to be curbed and denied the emerging republic much needed trading partners.
But more than 100 years since the invention of the cotton gin, Haiti seems once again teetering on the margins of the latest waves of globalization and the Internet revolution.
This is quite evident because we’ve heard no coherent views on globalization and Haiti’s role in it from the current crop of 19 presidential aspirants. I’ve listened to a handful of them talk in New York during campaign stops and I’m familiar with others to know that the idea of Haiti strictly or the Haitians, is not only outdated, but foolhardy.
Many Haitian leaders, including those currently in power, really feel that the international community is going to give them money or resources to get their country in order. That is why we keep getting pledges at large international conferences from world leaders who don’t have the intention or the ability to convince their parliament to honor those pledges.
We need leaders and people in Haiti who understand that nobody gives something for nothing. It wasn’t that way in the 17th Century and it certainly isn’t that way in this new one. Too often Haitians will repeat the word “the country is not for sale.” Though that may sound patriotic and plays on our independence streak, it doesn’t work.
We often like to point the fingers at the Dominican Republic’s progress as if they are not real because somehow, Dominicans don’t own most of the resorts or banks operating there. Do you ever wonder how many Americans own Chase or Hilton. This is why in the United States the mortgage crisis cannot be solved because it’s difficult to know who own our mortgages. It could be an Arab Sheik or a Chinese industrialist. Right now, we’re trying to figure it out. So the lesson here is that with technology capital and asset can be shifted around the globe with the click of a finger.
While my primary aim here is not a defense of globalization, we need to accept it as the system under which we live and function under. So for us Haitians to think we can develop our country alone or think that somehow we can get around it, is at best silly and at worst, demagoguery.
The leaders of today’s Haiti – both elected and non elected – should convene a national agenda and decided whether or not they truly want to live in a modern state. It seems that too often the status quo, grinding poverty, suits them fine. While in the past they could live and let die without a problem. It doesn’t work anymore and it is unacceptable. The impact goes well beyond their villas and SUVs.
For example, several months ago, a consortium of energy experts put together a serious proposal to develop the Island of La Gonave. While there were some problems with the proposals, it was a sound one that was worth the time of the government to see what can be done to create jobs so that the average Haitian can live in dignity. President Rene Preval said nothing about the status of the project in March when he was asked about why the government had done nothing about it. He said vaguely that it needed to be explored further. That sounds rational enough. But the reality is that the government has no intention of looking into the project.
That is because there isn’t an obvious cut for them and anything that is a partnership is viewed suspiciously. That needs to be changed. It is not by coincidence that the only meaningful “investment” made in the country has been in the telecommunications industry. In that field, investment is done rapidly and taken out as fast.
So speculators abound there and there is no real commitment to the development of a society. I work in New York and have watched it evolution from no-man’s land to a desirable place to work and live. The first thing the Dinkins Administration did was beefed up the police – which was wisely continued under his successors – and created all kind of programs to attract people to live and open businesses in decrepit neighborhoods. The government began giving away houses at $1. Of course, a lot of people made tons of money during that time. But the end result today is that while many large cities across the United States are undergoing serious financial difficulties, New York remains remarkably robust.
It is not that the elected officials didn’t think they could get more money for the land. But you have to give incentives to the private sector to come in and make money so that deserted areas become tax magnets for the government, it’s primary source of revenue. New York officials realized that. In downtown Brooklyn developers were given carte blanche to invest. That area is poised to be a prime destination for the business class traveling to New York City.
I realized some may think that Haiti shouldn’t be compared to New York City. But as someone who is intimately involved and loves both places, I differ. There are lots of similarities and we should take some lessons from the New York model and apply it to Haiti.
Lately the presidential candidates have been promoting developing agriculture in Haiti. But if you asked anyone of them if they’ve ever heard of ADM, you’d get a blank stare. ADM is one of the largest agribusiness conglomerates in the world. I Know that Haiti doesn’t have the financial resources to invest in that sector in a modern world. No matter what industry we want to develop in the country, we need large institutional investors who can come in and do it the right way. Our choices are either we let them in and make sure they invest back into the country or they sell us their goods for prices we can’t afford or they dump the expired ones on us and get a nice tax write off for donating to a poor country. The choice is ours.