Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization.Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization globalization
Process by which the experience of everyday life, marked by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, is becoming standardized around the world. Factors that have contributed to globalization include increasingly sophisticated communications and transportation by Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2000); 96 pp.; $12.00 cloth,
Recent demonstrations in Washington, D.C., against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have achieved one remarkable gain: they have forced us to question the morality of international financial institutions that leave most of the world in growing debt and provide "relief" only on terms beneficial to the lenders. But most news accounts of international debt have a curiously abstract quality: the history and character of the people involved are seldom developed in any detail. A welcome exception is an eloquent new book by former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Eyes of the Heart provides a compelling portrait of Haiti's poor.
When the subject of international debt does not make eyes glaze over glaze over
to become dull through boredom or inattention: the listener's eyes glaze over
Verb 1. , it usually occasions snide moralism mor·al·ism
1. A conventional moral maxim or attitude.
2. The act or practice of moralizing.
3. Often undue concern for morality. or, at best, a kind of benevolent paternalism paternalism (p·terˑ·n . Banking leaders insist that nations that borrowed funds have an "obligation" to repay and that their failure undermines the "integrity" of international financial institutions. Liberal critics ask that the wealthy "forgive" some of these debts as an act of generosity toward those who have made mistakes.
Lost in even the benevolent moralism is the history of these nations and the real lives of the poor. The economic textbooks that give us our models of global capitalism are curiously sanitized san·i·tize
tr.v. san·i·tized, san·i·tiz·ing, san·i·tiz·es
1. To make sanitary, as by cleaning or disinfecting.
2. . Nations that enter the international marketplace hardly do so from positions of equity or equality in resources or information.
Haiti is often described as an economic basket case basket case Train wreck Vox populi A derogatory term for a Pt with a dread disease or a terminal illness; a person to be pitied : 85 percent of its people are illiterate and the average Haitian survives on less than $1 a day. Yet these dire statistics hardly reflect the political ineptitude Ineptitude
See also Awkwardness.
meek hero unable to kick a football, fly a kite, or win a baseball game. [Comics: “Peanuts” in Horn, 543]
incompetent commander of the minesweeper Caine. or the immorality of the Haitian people; they are the legacies of colonial efforts to punish and repress re·press
1. To hold back by an act of volition.
2. To exclude something from the conscious mind. a proud history of resistance.
Haiti was the site of the world's only successful slave revolution--a revolution in 1791 that the United States' newly liberated leaders condemned. French retribution included a total war lasting thirteen years and a "peace treaty" requiring Haiti to reimburse the French for their loss of "property." The results of that treaty remain today. In order to pay its debt to France, tropical rain forests were logged at a rapid rate. Haiti today has only 3 percent of its original cover and 1 percent of its topsoil washes into the ocean each year.
Yet if the term debt hardly captures the reality of Haiti's economic situation, poor is an equally inadequate description of its people. As Aristide argues eloquently, the poor "have survived for hundreds of years.... This may come as a surprise for those who believe the poor are poor because they are stupid.... We are alive because of our tremendous capacity for survival."
The key to that survival, and to longer term ways out of their poverty, lies not in charity as usually understood but in ceding cede
tr.v. ced·ed, ced·ing, cedes
1. To surrender possession of, especially by treaty. See Synonyms at relinquish.
2. to the poor genuine moral and economic equality by allowing Haitians the full use of their own economic and social resources. Aristide portrays Haiti's people as "wealth possessors" with "warmth of character ... dignity, and solidarity."
The country already enjoys a vast informal economy, all the way from a subsistence agriculture Subsistence agriculture (also known as self sufficiency in terms of agriculture) is a method of farming in which farmers plan to grow only enough food to feed the family farming, pay taxes or feudal dues, and perhaps provide a small marketable surplus. to those who clean the homes of Port Au Prince's wealthy. Haitians survive, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Aristide, because "we work together to bring in a crop or build a neighbor's house in exchange for a meal shared at the end of the day."
Illiteracy is a burden, but even this burden is far from undermining their strength and resolve. The country survives on the strength of those who did not go to the university. As Aristide asks, "How intelligent must one be to construct a three-story building without the benefit of formal education? I know people who have."
Aristide's work is no celebration of poverty but, unlike too many of the liberal philanthropic community, he emphasizes the skills and agency of the poor. A superior quality of life for the poor of Haiti depends .not so much on the generosity of the wealthy North as on allowing the poor to keep and build upon their own resources.
These kinds of freedoms are just exactly what the international financial community has never granted Haiti. A CIA-sponsored coup drove Aristide, Haiti's democratically elected head of state, from power in 1991. In an act of "generosity," the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. restored Aristide--after coup leaders had systematically raided government coffers and the economy had shrunk 30 percent. Aristide's restoration--and subsequent U.S. aid--were then made dependent upon requirements that government expenditures for education be reduced and upon the forced, below-market-rate sale of state flour and cement mills to foreign investors.
Such policies are a natural outgrowth of the contempt the international community and domestic elites have for the poor of Haiti. In perhaps the most eloquent section of the book, Aristide describes the fierce opposition evoked by television images of poor children swimming with rich children in a center for street children he founded in 1986:
It is a system of social apartheid Social apartheid refers to de facto segregation on the basis of class or economic status in which an underclass develops which is separated from the rest of the population. that we are questioning. We saw the same phenomena during the civil rights movement in the United States, where attempts to integrate beaches and swimming pools met with some of the worst violence of the period. The same was true in South Africa South Africa, Afrikaans Suid-Afrika, officially Republic of South Africa, republic (2005 est. pop. 44,344,000), 471,442 sq mi (1,221,037 sq km), S Africa. .
The ugly truth that stands out in Aristide's work is that colonialism is hardly a distant memory. Not only is the land marked by its residue but Haitian banks are controlled by an affluent few so that most of the money saved by impoverished peasants goes to urban projects or even out of the country rather than being invested back into such badly needed capital as irrigation irrigation, in agriculture, artificial watering of the land. Although used chiefly in regions with annual rainfall of less than 20 in. (51 cm), it is also used in wetter areas to grow certain crops, e.g., rice. pumps.
Aristide and his colleagues have forged banking and consumer cooperatives to make low-cost loans available. They have organized a community radio station run by and for children and have promoted literacy programs. Debt relief and an end to the intrusive IMF IMF
See: International Monetary Fund
See International Monetary Fund (IMF). "conditionality" requirements for nations such as Haiti are thus hardly an act of charity; they are merely the restoration of resources stolen from a people. Aristide's portrait of this people marks the case with a depth and conviction that should compel our attention.
John Buell regularly writes the Humanist's "Humanistic Economics" column.