Printer Friendly

So callous as a nation.

Haitians are so far down on their luck that if a world prize existed for the most hapless people they would be edged out on a technically perhaps only by the Chadians or Bangladeshis. During June in haiti a tree called le flamboyant blossoms crimson-orange, covering the mountain slopes down to the seashores, scattered among the African-style thatched huts of the barefooted, miserable people. For most of the population Haiti is a prison farm guarded against sea escape by the U.S. Navy and guarded from within by constant military-police surveillance.

In June my son and daughter-in-law, both talented photographers, a French-speaking friend de confianza, and I traveled about 600 miles up and down Haiti, and almost to the Dominican mountain border. Our van was stopped and passengers thoroughly checked by soldiers, police, or blue-shirted Macoutes fives times during a 180-mile trip to Cap-Haitien. I promptly cleared a hotel dining room of all present including waiters by foolishly asking a Haitian friend breakfasting at an adjoinign table if anybody knew the whereabouts of Sylvio Claude.

Haitian per capita income is less than a dollar per day. An assembly job with an American company pays about $16 for a 48-hour week. For the general public there are almost no medical services or schools. Illiteracy is about 80 percent. While watching people in the street markets and streaming on foot along the roadways, we first sensed something strangely absent until we finally realized the older people were missing--there are no older people. Life expectancy is 45 years. Nature or the voodoo hougan-mambo cure sick Haitians, or they simply die. The chidren die too. Infant mortality is 130 per 1,000 during the first year. The U.S. rate is 14/1,000, and nearly Cuba is 25/1,000. Signs of disfiguring disease, malnutrition, and handicaps especially on the children are everywhere. Fruits and vegetables appear on display in the open markets, but few protein items--no meat, poultry, fish, or oven beans. Stinking dried animal entrails were sometimes spread out for sale. We wondered where the carcasses went.

Schools, colleges, medical services, autos, and trips abroad are enjoyed by the monied class, an extremely small portion of the nation, cetainly less than 1 percent. Its modern homes and mansions are on view in Petionville, located on high, cooler ground above the steam-bath climate of the capital.

The gross thievery and mismanagement of the Jean Claude Duvalier regime--his family and intimates--may be the world's worst. From the precious meager national product the ruling coterie systematically skims and steals a considerable part (if not all) of the profits, and, even worse, exports its loot for investment and safekeeping abroad. One Haitian intellectual told us, "The country's economy would benefit more than it has from all foreign grants if the gang would just invest its cache at home, but it never will; they are too afraid." Duvalier's foreign deposits are estimated at $400 million.

The crass palace of "President for Life" Duvalier occupies to the public's view six square immaculate, patrolled blocks in otherwise teeming Port-au-Prince. The rear of the palace is not visible where it merges into the National Army Headquarters compound.

Besides its corruption the Duvalier dictatorship is guilty of obvious and basic mismanagement. Garbage and open sewage are everywhere. Modern streets, lighting, public schools, and clinics are most nonexistent. There are about 400 miles of paved roads, the rest being four-wheel-drive- or foot-country. The mountain slopes, deforested for charcoal, are now eroded and mostly unplanted. Haiti has about 980 miles of seashore, but no commercial fishing industry. Mail delivery can take months. NMo sizable business operates in Haiti without participation by the ruling group.

Haiti is not a happy place for foreign companies. We were told that the Duvalier group requires upfront cash before a foreign enterprise can even start to do business. Circumstantially, it would appear that Duvalier does not really care about new foreign industry which might in some ways tend to spoil his private preserve. Half of the national product and 80 percent of the workforce is based in agriculture, yet the country does not grow enough food to support itself and is a net importer of foodstuffs. Large unfarmed stretches in the Artibonite river valley were said to belong to the Duvalier group which has for unknown reasons failed to cultivate the area for several years.

While official corruption seriously impedes business, the Haitian labor market should be a manufacturer's paradise. The country is border-to-border people (about 6 million) with a high annual growth rate of 2.5 percent in an area the size of Maryland. Everywhere we went on the island, in the mountains and countryside and on the seashores, and of course in the towns, people were always within our sight, often in every direction, walking and carrying. The Dominican Republic has closed the overland exodus route except to temporary contract laborers, and since 1981 the U.S. naval blockade has closed the sea escape route. An estimated 80,000 Haitians entered the United States illegally in 1980, enough to hold the population at close to a zero growth level. Since the blockade the pressure-cooker effect has been on, with far too many people without means of minimal support. Haiti has no social services, minimum wage, social security, assistance for on-the-job injured, or pensions of any kind. Neither workers nor anybody else can organize for any purpose, and there are no labor unions or worker bargaining units. Life for the average Haitian is a basic day-to-day struggle for food and survival. The Haitian labor pool is helpless, captive, and not much different (just larger) than it was 200 years ago under French masters.

Human rights as defined by the Helsinki Accord of 1975 and the Internal Bill of Human Rights passed by the United Nations are nonexistent in Haiti except for freedom of religion. There are no political and civil rights under dictor-for-life Duvalier. No private criticism, political meeteing, media announcement, or public protest is permitted under the threat of arrest, beatings, torture, and death. The country is a military-police state with a close watch on all. That political prisoners have been reduced to about a score is no sign of improvement, but evidence that the domestic opposition has been terrorized into silence.

The Haitian office of the U.S. State Department describes the relationship between the two governments as "friendly." The State Department human rights office acknowledges the violations of human rights in Haiti but has no plan for any change of relationship between the governments. Both offices express pride that Duvalier has permitted municipal elections in Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien. Haitians at home and in the United States say the municipal elections are meaningless public relations moves, as no candidate is able to organize or to express an unfavorable comment about the government. The elections were about as free as the one which appointed young Duvalier "President for Life."

Parade magazine recently named Duvalier as the fourth worst of the world's leaders, stating that "this Hottentot presides over a system of enforced starvation and cultural despair that afflicts 90 percent of his people," libeling in the process a poor but perfectly decent people.

For the United States Haiti is not just another desperately poor, small country. With Cuba on the west side, haiti controls the east side of the 70-mile-wide Windward Passage through which most ships sail to and from Altantic coast ports and the Panama Canal. With its strategic location principally in mind, the U.S. Marines occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934 (without any noticeable progressive influence on the nation, incidentally).

U.S. policy for Haiti is strictly "business as usual": aid and demands both are low. The United States can, however, exercise extraordinary power in the relationship, as evidenced by the 1981 agreement with Duvalier permitting U.S. officials to commit the humiliating act of stopping and boarding Haitian flagged ships and craft on the high seas to search for escapees and drugs. The only recent difference in policy is President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) announed in February 1982, covering 28 countries, including Haiti. The CBI program awarded Haiti $10 million in aid, which has now been paid. The State Department Haitian office could not tell me what the CBI money was spent on. Another part of the program (if passed by Congress) will grant favorable import-export and tax breaks by U.S. companies opening assembly plants in Haiti. The Haitian labor market is so pitifully defenseless that roving U.S. assembly plants will give some temporary employment until moved on to other nations, but the operation of the plants will be extractive and not a progressive or permanent influence.

Part of present U.S. policy is to restrain the efforts of refugee Haitians in the United States from attempting to organize opposition to the Duvalier regime. An expatriate's radio station beamed from the United States to Haiti was closed long ago. Efforts to infiltrate back to Haiti are closed by the naval blockade. U.S. policy intransigently supports Duvalier, and the comforting security of White House backing allows Duvalier to operate his whole-nation slave plantation system without restraint or hope for improvement in any area for the Haitians.

It is outrageous that the United States even maintains diplomatic relations with a "President for Life" and his band of thugs.

U.S. policy makes no call upon the Haitian government for a free national election, as was true in the case of El Salvador.

Nor has any U.S. administration imposed any sanctions for the constant, ongoing violation of human rights, as the Reagan administration has against Poland, Cuba and Nicaragua. U.S. administrations continue to supply the Haitian government with aid to buy military and naval equipment.

The Haitian nation understandably and with good cause may soon revolt. There is patriotic, capable revolutionary leadership among the 800,000 Haitian expatriates, most of whom live in the United States. On the present course the revolution will resemble those of Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran, Ethiopa, and the approaching revolts in Guatemala and Chile. I have found no Haitian within or without the country who believes that Haiti can be put on a track toward respect for human rights and an improving economy by working through Duvalier. All are of the opinion that no constructive change can occur until Duvalier and his associates are removed from government. Some expressed hope that when the revolution occurs some of the ruling family be arrested and held until their illicit spoils are returned to Haiti.

U.S. pronouncements on human rights and a new State Department program styled "Project Democracy" are, so far, mere public relations talk-points. The government's noble words concerning human rights are selectively and hypocritically applied among the violating nations of the world, and are backed by no plan for action.

The Duvalier government does not threaten the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy, readily accedes to all U.S. requests, costs little, and consequently relations are "friendly," and Duvalier is left free to commit any kind of atrocity on the island. The model of U.S. relations with the ruler of Haiti and disgraceful lack of concern for Haitians is the same as for another score of countries around the globe. The official U.S. attitude described above will substantially contribute to the occurrence before long of violent and untoward revolutions in the affected nations, including Haiti. A Haitian teacher asked us, "How can Americans be so decent as individuals and so callous as a nation?"
COPYRIGHT 1984 Monthly Review Foundation, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Haiti
Author:McAlmon, George
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Jan 1, 1984
Words:1924
Previous Article:On Grenada.
Next Article:To my unknown sister in Beirut.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters