What Does Haiti Actually Need?

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S1: Here’s one thing Jonathan Katz knows a lot of people in Haiti right now, the ones who lived through that earthquake a couple of weeks back. They’re sleeping outdoors.

S2: You know, I was in my house, the Associated Press house and Petchem Holmesville when the earthquake struck in 2010. And if you have been inside a building during a major earthquake and that building has has collapsed or fallen apart around you, you are not eager to go indoors again any time soon. And so, yeah, so the first thing that that that I knew was going to happen and that I heard about happening in this new quake zone was that everybody was sleeping outside. It took me three months to sleep indoors again. And I’m guessing that a lot of people are going through the same thing out

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S1: of fear or or there just wasn’t a place available.

S2: Fear, concern, a recognition of reality, I think. Is this how is how is how? Maybe I would describe it this summer.

S1: Jonathan watched as one tragedy after another unfolded in his old home base.

S2: It is just misery, upon misery, upon misery.

S1: First in July, there was the assassination of Haiti’s president, and then in mid-August. That earthquake struck in a rural zone southwest of the capital. Few days later came flooding due to a tropical storm. Jonathan says many of his old friends and colleagues, they’ve just had enough.

S2: Anybody who can at this point is trying to leave, anybody who can try to find a way to go somewhere else is trying to do so, which really says something because Haitians are just on the whole. I mean, and this includes my friends, they are just some of the most patriotic, just, you know, homeland loving people in the world. It’s just a real mess. The Haitian phrase, the Haitian Creole phrase that people use is that chargee, which means like your head is full and just all of all of all of their heads are just full at this point. They just can’t take anymore.

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S1: Someone look at this summer where Haiti’s president was assassinated. This earthquake struck. And then Haiti also dealt with a tropical storm, Tropical Storm Grace. Some would see all this and say Haiti’s unlucky. Would you say that?

S2: Not really. The common denominator behind all of that is instability, and really what that comes down to is poverty. And that has its roots in policies. It has its roots in decisions that have been made in Port au Prince, but even more importantly, in Washington, in Ottawa, in Paris, in New York, at the United Nations. These are policies that go back decades, in some cases centuries. And it’s really those decisions in the past that we’re seeing play out again and again in what seems like this, you know, never ending cycle of Bad Luck.

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S1: Today on the show, we’re going to trace the origins of Haiti’s compounding disasters and talk about what would really get this country up on its feet. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. Jonathan Katz is about to put all of the United States on blast over its treatment of Haiti. So let me just come in here and say Americans are also really generous. We’ve got big fix it energy. We funneled millions to Port au Prince when it’s ramshackle buildings came down after the 2010 earthquake. But Jonathan, he thinks that big fix it energy can be problematic if you don’t spend enough time considering just what you’re fixing or why. Like maybe you’re feeling compelled to send cash to Haiti right now. If you’re an American who’s sitting here thinking like, OK, well, I guess, should I give money to the Red Cross? Like, would you do that?

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S2: No way that that that I wouldn’t do, because that that doesn’t really help anybody, because the Red Cross doesn’t address the the root causes of the problems in Haiti and in fact, has a history of of adding to the to the root causes. You know, we I mean, specifically as Americans have played a major role in causing Haiti’s poverty, like a direct role in in in making Haiti as poor as it is today. So I would say that, like, if Americans want to get involved in fixing Haitian poverty, that that is possible. But it means, first and foremost, addressing the inequities and and the extraction and just all of the roiling that we have done as Americans in the past. You can’t just come in and say it’s day zero. You know, Haiti is in its natural state of poverty. And I brave American. I’m going to fix it. It really takes a lot more digging and a lot more self than that.

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S1: Is it worth looking at the 2010 quake as an example of like, here’s where you see where the will is there, but the resources aren’t. And when the resources come in, they come in in the wrong way?

S2: Oh, a hundred percent. One of the funniest examples that that I remember from 2010 was that the Fiji Water Company, they donated water that they flew in from Fiji. If you look at a map of the world, you’ll see how far Fiji is from Haiti. Yeah, that

S1: seems like a little extra.

S2: Yeah, very much so. You know, Haiti is also an island. Haiti has water. It just needs you know, and it has some water treatment. It just needs to stand up that that amount of water treatment, it didn’t need to be like, you know, just like spraying water from the South Pacific. But when people remember, if you even now remember the quake 11 years ago, they often remember, you know, that there were these sort of big totemic figures floated about money, often in the sentence or the question, where did the money go? And if you actually look back at that money, first of all, much more was pledged than was ever delivered. And the money that was spent, the vast majority of it never went to Haiti, kind of just went in circles from from one hand to the next in the donor countries. One of the biggest figures was half a billion dollars went to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Defense. And the point of that money was to fund a military response that did do some things. I mean, the U.S. military helped repair the port in Port au Prince. But the vast majority of that money, the vast majority of time and resources were there to prevent social unrest and to essentially keep people from leaving Haiti and coming to the United States. The risk of all of those things happening were extremely overblown. But, you know, the vast majority of U.S. soldiers, Marines, airmen, Coasties that went never left their ships. They never they never set foot on Haitian soil.

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S1: So they were there to do a job that they didn’t really need to be doing.

S2: Exactly. Exactly. So you mentioned the Red Cross.

S1: They also had a half billion dollars.

S2: Exactly. And they spent it internally. I’m not saying necessarily that they they pocketed if it’s just like this is how an organization works, like they have people, they have to pay their salaries, they have to pay their travel. And then, you know, they bought like a bunch of hygiene kits. They bought a bunch of tarps. They distributed those. But, you know, a very a vanishingly tiny fraction of all of the money that was spent or talked about or whatever ended up in the hands of Haitians. I mean, it was it was it was far less than one percent. And, you know, much of that, you know, went to sort of, you know, the Haitian elite, the vast majority of just ordinary Haitians saw nothing. They got a tarp. They got whatever. They got a T-shirt from an NGO. Maybe they got a bag of rice that lost them, you know, a couple of weeks, and that was it. So they end up clearing the rubble themselves, repurposing it and ripping. Building their own homes and the way that they rebuild their homes is as fragile and unsafe as it was before the last disaster struck.

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S1: Yeah, we talk about, you know, don’t give a man a fish, teach him to fish. Sort of things. And it seems like this is what’s happening in Haiti is the opposite of what we sort of tell each other we’re supposed to do when folks are in a bad situation.

S2: Yeah, that particular phrase often comes up. It gets everything backwards. Haitians are, by necessity, the most self-sufficient and creative people that, you know, you will ever meet in your life. This is a country where everything that you do, you have to do for yourself if your house catches fire. And I have been in a fire in Haiti, so I can tell you this firsthand. If your house catches fire, you’re going to put it out yourself. There’s no fire department that’s going to come in and take care of it for you. If the road is in disrepair, which all roads are in Haiti all the time. You’re not going to wait for like, you know, the state construction crew to come fix it. You’re going to go and, you know, use whatever little money you have and buy a, you know, like a bag of cement or a bag of any kind of road filler material. And then you’ll sit out in the road and you will fix the pothole yourself and just sort of flag down passing cars and ask them to like, you know, chip in to help you pay for the bag of cement. These kinds of things happen all the time. If any country in the world is full of people who could teach us how to fish. It’s Haiti. The problem isn’t a lack of know how. The problem isn’t a lack of desire or will. It is really a lack of of material resources. But understanding why those resources are lacking in Haiti is necessary in order to figure out how to fix that problem.

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S1: After the break, we will get into the history that explains why Haiti lacks resources in the first place. Spoiler alert, the U.S. has played a big role. More with Jonathan Katz. In a minute. Part of what I really appreciate about your reporting is that you put something like this earthquake or the 2010 earthquake in a wider context of how Haiti’s. Always been at this end of the stick where European countries are coming in and draining it of resources in all kinds of ways and setting the country up for failure. I wonder if you if there’s one example in particular you would give of how that worked, because I feel like there are many. But would you give one example to kind of contextualize the historical roots of what’s happening now? Yeah.

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S2: So Haiti is real claim to fame in the world is that it is the only country ever born out of a successful revolution by enslaved people. It was a French colony called Sandoe Manc. And the enslaved people who were brought there from Africa between 1791 and 1884 rose up, overthrew slavery, defeated the most powerful army in the world, Napoleon’s army, and made themselves free in in 1884. And for that, they were rewarded with exclusion and exploitation by powers, many of whom, especially the United States, were still practicing slavery and did not want this example of a slave freed people reaching their own enslaved population.

S1: They feared it. Yes.

S2: And that is a major theme of American history leading up all the way to our civil war. There’s talk about sort of another Haiti happening all throughout the 19th century

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S1: when Haitians also compelled to pay back the people who had enslaved them.

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S2: Exactly. So France’s biggest response was in 1825, King Charles, the 10th, sent over some gunboats and said, I got a great offer for you guys. It’s an offer you can’t refuse either. You pay us back for your freedom, for the land that you and your your fathers and mothers were enslaved on. If you do that, we will give you diplomatic recognition, which is absolutely important. And if you don’t, we’re going to reinvade and bombard you. And Haiti agreed to the deal, paid back every cent of the what ended up being 90 million gold francs, which is worth around probably, you know, 20 billion dollars today. And they paid all of it back. The principal was paid back by the eighteen eighties, and the last bit of interest was paid back in 1947.

S1: What was the cost of paying all that back?

S2: All of the resources that all of the customs revenues that there could have been kept in Haiti and used to build the country to build infrastructure, ended up going to French planters. But more than that, in order to fill the whole of the Haitian budgets that was left by by the fact that Haiti was prioritizing paying these these their former, you know, slave masters, they had to take out major loans. And some of those loans were taken out from U.S. banks. The most important U.S. bank that was involved in that was the National City Bank of New York, now just known as Citibank or Citigroup. And in 1914, in order to ensure that Citibank and other Wall Street banks got their debt payments paid, the U.S. Marines came ashore, went into the Haitian central bank and took out they basically just stole half of Haiti’s gold reserves, put them on a U.S. warship and took them to Wall Street and put them in a vault there that set Haitian politics into a complete tailspin. And in the summer of 1915, the last Haitian president who was ever assassinated until Joven Olmos was assassinated just a couple of weeks ago. He was assassinated in that context, which then was the pretext for a U.S. invasion. And it led to an occupation that lasted until 1934, which is the longest time that the United States has ever militarily occupied a foreign country until that record was broken by the United States and Afghanistan in the past year.

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S1: A lot of Americans don’t know this history. And I wonder if you think about the cost of that, because I know you’ve written pretty squarely that, yes, Haiti has been subject to natural disasters, but maybe the biggest disaster that Haiti has suffered has been imperialism. But when you work with editors and try to just plainly say that. How do they react to that?

S2: It depends. It depends on the publication. Often not. Well, yes. And it is because. Americans on the whole, even educated Americans don’t know that these things have ever happened. These are just these are just blank spots in American history books and and more importantly, in the stories that we tell ourselves. So so it sounds crazy. Marines coming ashore and just robbing the central bank. That sounds crazy like that.

S1: Some piracy stuff right there.

S2: Exactly. It sounds like you must be just making it up or that you have an agenda. And I mean, I do have an agenda, which is to tell the truth.

S1: You’ve drawn this parallel between how the United States has behaved in Haiti and more recently in Afghanistan. And I’m wondering if we can tease that out a little bit more here, because, of course, at the same time that Haiti was suffering so many tragedies this summer, the United States was pulling out of Afghanistan with dramatically terrible outcomes for Afghan citizens who are concerned about their safety. So how would you compare and contrast these relationships to the United States and Haiti and the United States and Afghanistan?

S2: You know, if you look at the two in Haiti and in Afghanistan, the United States, you know, started with with an invasion to thwart what it considered to be a, you know, a hostile militarized movement in Afghanistan. It was the Taliban in Haiti. It was a basically guerrilla fighters known as Karkos. We stood up puppet governments in Afghanistan with Hamid Karzai in in Haiti, fily doctrine of who was just sort of this milquetoast senator who had no real constituency. Darton of government had to depend on the Marines for protection. The Marines came up with the idea of instead of having just the Marines there, that we would stand up a Haitian client military that would basically, you know, police and fight the insurgents in our stead in Haiti. That was called the gendarmerie diety. And the same thing has been tried in many other places since that that the United States has invaded, occupied, et cetera, in Afghanistan. Of course, that’s, you know, the ANA, the Afghan national security forces

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S1: to Afghanistan and Haiti also share this kind of NGO system where non-governmental organizations come in and try to do some of the work that you would traditionally think a government would do. And how did that impact both places?

S2: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Afghanistan is a great example of a country where the United States blows it up. And then in order to rebuild, it assigns itself. And, you know, it’s defense contractors and and humanitarian groups, humanitarian non-governmental organizations or NGOs contracts to rebuild what it just blew up. And Haiti is a very similar case. The United States in Haiti implemented an explicit policy of bypassing Haitian governments and standing up what are now known as NGOs in its place. And when this policy was was first concocted in the 1970s and 1980s, there were good reasons for doing so in Haiti, namely that Haiti was ruled by a dictator, Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier. But of course, he was a dictator who had remained in power with often direct U.S. support. So, you know, this didn’t happen in a vacuum. Well, in

S1: terms of the NGOs, I guess they have a chicken and an egg question for you. I think some people in the United States would say the whole reason we need to stand up these outside organizations inside a country like Haiti or a country like Afghanistan is because. The government’s inside those countries. Are not necessarily trustworthy that, you know, there’s corruption and graft, and if we are instead filtering our money through third parties, maybe more of it will get to the people who need it. What would you say to that?

S2: I would say that that is a sensible reaction in theory, but it doesn’t really jibe with the evidence on the ground. Why not? If it was the case that there was sort of this endemic corruption and the United States is trying to and, you know, foreign NGOs are just trying to work their way around it, then you would expect that at the very least, once the United States got involved, corruption would get better. Right.

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S1: So you’re saying the corruption came with U.S. involvement was a byproduct of it?

S2: Absolutely. You know, corruption is often talked about as an excuse for why you can’t give money to Haitians. But then we then end up making Haiti a more corrupt place than it was before. And our best friends in Haiti, in terms of the US government and the US power players, are this very tiny Haitian elite who have their hands in all kinds of violence and, you know, probably drug trafficking and just really, really nasty stuff. So we’re kind of talking out of both sides of our mouths when we say like, oh, well, Haiti’s too corrupt. That’s their that’s what their problem is.

S1: To me, it’s been interesting over the last couple of weeks to see how that corruption has trickled down to like very local politicians who are now responding to the disaster on the ground. And when I see the corruption trickle down, I just mean the atmosphere where people feel like it’s corrupt. And so they don’t trust their institutions. Like The Washington Post had this article and it ended with this kind of devastating scene of a mayor who was saying, you know, no one trusts us to rebuild for them because they’ve kind of the been to this movie before. People think I’m holding back help from them and I’m afraid for myself. And he said, you know, take me in your helicopter. I’m ready to go to Miami. Like get me out of here.

S2: Yeah. I mean, one thing I would say is that and I don’t know specifically the person that you’re referring to, but I very much doubt that they were elected because there were no local elections held basically for the last 10 years. Anybody who’s in a position of power, even in a local city, was probably appointed to the job by Giovanni Muis, who again was assassinated just a couple weeks ago. But yes, look, there is great, great mistrust. But again, I think it’s important to understand the extent to which that is a feature and not a bug of the system. If you are just, you know, a Haitian farmer in in in, you know, Grandon, so the Department of the South, that the areas that were hit by this latest earthquake and you’re just you know, you’re just trying to to provide for your family. Yeah, I wouldn’t trust anybody because because people have been taking things from you your entire life and they’ve been giving you very little they’ve been making big promises that that that they don’t keep.

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S1: If the U.S. was doing this the right way, and I guess I should say it’s partner countries as well. What would that look like?

S2: Honestly, the biggest thing is just to put money in Haitian’s hands. And I don’t mean the Haitian government. I don’t mean, you know, the Haitian elite put money in people’s hands so that they can rebuild their own lives in the best way that they see fit. Haitians can do it. They just need the money and the resources and the time to to do it.

S1: Jonathan. Katz, I’m really grateful for your time. Thank you. Thank you. Jonathan Katz is the author of the forthcoming book Gangsters of Capitalism. It’s available for preorder right now. His newsletter is called The Long Version. You can find it at Katz. Dot sub Stak dot com. And that’s our show. What next is produced by Elana Schwartz, Davis, LAN, Daniel Hewett, Kamal Delshad and Mary Wilson. We are led by Alison Benedicts and Alicia Montgomery. And I am Mary Harris. Go find me on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s desk. Meantime, I’ll get you right back here tomorrow.