Economic Decline and Culture Degradation - Haiti

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Economic Decline and Culture Degradation - Haiti

Overview

Haiti’s economic and cultural degradation largely stem from government instability and corruption. This corruption results from totalitarian regimes in Haiti as well as foreign exploitation, particularly by the United States between 1915-1986. Over the past thirty years, Haiti has seen eighteen different government leaders with eighteen different governments. Without national solidarity or consistent leadership, the country has remained vulnerable to foreign exploitation.

While countries such as France depleted Haiti's national supply of sugar and coffee, the United State's influence of foreign investment decimated the Haitian economy. Corruption has led to lack of government funding for services such as natural disaster relief and education, leading to further unemployment and cultural degradation. These issues have since been exacerbated by two devastating hurricanes in 2010 and 2016.

The Haitian revolution and the beginnings of governmental insecurity

The dissolution of national security dates back to the Haitian revolution of 1804, during which Haiti achieved independence from France, who had been exploiting the country for slavery. After the revolution, Haiti saw a succession of dictators that led to poverty, starvation, and lack of education until 1908, when the country collapsed due to civil unrest caused by militias and regional warlords known colloquially as cacos.

Between 1908-1915, seven men seized the Haitian presidency until the 1915 US invasion that was primarily a result of two factors: 1) The US’s strong influence in the Caribbean and particularly the US’s involvement with the 1914 construction of the Panama Canal; and 2) President Woodrow Wilson’s fear that Germany would seize Haiti in order to build a military base, a fear that was largely based on the influence of German settlers on the Haitian cacos.

The United States Involvement

Between 1915-1935, the US established complete control over Haitian police, military, agriculture, economy, health, customs, and public works. In addition to taking control of the internal infrastructure of Haiti, the US also opened the country to foreign investments, allowing better-off countries to exploit Haitian people and resources for dirt-cheap.

The US involvement also contributed to Haiti’s dependence on foreign countries by implementing a “cash economy,” appropriating land to private US sectors, manipulation of elections, and taking over both Haiti’s sugar industry and banks. The US also implemented a new Haitian Constitution, which allowed whites to own land for the first time since the 1804 revolution.

US occupation of Haiti was not only unpopular in every economic class in Haiti, but was also majorly unsupported by American citizens. Haitian Sténio Vincent was elected in 1930, which sparked the removal of American forces in Haiti.

The long succession of Haitian dictators

Vincent remained in power until 1941 and Elie Lescot took over until 1946. Since then, Haiti has witnessed a steady succession of dictators. In 1957, dictator François Duvalier (“Papa Doc”) gained power, leading to thirty years of terror for Haitians. Duvalier and his son, known as “Baby Doc,” stole millions of dollars from Haitian citizens and also racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in national debt, which has led to the loss of thousands Haitian lives.

In power and backed by the US until 1986, the Duvalier dictatorship exacerbated educational and economic instability in the country. One example of the Duvalier corruption occurred in the mid-1960’s when Papa Doc sold Haitians as slaves for dirt-cheap to the neighboring Dominican Republic. Backed by the US, the Duvalier dictators decreased national sovereignty and are responsible for the nation’s dependence on foreign nations for food security.

Instability of infrastructure and national resources

Today, Haiti remains the third-largest consumer of US-grown rice, exemplifying the role of the US in Haiti’s cultural and economic degradation. It is estimated that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt with 40% of the debt caused by the Duvaliers. While the United States and Haiti’s string of dictators have served as primary factors in Haiti’s instability, France also played a role by requiring approximately $20 billion from Haiti in reparations after the country’s 1804 revolution. France also contributed to the decimation of the sugar and coffee industries in Haiti.

Governmental instability and the strong presence of private industry has led the country to lack such amenities as national healthcare, social security, pensions, a national treasury, taxation, natural disaster relief, and consistent employment. In addition to the loss of food security due to US-importations of sugar and rice, the US market for charcoal has led to deforestation in Haiti with only 3% of Haitian land currently covered by forest.

The average Haitian lives at or below poverty line, aiming to earn a gourde here or a gourde there. Today, one Haitian Gourde equates to USD .016. The World Bank 2012 records indicate that Haiti remains the poorest country in the Americas with 59% of Haitians lived below national poverty line of US $2.41 per day; 24% live under extreme poverty line of US $1.23 per day. The World Bank also recorded Haiti’s 2012 Gini coefficient as .59, making it one of the most unequal countries in the world for wealth distribution. Haiti's economic growth remains at 1%.

National disasters

Economic and cultural degradation were exacerbated by the 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake as well as Hurricane Matthew, which devastated the country on October 4, 2016. The 2010 earthquake killed dozens and left tens of thousands of Haitians homeless for the following seven years. This hurricane also coincided with a cholera outbreak across the country. Hurricane Matthew decimated the nation’s economy and infrastructure, destroying 500 schools and one-third of the country’s hospitals. Due to the lack of taxation and government services, Haitians have struggled with stabilizing the country and has become largely dependent on foreign relief services.

However, even humanitarian efforts have turned to exploitation in recent years. The French non-profit organization called Oxfam is currently under fire after information was released that Oxfam lead officials participated in sexual exploitation during relief efforts after the 2016 hurricane. Because both hurricanes devastated agriculture, Haiti is now more dependent than ever on foreign nations for food security with approximately 83% of the nation living off of internationally-imported rice.

Conclusion

Economic decline and cultural degradation in Haiti have resulted primarily from internal governmental corruption as well as exploitation by foreign countries, particularly the United States. The economic and cultural instability began with the chaotic result of the 1804 Haitian revolution. Since then, the Haitian government has seen a slew of corrupt and unstable government leaders. National insecurity left Haiti vulnerable to external exploitation and eventually led to lack of economic and agricultural sovereignty.

While the United States played a major role in foreign exploitation, countries such as France, Dominican Republic and Germany also participated. The Duvalier dictatorship of 1957-1986 caused tremendous economic and cultural instability. These cultural and economic issues have only been exacerbated by the 2010 and 2016 hurricanes.
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