If you thought combating the effects of Katrina in New Orleans was difficult...
And, let's face it, a disaster of that magnitude destroys the entire infrastructure, cripples first responders, destroys hospitals and shelter, frustrates the distribution of food and medicine.
But New Orleans had some infrastructure to begin with, Haiti never did.
Haiti is a dystopia, a Hobbesian hell hole where life is nasty, brutish, and short. And that was before this week's magnitude 7 earthquake.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 70% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty.
Its gross domestic product totals only $1,300 per capita compared to $47,500 in U.S. and compared to $8,200 in the next-door Dominican Republic.
The land is denuded and eroded. The people are largely illiterate. They practice Voodoo.
There is no mass transit, no traffic signals; there aren't even any reliable maps.
The State Department warns that no part of Haiti is safe from crime. "Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti."
Medical facilities are scarce and sub-standard.
Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history since its African slave population revolted and won their freedom from France in 1803. For decades the place was run by the Duvalier family through a roving gang of thugs known as the Ton Ton Macoutes.
It has no effective government.
ALL THIS WAS BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE!
The country was busted before it got broken. The earthquake made the rubble bounce. Where to begin?
Not much to work with
Haiti is a failed state, much like Somalia and perhaps Afghanistan. It has little physical capital and, worse, deficient human capital. It has no tradition of self-government, no societal institutions to which it can turn for self-help and the organization and cooperation that are so critical in a disaster.
That is why on today's Week in Review program on the statewide Wisconsin Public Radio network, I called for a new colonialism.
Some entity to come in and build the nation from scratch. Not the colonialism of 18th Century Spain and France, which expropriated whatever wealth it could and left nothing behind. But the more enlightened colonialism -- call it nation-building -- of the later, especially British, who built infrastructure and lasting political institutions in use today in such places as India, which has become a growth state, and Mauritius in greater Africa.
This will happen, in deed if not word, out of necessity because there is no functioning government apparatus to which foreign aid can be channeled. No indigenous distribution network.
If Haiti can be rescued, that rescue will require much more than Type O blood, powdered milk, and bulldozers. It will require a top to bottom structuring (not "re-structuring") of the entire society.
Who has the time, the will, or the resources? I do not know the answer.
Compare Haiti with another tropical island-nation, Mauritius. Mauritius lies east of the continent of Africa, just off the larger island nation of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Mauritians speak a French-derived creole language, similar to Haiti. Its population is smaller (1.2 million) but so is its land mass (about the size of Luxembourg while Haiti is the size of Maryland).
Mauritius was colonized by the Dutch in the 1600s, the French starting in 1715, and the British beginning 1810. However, it achieved its independence much later (in 1968) after a more enlightened period of colonialism.
I present Mauritius for your consideration because it is succeeding with largely the same raw materials where Haiti has failed (although Mauritius is a more heterogenous melange of Africans, Indians, Chinese, and French), including descendants of slaves.
Let the good Americans at the CIA tell it:
Mauritius has developed from a low-income, agriculturally based economy to a middle-income diversified economy with growing industrial, financial, and tourist sectors. For most of the period, annual growth has been in the order of 5% to 6%. This remarkable achievement has been reflected in more equitable income distribution, increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and a much-improved infrastructure. [CIA World Factbook]
Compare Mauritius' gross domestic product of $12,100 per capita to Haiti's $1,300. Only 8 percent of its population lives below the poverty line compared to 70 percent in Haiti.
There are reasons why
This is not happenstance. Mauritius is 84 percent literate; only half of Haiti can read. The African nation has stable institutions. That is the legacy more recent colonialism has granted to Mauritius. Mauritius has a stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. The full partner of political democracy is economic freedom. The two go hand in hand.
So, it should be no surprise that "the country is also one of the strongest economies in the Sub-Saharan Africa region and one of the region's highest levels of per capita income."
That is the assessment of the Heritage Foundation in its annual ranking of 179 nations. Mauritius takes 18th place in its 2009 Index of Freedom -- just ahead of Japan and Belgium and well ahead of France (64). The U.S. itself ranks 6th (Hong Kong and Singapore are first and second). Haiti, by contrast, ranks 147.
The Heritage Foundation ranks Mauritius the most economically free of the 46 sub-Saharan countries. Heritage says:
Despite its overall under-development, the island's institutional advantages are noticeable. A transparent and well-defined investment code and legal system have made the foreign investment climate in Mauritius one of the best in the region. Taxation has become more competitive. ... The judiciary, independent of politics and relatively free of corruption, is able to protect property rights well. ... Mauritius is one of the developing world's most successful democracies.
Bad colonialism; good colonialism
"Of course colonialism comes in different flavors," Roger Kimball, co-Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion, wrote.
The Belgians did not acquit themselves honorably in the Congo. But everywhere that Britain went -- I cannot think of a single exception -- it left better off ... because of the legacy bequeathed by her former colonial rulers -- a legacy that includes Western technology, the rule of law, better health and hygiene, education, and democracy. ... If the British sinned, it was not because of their colonial rule, but because of the failure of nerve that led them to withdraw too precipitously from colonies that were ill-equipped to govern themselves. [Roger Kimball: the New Criterion]
Dinesh D'Souza, a native of India, writes:
It makes no sense to claim that the West grew rich and strong by conquering other countries and taking their stuff. How did the West manage to do that?
The West could not have reached its current stage of wealth and influence by stealing from other cultures, for the simple reason that there wasn't very much to take. "Oh yes there was," the retort often comes. "The Europeans ... took rubber from Malaya, cocoa from West Africa, and tea from India."
... Before British rule, there were no rubber trees in Malaya, no cocoa trees in West Africa, no tea in India. The British brought the rubber tree to Malaya from South America. They brought tea to India from China. And they taught the Africans to grow cocoa, a crop the native people had never heard of.
What, then, is the source of that power? The reason the West became so affluent and dominant in the modern era is that it invented three institutions: science, democracy, and capitalism. [Free Republic: Two Cheers for Colonialism]
That is why Blaska's Blog says Haiti can be saved only if a free capitalist country is interested in taking it over for a decade or two. Whoever will earn a deserved Nobel peace prize (for real).
You can help:
The American Red Cross www.redcross.org Text "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 (billed to your phone)
The United Nations World Food Program
The Salvation Army
Action Against Hunger
Partners in Health