Friday, September 7, 2012

US Foreign Policy and Freedom: Let's Talk Haiti

Naïve Americans are quick to applaud our military interventions in the false belief that we are doing good things, spreading Jeffersonian democracy and actually helping people who are suffering. But the truth is far different, very ugly and so horrifyingly repugnant that it should constitute an assault on our moral instincts.

Haiti and its suffering is a profound example of a nation destroyed and ruthlessly plundered for 200 years by Spanish, French and US corporate imperialists. First the island (discovered by Columbus and named Hispaniola) was invaded and exploited by Spain who enslaved the native population and introduced slavery. After the Spanish were lured to Mexico in search of gold and better exploitation opportunities, Spain lost interest in Hispaniola and the French arrived and started importing over 500,000 West African slaves. Huge sugar and coffee slave plantations were established. If Americans think US slavery was a horror, and it was, the slavery in Central and South Americas was far worse because slaves were literally worked to death and starved because it was far cheaper to keep importing fresh new slaves from Africa than to feed them and keep them healthy.  Life is cheap and expendable.  The native Indian Haitians were pretty much wiped out. Nevertheless, the French continually plundered Haiti, cut down its forests for timber and French imperialist slavers amassed great fortunes.

Then one of the most remarkable and successful slave revolts in all of human history commenced in Haiti in 1791 under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, a situation that ultimately achieved independence for Haiti in 1804. But the French also demanded outrageously exorbitant reparations for monetary losses resulting from their slave plantations, a situation that would be the equivalent of the US reimbursing former US slave owners for their monetary losses after the Civil War. Haiti continued to pay France reparations until 1947 and most of its budget went to paying off slave debt to France for the French crime of human slavery. Haiti was mired in financial problems and freedom never really flourished under the weight of such massive financial depredations. Adding significantly to Haiti’s problems was the fact that a series of corrupt governments continued to administer Haiti along the lines of the model of colonialism. Moreover, Haiti was constantly forced to borrow to service its debt to France.

The national bank in Haiti that was initially established by the French ended up being owned by National City Bank (NY) who also had deep connections with the U.S. State Department and the Woodrow Wilson administration. The Banksters always enjoyed wielding their vast power and so the National City Bank convinced Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, to invade, occupy and effectively control all of Haiti as a wholly owned subsidiary. In 1915, the US invaded Haiti to commence its corporatist and Bankster plunder; US corporations seized the best lands for plantations that were worked by impoverished serfs; we booted the Haitians to the hills and typical colonial resource exploitation continued unabated. After a brutal and ruthless US occupation from 1915-1934, the US installed a series of US approved dictators to guarantee into perpetuity our ability to plunder and exploit the Haitian people. It’s how Haiti got the horrors known as Papa Doc and Baby Doc and an economic death sentence.

Studies have proven that the only real cure for poverty is secure property rights. Norman Van Cott, an economics professor at Ball State University, wrote a piece on the sad state of Haitian property rights.

Trashing private property rights sowed and reaped Haiti devastation 
My point is that Haitian land stripped of trees and Haitian land covered with earthquake debris have a common cause — a dysfunctional system of property rights. The dysfunction promotes an economic myopia where any future benefits — from preserving trees to constructing longer-lived buildings — become less important in economic calculations when recipients are uncertain of receiving those benefits…… The economist, Hernando de Soto, in his celebrated book “The Mystery of Capital,” included specifics about the pathetic state of private-property rights in Haiti. He estimated that 68 percent of Haitian city dwellers and 97 percent of their rural counterparts live in housing for which no one has clear legal title — no one. Lack of property title in Haiti is not surprising, says De Soto. For Haitians to settle legally on government land, they must first lease it for five years. Finalizing a lease requires 65 bureaucratic steps, taking two years on the average.

Then things get worse: Subsequent purchase requires another 111 bureaucratic steps, taking 12 more years. That adds up to a total of 19 years of red tape and paperwork in a country where, to compound the problem, illiteracy is pervasive.
The earthquake that hit Haiti killed at least 200,000, yet many nations have suffered similar and even higher Richter scale earthquakes but experienced extremely low death tolls. Because of the lack of secure property rights, Haitians lived in deathtrap shacks that were cheaply constructed. The US never cared one iota that the Haitian people effectively had no property rights and hence no incentives to build stronger homes. It’s a story that is reverberated over and over wherever America intervenes. The US has a sophisticated system of secure property rights but we were too busy exploiting places like Haiti for the financial benefit of Banksters and multinational corporations to even consider implementing a system of secure property ownership and self governance for the Haitians.

The importance of secure property rights cannot be overemphasized and the Global Property Guide ( ) compiles indexes of the security of property rights of nations.

Haiti’s Property Rights Index was 10 (as was Cuba) but other Caribbean nations fared much better – Barbados 80, Bahamas 70, Dominica 65, Trinidad 50, Jamaica 45, Belize 40, Dominican Republic (who share the Island of Hispaniola with Haiti) with 30.

The website also compiles an index of economic freedom with rankings ranging from Free (80-100), Mostly Free (70-70.0), Moderately Free (60-69.9), Mostly Unfree (50-59.9) and Repressed (0-49.0). It’s no surprise that on the economic freedom scale Haiti was rated “Mostly Unfree” at 50.82 while nations with more secure property rights in the region fared much better with the Barbados, Bahamas, Trinidad, Jamaica, Belize and the Dominican Republic all being Moderately Free in the economic liberty category.

Interestingly, in the US the Property Rights Index is 85, Canada is 90 and Mexico is 50; Economic Freedom Indexes are 77.97, 80.43 and 68.28 respectively. The US has been declining in economic freedom as well as secure property rights and is no longer leads the world in these categories that most affect prosperity.

The deeds of our government directly reflect on the American people and our national and personal conscious because we effectively endorse the activities of our government and military with our votes. By willfully failing to acknowledge the truth about what America does, why we do what we do and who benefits, Americans continue to perpetuate the legacy of denial.

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