CARICOM is two-faced on Haiti; Baldeosingh slams Beckles’ flawed logic in “s**hole” response

“Haiti is the only member of CARICOM whose citizens require a visa to travel to any other CARICOM nation. In other words, although CARICOM leaders pay lip service to Haiti, they also know that Haitians might leave their failed state—which is the diplomatic way of calling a country a ‘shithole’—and settle in CARICOM member states to the outrage of those Caribbean countries’ citizens and with a potential consequent backlash on the politicians in office.

“And, tellingly, the most accomplished Haitians also show by their feet that they share [US President Donald] Trump’s view of their country…”

The following Letter to the Editor, which is a response to a statement on Haiti issued by Vice-Chancellor of The UWI Hilary Beckles, was submitted to Wired868 by Kevin Baldeosingh.

Photo: A child surrounded by squalor in Haiti.
(Copyright Worship In Action Haiti)

It seems that nearly all the individuals and organisations who have been so very outraged by American president Donald Trump calling Haiti a “shit-hole” actually have the same view of that country.

Take CARICOM which, in response to Trump’s vulgar rhetoric condemning the “pattern of denigrating Haiti and its citizens in what seems to be a concerted attempt to perpetuate a negative narrative of the country,” unusually for that entity, issued a strongly worded statement within days.

But Haiti is the only member of CARICOM whose citizens require a visa to travel to any other CARICOM nation. In other words, although CARICOM leaders pay lip service to Haiti, they also know that Haitians might leave their failed state—which is the diplomatic way of calling a country a “shithole”—and settle in CARICOM member states to the outrage of those Caribbean countries’ citizens and with a potential consequent backlash on the politicians in office.

And, tellingly, the most accomplished Haitians also show by their feet that they share Trump’s view of their country: in 2016, Haiti was ranked 7th in the world among countries with the highest brain drain, with over two-thirds of the Haitians leaving their country having a university degree; unsurprisingly, their preferred destination is America.

The sharpest departure from reality was embodied in an article from UWI Vice-Chancellor Hilary Beckles. This is so because as a historian Beckles should know that his prelapsarian portrait of Haiti was ideology divorced from any sort of fact or even coherent philosophy.

Photo: UWI Vice-Chancellor Hilary Beckles.
(Copyright Caribbean News Service)

“Haiti was and will remain this hemisphere’s mother of modern democracy and the Caribbean the cradle of the first ethical civilization,” wrote Beckles, adding, “Haitian people were first in this modern world to build a nation completely free of the human scourge of slavery and native genocide.”

Beckles’ logical lapse is obvious: while a society that institutionalises slavery may not be described as ethical (in the strict technical sense), it does not follow that a society that rejects slavery is, therefore, ethical, since slavery is not the sole measure of ethicalness. But, in any case, Beckles’ claim is factually wrong: while Haiti’s first government under Toussaint Louverture did formally abolish slavery, slavery continued to exist in the sense that the former slaves were forced to labour on the plantations.

Historian Mats Lundahl in an essay titled “Toussaint and the War Economy of St Domingue” (reproduced in the essay collection Caribbean Freedom, edited by the self-same Beckles) says this: “On the plantation, the work was organised in a military fashion… The worker who ran away from a plantation was dragged before a court-martial… Marronage was fought intensively. For Toussaint, ‘marron’ and ‘vagabond’ were synonyms. Both were considered bandits.”

Historian Robert K LaCerte notes that the Haitian blacks were also disaffected because of being forced to work on the plantations, wanting instead to get land for subsistence farming, so that the mulatto leader Alexandre Pétion, who ruled the west and south when the island was divided after 1806, was able to consolidate power by giving the blacks what they wanted.

Photo: Toussaint Louverture was the best known leader of the Haitian Revolution.

As for Beckles’ claim about the moral superiority of Haitian society, in 1805 all the white people who had stayed in Haiti were massacred on the orders of Toussaint’s successor, the self-proclaimed Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Can any nation which murders an entire group of people based on their race be truly described as ‘ethical’?

Nonetheless, Beckles asserts that “Haiti’s Caribbean vision illuminated America’s way out of its colonial darkness. This is the debt President Trump’s America owes Toussaint Louverture’s Haiti. It’s a debt of philosophical clarity and political maturity. It’s a debt of how to rise to its best human potential. It’s a debt of exposure to higher standards. Haiti is really America’s Statue of Liberty.”

This is hyperbole verging on delusion. But Beckles is by no means a lone voice in this fantastic championing of Haiti since eminent commentators like the late Lloyd Best and the living Reginald Dumas have also romanticised the State. But why do otherwise intellectually capable individuals have such a large scotoma in respect of Haiti?

The answer, I think, is a straightforward case of a bad syllogism: (1) Slavery is a bad thing; (2) Haiti was the first black nation to eradicate slavery; (3) Therefore, Haiti is a good thing. But conclusion (3) does not logically follow from premise (1). And, empirically, historical analysis finds no necessary connection between the length and type of slavery experienced by any specific society 200 years ago and the state of that society now.

Photo: Neg Mawon or the Statue of the Unknown Maroon on the Boulevard Champ de Mars in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Slavery in Cuba, for example, persisted long after it had been abolished in other Caribbean territories. Yet, as Table One shows, Cuba in the 1950s was more developed than the rest of the Caribbean by most indicators. Similarly, Barbados, which had a longer history of slavery than most Caribbean islands and has cleaved to its colonial heritage more, scores higher on the human developed index than other Caribbean countries.

TABLE 1: Key Caribbean indicators, 1950s

Country  GDP          Daily         Literacy       Trade         Electricity

per capita   calories                                             generation
Haiti     US$1,051     1,779          15%        US$75M        7 KH per capita
DR.       US$1,027     2,110          45%       US$214M     81KH per capita
Cuba    US$2,046    2,730         80%       US$1,090   206KH per capita
BWI      US$2,062    2,362          75%       US$743M   178KH per capita

Sources: Maddison, A. 2007; Ginsburg, N., 1966

These facts contradict the standard narrative promulgated by Beckles and other commentators who have an Afrocentric bent. Their analysis typically boils down to two explanations: first, the levy extracted by France after the Haitian Revolution, which impoverished Haiti; and, secondly, the economic isolation imposed on Haiti by white nations so that their slaves wouldn’t have been infected by the rebellion.

Photo: A artistic recreation of the Battle for Palm Tree Hill during the Haitian Revolution.

The problem with the first ‘explanation’ is that it doesn’t explain why the French levy (which was paid off in 1922) should have continued to keep Haiti poor 95 years later. As for the second claim, that is simply not true. With all the conflicts between the European and American powers back then, realpolitik easily trumped racist bias.

So, in 1793, the Spanish government offered the blacks an alliance against the French. Toussaint himself joined the French in 1794 and was made a general by that government in 1796, and, in 1798, he wrote the American president John Adams to restore trade relations, leading to America, along with England, giving Toussaint the arms and supplies he needed to defeat the mulatto leader Rigaud.

This is not to say that the levy and the policies of powerful nations didn’t affect Haiti’s fortunes. But those factors are insufficient to explain Haiti’s state today. The most persuasive data in this regard comes from Haiti’s neighbour, the Dominican Republic which, as part of the island of Hispaniola, experienced the same history as Haiti until the 1950s but which already had the fundamentals in place to throw off the burden of history (see Table One).

The sociologist Lawrence E. Harrison, author of The Central Liberal Truth, argues that Haiti’s backwardness is rooted in the cultural values inherited from Haitians’ Dahomeyan ancestors.

Photo: Former Haiti president Jean-Claude “Papa Doc” Duvalier (second from left).
(Copyright Tico Times)

“What can explain Haiti’s predicament is a set of cultural values, beliefs and attitudes rooted in African culture and the slavery experience, that resist progress,” Harrison writes.

He notes that most of the enslaved Africans brought to Hispaniola came from the Dahomey region of Africa and holds that many of that region’s anti-modern traits, such as animist religion, persist in Haitian society, arguing his point by comparing Bénin and Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I have updated Harrison’s 1999 indicators, which showed both countries to be virtually on par; as Table Two shows, nothing has changed in the past 17 years except that Bénin’s and Haiti’s GDP per capita tripled (from US$400 in 1999) while the DR’s quintupled (from US$1,7770).

In respect of the Haitian Revolution, Harrison asserts that “the uprising through which they won their freedom left them immediately in charge of their destiny. Their value system was largely shaped by African culture, of which Voodoo was a prominent component, and by slavery.”

TABLE 2: Key comparative indicators

Indicators                      Bénin.  Haiti    Dom. Rep.
Infant Mortality*             57       49           20
Life expectancy              61        63          78
Literacy                           42%     49%       90%
GDP per capita¥          $1,600 $1,300   $9,700
Source:  CIA World Factbook, 2016
*per 1000 births
¥US$ purchasing power parity

Anthropologist Jared Diamond in the book Natural Experiments in History takes a different tack, arguing that geographic differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are key to understanding the differences between the two countries. Diamond begins his analysis by noting that the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola is drier, steeper, and has less fertile soils than the DR side.

Photo: A detail from a map of Hispaniola

“Thus, even if the human societies of Haiti and the Dominican Republic had been culturally, economically, and politically identical (which they have not been),” writes Diamond, “the Haitian part of Hispaniola would still have faced more serious environmental problems.”

In Puzzles of Economic Growth, economist Aleksander Łaszek looks at economic factors behind the differences. He concludes that, “The overall index of the legal system and property rights alone can explain nearly 40 percent of the differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic during the period 1980-2009.”

Łaszek cites a 1960s Caribbean tourist guide that dealt with the DR in nine pages but used 29 pages to describe Haiti as a country worth going to. In the 21st Century, by contrast, tourism accounts for seven percent of the DR’s GDP, amounting to more than the entire per capita GDP of Haiti.

“The free trade zone and the tourist sector alone […] account for roughly one-third of the differences in the levels of GDP per capita between Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” writes Łaszek.

This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the DR was able to break the same historical antecedents as Haiti because the DR’s leaders instituted capitalist polices.

In The Black Jacobins, James himself has emphasised: “I have written in vain if I have not made it clear that of all formerly colonial coloured peoples, the West Indian masses are the most highly experienced in the ways of Western civilisation and most receptive to its requirements in the 20th Century.”

Photo: Iconic late Trinidad and Tobago writer and thinker CLR James.

Thus, although it is arguable that the Western nations have kept Haiti poor, this has not happened in the way that black leftist ideologues think. They typically blame the American occupation, even though the DR was also occupied and ruled by a US-backed dictator yet is now far ahead of Haiti by all human development measures. Rather, the Western nations have undermined Haiti in their efforts to atone for past wrongs.

In Travesty in Haiti, a self-published book, American anthropologist Timothy T. Schwartz, who worked in Haiti for a decade, asserts that “Foreign aid both in the form of direct assistance to the Haitian government and in the form of thousands of un-coordinated NGOs have arguably done more to hold Haiti back than to move her forward. Poverty is and long has been Haiti’s most lucrative industry […] ‘aid’ given directly to repressive Haitian governments […] prolonged their tenure in office and helped them resist pressures from the population for services.”

Schwartz recommends that relief services be integrated with the local economy, production in various sectors be reinforced with secured loans, competitive purchasing be used to stimulate local markets and industries, and newspapers be created which are tailored for the semi-literate.

Unfashionably arguing that Haiti needs outside help, he writes: “We can best help […] by providing the environment that will nourish the types of economic institutions basic to every developed country on earth: those that promote production, storage, redistribution; that promote access to credit, technology and expert counsel; and that promote those institutions that profitably facilitate access to information regarding all these factors.”

Photo: Controversial former Haiti president Jean-Bertrand “Titine” Aristide.

Dumas, in his book An Encounter with Haiti, says much the same: “History and culture are central to a country’s behaviour. What they must not be permitted to do, however, is manacle the country in conduct that does not take sufficient account of the views of a changing world […] You cannot credibly say that the world must help you but that you alone must decide how that help is to be utilised…”

Haiti’s situation is not hopeless. But Haitians aren’t helped by commentators like Professor Beckles, whose analysis and recommendations are based on ideology and specious moral arguments rather than rigorous analysis.

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  1. “And, tellingly, the most accomplished Haitians also show by their feet that they share Trump’s view of their country: in 2016, Haiti was ranked 7th in the world among countries with the highest brain drain, with over two-thirds of the Haitians leaving their country having a university degree; unsurprisingly, their preferred destination is America.”

    Leaving the island for opportunity doesn’t mean that Haitians see their country as a shithole. All nations experience brain drain, including the US. Is it only the ones who experience negative brain drain that are shitholes? Where does that leave TnT… or most of the developing world? It’s a false conclusion drawn from a shaky premise.

  2. Haitians gamble on a better life in Chile. But the odds aren’t always in their favor

  3. And the said People cussing Donald Trump. Hypocrisy

  4. Former Haiti president Jean-Claude Duvalier’s nickname was “Baby Doc” not “Papa Doc” as labeled in the article.

    On another note, Baldeosingh notes from sources that forced labour was a feature of the society despite the abolition of slavery. We understand that this forced labour is considered chattel slavery by analysts and commentators. However, I ask would this be would have been considered conscription for community service? I note the military court martial as an aspect of punishment, and wonder if the early Haiti was effectively a military state with mandatory service.

  5. Perhaps ironically, Facebook refused to share this column. But fake Russian political ads? To that they say: More please. Lol.

  6. It’s not even just Haiti, at least as far as Trinidad is concerned. Just last year after hurricane ravaged their island many a Trinidadian was up in arms when Rowley offered temporary refuge to our CARICOM neighbor, Dominica’s citizens.

  7. I saw nothing racist or patronizing in the article

    • Even geographically from an American view point? I suggest you read it again until you see it Brian Harry. Recognising racism when it rears its envious head is an essential skill in anticipating the enemy’s next move. Worldwide.

    • The idea that this article is racist is simply ridiculous-calling people a racist is the easiest way to try and smear them or in this case try and obfuscate the argument being made

    • Darryn Dinesh Boodan, a kind of lazy disregard for the negro achievement has callously developed in Trinidad that you would radiate to the rest of the Caribbean. I assume by your name that you are Indian, and as such you are simply not allowed to misjudge Haiti with the label, “lies”.
      The fact is, a rampant Britain had previously laid waste to African populations, and Asian populations a hundred times Haiti’s size, but were defeated by Haiti to the point of the white flag. France suffered the same fate, also trying to re-enslave Haitians, even after they had liberated themselves.
      Britain had employed the tactic of hiding the truth of their massive losses from their population for 120 years and also the fact that they had deployed their largest military expedition ever to the endeavour, and still lost. But the truth will out.
      I myself have existed in tight racial situations for many years, even from racists who have tried to be sophisticated about it. So I know this tone and the trend and tendency for the racist caca that it is.

    • Danny Holder as I suspect.its mostly racists who love to accuse others of racism

    • Wrong Darryn Dinesh Boodan, it is mostly those of us in the fight against racism who find it easier to identify racism.

  8. the point Kevin was trying to make seems to be lost on people-this romatization of Haiti ‘s history is based on lies..also..CARICOM treats Haiti like a second class member ..also this moral outrage over Trump is rich coming from a country where open xenophobia exists against Chinese , Jamaicans and Venezuelans…and lets not get started on Syrians..

  9. I find Kevin Baldeosingh’s article patronising and racist. Worst of all, he rudely misinterprets CLR to declare Haitians fools for not taking the good negro option in favour of their “romantic” revolution. By any measure, Haiti’s strongest feature has been its victories not its victimhood.

  10. Is it possible to be among the last wave of fairly decent human beings of an epoch? I mean, when I read certain things….

  11. One thing I have observed about human nature is that regardless of how much or how little one has, nothing makes man feel as privilaged as when they have other men upon whom to shit!

  12. What Trump said regarding Haitians and Africans pale in comparison to what other people of color say about them, particularly West Indians.

    • Not sure how important this observation is… we does cuss we own family but mad when others cuss them. Not saying it is right, but there’s nothing necessarily inappropriate about it since the sentiments (from Trump compared to other people of color) don’t come from the same place.

  13. tt mistreats illegal immigrants but champion illegals in usa

  14. indignant because they know his feelings extend all over the region

  15. Wait wait wait wait wait ….
    So yuh mean tuh tell me that in the year 2018 nobody here is aware that within West Indian communities abroad a popular way to denigrate someone is to say “Yuh like ah damn Haitian”?

    Hear nah …. nah man.
    From the very first wgen I heard Trump’s comments regarding Africans and Haitians I recognized it as something West Indians ALWAYS say, yet we were indignant.

    • I grew up in NYC. On a new block, meaning, it had the first wave of west Indians, my house was sandwiched still between two old Jewish grandmothers. My house was Jewish, had mezzuzahs still on the doorways. Lived there for decades,left in 83. My parents in 88, we never removed them. Had Haitians, two families on my block
      Did grad school at msu with a Haitian sister. That was in late 90s to 2002. I never ever heard any of my Caribbean friends ,associates or other uttered such.

      The only time I knew something was amiss, is that one Haitian girlfriend, who is now a history prof at fiu, she tried to tell the Caribbean clan she wasn’t Haitian
      Something at the time, I was too distant from her to interrogate.

      We went on to become close friends. She has visited me here in Trinidad. I spent a summer in her Miami home while she traveled.

      Never ever had any such knowledge or behavior.

      And yeah, a Haitian named Beaumont liked me high school senior year.


    • I’ve never heard this either! But perhaps because people who know me know better than to say those things in my presence. Horrid!

  16. it was part of Bush regime change policy…so he started with Haiti …then he moved on to the Middle East

  17. btw lasana it is said the coup miitants that attacked aristide were armed by Bush

  18. Imagine, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and several African Countries? Smh

  19. Was having this EXACT conversation last evening with a group. CARICOM is a waste of time but time will change that..

  20. I was surprised to be invited to interview former Haiti president Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly early in his presidency and decided not to pass that up.
    And what stood out for me–apart from the fact that Martelly seemed an extremely simple fellah who was in charge of the country at such a crucial time after the earthquake–was that about half of his political advisors and backroom staff were Americans.
    And not just that… They were heavyrollers who had helped put George W Bush in power. I always remembered that.

  21. i also believe that Aristide was undermined by foreign actors

  22. For the record though, none of this is a defence to Trump’s moronic notion that USA would be better off getting immigrants from Norway as opposed to Haiti.
    Just making that side point. Even if you substituted “failed state” for “shithole”, it would still be an ignorant and, taken by itself, an arguably racist comment.

  23. A little story. I’ve cried once in the course of doing my job as a journalist. On election day in Haiti 2006 — the election that Aristide went on to win — I got up in the dark to station myself at a polling station before they opened. Thousands upon thousands of Haitians were already there, and the sight, when the sun came up, overwhelmed me. Of course, Aristide went on to prove that he was in it for himself just like the rest of them. Speaking of the sun coming up… you know Bunji’s iconic song about J’Ouvert? He could just as well have been talking about Haiti, only that the instruments are more basic and big sound trucks absent. I’m in love with Haiti. Haiti fills your soul one minute and breaks your heart the next.

  24. And to the point about immigration… this Guyanese can tell you, from personal experience, that jumping through the bureaucratic hoops to be able to work in the fellow Caricom state that is T&T is not easy at all.

  25. as the article say

    for Tourism there are 9 pages on the Dr but 29 pages on Haiti

  26. Kevin is half-right. The bit about Caricom hypocrisy. The shithole bit? Why endorse the crude insult of a bigot who says openly that immigration from white countries is preferable? I believe that I can speak with some knowledge about Haiti, having covered it over 5 visits. People always flee poor countries for better opportunities, and there’s no point in pretending that things in Haiti aren’t so bad, that some people are risking their lives on rickety rafts. And yet, there are people who remain to make it better. Two of them, friends of mine, died in the 2010 earthquake. Haiti is a fascinating, complex place with a beating heart, and tremendous culture and history. But, yes, all of the institutions that sustain a state have been broken for a long time. We don’t need to echo the racist in the White House — and demean Haiti and Haitians — to make that point.

  27. the rest of the article is a sound review however

  28. no they need to let caricom know the time of day …however haiti have 20M and the same writer if haitians were allowed to freely migrate to tt would be writing weekly atatcks

  29. So caricom still answers to massa in some sense. Haiti really needs to take caricom to court

  30. and he descends into the labasse lol

    “The sociologist Lawrence E. Harrison, author of The Central Liberal Truth, argues that Haiti’s backwardness is rooted in the cultural values inherited from Haitians’ Dahomeyan ancestors.
    The sociologist Lawrence E. Harrison, author of The Central Liberal Truth, argues that Haiti’s backwardness is rooted in the cultural values inherited from Haitians’ Dahomeyan ancestors.

    “What can explain Haiti’s predicament is a set of cultural values, beliefs and attitudes rooted in African culture and the slavery experience, that resist progress,” Harrison writes.”………

  31. Kevin has written a very balanced article which requires and is worth deep consideration. I have several well respected and successful Haitian friends here in Houston. Its interesting to hear them speak about CARICOM – not good. One colleague shared his view as “CARICOM views Haiti as a friend with reservations”.

  32. Rowley never invited Haitians to come here as he did Dominicans recently

    • Was Rowley the PM when Haiti had its disastrous earthquake? I’m afraid that invite would have had to come from the same persons who either roundly criticised Rowley for asking us to open our doors to the Dominicans or were loudly silent when others did.

  33. just the headline alone…thank u kelvin

  34. Remember these ‘sh*thole’ leaders backed away from the Palestinian resolution of support from the U.N.

  35. It mad ENT?? The Europeans still ruling!!

  36. I didn’t know Haitians require a visa to enter other Caribbean countries. Why didn’t our so called leaders inform us of this? I wonder how come Haiti did not put catacomb I was court for violation of its own agreement

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