Steve Descano, the Democratic nominee for Fairfax County's Commonwealth's Attorney, on the upcoming election; Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) on his bill that would tax "teardown" homes.
Since January’s earthquake, an influx of international aid has been promised to Haiti. But Haitians have an uneasy relationship with the international community, and the U.S. in particular, stemming from over two hundred years of huge debts, political turbulence, and foreign occupation. We’ll go inside this history and learn more about the resilient people who call Haiti home.
- Robert Fatton Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia; Author of the book, "The Roots of Haitian Despotism"
- Bob Maguire Director of Programs in International Affairs at Trinity University; Chairman of the U.S. Institute of Peace's Haiti Working Group
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It was a revolution that shook the world. More than 200 years ago, the black slaves living in the French colony of St. Domingue overthrew their French masters. They created the first black independent country in the world and called it Haiti.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt was surely a moment of triumph and hope, but in the two centuries since, Haiti's promising start has been overshadowed by its struggles, namely poverty, conflict, inequality and recently natural disasters. The "Kojo Nnamdi Show" is in Haiti this week seeking to better understand the nation's past, its present and where it's going in the future.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBefore we left, we sat down with two scholars of Haiti to learn more about this complex nation and the people who call it home. Joining us in our Washington studio is Bob Maguire. He is a professor in international affairs at Trinity University and director of the Haiti Program at Trinity, chair of the Haiti working group at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Robert or Bob Maguire, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. BOB MAGUIREIt's a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from the studios of With Good Reason in Charlottesville, Va. is Robert Fatton. He is a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and author of several books on Haiti including, "The Roots of Haitian Despotism." He's a Haitian-American and was born and raised in Port-Au-Prince. Robert Fatton, thank you for joining us.
MR. ROBERT FATTONWell, I'm very pleased to be with you.
NNAMDIBob Maguire, let me start with you. Take us back to the late 1700's and give us a sense of what life was like for the slaves in the colony of St. Domingue at that time.
MAGUIREWell, life would have been very brutal for the enslaved people at that time in Haiti. And one of the things, I think, that's useful to think of is the fact that Haiti has the wealthiest plantation colony of the French empire in the world, probably had a disproportionate number of slaves in the colony. I think the -- it was roughly something like 400,000 slaves juxtaposed with 35,000 or so French colonials and then an equal number of people of mixed race.
MAGUIRESo there was this overwhelmingly dominate population of people in Haiti who were enslaved, being treated very harshly, very short life span, constantly having to refresh the population with new people being brought in from Africa. So it was a very difficult situation if you were on the bottom of the totem pole, as they were.
NNAMDIRobert Fatton, anything you'd like to add to that?
FATTONWell, I think that Bob described it very well that the regime was very brutal and the plantation economy was based on slave labor and that was really the roots of the problem in Haiti. So yes.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that there was a fair bit of mixing between the French on St. Domingue and the slave population and there was a group of mixed race people known as gens de couleur. How did that impact the way society developed? First you, Robert Fatton.
FATTONWell, it divided further, you see, the exploited people because the so-called (sounds like) Afranshe regime gens de couleur, well, they were given the preferential treatment over the black slaves. So you had the divisions within the slave population and many of the gens de couleur ultimately did get their freedom. So that exacerbated conflicts. But the revolution itself eventually consolidated those two groups and they fought the French armies and eventually they won that battle.
NNAMDIBob Maguire, many American school children learn about Toussaint Louverture and, to a lesser extent, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Tell us about these two men and the role they played in the creation of Haiti.
MAGUIREYou know, it's kind of curious. I was, earlier today, talking about this with a group of American policemen who are heading down to be part of this sivpole mission of the U.N. minutia and there were 12 people in the room and only one of them had even heard of Toussaint Louverture. It's astounding because Toussaint Louverture, in the sense, the George Washington of Haiti.
NNAMDIWell, let me rephrase that, a few American school children have heard of Toussaint.
MAGUIREWell, hopefully more and more because he is a genuine hero of the Americas and not just of his country. He inspired a people to rise up and, in a sense, gain their independence, but, of course, he was captured by Napoleon and taken to France where he perished in a prison in the Alps. I know that Robert Fatton told me that he visited that site a few years ago. I have not myself. There were other spectacular leaders of the Haitian revolution and, again, their names are lost on us. They're not lost on people in Haiti. You know, who writes the history?
MAGUIREWell, the history of the Haitian Revolution was written by the vanquished, not the victors so much, so we haven't heard too much in the history of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, (sounds like) Armory Christoff and some of the other, you know, genuine heroes and leaders of the Haitian Revolution.
NNAMDIRobert Fatton, I was raised in what was then British Ghana and had absolutely no interest in history. I was being taught what they called colonial history. I was being taught the history of Britain. The people of Ghana supposedly had no history. My interest in history was sparked when at around 15 years old we had a teacher who taught us about the Haitian Revolution and Toussaint Louverture. It was the first time I saw myself reflected in history and that sparked my interest in history. So it's interesting to me you were born and raised in Port-Au-Prince. How is that early history taught to Haitian school children, especially when you were younger?
FATTONWell, the Haitian history is really dominated the revolution itself and by the founding fathers. So precisely because we got our independence in 1804, the history books that we use in Haiti about Haitian history are very different than the typical books that you would have used in a colonial situation. So the Haitian books do celebrate the revolution. You do learn about Toussaint. You do learn about Petion and Dessalines and all of the other founding fathers. So it's a different kind of history than the one that many in the British colonies, whether it be in the Caribbean or Africa, learn when they were kids. So to that extent, Haiti's are different because our revolution is something that we take very seriously.
FATTONAnd it's ultimately celebrated and it's considered, and I think rightfully so, as one of the most important revolutions that has ever occurred in the world. Because if you look at the conditions of that particular period of time, it was to some extent unthinkable as one great Haitian, Andrew (sounds like) Poldrew spotted that you would have a revolution. And not only did we think about the revolution, but we did it. So there is extreme pride in the Haitian revolution. So this is a moment in history. At that particular time, we had probably the most radical revolution because we're not only talking about white property man as being free in the Haitian Revolution. We're talking about everyone, freed.
FATTONIrrespective of class, irrespective of race and that was the fundamental departure from the model that existed then.
NNAMDII guess it wasn't being taught in the French colonies, either in Guinea or in Senegal or in French Ghana, but what effect did that have on you growing up? To be essentially exposed to that kind of history at a very young age, how did that affect your own self concept, so to speak?
FATTONWell, it gives you a sense of pride and you don't feel that you've been colonized. You feel actually that, yes, there was a colony, but then we revolted. So there is a feeling of real pride about one's culture and the historical conditions that led up to that freedom that we got. On the other hand, as you know, we were full of problems. I was growing up during the Duvalier period. So we could talk about the glorious revolution, but we were also confronting conditions...
NNAMDIA fairly grim reality, yes.
FATTONYeah, that departed from the promise of that revolution.
NNAMDIIt is my understanding, Bob Maguire, that Haiti means land of mountains in the language of the native people who lived on the island of Hispaniola before Europeans arrived. What do we know about these first people who lived on this island?
MAGUIREWe don't know a whole lot, but some archaeological excavations have been done in Haiti. There is a museum to the indigenous people in the town of Limbe that was created by an American doctor, Dr. Hodges. I think what we understand is that there could have been at least a million people populating that island at the time when Columbus arrived. They were organized into a society. Columbus, when he did arrive, he encountered one of the local chieftains along the north coast and negotiated with him. But what Columbus was negotiating, essentially, was where was the gold.
MAGUIREThat was his MO, so to speak. And that indigenous population, however, did not really last very long after European contact because there was no resistance to a number of common European diseases, maladies, viruses. And I would say -- I guess it's by about maybe the late 1500's, there were very few, if any, indigenous people still on the island.
NNAMDISo, Robert Fatton, after the black residents of Haiti conquered the French, they had, I guess, a huge problem figuring out how to run this new nation. And there were tremendous challenges in terms of land ownership and the power structure in the country, wasn't there?
FATTONAbsolutely. You had domestic problems and international problems. You see the legacy of the revolution was one of -- and it could've been devastated and yet if you wanted to recover from the devastation of the economy, you needed -- given the structures of the world system, you needed to have, again, the plantation economy, which provides a huge dilemma for the Haitian leaders. Because if you wanted to re-impose the plantation economy, you would need to re-impose, to some extent, coercive forms of labor or even slavery itself.
FATTONAnd clearly, they -- the enslaved population, which had fought for its emancipation, was not willing to go back to that condition. So from an economy perspective the structures of the world economy put us in a very problematic position. We could not, in fact, reignite the sugar economy and be what we used to be, precisely because slavery had been abolished. And then you have the international major powers, the Americans, the French were continuously threatening Haiti because Haiti was not recognized by those powers at that time of independence.
FATTONI mean, the U.S. recognized Haiti only during the Civil War under Lincoln. And the French, as we know, recognized Haiti, but Haiti had to pay a union indemnity. That became a subject of controversy more recently. So what we are talking about is really a very hostile international world dominated by white supremacist forces, fearing that the Haitian revolution would be an example and would lead the ultimately to the erosion of white power and to the emancipation of slaves in the southern part of the United States. And locally we had problems, regional problems. We also had problems in terms of land distribution. One of the things that you see immediately after the revolution is really the beginning of a fairly ferocious class structure.
FATTONThe land was, to a large degree, redistributed according to rank in the revolutionary army and that meant that you had the beginning of inequalities. And you also had tensions between the light-skinned Haitians and the dark-skinned Haitians. I mean, we have such a complicated racial make-up that all of those issues have prevented us actually, I think, from really fulfilling the promise of that glorious revolution.
NNAMDIWe're going to have to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation, "Understanding Haiti's History." We'll be taking your questions about Haiti during our week in Port-au-Prince. You can e-mail us at email@example.com or go to our Facebook page and ask questions there. You can also go to our website to see more coverage from Haiti where we have videos and other special content from our trip. That's at kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation about Haiti's history with Robert Fatton. He is a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and author of several books on Haiti, including "The Roots of Haitian Despotism." He's a Haitian-American. He was born and raised in Port-au-Prince.
NNAMDIAlso joining us is Robert Maguire. He's a professor in international affairs at Trinity University, director of the Haiti program at Trinity. He's also chair of the Haiti Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Bob Maguire, many Americans are probably unaware of the fact that the U.S. occupied Haiti for decades in the 20th century. Why and how did that occupation affect Haiti?
MAGUIREYes. Our country's longest continuous occupation of any country up to today has been Haiti where we occupied from 1915 to 1934. I think when we look at why that was going on, we have to think of what else was going on in the world at the time. And there was German aggression in Europe. The Haitian government had become indebted to Germany through its mismanagement of coffee, revenues and some mismanagement of the Treasury. And to some extent the U.S. occupation, invasion and occupation of Haiti was a preemptive move to keep the Germans from doing the same thing. We didn't want, of course, Germans in our lake as per the Monroe Doctrine. But...
NNAMDIThe U.S., it's my understanding, was particularly apprehensive about the role played by the small German community in Haiti.
MAGUIREAbsolutely. That community was very instrumental in the coffee exporting sector, which was Haiti's major economic crops at the time. And there was some concern, I guess you could say, maybe it was a similar concern as we had with the Japanese during Japanese and Americans in the West Coast during World War II. So there was this preemptive act. But the Haitians kind of facilitated that because there was a great deal of political instability in Haiti, at that point, and there was a rapid succession of presidents. And then, there was a particular president who engaged in behavior of arresting people and mass murdering them. So it's, you know, it's almost like -- that was the pretext upon which the occupation occurred.
NNAMDIRobert Fatton, a follow-up on this debt issue. The earthquake brought a flood largess and there's also been work on debt forgiveness. How much will this lighten the load, if you will, for Haiti?
FATTONWell, it does lighten the load. But on the other hand, it is very clear that if we reconstruct and if nothing changes in the world economy, that will probably accumulate more debt. So I think it's a temporary affair, as it were, and one that we badly need in so far as we have been so devastated by the earthquake. But one has to be worried about that the promises that have been made because in many instances those promises are not kept, in particular in the total amount that was promised, very little of it has actually being sent to Haiti.
FATTONAnd it remains to be seen whether the totality, which has been promised, $5 billion over the next three years and almost $11 billion over the next 15 years, whether that money is going to really come to Haiti. And the other problem, obviously, is whether that money will be used productively and for the benefits of the Haitian population.
NNAMDIJust -- there seems to be ongoing skepticism, Robert Fatton, about whether or not that money will eventually get to Haiti. And as you pointed out, even if it does, if it will be used properly. What is your own feeling? I'm assuming you'd like to be optimistic about this. But what are you feeling about the reality of it happening?
FATTONI think it's a very scary reality actually. Because when I read the plans for reconstruction, when I read the economic plans, I think they are, to a large extent, very much the old plans that were implemented 30, 40, 50 years ago. In other words, the dominant conventional wisdom about Haiti is that you need to have the garment industry, that that would drive the economy and that you need to use the ultra-cheap labor that Haitians provide.
FATTONNow, we've had that model since the 1970s under Jean-Claude Duvalier. And my personal perspective is that that model is really the major failure because what it does is really to divide the country between the rural and the urban sectors. And in addition to that, I think it fuels increasing inequalities within the urban sector and even more so in the rural areas. And I'm -- I strongly believe that the catastrophe of the earthquake was partly the result of those policies, in so far as Port-au-Prince have three million in inhabitants.
FATTONAnd the death of probably 300,000 people in the earthquake, I think it's very much connected to those programs because people leave the rural areas. The rural areas are neglected and they come to the capital city and they try to find a job. And they won't find it either. So you have the proliferation of slums and the dire poverty. So unless those plans, I think, are reversed and we give significant priority to agriculture and in particular food production, I think Haiti is going to ultimately reproduce the old practices, the old politics and the old economy, which in my mind is obviously not the solution.
NNAMDIRobert Fatton is a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. He's a Haitian-American was born and raised in Port-au-Prince. Bob Maguire is a professor in international affairs at Trinity University. He's also director of the Haiti program at Trinity and chair of the Haiti Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace. We are covering -- offering special "Kojo Nnamdi Show" coverage of Haiti.
NNAMDIWe'll be live on the air from Port-au-Prince starting tomorrow. And speaking of Port-au-Prince, "Kojo Nnamdi Show" producer Brendan Sweeney recently traveled to Haiti as a part of our coverage and he interviewed Dr. Wilfred Cadet, deputy chief of Party for Health for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti. One of the things Dr. Cadet talked about was the fact that nearly all resources, especially health resources, are concentrated in Port-au-Prince.
DR. WILFRED CADETAll the services are concentrated in Port-au-Prince. Like, people would say Haiti is Port-au-Prince. You want your ID card? You come to Port-au-Prince. And it's the same for health care. If you want even primary health care, you sometimes need to come to Port-au-Prince to get that, either at the state university hospital or as a -- to go see a private physician. So we had a very bad situation before the earthquake. What happened after the earthquake, Port-au-Prince didn't have the capacity to serve its population in normal times. And suddenly, now that you have 200,000 people injured, so Port-au-Prince was overloaded with patients. And outside of Port-au-Prince, the response was not there.
NNAMDIBob Maguire, we'll be talking more this week about health issues in Haiti. But we just heard Robert Fatton talk a little bit about how Port-au-Prince became, well, the center of everything in Haiti. Care to talk a little bit more about that?
MAGUIREAbsolutely. And I'm very glad that this story is getting out. It's been a story that hasn't been covered that extensively in my view. You know, when you go to Haiti for the first time, people often explain to you that Haiti is actually two countries. There is the Republic of Haiti, which covers the geographic territory. That's about the size of Maryland. But then, there is the Republic of Port-au-Prince. And that has been very much apart from the rest of the country, although that has diminished with the increasing migration off the land, where rural people coming into Port-au-Prince have connected it more with the rest of the country.
MAGUIREBut I think everything that Robert mentioned about the trends over the past 40 years of investment in the urban area of the idea of Haiti being a place of cheap labor proximate to the U.S. so the answer for Haiti is to create assembly jobs. And that begun in the 1980s and was all centered in Port-au-Prince. So people from the rural area, where there was no real investment, where people were left pretty much to fend for themselves, you know, there's -- in every migration, there's the push factor and the pull factor.
MAGUIREAnd people were being pushed out of the countryside because there's little or no hope for the future and they were attracted to Port-au-Prince because Port-au-Prince was where you had the concentration of health, where you had the concentration of education, what government services there, what chance there was to be able to stand in the street and read a book under the streetlight, where in the countryside there was no electricity. And even for people coming into Port-au-Prince, there was the hope to get work.
MAGUIREBut for most people, it turned into a mirage. Very few people ended up getting jobs in Port-au-Prince when they came in. And those jobs were fleeting, at best, because many of them left Haiti in the 1980s. And the -- Port-au-Prince became a mass of people coming in from the countryside, impoverished people. Where did they go when they got there? Well, they didn't have resources so they placed themselves in the most marginal of areas that nobody else wanted. So you had people living along the seaside in slum areas, such as Cite Soleil, places that are barely above sea level. And this is an area that is subject to occasional storm surges. You had poor people putting themselves in harm's way by occupying dried river beds that can flood very easily during the rainy season. They get swept away.
MAGUIREJust a couple of weeks ago, there was a strong rain in Port-au-Prince and 12 people were killed. It happens usually -- it's a usual circumstance in the Port-au-Prince area. And you had people climbing up hillsides and going down into ravines within the urban area and claiming areas there to squat on and build their homes. And one of the things we saw with the earthquake was that when the earth shook, the buildings on top of the hills fell down onto the ravines in the bottom and it was just an awful situation for many poor people who had no recourse to live in a safer place.
NNAMDIRobert Fatton, on the one hand, the situation in Haiti is unique in terms of how so many people came to go to Port-au-Prince. On the other hand, in most developing countries, there is the problem of migration, mass migration to the cities and the inability of the infrastructure and cities to provide for those people. But one has to ask, is there any turning back in that process somehow be reversed during the reconstruction phase in Haiti?
FATTONWell, that is the hope, obviously, that we've seen what the concentration of power and wealth and all of the infrastructure that we have in Port-au-Prince has done ultimately to the country. So one would hope that there would be a process whereby we would decentralize the economy, where we would decentralize power. And I think there is an opportunity for that, in particular during the reconstruction period. But when I look at where the investments are going to go, when I look at not just the many plans that have been written about the future of Haiti, but where there is real movement and concentration of attention, it tends to be, again, in Port-au-Prince and it doesn't tend to be for agriculture.
FATTONWhen you read the plans, the argument is that Haiti should, in fact, export mangoes and coffee. It doesn't really talk about food production. And we could, in fact, offer strategy that would emphasize food production, the satisfaction of basic needs for the population. And that might reverse towards huge migrations from countryside to rural areas. The problem is that over the past 50 years or so agriculture has been totally neglected. And in addition to that, we've had a neo-liberal regime, which has meant that we have eliminated virtually all the tariffs that protect our own domestic production. And the paradigmatic example is clearly rice. Haiti used to be self-sufficient in rice.
FATTONBut then in the late '80s and early '90s, what has happened is that we've been flooded by very cheap American rice, which is paradoxically subsidized by the American taxpayer. And that has meant that domestic rice production has plummeted. And this is a real tragedy because it means that the rural areas are devastated and that we are completely dependent on imports or food or simply on giveaways. And I think that the country cannot survive that way. I think we need to have a different model. I think we need to establish domestic production, in particular domestic food production. But that entails a change of policy, away from the policies that I think we are seeing being implemented again.
NNAMDIWe are trying to understand Haiti's history. And starting tomorrow, we'll be broadcasting from Port-au-Prince in Haiti. To see more of our special coverage from Haiti, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, where we have videos and other special content from the trip. And you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our Facebook page if you have questions about Haiti during our week in Port-au-Prince. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation, "Understanding Haiti's History" with Robert or Bob Maguire, professor of international affairs at Trinity University. Bob Maguire is also director of the Haiti program at Trinity and he chairs the Haiti Working Group at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Joining us from the studio With Good Reason in Charlottesville, VA is Robert Fatton. He's a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books on Haiti, including "The Roots of Haitian Despotism." He's Haitian-American and was born and raised in Port-au-Prince.
NNAMDIHaiti is typically described as one of the oldest republics in the western hemisphere, but republic and democracy are not necessarily the same thing. Robert Fatton, you have said that Haiti is going through, what you characterize, as an unending transition to democracy. What exactly to you mean by that?
FATTONWell, the collapse of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, I think given all Haitians and also people in the international community, the hope that Haiti would change and change utterly. And yet what we've seen immediately after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier is first a series of very nasty military regimes and then we had the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990 and he became president in '91.
FATTONBut then, he was overturned very quickly afterwards, seven months afterwards. And as we know, he went into exile, yet he came back literally because of 20,000 Marines and this report of the report Clinton administration. But all of those processes undermined really the democratic process.
FATTONThe elections, apart from the election of 1990, are very dubious quality, and they generate problems within the political class in Haiti because those who win assert that they obviously have won and fair and square, but those who lose do not accept results. And they undermine the government that comes to power, and we saw that again, you know, in the second term of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
FATTONProblematic elections in particular in the Senate and the opposition mobilizing, and also mobilizing the international community who undermined Aristide himself, and the departure of Aristide. So we've had a series of election that are of dubious quality, and those elections have generated tension within the political system of Haiti.
FATTONWe don't have institutions that have been established yet very good, for instance electoral council. The parliament is a very fragile institution. The police is literally non-existent as an institution although it's being rebuilt now. So want you see is, therefore, a country which is attempting a transition to democracy, and yet the structures are lacking, and the processes of dubious quality.
FATTONSo one hopes that the next election which also has problems and will have problems particularly because of the earthquake will generate a different climate. But one has to be reminded, unfortunately, of the most recent history. But hopefully this time, given the catastrophe of the earthquake, politicians will think twice before trying to undermine the next government.
NNAMDIBob Maguire, Robert mentioned in passing the Duvalier dictatorships. Many Americans are familiar with the names Francois Papa Doc Duvalier, and Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier. Talk if you will about the Duvalier period in Haitian politics and how it's impacted what's come since, Bob.
MAGUIREWell, the 29-year rule of those two men was a very dark period in Haitian politics and in Haitian life. This was a very rapacious period of repression and murder and concentration of power. We talked early about the concentration of Port-au-Prince. You know, much of that was aided by abetted by Francois Duvalier, who was very jealous of his power, and tried to bring things into Port-au-Prince as best he could
MAGUIREBut, you know, I'd like to go back to something that Robert said, if I could.
MAGUIREI mean, I agree with everything that Robert is saying, but I'd like to put a little bit more of a glass half full spin on it if I could.
MAGUIREI think that when we look over time at how Haitian governance has been transitioning, it's been slow, it's been halting, but there have been some improvements. There are elective bodies now where there weren't before. There is universal voting where there wasn't before. People continued to try to put faith in the process. I share his hope that in this period of after this calamitous earthquake, that perhaps Haiti's leaders will find the courage to put their self interest behind national interest and not first, which is has been so often.
MAGUIREBut it strikes me that sometimes I think after such a long period of bad governance in Haiti, we sometimes, I think, are too optimistic to expect a quick turnaround on things. And I think things do take a little bit of time. It's optimistic that in this election, for example, I think that by and large, Haiti's traditional political class has been marginalized and there are some interesting new faces.
MAGUIREThere's also, as Robert says, a lot of manipulation behind the scenes, a lot of skullduggery that will probably occur. But I'd like to say myself that I think, you know, Haiti's democracy is very rough around the edges. It's very hard-elbowed. There's not much suave and debonair to it. It's very much on the surface. But to some extent, it is functioning. It does function as a democracy, a work in progress.
MAGUIRESo, you know, I would agree with his assessment, but I would want to be just a little more optimistic that maybe over time things have changed and they will continue to move in that direction.
NNAMDIWell, let the optimism continue to flow for a second here because, Robert Fatton, we have an election coming up as you pointed out, on November 28. There are 19 candidates running in that race. What is your most optimistic prediction about what could happen?
FATTONWell, that the election will be peaceful and the vote counting will be free and fair and that whomever is elected will assume power in a very peaceful transition and will be able to form a government that will start to tackle the problems confronting Haiti. And as we know, those problems are humongous. And I think those elections, hopefully, will indeed take place and they will be peaceful.
FATTONWhat I'm worried about is the vote counting, to be very frank. And I'm worried about past presidents, that those will start creating problems. And the hope there is therefore that that kind of behavior will not, in fact, materialize because the future of Haiti would indeed be very bleak if we have an election and people contest those elections, and if the elections are not properly run.
FATTONSo I think those elections can be critical because they can set the tone for the reconstruction of Haiti. And hopefully, if you have a new government and new faces, there can be a rethinking of some of the key programs to really push the country in a different trajectory.
NNAMDII'd like to quote from a piece about Haiti by the writer, Mark Danner. He writes that Haiti is, quoting here, "Everybody's cherished tragedy. Long before the great earthquake struck the country like a vengeful god, the outside world, and Americans especially, described, defined, marked Haiti most of all by its suffering." Well, I'd like to ask you both what you think about that. Is there something in the western psyche that wants to keep Haiti down, Bob Maguire?
MAGUIREYou know, there's a book called, "Haiti's Bad Press," and it kind of outlines episodes like this where Haiti has been examined in the American press over time, over examined and denigrated. I think there does seem to be a pattern of denigration toward Haiti. It came out after the earthquake, of course, with the David Brooks article, and the Pat Robertson statement about, you know, the pact with the devil and so on.
MAGUIREDuring our U.S. occupation period, Haiti was sensationalized and denigrated as well. And I do think there is a legacy, particularly in the United States, of that fear from Haiti that emerged during its revolution with the southern plantocracy was so afraid of the virus of freedom that could come over from Haiti. And, you know, I used to think that maybe that would dissipate, but I just think that Haiti is a favorite whipping boy of people.
MAGUIREIt's a very easy target to hit at. And I just think that if Americans could educate themselves a little more about Haiti, understand for example how the U.S. purchase of Louisiana would not have been possible had it not been for the success of the Haitian revolution, how Haitian slaves assisted at the battle of Savannah during our revolutionary war, and so on and so forth.
MAGUIREThere's tremendous contributions that Haiti has made to the well-being of the United States historically, and that Haitian-Americans make to the well-being of the United States today. There's much about Haiti to celebrate, and I'd like to see that side of the story eclipse this kind of negativism and sensationalism that comes out of Haiti.
NNAMDIRobert Fatton, the other side of the coin, of the public dialogue about Haiti is the private dialogue about Haiti. Invariably when we have told people that we are going to Haiti to cover the consequences of the earthquake in Haiti in private conversations, people always say, are you going to get some art, are you going to bring me back from sculpture? What is it about Haiti that causes it to be such a center for art and sculpture?
FATTONWell, I think it's because we have a long history, and there is a mixing of very different cultures. And there is also on the one hand, a history of a suffering people, but at the same time, the history of a very resilient population. I mean, just imagine the conditions that people are confronting in the camps, and yet people go on, and they have the energy to go on, and they continue to smile, they continue to try to send their kids to schools. They are seeking a way out of the crisis.
FATTONAnd I think actually, if you want to be optimistic about Haiti, you really need to look at the resilience of the Haitian population, and its capacity to really survive in a very hostile environment. And in spite of the earthquake, there is that amazing resilience, and also a sense of solidarity that could be expended if you wish. But there is the idea that the Haitians are kind of a unique people facing unique problems.
FATTONAnd I think that has an impact on our psyche. And indeed, when you look at the culture, you look at the music of Haiti, I think those are exceptional gifts to other cultures, to humankind as it were. So in spite of all our problems, I think the roots of our history has given us that sense of perseverance, and that sense that we must go on even if the world is against us, and even if our political class is against us.
NNAMDIWhen he was in Port-au-Prince, our producer, Brendan Sweeney, talked with Georges (word?) Sassine, a factory owner who's also president of the Haitian Manufacturer's Association. He talked about how Haiti used to manufacture baseballs for the U.S., but political instability hurt that business.
MR. GEORGES SASSINEWe used to be the baseball manufacturing country, until political strife in the late 80's, early 90's. And, you know, business does not marry well with instability. So (unintelligible) in manufacturers for the major league, they moved to Costa Rica, and a lot of the others just remained in China. Don't forget, we are not new in this business. In the 60's, 70's, early 80's, we were the number one country doing all of that. We made all the baseballs.
MR. GEORGES SASSINERemember Rubik's Cube? That was made here. Again, the challenge for us today is to try to get back to that level. In the meantime, we are -- now we have political stability. We have elections on November 28. So far so good, nothing is happening crazy, so hopefully it's going to go smoothly. And then we will progress, and that will create even more stability and will bring even more investment which, in turn, will bring more stability.
MR. GEORGES SASSINEAnd hopefully some of those that have left will return, because then there will be a place for them to return to.
NNAMDIThat was Georges (word?) Sassine, factory owner, talking about Haiti. We're running out of time, but Robert Fatton, what do you make of Mr. Sassine's assessment?
FATTONWell, there is some truth to it that we used to produce baseball, etc. But on the other hand, I think many of the problems that we've had in the past, and that political instability that he's talking about, is very much connected to that type of development which is really based on cheap labor. And it does not integrate rural and urban areas. So you're creating literally small enclaves that are connected more to the external world and to Haiti.
FATTONAnd that brings about, I think, just the opposite of stability. And I think when you think about it, when you look at baseball, Haitians don't play baseball. We don't even know the rules of the game, and I think it's a symptom of that extroverted vision of development. I think we need to go back to a much simpler and much more difficult type of development which would be based on satisfying the basic needs of the rural population and indeed in the promotion of food production.
FATTONI think those are more critical. This is not to say that we are not going to be involved in the garment industry, or the small assemblies, etc. We will. This is the nature of the world economy. But I think the emphasis should not be put on those particular sectors. It should be put on the rural areas where after all, you have something like 70 percent of the Haitian population still living there.
NNAMDIBob Maguire, looking at the role the U.S. has played in Haiti's history, what does the U.S. owe this nation? What could, what should we be doing to correct some of the mistakes we made in the past?
MAGUIREWell, I think that we are correcting some mistakes. I'm optimistic to a point. One thing that we're doing now that we hadn't done before is to listen to Haitian people At least in rhetoric. Putting the Haitians in the lead, not sitting in Washington and deciding what Haiti needs, and then imposing it on the country. Going back to something that Robert said, I agree with the fact that factory jobs are not aspirational to people.
MAGUIREThe only people I know who aspire to go in factory jobs are people that have no other choices. And I think, going back to the question on crafts and creativity of Haiti, why not look in that direction where you've got a population that is extremely creative, and try to expand opportunities in that way. I think that a lesson that we've seen from Haitians is that when Haitians get out of Haiti, they can match their talents to opportunities, and they exceed extremely well.
MAGUIREAnd I think the big challenge for development in Haiti is actually to expand the level of opportunities within Haiti for very talented people so they have an opportunity to match their talents with their opportunities.
NNAMDIYou're listening to special coverage of Haiti on the Kojo Nnamdi show. We're in Port-au-Prince this week, and we'll be bringing you inside the daily lives of Haitians in Port-au-Prince with shows looking at culture, food, education and more. We recorded this conversation from our studio in Washington D.C. before departing for Port-au-Prince, and we'd like to thank Robert Fatton for joining us. Robert, thank you.
FATTONWell, thank you very much.
NNAMDIRobert Fatton is a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books on Haiti, including "The Roots Of Haitian Despotism." He's Haitian-American and was born and raised in Port-au-Prince. Robert Maguire, thank you for joining us.
MAGUIREThank you, Kojo. Looking forward to visiting your website, looking at the videos and listening to your broadcast.
NNAMDIThank you kindly. Bob Maguire is a professor in international affairs at Trinity University where he's also director of the Haiti program. He's chair of the Haiti working group at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
We hear about fall food trends from local food entrepreneurs and the hosts of Dish City.
We remember Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who passed away early Thursday morning.
Elections are coming... but is gun control?