Haiti is on our collective minds - for now. There is a generosity to our spirit – for now. We implore each other to help Haiti recover from tragedy in numbers of new virally compassionate, socially networked ways that remind us repeatedly and tragically that Haiti is by far the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, ravaged by terminal despair.
We are reassured that fleets of C13O cargo planes are on the way with essential supplies to feed the hungry, mend the broken, and shelter the homeless, and that we have done our part to dull if not cure the pain.
Eventually, the bodies that litter the streets will be buried and over time the normalcy that is Haitian poverty will return, unless we transform our international trade.
In the 1750’s Haiti was responsible for more than 50 percent of the GNP of France. In 2009, Haiti’s total GDP was $6.95 Billion, roughly 1 percent of the investment made in staving off a U.S. depression through TARP spending. Haiti’s economy shrank 49 percent on a per-person basis between 1980 and 2004, when GDP hit bottom at $402 per-person. The 2008 figure was $410. According to the World Bank, 54 percent of Haitians earn less than $1 a day and 78 percent less than $2.
Agricultural subsidies paid to growers in the U.S. and other developed nations are the primary cause of Haiti’s poverty, which has been compounded by corruption, deforestation, low-wage exploitation, and meddling with the food supply in the name of progress. The global substitution of subsidized high-fructose corn syrup for sugarcane annihilated Haitian sugarcane producers whose production costs were three times the reduced market price, and exports dropped from 19,200 tons in 1980 to 6,500 tons in 1987. In the past decade, there have been years that Haiti exported no sugar at all. Unable to compete with subsidized U.S., Columbian, and Brazilian growers, coffee production slumped from 42,900 tons in 1980 to less than 25,000 tons in 2005, devastating the more than 1 million Haitians who participate in the industry as growers, marketers, or exporters. Haitian producers of cacao, sisal, essential oils, cotton and even mangoes are similarly unable to compete.
Poverty causes unnatural disasters and makes of natural disasters the apocalypse – buildings collapse because they are improperly built out of substandard materials; mud slides because open-cast miners and people searching for fuel clear forests; and those lucky enough to survive the initial shock may die as a consequence of inadequate medical care.
So, as you reach into your pockets to help Haiti (as we must), realize that you are not “giving” at all; you are just paying the rest of the tab for the beans in your coffee, the high fructose corn syrup in your soda, and the mangoes and soy protein in your power-juice.
For as surely as cheap oil causes smog and cheap calories cause obesity, Haitian misery is a consequence of our subsidized lifestyle. The solution for Haiti is, as it is for the world, that we pay fair trade prices that reflect the real costs of products once their environmental and social costs have been factored in.