The ongoing violence and endemic misery in Haiti should offer some lessons for Americans who might still be tempted to support future humanitarian interventions or who believe sufficient American muscle will bring on democracy and a vibrant civil society in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.
It’s also a lesson in the kind of policies that make poverty endemic.
Over the past week or so an uprising against Haitian dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide has spread to at least 11 towns and cost more than 40 lives. The striking thing is the anti-government riots have occurred in towns that used to be pro-Aristide strongholds. The Aristide government has not fulfilled its probably unrealistic promises to the poor, instead ruling as a kleptocracy that enriches just a few cronies.
Haiti has never been ruled well in its 200 years of independece, but the current tyrant has his job courtesy of the U.S. military and the Clinton administration. In 1994, the U.S. military invaded the island to restore Aristide, who had been ousted in a military coup, to power. There was plenty of reason to know that Aristide was vehemently anti-capitalist and anti-American (and brutal as well), but he had influential friends in Washington (see the book “Fool’s Errands” by Gary Dempsey and Roger Fontaine for more details on this fiasco).
Why is Haiti miserable and poor? Resources are limited, but policies make the situation worse. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom ranks Haiti at No. 137 (of 155 countries) in terms of economic freedom, with high levels of taxation and regulation and almost no respect for property rights.
In addition, as economist Jude Wanniski points out, the International Monetary Fund, in return for loans, demands high levels of taxation and currency devaluation, which stifle any hope for economic growth.
The situation in Haiti is tragic. It is important to understand the policies that brought on the tragedies.