Haiti links: not trade and not avian flu in Hispaniola; NPR on fighting disease; on not learning French
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Photo by me
I recently took over editing duties for the Haiti section at Medium, a publishing website started last fall by Ev Williams, who co-founded Twitter and Blogger. Here’s some background about Medium and a little bit about how the site’s evolving so far. Here’s Mashable on Medium.
In addition to writing regular content for the Haiti collection, I’m also looking for contributors—people who have a connection to or interest in Haiti and would value a platform to write about either online. If you or anyone you know is interested in contributing to the site, email me at: tatemart at gmail dot com
My first piece for the Medium for Haiti collection, about mining in Haiti, ran last week. Haiti has no active mines today, but the country’s territory may contain up to $20 billion in precious metals. The potential riches have drawn attention from both local and foreign mining companies:
On June 3, government ministers and mining experts from around the world sat on bleach-white seat covers in a Port-au-Prince hotel ballroom at the first ever forum on mining held in the country. “The mining sector can help Haiti liberate itself,” said Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, “at least a little bit, from dependence on international aid.” After the earthquake of January 2010, donors pledged $5.4 billion in aid for Haiti, and aid currently makes up more than half of the country’s $1 billion annual budget.
But if a large chunk of the proceeds from Haiti’s precious metals are funneled to the state, the country could face another quandary. “Natural resources can either help lift Haiti out of poverty or make things much worse,” Yolette Etienne, Haiti associate country director for the non-governmental organization Oxfam, said in a recent statement. “We all need to work together to ensure Haiti’s mineral wealth become truly a blessing rather than a curse.”
Image via the Bureau des Mines et de l’Energie
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I was working too hard yesterday. I missed the Haiti v. Italy friendly while running around town. But I knew things were going well based on two moments of unmistakable cheering I heard from the street. In Port-au-Prince, the same collective cries of joy mark a Real Madrid or Brazil goal, but the jubilation resonates stronger and deeper during the 90 minute stretches that it’s the Grenadiers who are flitting across the fuzzy television screens of the capital’s street-side bars and restaurants.
I didn’t realize just how well things had gone until I got home and saw that Haiti had held the Azurri 2–2. The national team and the 10 million citizens it represents were rightfully ecstatic at holding the reigning European runners-up to a draw.
The result was billed as embarrassment for Italy, a description that Haitians do not take kindly to. But a side with World Cup-winning ambitions should be embarrassed when it’s held by a team that was eliminated from the competition’s qualifying rounds nearly three years in advance of the tournament, by Antigua.
As anticipation builds for next month’s Gold Cup, one Haitian paper is ushering in “a real spring of football,” while another cannot help but use a certain descriptor for the Grenadiers’ latest performance: “imperial.”
Haitians have a strong streak of nationalism, probably inevitable for a country with the colonial and revolutionary and diplomatically-shunned history of the world’s first black republic. But every soccer match against a European power does not have to be held up as a sort of sporting referendum on imperialism. Les Grenadiers should be the first ones to eschew the notion that one match defines a team, or a country. A year after Antigua eliminated them from World Cup qualifying, Haiti bounced back in a 1–0 victory over the very same island nation, on the road, to earn a berth in the now can’t-get-here-fast-enough Gold Cup.
Rejoice today, because Alcenat and Guerrier and Peguero have given plenty of reason for it. But save some jubilation for the day that Haiti is sticking it to European powers in preparation for a World Cup run of its own.
As my friend C.J. Lotz put it: “Haitian tap-taps often depict celebrities/Jesus/Celine Dion/athletes. Here’s LeBron making a timely appearance.”
In 2010, Adam Davidson of NPR’s Planet Money reported on tap-taps for PBS NewsHour:
One of the greatest things about walking around Port-au-Prince is the wildly decorated buses you see everywhere. In Haiti, they’re called tap-taps. They go all over the city — actually, all over the country. They’re cheap. It’s only a few cents to go across town.
Since only around 3 percent of Haitians own their own car, if someone’s going more than walking distance, they’re going by tap-tap. Tap-taps are privately owned. Each one is its own unique work of kaleidoscopic artistry.
Why are there pictures of Jesus alongside Kobe Bryant and sexy women? Why are there American flags next to Che Guevara pictures? It’s like the Haitian subconscious exploded on the side of every bus.
Davidson noted that many tap-tap owners pay more to paint their elaborately decorated vehicles than most Haitians make in an entire year. From the transcript:
ADAM DAVIDSON: I asked one owner, Patrick François, why he does it.
TAP-TAP OWNER (through translator): If it doesn’t look nice, people will not get on it.
ADAM DAVIDSON: Tap-tap competition is vicious, complete with dancing recruiters. In seconds, you notice painting really is good for business. Painted tap-taps pull up, load passengers in a few quick minutes, and move off. There are pickup trucks going the same route, and they just sit there, no passengers.
My theory is that passengers — and this probably happens subconsciously — figure that someone who pays that much for expensive painting on the outside is also paying to keep up their brakes and transmission on the inside.
Of course, for some, it might be simpler than that. Maybe it’s just a lot of fun to spend some time in a wildly painted tap-tap.
A friend of mine who reported from Haiti for a couple of years always took exception with this depiction, noting that most Haitians don’t really care what a tap-tap looks like as long as it’s headed in their direction and has an open seat. I’d agree that convenience and availability are riders’ first concerns. But vibrant colors and montages of Jesus or American rappers (or both) definitely don’t hurt when trying to attract passengers.
A few more tap-taps from the streets of Port-au-Prince:
2. AP correspondent Trenton Daniel reports from Haiti’s remote southeast: “2 out of 3 People Face Hunger as Haiti Woes Mount”
4. AlterPresse on ti machann (fr): “…while the women toil…some men put all family responsibility on the backs of these women and indulge in idleness…”
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“… L’interdiction des produits dominicains est certes une mesure protectionniste, mais il faut absolument protéger notre industrie avicole et, du coup, encourager la production d’oeufs et de volailles dans le pays.”
Cartoon via Le Nouvelliste
.@oxfamamerica on how dependence on imported rice leaves Haitians vulnerable to volatile world prices: http://bit.ly/1aODKM3
That was after blogging last week about why most people shouldn’t care about food sovereignty.
A friend responded on Facebook today with this comment: “The Oxfam article speaks directly to the importance of food sovereignty. Indeed, I was surprised by the views you expressed in your recent post on this topic.” I tried to make a few points in that blog post last week, but some may have been too implicit or could be expanded upon.
One point is that food sovereignty really doesn’t matter, so long as a nation can produce other valuable goods and services. Think Japan, for instance. Wikipedia says that Japan is the world’s fourth-largest food-importer. The island doesn’t produce enough food to feed its 127 million residents, but it doesn’t have to—Wikipedia also notes that it’s the world’s fourth-largest exporter. Japan produces cars and electronics and machinery instead and buys food from abroad.
Another point I tried to make is that Haiti is probably pretty far away from competing with ‘Miami rice,’ the subsidized grain that’s imported from the United States and accounts for 80 percent of rice consumed by Haitians. Leave aside the U.S. farm bill, which is about as entrenched and inert as legislation gets. Haiti’s lack of irrigation, low soil fertility exacerbated by deforestation and erosion, and lack of capital and technology for farming make it quite hard to compete with super-efficient American agribusinesses. But Haiti is probably in a much better position to compete with Dominican chickens, eggs, and produce. So perhaps instead of trying to paddle against the tsunami that is subsidized production of ‘Miami rice,’ some or even many Haitians could be better served by trying to merely swim upstream and focus on efficiently producing other foodstuffs.
Or, to hedge against volatility of world rice prices, maybe Haitians should eat less rice? It’s shit nutritionally anyway. Perhaps the egg and protein renaissance is near.
I’m not saying, normatively, that all of these things should or even will happen. And given the current state of agriculture in the country, Haiti most certainly has a lot of room to try to improve and increase rice production. But the topic of food production and imports in the country begs for a lot more complex analysis than simply saying, “Haiti should grow more rice so that the country can one day ‘feed itself.’” Way too many Haitians and non-Haitians are wont to tell that story.
Let’s say that Haiti magically increased production tomorrow, Haitians consumed 100 percent Haitian rice, and the country even exported some rice to the Dominican Republic. Haitians would still be subject to some price volatility, like from a drought or from an especially bad hurricane season that destroyed a swath of the rice crop one year. The best way to really hedge against risk from food prices is to have a diversified economy that adds value in many different areas.
Alas, Haiti is an island, but it is not Japan.
Lately, I keep winding up in the same depressing place after working on various Haiti stories on disparate topics. These stories keep leading me to the same simple conclusion that’s apparent at even a quick glance but becomes depressing when you see first-hand how following so many paths within the story of the Haitian economy can lead you to the exact same place.
That conclusion: Haiti somehow has to transition from a country that depends on foreign aid for half of its budget to a country that produces a sizable amount of stuff that people, somewhere, want to buy. It can be Artibonite rice or Caracol t-shirts or Thiotte coffee or a combination of all of them and much more. But to be able to feed the country one day, Haitians have to figure out which things of value they’re relatively well-suited to produce, and how to produce them at considerable scale. And there’s no reason for that sort of long-term development to happen when half of the nation’s budget comes from donors who almost by definition have a shorter-term outlook than Haitians.
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4. Port-au-Prince half-marathon postponed until next weekend, Sean Penn’s charity says it will sponsor five top runners from the half to run this November’s NYC Marathon.
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1. Paul Clammer writes about 1980s Haiti travel guides at his redesigned website. Paul is also writing regularly about adventure travel at Men’s Journal, including Môle Saint-Nicholas.
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