By: Joe Emersberger
In addition to US-led coups and economic sanctions, the destruction of local agriculture is a huge part of Haiti’s economic disaster since 1980.
An overtly bigoted writer was recently given space in the New York Times op-ed pages to advocate his version of what the U.S. government has been imposing on Haitians for several decades – basically a sweatshop model of development.
Haitians are told to use extremely low wages to attract foreign investors to make as many products for export as they can. It has been done already and anybody who is interested can check the results. By 1985, under the U.S.-backed dictator Jean Claude Duvalier, Haiti became the ninth largest assembler of goods for the U.S. market.  Figure 1 shows that Haiti’s real GDP per capita declined throughout the 1980s. The golden age of the Haitian sweatshop model was a miserable failure – at least for the vast majority of Haitians. 
Figure 1 calls out eight key points in Haiti’s economic history.
In addition to U.S.-led coups and economic sanctions, the destruction of local agriculture (points 1,2 and 5) is a huge part of the story of Haiti’s economic disaster since 1980. In 1980, 79 percent of Haitians lived in rural areas. About 43 percent still do today. Ruined farmers poured into the cities and exerted downward pressure on wages. The mass exodus also created huge urban shantytowns where people are vulnerable to earthquakes and floods.
Anyone interested in economic development should study Ha-Joon Chang’s concise and very readable “Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective.” Chang shows that when the USA was a developing country during the 19th century it used tariffs that averaged 40 percent to protect against rivals who were only 30 percent more productive. U.S. agriculture must be at least ten times (or 900 percent) more productive than Haiti’s which exposes the malevolence of forcing Haiti’s tariffs down from triple digit levels in the 1980s to single digit levels by the 1990s. The World Bank doesn’t list agricultural productivity values for Haiti but does for neighboring states that are not as poor as Haiti. See Table 3 below.
Source: World Bank
In 1994, the U.S. government made agricultural tariff reductions and privatization of state-owned companies key conditions Aristide had to accept before it ordered a military junta to resign that had murdered about 5,000 Haitians and driven hundreds of thousands into hiding. Aristide signed an agreement in Paris that said he would be allowed to use subsidies to offset the impact of the tariff reductions but was threatened with sanctions when he tried to do so.
The junta had, effectively, already slashed the tariffs in exchange for bribes.  Aristide also angered the U.S. when he disbanded the Haitian military and dragged his feet on privatization. When Aristide was elected again in 2000, the USA imposed economic sanctions which, with the assistance of France and Canada, became increasingly harsh by the time U.S. troops overthrew Aristide in 2004. Figure 2 illustrates the impact of the aid embargo on Aristide’s government. It shows Haiti’s government expenditures per person (adjusted for inflation) since 1997. The values are in Haiti’s national currency, the gourde. As of today 500 gourdes is equivalent to about US$11.
Values in Figure 2 are calculated from IMF data provided here.
Notice the way government expenditures finally began to increase after U.S. troops ousted Aristide and economic sanctions ended. Figure 3 shows that Haiti’s GDP per capital has yet to return to the level achieved in 1999.
Today’s rich countries developed through the strategic use of protectionism that built their domestic markets. In fact, they still make ample use of protectionist policies and massive state subsidies on behalf of privileged sectors, but they ruthlessly bully the most vulnerable countries to prevent them from doing the same. Democratic reform is required in Haiti, but also (crucially) in rich countries like the USA and Canada, if economic policies are ever to be implemented that pull the Haitian majority out of poverty. We need to understand how our governments deliberately impoverish Haitians.
 See Paul Farmer’s “Uses of Haiti” , 3rdedition, pg 99, 291;
 A reasonable objection to Figure 1 is that GDP per capita can be a very misleading measure of economic progress. Table 1 shows child mortality rates for Cuba and Haiti since 1970. Table 2 shows rates of change in child mortality. Countries should be able to achieve the fastest rates of reduction when child mortality is high – when the causes of death are easiest to address (basic access to nutrition and sanitation as opposed to treatment for rare congenital diseases). Cuba’s rates of reduction declined as child mortality was driven to the very low levels seen in rich countries. It Haiti, the opposite took place. The 1970-1990 period had slower rates of reduction than the post-1990 period, so the Golden Age of Haitian Sweatshops is also exposed as a disaster if we use child mortality to evaluate it.
 See Jeb Sprague’s “Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti”, page 77; Also “To Help Haiti, Start with Rice”, Lawrence Theriot, NYT op-ed, Oct 17, 1994
 Ha-Joon Chang, “Kickin Away the Ladder” page 67,68;
Another way to compare productivity between countries is to compare GDP per capita using PPP (Purchasing Power Parity). The USA is about 31 times (or 3000 percent) more productive than Haiti according to IMF data.
Source: Kicking Away the Ladder in Haiti