OUR THOUGHTS: Haiti On Its Own Terms

In the world of news, Latin American countries have their own phrase or fact that is repeated in each article for the sake of familiarity or lack of knowledge about the country. In Colombia, mention of the FARC is pertinent for any new article, while in Brazil Zika is often mentioned. These phrases have changed over time but for one country, the tagline has remained the same for years. At least for the world of journalism, Haiti is and always has been, “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere”.

A butcher in a street market, in Port au Prince, Haiti, accepts a food voucher as payment for some meat. The NGO Action Against Hunger is running the food voucher scheme to ensure that Haitians affected by the earthquake on 12 January have access to a balanced diet and do not rely on basic food handouts. The vouchers-for-food scheme is one of a number of projects run by AAH in Haiti, funded with the support of £1million of UKaid from the Department for International Development.

Using economic statistics, this may be true, but this line tells a single story of Haiti, of poverty and desperation. When in reality, Haiti is much more than that, with groups who continue to defy this notion of a single story. Haitians are up before the rise of the sun, cooking, running to school, and opening the stalls that dot the major streets of Port au Prince and Cap Haitien. If time dedicated to work were any measurement of productivity, Haitians would no doubt rank among the highest in the world. One group in particular, the entrepreneurs and business sector of the country, are hard at work to shift Haiti’s economy to a thriving and productive sector. Any glimpse of the streets of Port au Prince provides an image of Haiti’s business sector, with women selling cartoons of poulet aux noix and mayi moulen ak sos pwa, poul an sos, young men with Digicel vests on every street corner, and paintings on display outside of the United Nations Log Base. This is Haiti’s economy and despite the lack of infrastructure or support for expansion, these small businesses are the vehicles that move daily life in Haiti. There is no shortage of labor to contribute to the expansion of the Haitian economy: 40% of the population is considered unemployed.

The problem facing these entrepreneurs though, is the, sometimes unintentional, lack of support from the government, which limits expansion and growth of these individual businesses. Communication between these two vital players in the nation’s economy is lacking, severely impacting the ability for the economy to grow. The government, for a variety of reasons, does not always know what entrepreneurs needs to be successful, while entrepreneurs are not always familiar with funding options or different government programs available to them.

Although millions of dollars in foreign aid are funneled into Haiti each year, a significant portion of Haiti’s domestic economy is built off of small businesses, including farmers, market vendors, and shop owners. If the country wants to decrease its dependency on foreign aid, it quite literally depends upon these individuals for economic progress, financial stability, and fiscal freedom. Although altruistic in principle, foreign aid, especially to countries like Haiti, can be harmful in the long run as it limits the country’s ability to grow its own economy. Rather than continue a relationship off of aid, what governments of Haiti and the US should do instead is develop a relationship built upon trade. Haiti has an abundant source of resources, agriculture and cultural alike, that are in high demand in the States. This of course necessitates a significant shift in the policies of the United States, which have long taken advantage of the low tariffs it forced upon the country after reinstating a democratically elected President Aristide. But support from the government of Haiti is also important for the entrepreneurs to achieve economic independence.

This is where OCAPH has stepped forward, in an effort to increase communication between these two vital parties and support the backbone of the Haitian economy. Using Sa Se Bizniz Pam, a radio program that spotlights entrepreneurs from various industries each week, OCAPH is giving a voice to those who are making a new name for Haiti.

 

 

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