By Louis J Auguste, MD - An Editorial From REFLETS MAGAZINE
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Visitors can have some decent fun and relaxation at the different seaside resorts in Haiti.
Amongst the members of the Haitian Diaspora, two distinct attitudes can be detected. In the first group, some of our compatriots, having left the motherland for whatever reason, political, economical or others, have severed all ties with their past and whatever may happen in the future, have no interest in returning even for a visit, let alone to live there or retire there. In the second group, we find those who have not given up on the fate of the country and continue to scour the media, traditional or internet-based, for any sign of improvement or deterioration in this tortured land that is ours. I belong in this second category and besides reading avidly every bit of news that come my way from the home front, I cannot help but querying every acquaintance, every friend, every relative returning from a visit to Haiti, about their personal impression, their personal observation. Lately, this unscientific poll always triggers the same response. “The country is moving forward. The airport is beautiful. The streets are much cleaner. The roads are repaved. The government buildings destroyed by the January 12, 2010 Earthquake are being replaced. In addition, the visitors can have some decent, fun and relaxation at the different seaside resorts of Abaka-Bay, Moulin-sur-Mer, Port-Morgan, Port-Salut, Cormier Plage, Labadie, and so on.”
However, when I speak to some actual residents of the island, I hear that the poverty is extreme. Life is too expensive. People go hungry and children cannot go to school, for lack of supplies or tuition money. Boat people keep arriving in the Bahamas and in Florida. Furthermore, certain political web sites, borrowing a page from the Republican Party in the US, cannot find one scintilla of good realized by the current Haitian government, preferring to focus on the moral character of the present leader, while promoting a group of politicians with checkered past who make it a habit of breaking the law, by any possible way.
Faced with these contradictory reports, one cannot help but get confused: Are we or are we not making progress? Are Haitians better off in 2014? Thus, I decided to do my own research and look through the publications of the IMF, the World Bank, the CIA and other international organisms for irrefutable statistics, tangible proofs of amelioration or deterioration of the condition of our brothers and sisters.
The numbers were far from great. In 2011, 80 % of Haitians lived below the poverty line, as compared to 25 % in Dominican Republic and 11% in the United States. Only 65% of the Haitian population have access to improved water sources, while the regional average in the Caribbean is 96%. The life expectancy of a Haitian is 62 years, while a Dominican on an average lives 73 years and a US citizen 79 years. It seems therefore that it would be justified to be pessimistic about our state of affairs. However, such view would ignore the fact that on January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale destroyed Port-au-Prince and its surrounding localities. Since 80% of the Haitian economy at that time was based in Port-au-Prince, this resulted in an overnight 50% drop in our GNP. Schools were destroyed. Hospitals were destroyed. That year, instead of growing, our economy shrunk by 5.5%. To make matters worse, later that year, the Nepalese contingent of the MINUSTAH brought Cholera to a country, whose medical infrastructure was more than precarious, imposing further strain on our meager resources. To finish it up, Hurricane Sandy caused severe damages to the agricultural crops all across Haiti’s Southern Peninsula.
Thanks to the Venezuelan help, in the form of Petrocaribe. Thanks also, we have to say it, to the $100,000,000 loan from the International Monetary Fund, numerous projects have seen the day. Construction workers are busy from the North to the South. Multiple projects supporting the local farmers have been put in place. The Factory complex of Caracol offers employment to thousands of previously idle workers, even though the salaries are not yet where they should be. The upgrading of the Cap-Haitien international Airport has created more jobs and more economic activity in this city. A more practical management of the Historic Park of Milot is also bringing more income to the region. Jacmel is bustling with artistic activities. The national routes 1, 2 and 3 are all in excellent condition, although it would have been more profitable to the local economy if these contracts were given to a responsible local contractor instead of “Estrella.” Despite the persistence of the kidnapping problem, Haiti has the lowest crime rate of the Caribbean, half that of Dominican Republic and a quarter of the rate in Jamaica. There is freedom of expression as never before in this country. Individuals are taking to the airwaves daily to insult the President and foment demonstration against the government, without fearing for their lives.
Are we where we should be? Are we there yet? Certainly not! Not when we still have one of the lowest literacy rates in the Caribbean basin. Not when the unemployment rate is still so high. Not when our infant and maternal mortalities are still so high. Not when the Justice system is still in shambles. Accused criminals are kept way too long in jail before being tried and the jails are overcrowded. Many judges are not above corruption. Crimes are not properly investigated. The perpetrators often enjoy impunity and remain free to strike again.
Are we moving forward? The answer is categorically: Yes! Our average life expectancy is 62, but in 1960, it was only 40 years. Our economy has been growing at the pace of 5.5 in 2011, 2.9 in 2012, 4.3 in 2013 and is projected to reach 4.5 in 2014. That puts us on top of every country in the Caribbean, including Dominican Republic (3.5%), Trinidad and Tobago (2.5%) and Jamaica (1.2%). A recent Gallup poll that stratifies Haitians in three self-reported categories: Thriving, Struggling and Suffering. They found that over the past five years, those reported as suffering decreased from 27 % to 18 %.
One must remember that back in the 1960s, Haiti’s Gross National product exceeded that of our neighbors to the east. It took the Dominican Republic 38 years of peaceful administration and orderly government transitions, without “revolutions” or coup, to reach this level of development. Can we do the same or even better? I say: YES! YES! YES! But we must renounce to failed practices of yesteryears. Let us think “Country first” and not our pockets!
Louis J Auguste, MD
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