Forstall Foreign Influence in Haiti with Education

Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/MCT

Eric Hass

The earthquake in Haiti crippled college education there, with 90% of university buildings destroyed and about 15% of the university population perished. Professors now hold classes outside with megaphones and lecture to hundreds. Classes have been seriously disrupted and students have written off the second semester. If the university system operates at all next year, it will have to fight through lack of space and material. If a generation goes without higher education Haiti will be in even deeper trouble.

Supplying a group of students might rub some of the passed-over the wrong way, because Haiti’s impoverished supermajority rarely goes to college.

Charitable groups uninvolved in books and computers might be jealous of money spent on such frivolities. Nevertheless, the situation in Haiti makes it clear that aid to colleges is one of the few things that could prevent future tragedies and domination of the country by foreign entities.

Currently, a veneer of order is maintained there by MINUSTAH, a UN amalgamation of the armed forces of well-meaning nations. The international community’s track record in Haiti isn’t good. France gave Haiti a debt of protection money after the successful slave rebellion. One thing Haiti’s stable agrarian economy wasn’t good at was being extorted. America invaded the debtor nation in 1914 and forced a constitution on the helpless country that enabled a voracious kleptocracy. The constitution, written by FDR, contained a clause of “efficient development” that compelled the eventual deforestation of the country, a job begun in the seventeenth century by French sugarcane planters.

A 1986 IMF loan of less than $25 million forced the country to accept cheap American rice imports that undercut and decimated the Haitian rice industry, one of the few remaining in the country at the time. Money left the country to buy the cheaper rice until the coffers were emptied and mud cakes became a popular alternative to food.

A thriving student population would enable Haiti to resist foreign interests who would love to see Haiti become a sweatshop or the holding of an American natural resources company. Those are the options of Western development, which is the only method Western-dominated international organizations know. This isn’t to denigrate the necessary aid of the Red Cross.

Bill Clinton co-chairs the organization that all reconstruction aid to Haiti flows through and he has recognized the need to rebuild nine of the 13 State University campuses. It is unlikely he will destroy one of the barriers to higher education by mandating that classes be conducted in Creole, which a supermajority of Haitians uses, instead of French.