Summertime in Cuba, Thinking Haiti

Graham Sowa

Stand offering items in regular Cuban pesos.

In Cuba students have written their final exams and families are traveling to see relatives. The busses are full and train platforms are crowded. Last Friday the annual “Night of Books” brought residents of Havana into the streets to shop for books in the slightly less intense heat of the night. The celestial and earthly powers that be have proclaimed that it is summer in Cuba.

The seaside town of Playa Baracoa, located just a kilometer west of the Latin American School of Medicine, is gearing up for a daily flood of Cubans that come to enjoy the small beach.

A new bar is open. It is decorated with numerous high quality banners proclaiming the country wide theme of the season “Un Verano Diferente.” Of course everything in the bar is sold in pesos convertibles.

Just up the hill from these expensive beachside offerings are cheap beer (sold by the plastic bottle that the customer provides) and at least a dozen new private food stands that sell their offerings in moneda nacional. This is thanks to the new laws that allow people to vend by cuenta propia.

But when I travel home to the USA in a few days I won’t be missing the summer in Cuba. I’ll be missing the summer in Haiti.

The past several years I have spent good portions of the hottest months of the year in Haiti. I have volunteered in various clean water projects and at a small rural clinic.

My friends at the clinic there are seeing more cholera cases now than they saw at the beginning of the outbreak last year. The summer rain has allowed the disease to spread anew. For Haiti this summer is not different.

The news and public opinion is mostly silent about the new outbreak of cholera in Haiti. It is now normal for Haitians to die of cholera; just has it has been made normal for Haitians to die of starvation and other treatable diseases.

But news and public opinion only makes me frustrated. My outrage lies with various large non-governmental organizations that have made the Republic of Haiti the Republic of NGOs.

Products available at the beach in hard currency (CUC)

Even these large NGOs cannot suffer to call themselves ‘non-profit organizations’ because clearly that is not what they are. Their profit comes from the lack of existence of a Haitian state, the suffering of the poor, and various projects that appeal more to donors from the United States and Europe than farmers or the homeless in Haiti.

Billions of dollars have been given to these organizations with their promise that they would “rebuild Haiti better” and prevent people from dying of cholera. They have achieved none of the prior and very little of the latter. They have made Haiti a country that continues to prove that the worst is yet to come.

Instead of supporting the creation of the Haitian Government, which is beholden to the citizens of Haiti, there multinational non-governmental organizations use the absence of state services to justify their role in Haitian society. No one elects their presence; they are sustained only to the amount of money they have for their projects.

The existence of NGOs is so endeared to the failure of the Haitian state there exist good reasons to abandon the term ‘non-governmental organization’ and instead adopt the more appropriate ‘anti-governmental organization.’

This past year Tracy Eaton, a fellow blogger over all issues Cuban, began a website called the Cuban Money Project (www.cubanmoneyproject.org). Mr. Eaton has been using this project to highlight the amount of money spent by the U.S. Federal Government on Cuban related programs. The results of these programs very much mirror results from Haiti: failure.

Failed programs should be investigated, even and especially by individuals. It would be a great service to individual donors, volunteers, and Haitians if someone undertook a program similar to Mr. Eaton’s concerning anti-governmental organizations in Haiti.

Any such investigation would most likely find that the Cubans get better results in Haiti and spend much less money doing so. Cuban doctors are well established in Haiti and about 600 Haitians are enrolled in medical schools across Cuba.

The difference is the Cubans work in support of the Haitian Government. Unlike multinational anti-governmental organizations the work of the Cubans is not dependent on a power vacuum created by a failed Haitian state.

And concerning the welcoming of summer I don’t know what Haiti should choose. Words such as “hope,” “change,” and “different,” are too tightly surrounded by the context of disappointment to be considered.


Graham

Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

3 thoughts on “Summertime in Cuba, Thinking Haiti

  • Casey,

    If anyone is aware of their failures it is the Haitians. I’m not Haitian. I know much more about NGOs in Haiti than what I know how it is to be a Haitian. So I’ll limit my criticism to the stronger points of my knowledge.

    Concerning the differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic I would recommend you check out a book “Why the Cocks Fight.” It attempts a comparative study of the two countries. The history of the two countries is incredibly different, even though they were united for a brief stint until the DR became independent of Haitian rule in 1844.

    Even your brief mention of similar geography is not as simple as appears. That mountain range you mention serves the DR very well because it traps moist air during the summer months and ensures regular rains. Northern Haiti is in the rain shadow of these mountains. As a result it is a tropical desert.

    As for personal responsibility and self determination. I assure you these are concepts that Haitians understand much better than you or I. These concepts mean much more when your family is starving or dying of diseases that could easily be cured. All Haitians have are personal responsibility and self determination. If that is all we had I can’t assume that we would be in a much different situation. In reality we like to sustain these mythical concepts while very much relying on others for our success.

  • I have to ask at what point are Haitians responsible for their futures.All I hear is the traditional blame game. Haiti is one of the most corrupt places on earth it suffers its ills that are partially the fault of Mother Nature but mostly the fault of Haiti Herself.
    Haiti shares an Island with the Dominican republic they have the same coastline the same Mountain range and the same Sea, and yet one is a highly succesful destination and the other is well Haiti.

    You should partially edit your article and include reference to the ills of Haitians created supported and wholly maintained by Haitians.

    Personal responsibility and self determination are what is needed, finger pointing corruption and buck passing are business as usual.

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