Perspectives From Santo Domingo About Haiti

I was on the phone conducting a MeetInnovators interview when the earthquake happened. My office rocked quite violently, and it felt like a 5.0 quake to me based on past earthquakes. We saw on the news that it was in Haiti, and immediately there were tsunami warnings. I was pretty concerned since I live on the water in Santo Domingo and would have been directly in the path. I took a photo from my balcony about 20 minutes after the quake — which got 4800 pageviews.

In the end the tsunami warning was cancelled. Apparently we did get a tsunami, 12cm big. We survived. :-)

I’m about a 5 hour drive from Port Au Prince and have visited Haiti twice, so watching the news has been horrifying. To know that so much death and destruction is happening just a short distance away is pretty shocking, and worse that there’s nothing you can do about it. I have one friend living in Port Au Prince, but she and her family are fine I did some relaying of messages between her on facebook and calling people around the DR as emergency supplies were brought across. One girl I met in Santiago a few years ago had her mother killed. Its also been disturbing since I’ve spent a bit of time in Haiti and really like the people.

The DR and Haiti have a tense relationship. We have a lot (1m+) Haitian immigrants living in the DR and they don’t contribute much. But the DR stepped up and got a lot of supplies into Haiti quickly which was impressive. This was a lot of work for a developing country like the DR, but people really came together and worked hard to support our “brother” country.

Also impressive has been the efforts of Jeremy Johnson and Nathan Kinsella from Utah who flew some planes and helicopters in.

Less impressive was the international effort – its unclear to me why professional aid agencies like the Red Cross don’t have thousands of paratrooper style teams like the 82nd airborne who can get quickly into a disaster zone during the initial critical moments and save lives. These are professionals with very large budgets.

WARNING: This is not politically correct, but I need to share this. My views are shaped by living in the Dominican Republic since 2001.

Its about time to question whether Haiti should continue as a going concern. Did you know the Haitians buy american cement, then water it down? You wonder why everything fell down so quickly?

We’ve had NGO’s in Haiti for the past 40+ years and things continue to get worse (I worked for an NGO for 3 years, including at the international level).

Check out the GDP of Haiti vs the rest of the world, so you can see the result of billions of dollars of NGO investment for yourself.

And now with so much money coming in, its like a dotcom boom for NGO’s. Each NGO is saying “wow, now we can get into Haiti and do it RIGHT since now we have lots of money”. Yikes!

Some will say Haiti has been mistreated by various countries or bad luck. I say Haiti has a culture which doesn’t teach people to take risks and become leaders. Unfortunately I’ve been told I’m racist, ethnocentric or that Haiti has no strategic advantages. Yet the DR does fine on the same island. Cuba is embargoed by the USA and does ok, as do the other various islands and cultures in the Caribbean.

Here’s a some quotes from a haitian guy inside Port Au Prince on Twitter in the first days after the earthquake:

Mr President Stop Giving us The Victim Speech! We Need A Leader Right Now!

No Food, No Water, No Medications, Nothing! And Our President says he’a victim as well! How long we have to wait?

Mr Preval, we need 2 hear from u! Take ur responsability. Do ur job like those ppl in the streets helping each other! It’s been 4 days now

Cultures CAN be changed — in the USA people were trained not to litter. Germany has changed its culture multiple times over the past 100 years. China has seen immense changes before, during and after the cultural revolution.

Its not about education – what is needed comes before education. They need the culture instilled into them which truly values progress. Haiti feels like an NGO driven version of socialism, and as someone who has visited North Korea and Cuba, I’ve seen the results of socialism first hand.

Right now Haiti is a tax on the world — billions of dollars are going into a bottomless pit — of just 9 million people! They need capitalism now. The rest of the world needs to have use of their money to support their local communities instead of sending it to Haiti.

So my suggestion for you is:
– support the basics of the Haiti rebuilding effort as I’m sure you have.
– don’t support NGO driven projects in Haiti — even so called sustainable programs. These still start out with handouts and effectively teach generations of Haitians not to lead. The exception would be programs which encourage real true grass roots entrepreneurship like microfinance.
– Look for top down initiatives which force true cultural/motivational change on the country
– if you know people considering cancelling their holiday to the DR, please convince them to come. The DR is 100% fine and could use the economic help especially after supporting Haiti. Your friends will have a great holiday

Further reading:
NYtimes: The Underlying Tragedy
FoxNews: Haiti Should Merge With the Dominican Republic
NYtimes: “To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature“:

“..the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it.”

There probably are no great solutions for Haiti, but to let it go back to where its been seems like such a waste of humanity. I feel like we have a global responsibility to try something new.


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4 responses to “Perspectives From Santo Domingo About Haiti

  1. keting

    I like this article.donation alone cannot help Africa or Haiti out of poverty trap, or even worse still. because it cultivates laziness and corruption.but the problem is how to change the top down initiatives? it seems every country is an unique individual, having unique characteristic. some is hard working, some loves fun more than materials.Education, again?

  2. Hector Baez

    Excellent chronicle of the earthquake happening. Your good intentions on the re-building of a viable country in Haiti, are well timed. Big changes in mentality start in the schooling system. That will be the place to start. Its is costly and it will take time, many years. Remember that the origins of this country, is of a rebellious against authority mentality. Nothing is impossible.

  3. Joel Sanders

    This is spot-on. The solution won’t come from a government or NGO (though there are roles for both)…there must be a cultural shift in the mindset of a majority of the people. No matter the country, there are two laws that make civilization possible: 1) Do everything you’ve agreed to do, and 2) Do not trespass on other persons or their property. Law one is the basis of contract law and Law two is the basis of Tort Law. In every country in the world, to the extent that people (including governments…ESPECIALLY governments) obey these two laws, life generally improves. The less they are obeyed, the crappier things are. In Haiti, almost no-one follows either law. Worse, no one ever really agrees to do anything, because there’s no leadership, as you point out.

  4. hey guys, thanks for your comments, they are very interesting.the one thing i’d like to clarify is that i think increased education in haiti while maintaining the current culture would not be a good use of resources.what is required is MINDSET change of the people — this is the area where religion and other ideologies come into play.once the general haitian mindset becomes one which promotes leadership and entrepreneurship, investment in education and infrastructure will really pay off.

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