What's wrong in Haiti, and why US can do little

GETTING rid of ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier might help Haiti work its way out of some of its troubles, but that would depend on who comes after. And even if the wisest economist in the world could come after, and had full authority, the change could not make much difference very fast. Haiti is not blessed by nature or inheritance with many advantages. Nature gave it some bauxite, its only important natural resource. It also gave it a climate suitable for growing coffee, its main export. But Haiti also has more people than is desirable for a country with minimum resources.

Haiti does not have the most dense population on earth. It has 501 persons per square mile. The Netherlands, a wealthy and prosperous country with virtually no natural resources except good farmland, a temperate climate, and plenty of water, provides a good life for 1,094 people per square mile. Taiwan, with 1,347 people per square mile, has a per capita GNP of nearly $2,000 -- high for an Asian country.

Haiti, with its population of 501 persons per square mile, has a per capita GNP of about $300.

China, for comparison, has 290 persons per square mile and about the same per capita net income: $300.

But there is one big difference, among others, between China and Haiti. China's economy is strongly on the upswing and improving dramatically every year. Haiti's has been bad for years and seems to be getting worse. In that respect Haiti is comparable to the Philippines, which has 459 people to the square mile, and a per capita GNP of $820 -- bad enough to cause rioting there, too.

Perhaps the most trouble-causing comparison is to that of the Dominican Republic, which shares the Island of Hispaniola with Haiti; it has 316 people per square mile and a per capita GNP of $1,140. Dominicans are thus about four times as well off economically as Haitians.

One way for Haiti to solve its problems would be to find another country that would accept about half of its 6 million people. But the United States is already unhappy about the number of Haitians, of limited education and resources, who have already found legal or, more often, illegal, refuge in the US.

The US is not about to import 3 million Haitians to relieve the population pressure in that country. Besides, unless or until Haiti learns about population control, the export of population from Haiti would be only a temporary palliative.

The same goes for US economic aid. Any amount of aid unaccompanied by a vigorous population control program would be only another palliative. Congress, under pressure from the new conservatives of Washington, has forbidden the export of population control information or help from the US.

So what's to be done?

Perhaps the important starting point is that there are other countries with a similar overpopulation problem wedded to economic backwardness, but no other country with quite as severe a case of overpopulation and poverty.

One country shares with Haiti a common cause of trouble. The Philippines, like Haiti, is ruled by a dictator at the center of a corrupt clique that milks the country for the personal gain of the ruling family and its friends.

If all that is alleged about conditions in the two countries is true, it follows that the amount of US aid roughly equals the amount of wealth siphoned out of the economy by the ruling clique and sent away either into Fifth Avenue real estate or Swiss bank accounts.

If the Marcos and Duvalier families could be exported, along with their circle of privileged concessionaires and dependents, the way would be cleared for US aid being pumped into useful economic projects.

But of course the way would only be cleared. To get a foundation for economic improvement, there would also have to be a successor government made up of honest, honorable, and economically competent people. There, of course, is the quandary for Washington.

It wants to get rid of both the Marcos and Duvalier families, but it lacks the political ability to dictate the replacement of those families by honest, honorable, and economically competent successors.

That is a central difficulty in being an imperial power without being willing actually to be one in the old way.

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