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Businessweek Archives

Bringing Economic Democracy To Haiti



Almost anything Mexico makes, Haiti can also make. Therein lies the economic salvation of one of the world's poorest countries. But before Haiti can gain a foothold in the modern global economy, it must democratize its economy as well as its political system (page 50). Unless Haiti's economic oligarchs are curbed along with its generals, crony capitalism will continue to impoverish Haitians, driving many to the shores of Florida.

The good news is that there is room for cautious optimism. A thriving maquiladora-type of assembly industry employing up to 80,000 people existed before the U.S.-imposed embargo. Revived, it can be used as an engine of economic growth, as in Mexico. Haiti's large expatriate community is also a major plus. Many are professionals, others are small-scale entrepreneurs. As in China, expatriates can provide skills, capital, and overseas contacts to foster economic growth. Finally, Haiti's farmers own their land. Irrigation can enable Haiti to export fruits and vegetables, like Chile.

The bad news is that a small number of families have an economic stranglehold on Haiti. Eschewing investment in the country in favor of sending capital overseas, they have used the state to create an insular, protected, no-growth economy, where contacts, not markets, dominate.

This must stop. Washington can lift the embargo and rebuild the infrastructure, but in the end, it will have to help free Haiti's people to practice the entrepreneurial activities for which they are justly known.

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