Haiti is probably going to be a welfare state dependent on foreign aid for a long time to come. Growth and improvement will have to take advantage of what Haiti has to offer: plenty of labor at low cost, a warm tropical climate, and a location not too distant from North American markets.
The best bets? Assembly plants, clothing and apparel factories, some specialty crops for midwinter sales.
Haiti produces mangoes, bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes and yams, citrus, avocados, pineapples, coconuts, melons, okra, cassava, taro (malanga), spices and other crops. It could grow more rice and perhaps grow chickens in modern poultry raising facilities.
Haiti sits in the Caribbean Sea, rich in seafood.
The goal would be to feed Haitians and get some export money. There might be a role for tourism. A few cruise ships stop in Haiti, but far from Port au Prince. The French-Creole language and culture, so familiar in New Orleans, has real appeal to many.
Money will have to come from aid agencies, the World Banks, Inter-American Development Bank, and richer countries.
Help and advice should come from hard-nosed skilled business people, such as those in the produce business, who know the realities and the needs of the market. To get any investment there will have to be loan guarantees and insurance.
Mere idealism and an urge to help are not enough. There are thousands of groups in Haiti trying to help. That’s good for the short term.
For the long term one needs to follow Ronald Reagan’s famous advice: Don’t just give people a fish, teach them how to fish and they can feed themselves.
A modest goal would be for Haiti to reach, say, half the standard of living of the Dominican Republic, its neighbor on the island of Hispaniola.
Many people note the contrast: the Dominican Republic is lush and green with relative prosperity, while Haiti languishes, denuded and in poverty.
In a Graham Greene novel about Haiti, The Comedians, a well-meaning and affluent American couple go to Haiti with a plan to distribute vegetarian products and promote vegetarianism. A bemused local resident comments, “You’ve come to the right place. Most Haitians are already vegetarians — they can’t afford to buy meat.”
Countries that have neglected agriculture in a drive to develop have often not done well. They try to make a great leap into manufacturing or other industries while ignoring the basics, such as food production.