HAITI REPRESENTS the ultimate in the degeneration that can flow from dependency on outside aid. For years it has been on the international dole and for years its condition seems not to have improved. By "condition" we refer to the conventional economic indicators -- Haiti is the slum of the hemisphere, with 90 percent of its six million people living in miserable poverty -- and to its official attitude toward its own misfortunes. The Haitian government, whose leader is President-for-Life Jean Claude Duvalier, appears to have lost every intention it may ever have had to try to improve the life of its people. The government is not simply corrupt and venal, in the manner of many Third World elites. It has developed a special contempt for those who provide its sustenance. Showing this contempt is its peculiar sport.
Consider what happened at a recent meeting in Port-au-Prince of the countries and international agencies that aid Haiti. "Baby Doc," the pretty tyrant who took over from "Papa Doc" in 1971, arranged a typically defiant welcome for his benefactors. Knowing of their favor for the slight political liberalization he has permitted in recent years, he locked up the leading politicians, human rights activists and journalists just before they arrived. When an American aid official voiced concern for the "recent deterioration in Haiti's human rights environment," the planning minister loudly rang a bell, declared that observations on human rights were "not acceptable" and commanded him to "pass to the technical part of your statement."
You know what happened after that. The American and the other donors, taking umbrage, fired right back, or even walked out, right? Wrong. The American delegation passed to the technical part of its statement. Ever solicitous of their charge, the donors, including the United States, agreed to increase Haiti's aid at least 20 percent over the $137 million offered in 1980. This was done on grounds that, as Marlise Simons wrote in this newspaper, "Haiti's need and their own rules for giving to the most desperate cases have made the threats [of an aid cutoff] relatively meaningless." A more perfect and painful illustration of the corruption that this particular kind of aid-dependency induces, in givers as in receivers, could not be found.
The Haitians are said to believe that Ronald Reagan is something of a sucker and that, even if he is told that the government steals one half of the aid and wastes the other, he will fork over millions in order to ward off "communism." Will he really?