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Uncovering the End
A podcast on Haiti with Craig Palsson
Full Transcript Below
In this episode, Rasheed invited Craig Palsson to discuss the current state of Haiti. They delve into its past, from pre-independence rivalry to the turbulent period of US occupation, up to the most recent presidential assassination. Next, they analyze Haiti's lack of institutional credibility as a significant factor in perpetuating its decline. Compared to other countries in the region, Haiti's persistent failure leaves us wondering what’s next. Can anything be done?
Apocalypse - There are no natural disasters, only social ones. By Junot Diaz
Haiti's Paper War: Post-Independence Writing, Civil War, and the Making of the Republic, 1804–1954 by Chelsea Stieber
Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace by Christopher Blattman
We Dream Together: Dominican Independence, Haiti, and the Fight for Caribbean Freedom by Anne Eller
A Whirligig of Revolutionary Presidents: State Capacity, Political Stability, and Business in Haiti, 1910-1922 by Craig Palsson
American Imperialism's Undead: The Occupation of Haiti and the Rise of Caribbean Anticolonialism by Raphael Dalleo
Contact Info: Craig Palsson
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
00:00 Rasheed Griffith Hi everyone, welcome to Caribbean Progress. Today I'll be speaking with Craig Palsson. He is an assistant professor at the Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. Craig has published some really interesting research on matters of Haitian economic growth and political economy. He also speaks fluent Haitian Creole and has two YouTube channels. One where he speaks completely in Creole and the other where he explains economic concepts in English. And of course, I will be adding links to all of these in the show notes. Now on to the show. So, hi Craig.
00:40 Craig Palsson Hey, how's it going?
00:41 Rasheed Griffith Very good. Thank you for coming on the show today. I want to get right into the conversation. There's so much I want to cover. It's one of those topics that, you know, it's one of those endless holes you can fall down and not ever get up. But I do want to start off, let's say, your introduction and your interest in Haiti. It's a very particular one and I think that'll be a very good place to start. Why are you so interested in researching Haiti?
01:05 Craig Palsson Yeah, so I lived in Florida for two years serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And when I went there, they asked if I would learn how to speak Haitian Creole to work with the immigrants there. And so I was back in 2007 and for two years I focused on just, you know, getting to know immigrants from Haiti and going to church with them. Just enjoying that a lot. And it ended in 2009 and about six months later is when the earthquake hit. And I hadn't been to Haiti yet at this point. I'm only getting to know Haiti through the immigrants in Florida. And so what's really interesting is I went to Haiti after the earthquake, and I don't know what Haiti was like before the earthquake. Like my whole image of it is just all post-quake.
But in January 2010, I was on a path. I was studying economics. I thought I'd become a management consultant or something. And the earthquake hit. And I was just thinking of all of my friends in Florida, how their families were doing and also understanding that, I spoke Haitian Creole, and that's not a widely had skill outside of Haiti. And so I just thought, man it'd be really cool to be able to work in Haiti, do more stuff, just take the skill and keep going. And had just the idealistic idea. I was walking around a career fair that week. That's why I bring up the management consulting. I was trying to like get into some management consulting firms or whatever.
But then also just thinking of all this made me feel like, what am I really going to do in management consulting? I feel so empty. I'd much rather be working in Haiti and doing something there. And I had the idealistic view like, well, if I went and got a PhD and understood more about economics, maybe I would be in a better position to take those skills and economics, combine them with the love and language and be able to like actually maybe do something towards policy in Haiti. After that, I started I went and got my PhD and my dissertation was on the economic history of Haiti.
03:00 Rasheed Griffith So you said you went to Haiti after the earthquake. What was that like being there after the earthquake? You said post-earthquake Haiti.
03:07 Craig Palsson Yeah. So again, like I have nothing to compare it to previous. But I think a lot of things were very similar. You get to the airport, you get out and you just have like a bunch of kids asking you for money or all those kind of things. That was kind of the first shock. And this was my first time to a developing country as well. So that was a little interesting. But then I just remember, like as we're driving away from the airport, you just see all the tents still set up, just around the side of the main road.
And then as we're going and getting into where we wanted to be, which is Léogâne, which is a little bit outside the capital. I mean, you just saw that, buildings have been flattened and people were living in tents everywhere. It was pretty dire. But also, my experience there was very much. I wouldn't say I'm deep into effective altruism, but that experience makes me realize why it's such a persuasive thing, because I spent two weeks in Haiti.
I was working with a group from my college and I was bringing the language skills and they're like, oh, we want you to also teach some sanitation and hygiene classes. And we're going to go in and we're going to teach them square foot gardening. And I had never done any of those things.
To look back at it now. It's just so silly to think, oh yeah, what was really going to help these people in the wake of this terrible earthquake was for me to go down there and start teaching you guys like some square foot gardening techniques. That's going to really pull you out of it.
And so I share that story with my students today and show them, like look, this is how much it cost me. I could have been working that week, this is what the plane ticket cost. Like look at how much money I could have just sent to somebody, and instead, like I made zero impact there. So that's one of the biggest things; that first experience was just how silly it was that that's what I was doing.
04:46 Rasheed Griffith Are you familiar with that really good essay that Junot Diaz wrote back in 2011 or 2010 about the Asian earthquake? It was called Apocalypse and it was published in the Boston Review. I don't know if you read that one.
05:00 Craig Palsson No, I don't recall it at least.
05:01 Rasheed Griffith No. OK. So I think thats probably, it wasn't intended for this purpose, but I think that's probably one of the best essays written about infrastructure issues in the Caribbean. And it was called Apocalypse because as a famous writer, novelist, he has a very different approach to think about these problems. He's not an economist or a policy expert, but he made the point that there are no such things as natural disasters. There are only social disasters. And in this case, the apocalypse, different meanings from biblical texts and so on. Apocalypse has more than one meaning.
And one of these meanings is the end that reveals the end, essentially. It's something that is so massive that it reveals the problems that we live with and we exist with. And in this case, from my view, his view, perhaps even your view, because what you just said is that if you don't have really good growth infrastructure, economic growth, essentially. Social well-being doesn't actually come naturally. And all of these smaller projects that you have going on doesn't add up to that much. You need these bigger, better policies to really push forward growth and change in the country. Now, this is essentially the argument in that essay.
06:09 Craig Palsson Oh, I totally see that, especially what I like to point out is that lots of people remember January 2010 as the Haitian earthquake, right? They bring that up. Very few people remember, I think it was February 2010, maybe March, the Chilean earthquake, and the Chilean earthquake was 10 times more powerful. And the deaths maybe were in the double digits. To be generous, let's say 100 people died in Chile compared to 200,000 in Haiti. Ten times the magnitude and yet, hardly anything in impact. And so it is very clear that natural disasters and social disasters. I can see that link. There's no reason why Haiti couldn't have been better off if they had been prepared for those things. Thats deep. There's lots of things in the layers there. But yeah, that kind of earthquake, we get those all the time. It hit a place that was densely populated and had terrible infrastructure.
07:00 Rasheed Griffith Yeah. And I want to go into those layers. There's so many layers deep in this conversation. To start off, one of the things that I try to tell people more recently, when they have all of these policy conversations about how to help Haiti today in 2023. And I always make the point that, but Haiti is not really a country right now. It was a country, but there's no good definition of a country that you can apply in this situation that actually, Haiti falls into. I'm curious, in what way can we even discuss Haiti in terms of policy conversations now, that essentially, someone has to do something for something to happen else. If there's no government if there is no elections happening, if there is no public sector at all. Can we even consider this to be a conversation that we can have right now on how to help Haiti as a country to get past the current problems?
07:55 Craig Palsson Is it a country seems like a deep philosophical question to me. But is it a failed state? I think right now you would definitely look at Haiti as a failed state. And I take failed state not as some permanent characteristic of it, there were times when it was functional, and now it's failed. And something needs to happen to get them out of there. But like you were saying, they haven't had elections at any level since 2015, I believe. Right now, there are no elected politicians. Like all of their terms have ran out. The prime minister is running the country by decree ever since the president was assassinated in 2021, July 2021. And that prime minister has a lot of links to the assassination.
It's suspicious how strongly tied he is to a lot of the key characters there. And of course, you have to take into account that, ever since last summer, gangs have overtaken the country. I wouldn't say the country as a whole, but certainly the capital is being divvied up among gangs. And right now, in fact, there's maybe a slight sliver of hope that civilians are now fighting back against these gangs. And there might be some progress made there. But in terms of the government's completely failed at this point, and it's reflected in these discussions on policy.
We're talking just as a summit on helping Haiti has concluded in Jamaica and no clear policies or action plans were laid out at this point. It was very clear that the prime minister, Ariel Henry, has zero intention on doing anything to move forward if he has to give up any sort of power. There's no negotiating with anyone right now. There's no way for people to be held accountable in Haiti for those decisions being made. And it's just really unclear how something is going to become a Haitian solution to this problem without it becoming something outright civil unrest. Or who do they talk to? Who's going to be the one speaking for the Haitians other than this prime minister who holds all the cards right now and is definitely not thinking of the best interests of the country.
9:57 Rasheed Griffith Yeah, I think that's very blatantly true. So let's go back quite a while, I would say, to kind of tease out why the institutional decay of Haiti has been so rapid. Or as some would say, never really got to a point where it stabilized in the first place. And that kind of still materializes right now in these situations. And people usually would start saying, OK, everything went wrong in 1825 when they had to pay the indemnity to France. That's when the troubles started. I suspect you don't agree with that particular argument.
10:33 Craig Palsson Yeah, I wouldn't put 1825 as any particularly important. I mean, we have the indemnity, right? So if we're looking at institutional quality versus quality of life, let me just do the basis. If you look at poverty in Haiti and what we know today, just commonly referred to as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, certainly in the Caribbean. If you look in the 1800s, Haiti actually looks like it's doing pretty well. Like it's certainly not a super rich country. And it's definitely on the poor half of countries in the Western Hemisphere. But many times it looks like it's doing better than the Dominican Republic, then Jamaica, then Puerto Rico.
It's in the running with all of these countries throughout there. And that's because at that time, a lot of them are all doing similar things of kind of small scale farming, not any big agriculture. And then that starts to shift at the early 20th century. And that's when we really start to see a divergence between Haiti and the rest of the region. But if we want to talk about the institutional stuff, a lot of those institutional problems were going on during this time. They just didn't have effects that trickled down to the rest of the people other than the fact that you couldn't get large-scale plantations or anything.
So you have the revolution starts in the 1790s. So if you're looking in 1789, Saint-Domingue, colonial Haiti is about 400,000 slaves and then about 40,000 free whites. Ballpark. I mean obviously, it was just at a pressure cooker tipping point, something was going to happen. Slave revolt comes in great. Toussaint Louverture is the head here. He's like the George Washington figure for Americans just coming in leading this. But then Toussaint is taken away and he dies shortly thereafter. And his right hand man Jean-Jacques Dessalines takes power. And Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a lot of people really like Dessalines. He's this revolutionary figure. But to me, like a lot of the problems really start when it shifted from Toussaint, who I think Toussaint had a vision of how to bring Haiti forward as this vengeful nation, but trying to synthesize that we do not want slavery and we want to overcome these abuses. But we also understand that we want to welcome all people here.
He leaves and Dessalines left and Dessalines has a couple of times where he's just very vengeful against the French, kicking the whites out of the country. And I mean, it's a perspective I totally can see. You understand that, they're going to be upset about what's happened. But also, I think it really puts them on this bad path going forward on how do we handle institutions in this country. There's this fantastic book that I just read called Haiti's Paper Wars. And it's about how a lot of early post-independent Haiti was this debate between should we have an empire or should we have a republic? And the idea of how much should individual rights be subdued to attain greater goals?
13:21 Rasheed Griffith Was this part of the reason why they had the actual split between Christophe and Henry? Was that that debate or was that going to be before or after?
13:29 Craig Palsson Yeah.
13:30 Rasheed Griffith OK.
13:30 Craig Palsson Yup. Yup. That's the debate. So they come in. So Jean-Jacques Dessalines is more of an empire guy. He gets assassinated. But then you have Christophe and Alexandre Pétion, and they're on different sides of this debate. Pétion thinks it should be a republic, that we should just have individual rights, that the state should be relatively small. And Christophe is like, no, the state should be big. There's bigger things here that we're trying to accomplish. And sometimes that's going to mean that individual rights need to be suppressed to attain the greater good. So then it divides into the north and the south. The north is the Kingdom of Haiti with Christophe. South is the Republic of Haiti with Pétion. And they stay divided up until Christophe's death in 1820.
But that's showing you this difficulty that Haiti has always had with trying to solve problems by making sure that parties come to an agreement or that parties get some sort of payout from things. A lot of theories of governments are these theories of rent sharing among elites. We have this pie. We're going to come together. We're going to say this group has this interest. This group has this interest. This is how we're going to like create an equilibrium where everybody at least wants to be together and we don't fight. And if fighting starts breaking out, then we're going to come to some sort of arrangement where we say, OK, how do we negotiate through this? Because no one really wants to fight.
Chris Blattman's Why We Fight is a great book that talks about this process. Haiti had a really hard time coming to this equilibrium of how do we create a country where people are at least satisfied with the equilibrium? Maybe we're splitting rents, maybe we're taxing people like crazy, but we at least have elites who have an interest in making sure the state is stable and not hey, we need to just fight any time something comes up. And so this book says that this debate between empire and republic is a big part of it going through those first couple of decades. And I mean, it's a pretty convincing argument. It was definitely more of an ideological argument than I was used to.
The other interpretation is [inaudible], who's the most prominent economic historian of Haiti. He says that this all gets rooted in the land redistribution that happens after independence. So you take all these plantations, the government's confiscated them, now you split them and divide them among the population. And instead of the typical Latin American country where everybody has plantations or you get these large plantation owners who have rents that they can extract through large-scale agriculture, everybody's on small-scale agriculture. And so there's no way for you to extract rents there. And the only way is to go through politics.
So they're constantly fighting in politics to try and get the rents that come from exports, that come from any other way that the government is generating revenue, and then there's constant turnover because there's just a fight over the rents there. I think there's a place for both of those arguments. I don't think they're mutually exclusive, but we don't have as much quantitative information on what was going on back then. We have just a lot of debates and a lot of narrative without actually showing, this is where how much rent was being divided between the countries. This is how these agreements were working out. And I'd like to see something like that before I get really invested in any one of these hypotheses.
16:39 Rasheed Griffith OK, so we have the start of the split going forward. We have the empire public split. Then after death, you have a relief with Boyer that kind of reunited both sides back together. But then I would assume that that kind of tension didn't just go away because Boyer is now president and things happen. I'm curious, why is it that even after reunited, the institutional formation still never got to a point where even after Boyer, even down to Soulouque. From Boyer down to Soulouque, things still never stabilized. Was there some missing thing in the institutional, let's say, bones and skeleton of the country that things could not stabilize even at this point?
17:25 Craig Palsson Yeah. And this is where the book Haiti’s Paper War was really challenging the ideas I had before because again, the hypothesis was there's just no rents other than fighting in the government. And then this book saying well, there's actually a fundamental, ideological conflict going on. And people are trying to debate, what does liberty mean? I think that our main argument is liberty. Is it the freedom to have your individual rights or is it freedom from the external influence, in which case individual rights have to be suppressed? It's very strange to me that they're not able to come to some sort of negotiation. I don't know what the fundamental institutional mechanism is here. And to me, this early period is actually evidence that Haiti was a fairly high capacity state.
So like Boyer goes in and takes over the Dominican Republic. And from is it 22 to 44? 1822 to 1844, I believe. It's all united under one government. You had to have at least a decent amount of state capacity for you to exert control over the entire island. I'm very impressed with the gazette we have throughout Haiti's history. Haiti is constantly publishing a gazette, constantly reporting on some economic key indicators, reporting on the laws that they're passing often. They're publishing transcripts of the debates going on in the legislature. It looks like a fairly decently established bureaucracy and states. It's shocking to me that it's struggled so much.
Actually, one of the big signs of resilience is that because presidents were dying so much, I guess dying isn't the right term. But out of the first 24 presidents, 17 of them didn't serve their full terms. Like 17 had been ejected from their office. And even though you're constantly having this kind of turnover, the bureaucracy is just going forward. They just keep doing what they're supposed to be doing. That's not to say there isn't corruption. There aren't all of these other things. But as I get more into researching this period, my idea of Haiti just didn't have state capacity. It keeps getting challenged just a little bit at a time. And I'm trying to figure out where that disconnect was itself. It seemed like the state was getting some things done, but there's something else that's preventing them from establishing some sort of political equilibrium where stability is going forward.
There's another historian, Marvin Chochotte. He argues that a lot of this is the revolutionary heritage of the Haitians. That the state was seen as some sort of enemy, seen as inherently coercive, which kind of goes with this empire argument as well. And that this was the checks and balance system that Haiti had developed rather through a formal political method. It was, we're going to have regular uprisings in the towns. They're not always going to make it up to the national level, but it's going to keep the state in check. So that way it never gets strong enough to enforce coercive labor laws or do any of these things.
20:19 Rasheed Griffith So what now about the arguments, let's say, by someone like Bulmer-Thomas, Victor Bulmer-Thomas, when he puts decent amount of emphasis on the external pressures that Haiti felt very early on in the state building process. So you have, of course, when Haiti declared independence, this was essentially the height of the Napoleonic Wars. Because of that, the U.S. with a very tense relationship with Great Britain at the time, wanted to not go too hard against France. And France obviously had particular interest in Haiti. Therefore, the trade between Haiti and the U.S. can never be stabilized at least so early.
And then, you know, go forward and go forward because now you have situations where the Haitian government in its capacity as a governing body always had the threat of external pressure, military-wise. You had, OK, the potential French invasion, potential in the U.S. pressure, which obviously we will get to. You also had the German problems in the naval blockades and so on. So all of that meant they had to spend such a big proportion of their public finances went just to militarization. And that constant militarization, that constant, let's say, non-support of other sectors really clamped down on the growth of education and health and those things. I guess that's one aspect of his external pressure argument. How really relevant is that when it comes to the state formation institutions and the essential economic growth of Haiti?
21:50 Craig Palsson I think there's definitely merit to it. It's tough because I don't know how much legitimate threat there was to Haiti, but certainly Haiti thought there was a legitimate threat. And early on, there was definitely a case to be made that there's a legitimate threat. But a lot of early Haiti's institutions are being formed by this fear of invasion.
There's a historian, Lacerte, he argues that xenophobia was this major barrier to Haiti. And it manifests itself at its root in a lot of things. So one of these is this fear that they're going to invade, we're going to militarize and we're going to over-militarize. It seems like they're clearly spending too much money on forming a military rather than providing other public goods. But also, in the Constitution itself, they're banning whites and foreigners from owning property in Haiti. And they developed so many institutions to ward this off. One of my favorite ones is allegedly, if they died in Haiti they weren't allowed to be buried in Haiti for fear that that would constitute some sort of claim on land there. And they didn't want to even let that start. They ban a lot of foreigners from directly participating in commerce in Haiti. And this obviously gets tweaked over time.
But I'm working on a paper right now where even in the early 20th century, to operate a business in Haiti, you had to have a special license and you had to come in and register. And there were limitations on what kind of business you could be operating in. You couldn't deal directly with certain institutions. You had to have a Haitian intermediary. They're worried about not just this military incursion, they're worried about the commercial threat as well. And so they become very standoffish to foreign investment, which just sets it up as a nice juxtaposition with the Dominican Republic on the same island, because the DR becomes very receptive to foreign investment. And a lot of that motivation is coming because they're afraid of Haiti. Haiti occupies the whole island up till 1844. And now the Dominicans are like, well, you know, there's this Haitian threat on the West side, right?
This gets to some of the origins of the conflicts today. Like they're begging in the 1860s or post 1860s with the U.S., with President Grant, like, hey, you need to annex us. And they actually get an agreement drawn up and it just never gets approved by the U.S. And so they're like, OK, well, we're giving you lots of land. The Dominican Republic becomes very receptive to foreign investment and foreign involvement. And I think that comes to a big root of why these two countries start diverging as part of that worry about what's happening externally. As far as the direct military threat, it's hard for me to know how serious that was. But they certainly were worried about it. And they formed a lot of institutions at the early time that have long ramifications, especially in the early 20th century, when globalization starts becoming the main theme for this area.
24:50 Rasheed Griffith OK, so sticking on the, let's say, public finance aspect of this, because of the one other part of the conversation is the size of the agricultural plots and essentially the land. I know you've done some work on this small farms problem because there was no economy of scale that could have been reached as one aspect of it. We have the large plantation, the large sugar plantation, the large coffee plantation and so on. You couldn't have a proper industrialization process when it comes to, including investment, including expertise, including management skills that was not possibly formed. And therefore, those kind of sectoral growth dynamics never were able to be taken place in Haiti. How big of a problem was that when it comes to a lot of the, I guess it goes back to the days of government rents and days of growth and days of reallocation of public finance, but you have to actually earn money to reallocate money. How big of a problem was this small farms issue when it comes to the revenue generation of the country?
25:50 Craig Palsson Yeah, I think small farms are one of the most underrated issues in Haiti, because a lot of people see small farms today as a solution. Let's just help optimize these small farms and produce there. And especially today, I'm like, these farms are producing nothing. Let's get these people out of farming and into something more productive. But yeah, I think, as you said, I've written this. This is the main focus of my dissertation was that we had all these institutions in Haiti that were really biased towards small farms. Like almost that was the I mean, I don't even want to say almost. The intent was let's create small farms. That way we don't have to ever worry about that plantation agriculture ever again. And the problem is you can only do so much with small farms, right? Like you can do subsistence cropping.
The nice thing is coffee can be done on small farms, so you can do a cash crop at a reasonable scale to get some revenue. But if you see it, it's mind blowing to see that Haiti, which during the 18th century, on the eve of revolution, is supplying half of the world's sugar. And obviously, the world is producing more sugar, so you wouldn't expect Haiti to keep that place, right? But by the early 20th century its producing no sugar. Like they just never get back into sugar. And you can see Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, even Jamaica, all taking off while Haiti is just staying behind without getting into sugar. And it prevents them from generating revenue, prevents them from getting in some of these technologies that even though maybe you're not doing sugar forever, but you're at least getting people in who have experience with steam engines in sugar processing plants. They can build railroads that are transporting these all over the place, right? And then as you get that expertise, you get spillovers into other industries. You're losing out on a lot of that.
And the other issue is that because you're on small farms, you get these externalities that no one can internalize the environmental degradation that's going on. There's no incentive to get capital in there. You're doing labor intensive farming. And so you're doing a lot of hoeing and very intensive to every square inch of your plot, which over time causes a lot of degradation. Like in the U.S., we have issues where homesteading at 150 acres was seen as too small and causing environmental problems. We know the environmental problems that came from that. Haiti is doing five-acre farms across the entire country. And it's no surprise that today Haiti's agricultural productivity, their soil is exhausted, it's depleted. You just don't have room for crop rotation. You don't have room for experimentation. If everyone's on small plots, you're just losing out on a lot of opportunity even just if you want to stick in agriculture.
28:34 Rasheed Griffith Is it really the case that one of the large motivating factors for the preference for small farms was to go against that slave period mentality of plantation work? Or was there some other rationale given by the governments as a push factor or by the actual Haitian as a pull factor when it comes to small farm cropping?
28:55 Craig Palsson There's actually some recent work that I have on my desk that I need to get to. But there were definitely in Haiti's early times debates about whether they should keep this ban on foreign property ownership. People saw that we need to get to large scale agriculture. So Anne Eller has a paper on this. It's on my stack. I just haven't gotten to it yet. There are definitely people pushing against small farms. I think it's hard when you're going to have to go through large scale evictions. Anything to do that, it's just going to be like a pretty big task.
You think they'd be up to it with their over militarized government, right? But also, like I said earlier, with the work of Martin Chochotte shows that there was a lot of local rebellions pushing against it. It's not like these peasants were just helpless or hadn't had experience. A lot of them are coming from kind of being raised in a conflict environment where they're being trained to push back against any sort of coercion like that. And again, there's this period where Haiti is not necessarily the poorest country in the region. It was actually an equilibrium that worked. People are doing fine. I don't think many of them know what other islands are doing, but they look pretty similar to those islands. And maybe they're not feeling a big incentive to move towards there.
I do think that the argument that it's this heritage of we broke away from slavery and we don't want anything that looks like that. I think that sometimes gets oversold in the literature. The biggest idea being, you're getting hundreds of thousands of Haitians at this time migrating to the Dominican Republic, migrating to Cuba to work on plantations there. And those plantations, they're not slavery, though, a lot of historians like to say it's not slavery, but it's very close. Clearly they're willing to go to great lengths to work in these kind of industries. It seems to me that they would prefer if they could get that at home rather than having to go abroad where they have fewer protections, where they're having a foreign environment, they're away from family. There's just so many costs that come from migrating. And yet they're still doing that because they don't have anything at home.
And then there's the argument that because there's so much opportunity abroad and a kind of selection that you get for the people who do move abroad, that might have weakened the resistance to coercion at home by saying, you're the strongest and most capable men. They're going to go over to the Dominican Republic and work on sugar plantations. And the ones that stay behind are the ones that might not be as strong, might not be as motivated. And when the government starts doing things, there's not much resistance there. It's just this argument that I've seen tossed out there and I'm not convinced by it, but it is interesting to see the memory of slavery was not strong enough to keep you from going and doing similar things if the wage was high enough.
31:37 Rasheed Griffith So lots of instability continues across the century. I want to say go farward a bit to, let's say, 1900 going to 1915. So 1915 was a particular moment in Haitian history where we kind of reference all the time now. And to me, even more interesting now because of some of the comments you have from people given the current state of Haiti. And many people say, well, what else can you do besides intervention at this point in time? But that was tried before 1915 when the US started their occupation in Haiti. I want to tell us what led up to that very intense period. Firstly, and then afterwards I kind of want to discuss why it didn't actually result in any kind of dramatic transformation of Haitian society that one would expect after that kind of occupation. But first, what led up to the rationale for the US occupation of Haiti?
32:33 Craig Palsson Yeah, spoiler alert, I might be pushing back against you saying it wasn't quite a dramatic transformation.
32:37 Rasheed Griffith Sure
32:39 Craig Palsson So I've already mentioned that, out of the first 24 presidents, 17 were removed from their office. Well, if you just look from 1911 to 1915, so over a four year period, there were seven different presidents in Haiti. There you've got people who are serving three months as president before the next coup happens, and they're tossed out. I've seen some people refer to it as the ephemeral period. I don't know if this is a widely adopted time, but it's just the government is constantly being overturned. In fact, I'm writing a paper on this time. I actually already have referenced this, but the title of the paper is “A Whirligig of Revolutionary Presidents”. That's what the New York Times referred to Haiti as. And I was just like, what a great term for what was going on at this time. And so you just have all of these presidents being taking over the government, they've been kicked out themselves.
33:25 Rasheed Griffith Why was that happening so much in that very short time?
What was going on?
33:30 Craig Palsson Yeah. So again, it gets to a lot of this rent sharing, which is funny because we definitely have evidence that they were trying to appease people. So a new president would come into power and he would issue pardons almost immediately, but not just for his friends who helped him get into the government. He would pardon the previous government and say, don't worry guys, we're not going to come after you. Let's just move forward. So it looks like they're trying to establish some sort of rent sharing agreement that says, don't worry, I'm the guy that's going to keep us intact here.
But, a lot of these people, they get into power and then the person who helped them get into power is the one they're trying to take them down next. So obviously, they're failing on some sort of rent-sharing agreement here. Again, as over-militarized as Haiti was, there wasn't a strong enough military loyalty or resistance to what was going on. And so you could easily round up these people who had been protesting locally or fighting back locally. And you had enough experience in the countryside that you could bring people in, throw out the president, pay off the people who helped you and then start this process over again. But the biggest fear at this time is that the Germans have a pretty big commercial presence in Haiti.
Some statistics are quoting it as Germans are controlling about 80 percent of commerce in Haiti. Germany is not the main source of exports. It's not the main source of imports. It's just whatever is going on in commerce, the ships that are being used in commerce, the banks that are being used, the merchants. Germans are finding themselves as a lot of the commercial intermediaries in what's going on in Haiti. And the US is looking at what's going on in Haiti and seeing all this conflict and this power vacuum. And this is right at the beginning of World War One. And they're worried that the Germans are going to come in, especially with the Panama Canal just opening up and the Germans are going to gain the strategic foothold in a very important part of America's backyard. So there's this big stability motive for the US to get into Haiti and just keep things at bay. Let's stabilize. They kick out the Germans. They sequester property from the Germans. They're trying to establish this stability there.
Not that I mean, there's at least a group of Haitians that are not excited about this and they start pushing back. There are camps being set up in the east to resist. And so it becomes like one of the US's first big counterinsurgency programs. Like actually the hearts and minds doctrines and all this counterinsurgency doctrine that we have today, a lot of it is being formed in Haiti at this time. And so they start establishing the stability and then they realize OK, we could leave right now, but if we do, it's all just going to fall apart. And so they actually extend the occupation and they start reorganizing it to try and do something that's going to establish something more long term.
A lot of their programs are not very successful. I think they're building roads. The roads fall apart. They do push forward some on education, but it's not anything very spectacular. And so they leave in 1934 around 1927, 1928. There's a small massacre in one of the port cities as people are protesting. It generates a lot of international bad-will towards the occupation. And the US is like, all right, we got to get out of here. This is just a no-win situation for us. They leave in 1934. They still have some control over the Treasury, basically, because most of the debt is being held by the US, but that gets paid off by the late 1940s, at which point the US breaks free clearly.
Well, one of the biggest things that the US did here and also what they did in the Dominican Republic when they were occupying there was establish a constabulary. They're establishing military, police, all these kind of things that really build up state capacity in a very specific way. And it's this transformation of like, hey it's not just militarized. It's we have a pretty effective way of controlling the population, stopping resistance. That's when Francois Duvalier comes around. He has this infrastructure in place that he's able to use to then build up his dictatorship. So that’s the biggest transformational thing is you had preoccupation, this phase where you have tons of instability and for some reason the government can't control it. And then you have the opposite of that with the US occupation, where they come in and they just show this is how you stop people from overthrowing the government.
And then you have Duvalier, who's like the synthesis between these two periods of I'm going to be a Haitian president who understands how to stop resistance and maintain stability for a long time. But it's going to be draconian. It's going to violate a lot of human rights and it's going to be a problem. But we'll have stability, guys. Don't worry. And so I think that's like a really big change and really underrated part of the occupation was that it put in the capacity that enabled dictatorships later on. And this is argued similarly on the Dominican side that Trujillo was able to use the similar infrastructure to enforce his long dictatorship.
38:29 Rasheed Griffith OK, I will grant that as a fairly substantial difference. But now you have the Duvalier and his son Duvalier, Papa Doc Baby Doc, and they continue that long, let's say, tradition of dictatorship plunder in the country. And of course, that's a different, like stepwise change, but change essentially, I don't know if for the worse, but continue bad situation in Haiti. And then how, I guess before we could go further, how then did that kind of dictatorship persist? Because it was a very, very bad.
I can see on your bookshelf. You have some Frank Dikotter books there. He wrote this. He wrote the dictator book somewhere there. I think he does reference, have a whole chapter on Duvalier. I think he does. How was it, you know, a gold star dictatorship in many ways. It was in Haiti. Why then did the Duvaliers were able to persist so much? Was it because of this massive control they had over the country via the state security apparatus? It felt like it's from my reading, they have so much more control than one would even expect, even with just security. And how then did that kind of persist for so long?
39:33 Craig Palsson Yeah, so I think a big part of this, and I keep bringing this up on Haiti failed to establish a rent-sharing agreement that kept people wanting to keep the government stable. I think Duvalier figures this out. The common name for his goons are the Tonton Macoute. They're also known as the VSI. But he is able to, he's deeply distrustful of the military. So he had worked with President Paul Magloire in the 50s and Magloire had been opposed by the military. I think he was eventually kicked out by a military coup. And so Duvalier saw that and he's like, well, the military is clearly not my ally.
And so he sets up this rural paramilitary group when he gets put in and they call him the Tonton Macoute, which is basically like calling him the boogeyman. And gives them a lot of local authority in extorting people. You get put into our group, you can extort local businesses, you can recruit people. I think there's almost a pyramid scheme to it where you can recruit people and get stuff from them. Now all of a sudden you have a national institution that is invested and has the power to support your presidency. And if there's a threat, then you're going to actually have people who have skin in the game that want to push back against that threat. And one of the first things he does is dismantle the military, at least take out most of the important players who could possibly resist him. T
here's this threat that comes in. We have a very similar situation in Cuba. We have people who land in Haiti like a five-person crew or something that tries to single-handedly come in and overthrow the government. They get locked in a fort, and Duvalier is able to say he recruits citizens to come in and help him push back against us. He's winning people over by showing them. By using them. And so there gets to be this buy-in from a wider group of people through this paramilitary group that shows this is how you can make a decent living. You can rise a little bit above where things are, and we keep the government stable. And along with that, Duvalier is starting to court international investment.
We're starting to see some of the first manufacturing jobs coming in. And so there certainly are people who are seeing their standard of living go up during this time. And it's like, yeah, there's that bad stuff happening over there kind of aspect to it. But at least the economy is growing. And if I keep my head down, then like hopefully everything works out fine for me. And so I think Duvalier was the first one who figured out how to get some sort of coalition to say, we see the benefit of having you in power and we're going to stop the people who try to push back against that. And it doesn't seem like that big of an innovation. It seems like the standard thing to do. Give local people power that's connected with you and give them the authority to just single handedly stop any resistance. Like if you had the dictator's handbook, that's going to be Chapter Five.
But for some reason, Duvalier figures it out and previous Haitian presidents were unable to figure that out. And that innovation is what keeps him in power. There's this question when he dies and his son takes power, if his son is going to do it and somehow his son retains power and then is able to keep that apparatus going. And that's like a true innovation in Haitian governance that led to 30 years of political stability and frankly, pretty decent economic growth as they were bringing in all these manufacturing jobs. And part of that the reason why they want to do that is because they're extorting the economy.
They have an incentive of if we bring in more factories, then we're going to personally get richer. So you can see why they would want to do that. But they're able to do that and they establish all that stability. And then, I mean, frankly, like it all falls apart. Thank goodness, because it was bad. We don't want that. But also, we don't have the next stage of how do we achieve that coalition without also doing terrible things to people? Right. They just can't figure out that next step when the Duvaliers are deposed Aristide kind of starts figuring this out, but it falls apart as well.
43:29 Rasheed Griffith Could you kind of go into the transition between Duvalier and Aristide? Because even to me, it is not quite clear, honestly, what dynamics happened to move forward with that.
43:39 Craig Palsson Yeah, man, I spend so much of my time in the occupation period. I probably don't have like the best account of what's going on in the early 90s, unfortunately. But 1986 about is when Baby Doc, Jean-Claude Duvalier, is ousted from office. And then you have this period of uncertainty, trying to figure out what the next step is. You're starting to move towards democracy. We want to elect and we want to be done with the Duvalier part. Because even though the Duvaliers themselves are gone, a lot of those people who are in that power were there. In fact, the period after Duvalier is called Duvalier without Duvalier, because it's just as bad. But it's just a little bit unchecked because you don't have that presidential authority there. I mean, Duvalier himself, the first Duvalier had some pretty popular support. And that's how he came to power.
Well, Aristide starts pushing forward and getting a lot of popular support as a counter to this Duvalier ideal. And politically was super popular, right? Just overwhelmingly coming in, winning the election. But then the US sees Aristide as a threat or at least isn't a big fan of where this government is going. And then when the coup happens, the US is like, yeah, fine. There's a coups. Sorry, guys. We don't really want to intervene that much here. I don't know. I think a lot of the discussion around Haiti is colored by a lot of people who want to take away agency from Haiti. Haiti is put on a pedestal as this first and only nation to overcome slavery through the slaves themselves. Rightfully awesome achievement.
There's this great book called American Imperialism's Undead, where in the first chapter, this author outlines, look, this is how much has been written by historians on the revolution. And this is how much has been written on the occupation. And it's just starkly different. And the argument is that people see the occupation as this sign that the revolution failed oh, yeah, they revolted. But then, eventually, the state fell apart and you had to have this come in. And so people don't want to see this revolution as a failure because you have people who take racist interpretations of this and say, well, yeah, well, of course, the black nation is not going to succeed.
It's like the worst argument that you can make for these kind of things. It's just that they did a terrible job setting up their institutions and there's lots of issues there. And so a lot of people want to put blame on Haiti's problems on external forces. And that removes a lot of the agency from Haitians themselves. Essentially, you're making the same type of racist arguments of Haiti can't make bad decisions themselves. Like the Haitian citizens, they're not making bad decisions. We don't want to blame them. It's something that the US is doing or that France is doing. And so that takes away the fact that, the US, even though they might have set up some of that infrastructure that Duvalier could exploit, Duvalier is still a very Haitian problem.
It's not like the US came in and installed him and said, here, you'd be our puppet president here. No, he came in, gained the popular support, was enabled by all the institutions he set up. Then you have the issue where, he gets to a point where, is the US supposed to intervene? And stop the Haitian. I don't want to say problem there. The thing that they have created. And I think you still see some of these things throughout, even up to today. We want to keep blaming external forces for what's going on in Haiti and not realize that things like Duvalier, like Aristide, like a lot of stuff is just people supporting the wrong people and not necessarily an external thing.
46:57 Rasheed Griffith Yeah, I think the external argument, at least some people take it too far. So for me, I'm from Barbados, you know, the Caribbean. Grew up with Haiti in the background all the time. But people always compare Haitian institutions to Barbados or Jamaica, you know, who else? People never also go and point out, well, the reason why, the core reason why these other Caribbean countries like Barbados is so, lets say, stable over time, that there was no sudden stop when independence came.
Independence was a very, very gradual continuation of the already existing British institutions. Same for Jamaica, same for Saint Lucia, so on and so on. The Haitian revolution was a very sudden, hard break stop. It wasn't like you're continuing decades of growth and like, oh, we have to start back from zero. And starting back from zero is never a very easy thing to do. So the sudden stop and sudden start rebuilding of institutions is a I think a wholly, wholly underrated reason for a lot of the Haitian instability. So early on, all of that continuing, of course, over time, and people don't want to give that because, as you mentioned, the agency lost problem. They don't want to make those points when it comes to Haiti. They don't want to take it very seriously. At least many people don't, at least.
48:12 Craig Palsson Yeah, I agree. It's just very interesting that the people who are worried that if we say, well, Haiti became a failed state because of their own choices are saying, is that African descendants can't govern themselves. That's not what it was. It was that you had these external forces that came in and influence. And what you're saying is African descendants aren't able to make their own choices and get themselves out. They don't have that capacity for government. It's just it's funny to me that the same people who would immediately stop one of those arguments, their counterargument is the same vein. Right. It's two sides of the same coin.
I think if you look at the institutional issues, if you look at all these other things, it's just so clear that there are things that are fundamental across societies. Doesn't matter where they come from. If you don't setting up these correct institutions, if you're putting bad incentives in play, doesn't matter where you're from. This is going to cause problems. And I think there's a little bit of romanticism around Haiti because of that revolutionary background where you don't want to criticize these institutions.
People love that they banned foreign land ownership. And like, how big of an issue was that towards their long run development? It's hard to get a real number on it. But it probably was not the best decision for their long run economic development. But we love this romanticism of they broke off, they gained complete sovereignty. And now, the only thing stopping them was that everybody else hated them. They were, the beautiful kid in high school that is an outcast because they're too beautiful. Right. Like, now they made some bad decisions.
49:37 Rasheed Griffith Continuing forward a bit more now. One of the curious things about very recent Haitian politics, you also write about this, is the external election interference, which, has been a consistent topic discussed here. The example of, I believe it was, Célestine and Martelly.
49:56 Craig Palsson Yeah
49:56 Rasheed Griffith Let me ask in a different way. I want to fast forward a bit to a very recent example of outside election interference in Haiti. And I know you write about this also. And could you kind of explain why was Hillary Clinton in Haiti making decisions about who should run in the election? Actually, very recently.
50:16 Craig Palsson Yeah, yeah. So this is funny to go on my little rant of like, we keep blaming the external things. And then it's like, you know, sometimes it's justified. Yes, there are some problems where external forces are messing things up. So, I mean, the earthquake in 2010 was just very inconsiderate because the timing was terrible. It should have picked another year to happen. I believe it was February 2010 when they were supposed to be elections. I don't remember the exact, but around that time, they're getting ready for elections. This earthquake hits. And obviously, you're not going to hold elections just weeks after this event. But one of the big calls from the international community as they're coming in and helping was like, look, you need to keep democracy up.
Things have been so fragile. We do not want to have political problems be an issue going forward. We need to have elections. And in Haiti, you can't serve two consecutive turns. So Préval was the president at the time. He wasn't up for reelection. The U.S. and the international community were not excited about having Préval's successor. Anyone connected to Préval they just saw as not going to be something that would fly. I haven't taken a close look at Préval's presidency, but it seems like overall he was fine. If you look at the low bar of Haitian politics, he was probably one of the best presidents in Haiti's history. But best because he was elected, he served a full term and then he gave up his position without any resistance. He did what he was supposed to do. So you can't really be too bothered by that.
So anyway, you're heading towards fall, winter 2010. And even though Port-au-Prince is covered in tent cities, the international community is saying you need to hold elections. We need to make sure that this democracy continues. And so they have the first round of elections. And it's not like the U.S. where you have two main parties and they're duking it out on the national stage. You had Duvalier as an ideology with his group. And then you have Aristide and his political party, Lavalas. But Lavalas had been through international agreements, prohibited from participating in the election. So they had been disenfranchised. And then you don't really have primary political parties.
So you have like 20, 25 people all running for president at the same time. And the way it works is you just run all these people against each other. If there's not somebody who gets 50 percent of the vote, you do a runoff between the top two. Well, they run the first round of the election and before votes are even counted, people are coming out and saying there's been widespread fraud because Préval has his successor Célestin running. You have Michel Martelly, who is the rapper who is running zero political experience. And then you have I am blanking on her name, which is terrible. She's she's the former first lady.
And so you have these three running against each other. Martelly and the first lady are coming out and saying, Préval, he's manipulating elections to let Célestin advance. We want to recount. And then all of a sudden they get this news, and they're like, oh, hold on a second. We should just hear things out, actually, because the news was he is not the clear winner. The first lady has the most votes. And then there's a very close tie, basically, between Célestin and Martelly. It was less than a percentage point difference between them. So you need to have a runoff. And it should be between the first lady and Célestin. But it's so close of a margin. And there's these accusations that Préval cheated.
And there's this chance, like it seems pretty clear that if Célestin makes it to the second round, the Martelly voters will go for him and he'll go and win the election. And the international community, again, they just don't want Préval's successor to be there. And so they put a lot of pressure and say you need to get Célestin out of there. And it's just so strange because they're claiming that this is supposed to support the integrity of the election. We want people to have confidence in this. And if Célestin goes forward, it's I mean, again, did Préval cheat? I don't think there's any definitive evidence that he cheated any more than anybody else cheated in the election is the thing. Sure enough, eventually, the pressure is put on. They're holding off for weeks and weeks.
54:08 Rasheed Griffith But the pressure is put on whom or on what group to actually get rid of Célestin?
54:13 Craig Palsson Yeah, yeah. So they have the Provisional Electoral Council. So this is supposed to be the ones running the election. They're not technically the government, but it's supposed to be an independent body coming in and counting votes. And they refuse to announce the second round because you have the OAS and the U.S. putting pressure on the Electoral Committee saying you cannot have him go into the final round. Like, we won't support you. And they're pushing back for a while saying like, this is what the results say.
They go, I don't know how much of a recount they do. They do this really weird like, let's sample some ballots. Let's recount them. Ah, it looks like these ones look like they're fraud. Let's throw those ones out. And now, oh, what do you know? If we just look at those few ballots that we counted and throw some of them out, the margin now switches and Martelly is ahead. There's been some analyses done on this, of this is a really bad way to try and like detect fraud or determine which way to go.
But eventually, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flies down to Haiti, meets with the electoral group and says, you need to push Célestin out of this. You need to make sure that the integrity of this election goes forward. She walks out and the same day they announce, all right, the election is going to be between the first lady and Martelly. And so Célestin gets kicked out. And then I don't know how much of a surprise this was to everybody. Martelly ends up winning the whole thing. The Célestin voters go for Martelly, which to me is just the reason why I wrote that paper was because of the sweet, sweet irony that there was an election between a former first lady and a raucous pop star who had zero political experience. And the pop star wins because of a foreign influence in the election.
Which, of course, then in 2016, we have Clinton versus Trump and Clinton then claiming afterwards that she loses because Russia is meddling with the elections. It was just like the sweet irony of yeah, it doesn't feel good. And so, yeah, it's just this strange thing where I mean, it's not that strange. There's always been a little bit of a soft touch from the US on Haitian elections. Even in the previous one in 2005, 2006, when Préval was being elected. They ran that first round, and Préval barely had 50 percent and technically did not meet the threshold for him to do the outright win. And he would have had to go to the second round. But they knew if he made it to the second round, there would have been a coalition formed among the other ones. And they would have gotten a worse candidate. I think there was a Lavalas candidate, but I can't remember.
And so the US is monitoring the elections and says oh, there's like all these blank ballots. They don't fill them in, but they're like, how do we count these? And so they do some little accounting trickery to make it so once you count these ballots in a certain way, then Préval wins and he gets to go in there. But that was like he was already right at 50 percent. That was just kind of like a little bit of a nudge to get him over. This was a very public and explicit intervention in the Haitian election that said, that candidate that is the second most popular in the country, we are pulling him out and we're advancing the next guy. And then that guy wins. That guy would not have won without the US intervention. Right. And so
57:20 Rasheed Griffith I'll say,
57:20 Craig Palsson Yeah, go ahead.
57:21 Rasheed Griffith I was going to say that this is a direct line to Jovenel Moïse as well as from Martelly.
57:26 Craig Palsson Absolutely right. So Martelly wins in the next election in 2015. The research that I did went and looked at which places supported Célestin in the first election, because you might think elections are already so tough to run in these countries. And they're very costly for an individual to go out and vote. You have to stand around all day risking your personal safety. Just so many problems with this. And then the guy I voted for was just kicked out by the US anyway. Like, what's the point of voting? And so I show that the places that were more in favor of Célestin in 2010 were less likely to show up and vote in 2015. And 2015 was really well known for its low turnout. And so there's kind of this direct path through a we’re going to try and prop up the integrity of an election by undermining it. And then it has long run problems where turnout is low.
Going into the election, it did not look like Jovenel Moïse was going to win. Jovenel Moïse was handpicked by Martelly. He was not the favorite going into the election. But it looks like a lot of those voters held back. Moïse wins. There's controversy over it. They do it again. Same thing happens. Moïse wins. And so, yeah, then you have the direct successor of Martelly, who is in office and you have all these issues where at the beginning of that administration, all these corruption issues started coming up.
You had the famous Petro-Caribe. I'm trying to think of like how you actually say it in English. There's the yeah, Petro-Caribe money. There's this two billion dollars, I think, that was supposed to go towards rebuilding the country. And most of it was embezzled. It shows that Martelly was big in it. It shows that Moïse was a benefactor of this.
So you're getting these big protests that are locking down the country through 2019 going into 2020. And of course, you have Covid, which doesn't hit Haiti too bad, thank goodness. But then you have the assassination of Moïse in 21. And we're still sorting out the details of this. A lot of it probably comes from the fact that Martelly was in office. Moïse gets there. It's hard to know the counterfactual.
But there's kind of this domino that's just pushed over in 2010 that leads to this crazy, chaotic political position we're in. And again, it's one domino. We can't put all the blame on the international community for this because a lot of the stuff going on is still Haitians making the choices they're making. You can understand why people are wary about international solutions to Haiti when they see these kind of things happening.
59:49 Rasheed Griffith You said there was a very low voter turnout for Moïse. How low is low are we talking about?
59:55 Craig Palsson I'm trying to remember off the top of my head. For some reason, I'm worried about saying 8 percent because that seems too low. I think maybe it's only 8 percent of the country voted. It's just like incredibly low. If you look at how many people actually voted and how many voted for Moïse relative to the entire country, you realize that it was a very small proportion of the population that led to Moïse becoming the president.
01:00:17 Rasheed Griffith That's very small indeed. Even if it was like 20 percent of the electorate, that's still very small. My goodness. OK, so Haiti is in situation. As I see it, it's this, Haiti has terrible institutions, very little prospects and pathways for economic growth in the short run future. External pressure or external help often doesn't lead to much success. And for various reasons, internal decision-making is suboptimal. What then do you think would be useful in a situation where all of these things come into play for Haiti to have some kind of forward motion?
01:00:55 Craig Palsson It is just the hardest thing for me to think of because Haiti is in such a bad spot. Some external intervention needs to happen. And it's hopefully not that strange of an idea. When you're as small of a country as Haiti is, you just clearly don't have the resources and clearly they don't have state capacity. You need help. And even within the United States, Haiti is about the size of Massachusetts. If Massachusetts was having some governance issue or some huge disaster, we would expect people from California or Alabama to come in and help out and just support Massachusetts through that time and get them through that.
It's not that strange to think that Haiti needs some sort of external intervention because they're just in an equilibrium that they're not going to get out of without significant more bloodshed. Full on civil war is possible. I mean, it's already looking like that with the resistance to the gangs. Is that the best solution? I mean, it's a Haitian solution to the problem in Haiti. Is it the most humanitarian? I don't think that we want it to go that far. But yeah, you always say, well, bring in the international help with just a lot more oversight, a lot more accountability. And you look at what happened after the earthquake. There's just lots of issues that happened with how the international community came in and tried to help out there. And it wasn't clear that things turned out well.
So what do I think is the best solution going forward? If a solution was going to happen, you need some sort of international intervention, you need a high-capacity state. So that looks like the United States. The United States does not want to do it. They've tried to lean on Brazil to do it or Canada to do it. I don't think they have many incentives to do that, either. So you need a high-capacity state that can come in. And the problem is there's going to be pushback. These gangs are not going to give up this territory themselves. And so what it's going to look like is unfortunately, if there's an intervention, what will happen is it's likely to be foreigners coming in and killing some very key Haitian gang members. And nobody wants that on their PR.
Like no country is going to say yeah, we're going in, and by the way, we're going to start killing Haitians. Right. But like, that's just going to be a natural outcome of the resistance that goes on there. So I don't know how you get over that hump of we need someone in here who has enough authority, enough credibility behind what they're doing to say yeah, gangs, you no longer rule in this area. Your time has come to an end without there being some sort of significant conflict that's going to be international news. This is why the U.S. hasn't done anything. The U.S. knows if we go in there, there's going to be a conflict. It's going to be international news. What do we gain from this? Like the U.S. has zero strategic interests in Haiti right now, zero economic interests in Haiti. There's nothing that the U.S. personally is going to gain from a more stable Haiti, other than I hope that we care about the humanitarian issues that are going in Haiti and we care about the lives that are just being destroyed through this.
But then what I've argued for a long time is that we're not going to see the U.S. really care about anything until we see boatloads of Haitians washing up in Florida again. And now all of a sudden it becomes a U.S. issue. And I think what will happen, well, we're coming up into an election year and both Trump and DeSantis are very anti-immigrant. And if we start having a situation where you have boatloads of Haitians coming into Florida, that's just going to be fuel for the Republicans to say yeah, look, this is what's going on. The Biden administration is doing nothing. This is why we need to be put in power.
And so I think that's going to be what is the final push point for Biden to say we need to go in and do something because this is actually now affecting us. But I just don't know what it would take to have a successful one, one where we're not seeing these terrible news stories plastered all around the world. And I don't know. Do you have any ideas on how would we be able to have the high capacity with, and the accountability to get in there?
01:04:37 Rasheed Griffith I think there is no good answer to this question. However, I do think that the only way forward is for foreign intervention. By no means is that a popular thing to say these days, unfortunately. But because of the very low capacity of Haiti itself, internal inconsistencies, down the line, the only way it's going to have any chance, in my view, of kind of successful future is from some kind of US intervention yet again. But of course, because the domestic pressure in the US is going to be very against it, especially how the Afghan pull out went in the first place, I don't know if there's any political will in the US to do this.
And this is why I think I'm even more pessimistic than other people, because in my view, the only way is this. But then if the US domestically can't do this, then I don't know of any good other options. It's not going to be Canada, not going to be Mexico, not going to be England, not going to be France. So if somehow if US domestically pushes this forward, we might have a path forward. But this so as I said, there's so much pressure against it. So I don't have any optimistic view on this question. I think that if I see the conversation going more towards a managed intervention, I might become more optimistic. But until then, I will , you know, retain my stance as it's probably a dis-equilibrium that's going to be sustained through time.
01:06:03 Craig Palsson Yeah, I mean, the country with the biggest probably incentive here is the Dominican Republic.
01:06:08 Rasheed Griffith Yes
01:06:09 Craig Palsson And that is not actually going to be a solution, right?
01:06:12 Rasheed Griffith Exactly
01:06:14 Craig Palsson I don't think they have the capacity even to do anything. But, yeah, I just don't know how you weave this careful line of just we need to stop the gangs from ruling. But to do that is going to require conflict. So in the occupation in 1915, they took a dual strategy. So you had these regular insurgents and they're all camping out and they did a dual where they went in and they bought out the insurgents. So like, hey, sell us your guns. We'll give you amnesty. Don't worry. Just go back and live your life. And they did this for like 80,000 insurgents, I think, like just gave them little cards so they could go home and prove like, nope, look, I received amnesty for my past life. Of course, even with that, I think there's all sorts of incentive problems with that, first off. But at least they tried a humane approach.
And then you have the other side where they were people who were unwilling to submit to that. And that went to direct conflict. And, you know, they were killing people in Haiti. And even with a possible optimistic situation, you're always going to have those people that hold out. And honestly, even if it's one guy, like one of the gang leaders in Haiti recently reached 100,000 subscribers on YouTube. It was this big controversy. It was this I think he was doing shorts, kind of like TikTok type stuff. And he made a video of him receiving this silver play button, right? The big award that YouTubers get for hitting 100,000. And there's this big outrage. Rightfully so, right? Like this guy is making gang content in Haiti and you guys are sending him a play button. And so YouTube took down his channel, like within the week or something.
But imagine that's the guy who dies. I mean, that story writes itself, right? Gang leader who had 100,000 subscribers on YouTube shot by American Marine officer or something. It's just not going to work. And it only takes that one guy to make it. If he's the only casualty to the whole thing, it's still going to be a pretty big deal. And unfortunately, he would not be the only casualty.
And then you just have the earthquake; cholera is brought in by the UN. You've got sexual assault being done by people coming in. You've got all these half-Haitian, half-international babies that are being born. You just have all these issues that are just all bad PR. It's bad, fundamentally. But on top of that, it's bad PR. Where these countries are like, we don't want that. But again, it's so hard for me to look at that because there's just the humanitarian case of these are people who are just having their lives ruined.
It's just terrible to see the stories of their kids aren't able to go to school. Kidnappings are just crazy right now. They just have so many issues. You wouldn't want anybody to live in that situation. You want something done for them. And we're just all kind of like, yeah, never mind. It's not our problem because it doesn't affect our strategic or economic interests.
01:08:44 Rasheed Griffith That's right. It kind of reminds me of this quote from Kissinger. He said that, you know, the really hard fundamental political problems are not between good and evil, but between evil and less evil. And I actually love to ask, the one person I love to ask this question to, like what would he do in the case of Haiti, is probably Paul Kagame. I don't know if I'll ever ask him that question, but I would be very curious because that's the kind of almost the, in my mental parallel of what, state building in a very harsh environment looks like. And anyone who's been through Rwanda, you know, sees differences. But I guess I wonder what he would do in Haiti. But in any case, Craig, last question to you. What are you working on now? What's the immediate research output coming up soon?
01:09:131 Craig Palsson Yeah, so I've got a couple of projects I'm really excited about. One is looking at actually some of these very questions in the 1915 occupation. So we have this, a lot of the narrative around the occupation is that Haitians were not supporting this, this was a terrible thing. They were all supporting the insurgents. When the US leaves, they call it second independence. Just this very unpopular view of the occupation.
But I'm using intelligence reports from the military on prominent citizens within Haiti. And they are tracking them. They get their views of what the occupation is. And I find the ones that are around the insurgent camps, like the ones where most of this action is being taking place. And so they get to see this firsthand. They're the ones most likely to support the occupation or least likely to oppose it. And it's kind of challenging this view of oh, yeah, when they see that the occupation is doing something that's because these insurgents aren't just opposing the government, they are going in and possibly looting villages, setting houses on fire.
They see hey, yeah, you're protecting us from the insurgents. We actually are pretty supportive of this. I think that's actually really important for the discussion today of yeah, we look at these past occupations as like pretty bad and a lot of people don't like them. But also you have today these people who are being surrounded by gangs and their lives are being disrupted and they really want somebody to come in and stop this problem. And so there's possibly more support for these things within the country. Than we historically took for granted.
That was just like really interesting to look at the historical parallels to today and write about them. One that's a really big project that I'm really excited about is we're looking at migration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic in the 40s and 50s. We're working with FamilySearch, which is an online genealogical resource, and they were able to work with the archives in the Dominican Republic. So we have all these worker permits for Haitians that were coming to the Dominican Republic. And we get to see where they're coming from, what they're doing. We get to see wages. And so we're going to this is, with my co-author, Brian Marine, who does a lot.
Actually, you should talk to him. He does a lot of work in Puerto Rico, and he would be very interested in talking to you, I think. We're working on just trying to create the most extensive understanding of migration to the Dominican Republic, which is going to be primarily Haitian migration. But it's just this really big project that we've started a year ago and we're just barely getting to the point. We're going to be able to do some cool stuff with it. Really excited about what it's going to teach us about Caribbean migration.
01:11:56 Rasheed Griffith Craig, thank you so much for coming on the show for this very interesting conversation.