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#4799: The state and development: Corbett replies to Ulysse

From:  Bob Corbett

In a recent post Gina Ulysse said:  "I'm of the perspective that
development anywhere is predicated upon having a state that sees itself 
as the provider of such necessities. Once those** are in place, let's talk 
about developing or modernizing what already exists.

** by "those" Gina means:
Having electricity, drinking water, phone, transportation, sanitation and
medical facilities etc. is not development or even modernization. They are
basic human needs that ought to exist and should have been provided by the


Part of the claim is simply linguistic:  how does one choose to use
the word development. Gina and I simply use the word differently, but
neither of us owns the word, so let's see if I can get beneath the word
to meanings.  Part of the claim may be more empirical.

Is Gina claiming that these basic needs cannot be developed...whoops,
can't use that word so common in normal English, lets see -- brought
into existence?  Will that do?  So is the claim that if an area does
not have some of these basic need, that these cannot be brought into 
existence except by the state?  Surely that can't be the claim.  It would 
seem to be contra-factual.

I have been criticized several times on the list for maintaining the 
position that I have no hope for HAITI.  I simply don't have such
hope.  However, that does not mean that I don't have hope for 
places IN Haiti.  Not only do I have hope for such places as
Pandiassou and Papaya in the Central Plateau, where I am in no way active 
any longer, but I have great hope for a couple of small villages in
the south where I am active.  I am sure that are dozens, even hundreds
of small places where there is some significant hope for the citizens
of those locales because of the efforts of individuals, be they local
citizens or outsiders who are extending themselves to provide previously
non-existent basic services.  The electricity and phones of which Gina
speaks are not within my experience.  But, jobs to provide families with
at least a survival living is.  Health care, schools, housing, drinking
water, farm implements, tools and even animals are.

I would agree with Gina at least that when one is working in such areas
which themselves are geographically INSIDE a state such as Haiti, then
the job is doubly hard since the nation state is often an enemy and
hinderance to such projects.  I've often felt this and experieced it 
directly in Haiti.

But, my concrete and lived experience in Haiti is that it is simply
FALSE that such things may not be provided and created (but not developed
on her langauge) without the government meeting her demands of being
a provider state.

I live in St. Louis, Missouri, about 2200 miles from Haiti.  I am
often asked why in the world would I bother to go to Haiti to try
to help people in need.  Why not here in St. Louis where there are
many people in deep need?  It's a good question, and having thought about
it (and acted on that thought) for the past 48 years (at least), I
do divide my time and energies and meager wealth.  I have been and continue 
to be active with those in need in St. Louis.  But, since I chanced to 
visit Haiti, almost by accident, I encountered levels of material need 
and suffering beyond anything I have ever experienced before in my life, 
at least on any large scale.  That need pulled deeply on my emotions and 
made me want to bridge the 2200 miles and make some difference.  

At first I wanted to help "HAITI."  But I soon grew discouraged of that
and wanted to focus.  I'm a little fellow without much money or power.
The situation of Haiti seems to take much greater power, money and effort
than I have.  But, focusing on one small village inside Haiti, despite
the claim of Gina that this could never be genuine development, is
what I have done and I believe that word has succeeded despite her
claim that it can't.

I have never been as successful as, for example, the projects of 
Haitian Francklin Armand and his group in Pandiassou (just west of 
Hinche).  But I watched in astonishment for 15 years as that area,
under the ceaseless work of so many, went from an area with absolutely
no running water, to a place with a decent and daily system of safe
running water.  Of going from a place where there was little employment
and desperate needs of people living on the edge of survival, to a place
where jobs have been created and many other social benefits.

But this is not develoment?  This is.... well, at least it is improvement.

Before some make the standard knee-jerk response:  oh this is missionary
talk, let me make clear I am no missionary.  I am a rather hard nosed
atheist who has no use for religion of any kind, from Christianity,
Catholic and Protestant to Voodoo or any other kind.  Thus I am not 
motivated by religious motivations.  I have nothing against religions and
the religious per se, they just don't interest me in the slightest.
Gods don't exist in my world of experience.

I have an interest that seems to overlap with hundreds, if not thousands
of people I have met in Haiti -- Haitians and non-Haitians alike, of all
colors and nationalities:  I am moved by the desperate material suffering
of so many Haitians, especially in the urban slums and virtually the entire
rural area, and I wish to participate in some way to ameliorate the lives
of those who suffer.

I would accept with Gina the belief that WERE there a caring and serving
state in Haiti that tried to make the basics of life secure for the people
it would be an infinitely better situation.  But that state is not there
in Haiti and doesn't exist and I think never has in the history of the 
nation.  The effort it would take (if any effort would do) to make that state
worth having, is simply a battle that doesn't attract me.  It seems like
an utterly losing battle and that's why I am such a seeming pessimist as
to think (and act on that thought) that there is no hope for HAITI.

In the meantime, I try to participate in my very tiny way, in what Gina
annouces is simply impossible, to bring economic development and some of the
basic needs (though again, electricity and phones have never grabbed me),
to people whose lives are lived on the edge of survival.

And despite Haiti, I think that even my small efforts have made some
small improvements.  I have seen many others who seem to do the same
thing much better than I do and on a larger scale and they have made
proportionally larger contributions.

And yet in this 20 year period it would seem to me that with only a
few month's exceptions in 1987 and again in 1990, that things in HAITI,
as a nation, have just gotten worse.

It may not be development, Gina, but I'll take it over the seemingly 
futile and seemingly non-progressive strategy of moaning over what Haiti 
should be and isn't and yet not being able to advance that cause in any 
appreciable manner.

The politics of Haiti are one thing.  The desperate need of so many,
while certainly a result of the politics, is another.  I'm happy there
are so many on this list who will fight that political battle for future
generations.  I'm just an earthy fellow who's more interested in the
people living and suffering this very minute.  They call to me NOW,
not next election or next year or next generation.

I think both my sort of immediacy and the more long-term vision of others
willing to fight the political battles are both needed inside the borders of 
the state of Haiti.  I just disagree that the work of immediacy should
not be recognized as development.

Bob Corbett