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#1587: "The Phrase" : Driver comments

From: Tom F. Driver <tfd3@columbia.edu>

Hello!  It's me.  Jumping in late to the discussion about "The Phrase."  Late 
or not, I very much want my vote to be counted.  I'm with Guy in every word 
he's said on the subject, which boils down to "Enough already!"  My thanks 
also to others who have seen his point and expressed agreement with it.

The Phrase, when used without proper context or analysis, spreads a 
miasma over a reader's image of Haiti.  This is particularly true for the reader 
who knows very little about Haiti.  The writer or editor should ask:  What 
associations does the average reader have with the words "poor" and 

For most of the population in the USA, poverty is a negative stigma.  It is 
thought to indicate that there's something basically wrong with poor people:  
they must lack good morals or good brains or both.  The more affluent our 
society gets, the more this stigma becomes a reflex in the minds of people 
who need some moral justification for their own prosperity.

But there's another, ironic, side to the matter of poverty, especially where 
whole nations or large social groups are concerned.  To those societies that 
have lots of economic power, the poverty of others can frequently become an 
asset.  When people ask me why "poor little" Haiti is important to a big 
wealthy nation like the USA, I often reply that Haiti's greatest value to the 
USA is its poverty.  By this I mean two things:  1) a poor country offers a 
good market for dumping surplus agricultural and manufacturing products; 2) 
a poor country offers cheap labor that can be used as a means of keeping 
wages low in one's own country.  Just think how many billions of dollars in 
US wages are saved by sending, or just threatening to send, manufacturing 
jobs to Haiti and other "poorest countries" in the world.

The practice of telling US readers over and over that Haiti is "the poorest 
country in the Western Hemisphere" generates over time a feeling of 
inevitability about the matter, which in turn induces complacency about a 
situation that is increasingly beneficial to the US economy and injurious to 
the Haitian.

When people ask me, as they always do, "Is there any hope for Haiti?"  I 
truthfully reply, "When I am in the US and viewing Haiti through the 
newspapers and TV, I don't think there's much hope; but when I am in Haiti I 
find hope all around."

Best wishes to all in the new millennium.

Tom F. Driver
New York City