This book is either the biggest fraud or the most honest accounting of corruption on development in Haiti that I’ve ever come across. The stories recounted within are so unbelievable that part of me really wants it to be untrue, even though I know it probably isn’t. In writing this book Dr. Schwartz basically destroys any chance he has at continuing his career in the development sector of Haiti (and for an anthropologist who studies Haiti, that is a pretty damning thing to do), and not necessarily in trade for fame and fortune in the publishing world.
My biggest criticism of the book is that it’s self-published and could really use a good edit; there are dozens of grammar and spelling mistakes within (basic problems like tense agreement or typos), and the spine text is upside down. If we look past the slightly amateurish formalities, however, Schwartz is a compelling-enough writer with insight into and honesty about the problems in Haiti, most of which, according to the accounting of this book, are directly due to, or at least exacerbated by, Western “development” efforts. If you want to know the [more recent] history of Haiti, read Paul Farmer’s The Uses Of Haiti. And then read this book. Taken together, I think these two works inform a lay person better than a shelf full of other volumes on the same subject.
The level of corruption and depravity Schwartz exposes is really too vulgar, too complex, to even attempt to summarize. I will attempt to give only one example of the many dozens in the book. Around pages 80-110 Schwartz presents that CARE and USAID had no longitudinal nutritional data for children in Haiti, as well as no precise data for crop yields from the 1950s onward, yet during times of perceived food crisis, this didn’t stop them from importing massive amounts of food to supplement the diet of Haitians. While this may not seem a bad idea, the food wouldn’t arrive until many months later, usually during bumper crop harvests, flooding the market and driving prices down. In a nutritional survey Dr. Schwartz conducted on behalf of CARE, he established that there is a direct and inverse correlation between food aid to Haiti and the nutritional status of the children in his province — that is: food aid makes children malnourished. It does so primarily by two pathways, the first of which is not actually reaching the children (being sold on the open market due to corruption), and the second is through a policy of USAID funding CARE and other organizations not directly but through in-kind food payments that CARE is expected to sell on the market in Haiti. The result is the destruction of crop prices, and the inability of farmers to feed their children nourishing diets. Again, I am glossing over many details — let me just say: this book is a must-read.