May 01, 2009
'Splain it to me
Originally published February 29, 2004
Haiti has been a fucking sump since the day I was born. I remember Papa Doc and Baby Doc and I see what the country is today. It's worse now than it ever was.
When I was in Jamaica, I took a cab ride from Montego Bay to Negril. Along that ride, you can see scenes of incredible wealth right next to scenes of incredible poverty. The cab driver told me that Jamaica had a 49% unemployment rate.
I asked him how could that be true? Jamaica is a beautiful country, blessed with a lot of natural resources. I saw sugar cane fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. I know that they make excellent rum and grow the finest ganja in the world. The 7-mile beach strip in Negril is lined, back-to-back, with luxury hotels, where rich Americans spend a lot of money.
"I'm paying you $50 American for this ride," I said. "If you get a couple of fares a day like me, you're doing okay. How can so many people be unemployed here?"
"They shut down the bauxite mines, brother mon. No work for the common man. I pay $500 per year for the licence you see on my window, right here. I am a registered taxi driver and I make a good living, because I own my own cab. Not many people have what I have."
But I learned something different just by paying attention.
The cab driver said that he could find a place for us to stay. He did and it was more than acceptable. I paid him for the ride, paid for the room, tipped him nicely, watched the owner of the hotel rent me a room, then hand some money to the cab driver. That's the secret Jamacian economy.
The driver has a deal with the hotel. He gets a cash kickback for every person he brings there. Winston met me 20 minutes later. He rakes the beach at the hotel every morning for no pay. But the hotel allows him to hang around the place and hire himself out as a "guide" to make what he can off people like me. Winston did well while I was there. He was a good guide and he was paid well.
I asked Jenny one morning-- just how many of these people sucking up American dollars with every hustle they can conceive show up as "unemployed" on Jamacian economic reports? Walk down to the beach and let them descend on you. Tell me that you can't buy anything you want down there.
They'll braid your hair. They'll sell you drugs. They'll give you a full body massage. They'll sell you a necklace, a wood-carving, a man, a woman or anything else you want. It's all right there on the beach. Just go ask for what you want. Someone will get it for you.
Then, you see the money change hands.
You pay the man you made a deal with and he turns around and gives three other people their cut of the money. They argue a lot about what's fair, but that was always their business, not mine. I negotiated a fair price and paid for what I wanted. Then I watched them fight over who owed who how much. I stayed out of those fights. That was THEIR business, not mine.
But I know full and well from seeing it myself that Jamaica has two economies. One is controlled by the government and the other one operates on its own. It is an underground economy, run by people who understand graft, bribes and kickbacks as well as anyone in the world. I don't believe that Winston is registered as a tax-paying, employed person. But he made an ass of cash off of me.
Why can Jamaica do so well with that system while Haiti remains an AIDS-infested sump, filled with ignorant, violent people? They live on a beautiful island, with every asset that Jamacia has. But they chose to turn their home into a fucking sump instead of deciding to make money any way thay can. Got-Dam! I don't understand it.
Cuba, I understand. Castro doesn't want his island to prosper. He just wants to stay in charge. But Haiti? There is no reason for that country to be in the shape it's in.
That's MY humble opinion on the matter.
All content © Rob Smith