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Haiti's Hotels Thrive As Haiti Itself Does the Opposite

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First an earthquake. Then a cholera epidemic. But hey--at least the aid workers in Haiti are living luxuriously.

Aol's Daily Finance reports that the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, "has been fully booked since Jan. 12, when a devastating tremor leveled much of the capital, claiming an estimated 230,000 lives and causing as much as $14 billion in damage. The disaster drew huge numbers of aid workers, journalists, medical personnel and volunteers, all looking for a soft bed, potable water and reliable WiFi."

"The people from the NGOs drive around in their fancy cars and go to Jacmel, while a year later, we are still living under tarps," says Elie Elifort, who lives in a camp with 4,000 other families.

Outside the Hotel Karibe, a US embassy employee lounged poolside with his girlfriend, a World Bank staff member.

"It's luxurious by international standards, not just by Haitian standards," he remarked.

After you finish daydreaming about how satisfying it would be to take a baseball bat to this guy's head, it's high time to reassess the way the world "helps" troubled countries in need.

Nearly $15 billion in donations poured into Haiti after the January 12 earthquake.

Aid came from private citizens as well as hundreds of corporations including Goldman Sachs, Apple, Walmart, Google, McDonald’s, and other household names.

But then, something very interesting happened:

Haiti asked for food donations to stop -- it was destroying the island’s economy.

“When you continue having a lot of food distributions, you lower the price of food so that people can't trade, and it disrupts markets, basically,” UNICEF Nutrition Aide Erin Boyd said.

I called Professor Gerald Murray, an anthropologist on the faculty of the University of Florida who has studied Haiti extensively. He told me, “If food is free, local farmers can't sell what they grow. This has been a dilemma, both philosophical and practical, for many decades now.”

Murray pointed to rice as an example.

“During the Clinton administration,” he explained, “rice production was subsidized by the government and sent to Haiti, which undercut the Haitian farmers. Flooding the country with free food has a deleterious impact on the country and the economy.”

Murray doesn’t suggest ending food aid. Just the way it’s implemented. He points out that the earthquake didn't kill the agrarian economy of Haiti.

“People are hungry and there is a justification for the distribution of free food,” he said. “However, it should be purchased from local farmers, thereby stimulating the local economy.”

Money manager Ryan Krueger, who has a particular focus on agricultural markets, noted:

"Rather than sending food to third-world nations, let’s send them a work order. If we weren't so busy protecting American farmers, many of the poorest nations could develop their agricultural resources. Unfortunately, industries haven’t been constructed around them because the US would rather pay higher prices to its own farmers. Then, we’re all asked to pitch in and help with a donation to the very people we’ve put in that bad situation in the first place."

Everyone from Rush Limbaugh on the right to the Northwest Progressive Institute on the left concur.

And that’s when you know there’s gotta be something to this idea.
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