Saturday 23 January 2010

Haiti - A Wider Aftermath

People in Haiti will be on the move again. The media coverage has been mostly around Port au Prince, understandably given the problems of communication and contact. Even had Haiti a well established efficient government, wealth, and good public services then the collapse in the internal structures would have been severe and the challenges perhaps too great to meet even then. That they did not has made matters worse, but the effects would have been catastrophic.

Although there had been a few minor earthquakes around Puerto Rico there was no indication that a major earthquake was imminent. After it occurred within the next two days there were 35 significant aftershocks, with almost unceasing minor tremors. There has been another major shock and there are fears that more aftershocks may occur.

That the situation is being taken very seriously by the USA is clear. On one news bulletin I saw the divisional flashes, the double AA of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg. They had been destined for Afghanistan, now they were in Haiti. It was very sobering that on Tuesday 22nd December I had posted on the subject of this formation. The tasks faced by all the incoming support agencies are immense across the whole of the country, let alone the Herculean problems of the capital.

The purpose of this post is to deal with a specific issue, the implications across the region of the Haiti Disaster. On Friday 1st May last I posted “More Taxing Problems” when I wondered if a situation in somewhere like The Bahamas might lead to US Marines landing on a beach there. This connected to a post on Wednesday 25th March last “A Taxing Problem” which again deals with The Bahamas with a specific mention of the impact of Haitian refugees, many arriving as “boat people”.

Already it appears that in the few flights out of Haiti the first are on the move. As in so many migrations in the past often the first out are those with cash and the ability to do so. They are usually people with education or skills who may have business or other contacts to help them wherever they go.

The population of Haiti is around ten million and over the last decade or two already there have been outflows of people because of political difficulties and upheavals. The potential number of refugees in the immediate future can only be guessed, but past experience suggests a possible outflow well into six figures.

Whatever the role played by the USA and for that matter France in respect of current conditions in Haiti, what is clear are their concerns if there is large scale refugee movement in the next few months. For the USA, Florida, the State most likely to be affected, already has economic and fiscal problems enough and there are important elections pending for the House of Representatives in Congress. There will be concern also for Puerto Rico, although that is less accessible from Haiti.

The USA and the UK share interests in The Bahamas. For the USA they can be a springboard to Miami and Florida and for the UK there are inherited links as well as a good deal of finance tied up in that tax haven, much if it connected to the UK legal and political establishment. The population of The Bahamas is currently around 330,000, about half on New Providence Island where Nassau is located. The figure has gone up sharply in the last decade largely because of Haitian immigration, almost all amongst the lowest paid of the workforce. The Government of The Bahamas is currently experiencing considerable political and fiscal problems.

Also adjacent to Haiti are the Turks and Caicos Islands, another tax haven with a great deal of UK money lodged there. Its government ran into a chaotic mess last year and the UK now is exercising direct rule. Its population was around 36,000 and it is no condition to deal with any major refugee influx. If it happens there are direct implications for the UK.

Much the same applies to the Cayman Islands, which is said to have around one or two trillions of wealth in its trusts and tax efficient companies, but with a government that is broke. The Caymans are rather further from Haiti and less vulnerable, but any number of Haitians landing there to join its 52,000 people will present a serious problem for the UK.

Jamaica would seem to be better placed, with a population of close to three million and a more robust economic situation. However, the incursion of any significant number of Haitians into its poorest communities will have an impact. As we know any problems that occur in Jamaica can be exported to South London.

Cuba should be able to cope with modest numbers, but again has its own difficulties. Haiti’s neighbour the Dominican Republic is in little condition to take on any major responsibilities for large scale refugee movement. Whose task it would be to deal with issues if there was destabilisation in that country is difficult to estimate.

Then there is France and whether any number of Haitians would make it there. They are likely to be the better off but it could still be the place of choice for many. What might happen if many do make it to Paris is a real question.

It is several years now since I stood amongst a few Haitians cheering for their team who were playing against one made up of expatriates, mostly bankers and lawyers. They wondered why but when I explained that the expat’s were mostly Arsenal and Manchester United supporters they understood completely. I left them with a few football chants from The Kop of old, suitably translated.

Our government are saying little about the aftermath of the Haiti earthquakes and implying it is largely a matter for the USA, I assume to avoid annoying the French. But it could be a UK problem and one that will test the government to its limit.


  1. okay you have me curious from JR's diary

    What is an execution dock?

  2. Came across this site from Some Assembly Required and I am glad I stopped by. I had not thought about the Haiti disaster in this way and I thank you for the fine work.

    I am a regular traveller to the Bahamas and I really cannot see how they could take in too many refugees. Florida may have a political issue with taking many as well. What a mess indeed.