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Pakistan: Tiger or Prey – Lessons from Hispaniola
Political Issues
Riaz ur Raheem


Investment from foreign sources has become something of a benchmark for evaluating a developing nation’s potential for economic growth and prosperity. Common wisdom holds that the more a country is able to lure foreign investors, the higher the standard of living its citizens can expert. Politicians eager to justify their faith in such investment often cite the ‘Tigers’ of East Asia as examples of the success of this theory. Other factors that may equally have contributed to the rise of East Asia, thus making the theory suspect at best, are altogether left out. For instance, the cultural and geographical proximity of the Tigers to each other; the absence of the threat of military intervention from their chief investor, Japan, the high level of literacy and relatively low population growth in East Asian nations prior to their miraculous economic growth; the domestic and international stability in the region; and the establishment of what may be called a free-trade zone in Southeast Asia as early as 1967. To hope that foreign investment will work the same miracles for Pakistan that it did for Malaysia or Thailand is thus clearly naive. Pakistan is not friendly with its neighbours, who do not hold free-trade relationships with it and do pose it a military threat, and 90% of Pakistan’s people remain functionally illiterate while they multiply at some of the highest rates n the world. Given these conditions, and the fact that Pakistan insists on inviting the United States to play a substantial role in its affairs, it is far more likely that American investment is going to do for this country what it did for the island of Hispaniola.

Comparisons of this nature are difficult to draw: geographical, cultural and historical differences set each nation upon a unique course of development – or the lack thereof. Not all lessons learnt from the history of one may therefore be applied to another Hispaniola is a tiny island in the far-away Caribbean, about ten times smaller than Pakistan in both area and population. Yet, it serves so many parallels to Pakistan that it would be almost callous not to look at its fate carefully and to derive at least some lessons.

After a hundred years of slavery under European colonisers (Span and France), the black people of Hispaniola proclaimed the independent republic of Haiti in 1804. A period of power struggle followed, culminating in a break-up: the Spanish-speaking eastern part of the island seceded as the Dominican republic in 1844. With largely rural populations inheriting illiteracy, crushing poverty, and feudal structures from the colonial times, both countries continued to have their political problems. Dictatorships, military or otherwise, became the order of the day. This was when the United States, an emerging world power at the turn of the century, discovered the potential of this island. Things were easier then: sovereignty was still a new concept, respected only in the case of European and North American nations. There were no UN protocols to go through, Pressler amendments to invoke, human rights abuses to concoct, sanctions to impose, trade barriers to force open, or paperwork to pave the way for American corporations. Once the ‘potential’ of a territory had been discovered, all that needed doing was grabbing it. The  US therefore simply sent its Marines to Hispaniola and occupied the two countries – Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. The ease of the military manoeuvre was matched by the simplicity of its purpose corporate investment, or colonisation in earlier terms. Dozens of US come where they could produce cheaply for as long as possible without worrying about labour unions, and where their investment could be protected easily by the American Government. Haiti and Dominican Republic were perfect candidates to start with: lack of political consciousness, high rate of population growth, and low literacy. What needed to be ensured was that these conditions prevail indefinitely. To that end, through the next sixty years, the US installed and removed military and civilian dictators in both countries at will. If one were to retrospectively compile an instruction manual for these operations, it would probably read like this:

1. Bring selected native military officers for training to the United States; watch their progress once they return, and help them through to the  top. Ensure their loyalty through ‘kickbacks’ on purchases of military equipment.

2. If the currently installed dictator or democratic leader is not serving US interests, or if domestic workers are becoming conscious of exploitation and moving towards a revolution, charge the government with human rights abuses, cut aid, impose sanctions, and have the military effect a c1oup.

3. Install new dictator.

The policy was ingenious. It may be termed the pressure-cooker treatment. The Hispaniolans would be steamed in a pressure cooker, and every time the pressure became too high, the swishing weight would be replaced at the top, thus letting out just enough steam to prevent an explosion.

In the Dominican Republic, for example, Rafael Trujillo ruled ruthlessly and lived opulently till his assassination in 1961. In free elections held the following year, the leftist government of Juan Bosch came to power. Predictably, the military overthrew him the next year. In 1965, a popular revolt against the military dictatorship attempted to restore Bosch to power, but American marines were promptly sent in ‘to restore order and the status quo.’ Subsequent elected governments continued to face US pressure against reform.

Haiti had an identical tale to tell. The Duvaliers (Papa Doc and Baby Doc) ruled with the off-and-on blessings of their Uncle Sam – the blessings showered according to the likelihood of revolt – till the late 80s. Faced with a potential revolution, Baby Doc eventually went comfortably into exile in France. In the first free elections in 1988, Leslie Maginat came to power on a reformist platform. He lasted six months before the US-trained military took care of his reforms. The generals then kept coming and going (coming to power and going into luxurious exile in the United States or one of its allies) for a couple of years as the US tried desperately to diffuse the revolutionary fervour through this rapid shuffling and some rhetoric about democracy. Elections, finally, were held in February 1991 and their results were not good. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a nationalist whose campaign was made up largely of anti-imperialist and anti-American slogans, was the victor. One hates to repeat oneself, but what is the choice when history does little else? Aristide was ousted by the Haitian  military in October. Interestingly enough, the generals who ousted Aristide, Raoul Cedras and company, faced the same kind of revolutionary situation within two years that the ousters of Bosch did in Dominican Republic in the 60s. History repeated itself yet again as the United States, a after much tough talk about punishing Cedras, sent its troops ‘to restore order and democracy.’ The plan was also to reinstall as president none else but Aristide who, having learnt his lessons well, was by now standing arm-on-breast in front of the American flag with the likes of Colin Powell in Wsahington, D.C. The world was led to believe that Cedras was as big a demon as Saddam Hussein and would be apprehended and severely punished. But those who knew better were not surprised when Cedras & Co. together with their large families, left Port-au-Prince in special flights destined for resort-like villas in Central America. They were guaranteed lifelong incomes by the United States, and to provide additional income for the demon himself, the US agreed to rent for its military headquarters Cedreas’ personal estate in Haiti. All is well that ends well.

Not for the people of Haiti. With the American military firmly among them now, they will have to wait. They will continue to be paid 14 cents an hour by American corporations who pay 14 dollars an hour for the same work only a few hundred miles away. Literacy remains law among them (under 50%), and consequently population growth rates are high (around 3%). The low literacy and high population together ensure that there will always be a large pool of unskilled labour for the American corporations to exploit. With too many workers bidding for too little work, the lowest bidder wins. Haiti has thus become a labour concentration camp in America’s backyard. Most Haitians are not even aware of this larger hand that exploits them while claiming that it protects and feeds them. Even when their pressure-cooker begins to burst, it is only from undirected anger. They are uneducated and disorganised. There is little hope for them of prosperity, even if one day their exploiters misjudge the pressure and are unable to diffuse sufficient steam. The explosion that would take place would only lead to utter chaos. This is the gift of American investment.

Those who insist on financial ties with America must remember that whenever America has invested in a country, it has included that country in its ‘sphere of influence’ in which American corporate interests are protected at all costs – at the cost of native workers, at the cost of democracy and freedom, at a military cost and at the cost of international law. America’s competitiveness in the world market has been on the decline for more than two decades, and its own social fabric is coming apart, for economic as well as sociological reasons. It desperately needs to use underdeveloped nations to prop itself up. Friendship cannot exist between two nations as disparate as Pakistan and the United States. Equality is a necessary condition for friendship. While begging and toadying up to America all the time, Pakistan claims to be improving friendly ties. This is a mistake that may plunge the people of this country into the same eternal fate that has been the share of Hispaniola: economic oppression under alternating military rule and feudalism disguised as democracy. Pakistan cannot deny or later the fact that it is situated in South Asia. Its history and economy, both past and future, are inextricably mixed with and affected by the history and economy of Asia. If there are any ties that Pakistan needs improving, they all end in this continent. Pakistan must make peace with its neighbours on the basis of equality, address it literacy and population problems on an emergency schedule, and then seek investment from non-militarised nations of the East. An educated, controlled population is like  a tiger: it defines the limits as it hunts for opportunity. By inviting high-skill jobs, it raises its standard of living. An uneducated, uncontrolled population can only be a prey: it invites exploitation, intervention, and ultimately indirect rule by the foreign investor – especially by a highly predatory foreign investor.

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