Saturday, February 16, 2008

Collapse: One Island, Two Peoples, Two Histories

This chapter focused on two nations, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the large Caribbean island of Hispaniola. These two nations embodied this book's subtitle: How societies choose to fail or succeed.

You can find much difference between the two nations. The wooded area of Haiti is only 1% of the area of the whole country, the Dominican Republic has 28% wooded area in the whole country. Haiti is one of the lowest income countries in the world except for Africa. It has one third of the area of the whole Hispaniola island but two thirds population for the whole island. In other words, it falls in a vicious cycle of poverty and high population growth. Social infrastructure still doesn't supply many citizens with electricity, water, sewage, medical care and schooling.

On the other hand, the Dominican Republic's income is five times larger than Haiti, its population density and population growth rate are both lower than Haiti. Many people go to the U.S. to work and send money to their Dominican families, some of them succeed as baseball players. (For instance, Sammy Sosa) Of course, security level is different between the two nations. When I checked out their security information on the webpages of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in December 2007, they told us of travel warnings for Haiti, but no warning for the Dominican Republic.

What made such differences between the two nations on one island? The answer is not simple like the Easter Island case. However, history affected the difference like Easter Island.

On Hispaniola Island, people who were of the same race with Native Americans once lived, but after the Spanish came, they were exterminated with Spanish disease and killing. After the extermination of Native Americans on Hispaniola Island, the Europeans repopulated with slaves from Africa. Slaves were worked hard for sugar plantations.

That was the typical pattern of European ruling of the Americas. After that, the history of Hispaniola Island is not typical: the French occupied the western area of the island while the Spanish checked the other land, for example, for silver mines in Bolivia.

Then, being affected by the French Revolution, people of the western area of the island, Haiti, declared independence and became Haiti, the first black republic in 1804. When I read this part of the book, I breathed a sigh of relief. But this was Haiti's first step to a bad direction. The independent black people burned down plantations and killed well-educated French administrators. Consequently, their doing lost their economic base.

Haiti once occupied the whole of the island, then the eastern area of the island became known as Santo Domingo Republic. (Dominican Republic) Unlike Haiti, people of the Dominican Republic didn't destroy their economic base very much and didn't exclude foreigners. Therefore, the Dominican Republic's motto of "Welcome immigrants and Spanish OK" gathered many immigrants and foreigner's interest than Haiti's motto of "Excluding foreigners and Creole language (mixed African with French)".

As a result, the Dominican Republic could progress modernization and changed living energy from charcoal to hydroelectricity. On the other hand, Haiti's energy is still charcoal. Therefore, Haitian people have been cutting down trees.

These are not only reasons of difference.

Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic have had long period of dangerous dictators than the dictators of Haiti, the dictators of the Dominican Republic seemed to have much more concern about the natural environment. One of them, Trujillo, called for scientists to assess the environment and regulate deforestation in 1937. In the 1950s, he guarded wooded areas which could keep rain water to make hydroelectricity power stations work. His successor, Balaguer, was also eager to preserve wooded areas. He commanded that illegal people who cut down trees be shot from helicopters. When he retired at 94 years of age, he made a law to preserve the national parks against his successor who considered passing a weak national park preservation law. In contrast, the dictators of Haiti, Duvalier and his son, did no such presarvation.

Why were the dictators of the Dominican Republic so eager to preserve the environment? To begin with, why were they, who killed their political enemies and opposition factions, concerned about the environment? Maybe the main reason was economy. However, setting aside the period of Trujillo, in the period of Balaguer, which the nation modernized to a certain extent and established its economy base, why did he do so? I think such doing was merely his own interest.

The author, Diamond, had the same question. Therefore he asked Dominican people why Balaguer was so keen to preserve the environment, and all the answers were different. Some of them said, "Adolf Hitler loved dogs and brushed his teeth, but that doesn't mean that we should hate dogs and stop brushing our teeth." In addition, he recalled that he was about to be killed by a soldier in Indonesia under military control, but the government had a concrete plan to keep national parks' condition good. After all, the author didn't have clear answers, but he brought up that the logic of dictators are evil therefore they are never interested in preserving the environments was incorrect.

Reading this chapter, I learned some theories as follows:
Even a nation that was trampled on by Europe, used European know-how to establish the economy base.
You cannot construct a nation with only anger and pride.
Top-down system is the strongest in any means.