Search the Anthropology Review Database

(cover picture) Schwartz, Timothy T.
2008 Travesty in Haiti: A True Account of Christian Missions, Orphanages, Fraud, Food Aid and Drug Trafficking. Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge Publishing.

Notes: 252, xliii p., [10] p. of plates : ill. ; 22 cm. ISBN: 9781419698033
(Check out my bio!) Reviewed 1 Aug 2009 by:
Robert Lawless <>
Anthropology, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA
Medium: Written Literature
Charities - Corrupt practices - Haiti
Economic development projects - Corrupt practices - Haiti
Corruption - Haiti
Fraud - Haiti
Rural poor - Haiti
Drug traffic - Haiti
Agriculture - Economic aspects - Haiti
Haiti - Economic conditions - 1971-

ABSTRACT:    An anthropologist’s personal story of working with foreign aid agencies and discovering that fraud, greed, corruption, apathy, and political agendas permeate the industry — from the accurate cover blurb.

During the several years in the 1960s that I lived in the Philippines, I once received a clipping from my father containing a story from his local newspaper in the States about a U.S. government aid project for developing the police department in my small Philippine city. In his accompanying letter he commented that it was truly wonderful how generous the American people and government are to give all this money to foreigners. Having already had some acquaintance with the deleterious consequences of foreign aid, I decided to follow through on this particular case.

Well, the aid came mostly in the form of two police cars and two police consultants. A chunk of the 'foreign' aid was used to purchase the two cars from a U.S. auto manufacturer. Another chunk went to the U.S.-owned freighter that transported the cars to the Philippines. The biggest chunk of the 'foreign' aid was for the salaries, transportation, housing, maintenance, and dependents of the two consultants, who came from a large state university in the Midwest.

The on-the-ground consequences were, well, a travesty, certainly a travesty of the common understanding of foreign aid by the average U.S. taxpayer and charity donator. During the weekdays the local police officers piled five or six to a car and rode around town. With the police no longer pounding their beats on foot, petty crime strikingly increased. On weekends the police chief, the deputy chief and their families typically used the cars for long-distance excursions over terribly potted rural roads. After one year the cars were no longer functional, and the police department had no funds for parts and maintenance. The police, however, once spoiled, did not return to their foot beats.

Throughout the six months that the consultants were in town, they lived like royalty with maids, cooks, and houseboys at their beck and call. They often conducted workshops at downtown intersections demonstrating signals to keep traffic flowing—much to the amusement of crowds of onlookers since several of the gestures were obscene by local standards. During the evening I spent in one of these households, the U.S. family disparagingly discussed Filipinos in overtly racist language within earshot of the servants.

Aside from the actual monies transferred to the police department, which were immediately embezzled by the police chief, his deputy, and the town mayor, these servants were, nevertheless, among the few Filipinos to actually receive any of the dollars from the aid—though a mere pittance it was. The appropriate quip, attributed to numerous sources, is that foreign aid is the transfer of resources from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

I developed a paper from this experience, complete with documentation, and submitted it to several U.S. foreign affairs publications and a few anthropology journals. It was rejected by all, and a couple of the rejection letters chided me for daring to question the ultimate altruism and inherent goodness of U.S. foreign aid. (I subsequently lost the original manuscript, along with the notes and documentation, in one of my several trips across the Pacific Ocean.)

About forty years later Tim Schwartz attempted to find a publisher for his book that unmasks the effects of U.S. aid to Haiti. For four years he tried dozens of publishers, but even with the help of an agent, he had no success. Eventually he published the manuscript himself. It is available through and is well worth the price of $15.99.

The only other genuine, well-documented full-length insider’s expose of the great foreign aid hoax (that I’m aware of) is Michael Maren’s 1997 The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity (published by the Free Press), which is based on Maren’s nineteen years in Africa, mostly in Somalia. He characterized foreign aid "as a self-serving system that sacrifices its own practitioners and intended beneficiaries in order that it may survive and grow" (1997:11), and he concluded, "My experiences [in Somalia] made me see that aid could be worse than incompetent and inadvertently destructive. It could be positively evil" (1997:12).

Schwartz’s provocative volume, the result of living, researching, and working in Haiti over a period of ten years, consists of fourteen chapters and seven appendices plus nine unnumbered pages of photographs. Schwartz is himself in every chapter except the seventh. His painfully personal, shockingly revealing, intensely honest writing will certainly disabuse the reader of the belief that the billions of dollars the U.S.A. spends on foreign aid and charities actually benefit the poor and starving of the Third World. Schwartz’s parrhesia makes it clear that these U.S. monies are part of the problem rather than the solution. As Schwartz states, "What I hope to do is to call attention to the need for accountability for I believe that the disaster we call foreign aid—'disaster', at least, in the case of Haiti—comes from the near total absence of control over the distribution of money donated to help impoverished people in the country" (p. 3).

My favorite passage in the book revolves around a conversation that Schwartz has with a Haitian physician who is the assistant director in a provincial department of health. Schwartz is telling Jean-Luc (a pseudonym) about the theft of some donated medical equipment from a public clinic by a Haitian doctor who took it to his private clinic.

"Yeah, I know all about it. Look, we are all thieves," Jean-Luc tells me in late afternoon as we sit on a wall near the beach drinking beer. . . . As we talk, we watch people stroll up and down the sandy road in front of us. . . . "The doctors, or rather 'we,'" Jean-Luc confesses, "are the biggest crooks in the country." I notice a scrawny dog limping warily down the street toward us. . . . On the far side of the street the pathetic dog stops and lies down. [Jean-Luc tells some stories about doctors stealing equipment and taking kickbacks.] We admire two laughing teenage girls running down the street toward us. [Jean-Luc tells about how doctors entice patients away from the public hospitals to their private clinics where the doctors can get money out of them.] The laughing teenage girls are almost upon us and I can see that they are attractive. Their pert breasts barely bounce. Their long, lean legs stretch out in front of them as their lithe bodies glide toward us. . . . Jean-Luc is saying, ". . . The doctors might see one or two patients at the [public] hospital and then it is straight to their own clinic." Just as the girls are about to reach us one of them breaks from her course, takes three athletic bounds toward the sleeping dog and lands a full kick in the animal's emaciated ribs. The dog bowls over squealing in pain. The girls shriek with laughter and continue running down the road. Jean-Luc sighs (pp. 158-160).

As the Haitian physician comments on the blatant corruption of the Haitian elite, a byproduct of the activities of the edentulous NGOs and clueless missionaries, the warmth and beauty of Haiti erupts, as it is wont to do, without warning into casual cruelty. The seemingly endless flow of monies from the cold, wealthy northern countries also often supports violently dictatorial rulers. In addition, as Schwartz points out, an embarrassingly large portion of these dollars ends up in the pockets of those running the charities and missions.

The best documented section of the book but also the most incredible is Chapter Seven, which focuses on how the U.S.A. destroyed the agricultural economy of Haiti. After all, most readers can accept that scoundrels may exist among missionaries and NGOs leading to corruption, but who could fault governments for giving food to starving people?

Schwartz begins by boldly stating, "The US government working through USAID [United States Agency for International Development] and the planners at the World's Major international lending institutions—the World Bank, The Inter American Development Bank (IDB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), all U.S. and secondarily E.U. controlled—were led by USAID in adopting policies that, with perhaps the best of intentions, would destroy the Haitian economy of small farmers" (p. 108). In the minds of these policy makers moving farmers off the land would create a labor force for the U.S. offshore industries in Haiti, reduce soil erosion, and provide a market for U.S. government-subsidized agricultural products. As Schwartz points out, "The logic seemed overwhelming" (p. 108).

As an example, Schwartz writes, "Until the 1980s Haiti was almost entirely self-sufficient in rice consumption, something made possible, in part, by protecting Haitian farmers from the heavily subsidized rice produced in the U.S. and Europe" (p. 109). And about 20 percent of the population was involved in the rice industry. Nevertheless, "USAID used the promise of continued political and financial support [for the collapsing Duvalier regime] to negotiate a lowering of tariffs on rice from 35 to 3 percent. U.S. rice—subsidized at a rate that varied during the 1980s and 1990s from 35% to 100%—flooded into the country" (p. 109), sabotaging the indigenous rice industry.

Despite a series of phony reports that Haitians were malnourished and in danger of starvation, Haitians were quite self-sufficient in rice and other foodstuffs (pp. 109-110). Nevertheless, "Food assistance to Haiti during the 1980s tripled reaching a yearly average of over US$50 million in gratuitous U.S. surplus beans, corn, rice, and cracked wheat" (p. 111). The rest of the chapter documents in excruciating detail the destruction of the economy of rural Haiti and by extension the economy of the entire country.

The only remaining question is did the perpetrators of this travesty realize what they were doing. Schwartz emphatically answers, "Yes", and writes that they "admitted as much over cocktails or in private conversations. Of the dozens, if not hundreds of aid workers I spoke to during the time, all agreed that food aid damaged the market" (p. 122). The notion of U.S. food aid being a humanitarian gesture is actually a recent camouflaged reaction to pressures from organizations such as Oxfam. As Schwartz explains, the beginnings of food aid came with the 1954 passage of Public Law 480 whose objective was to promote U.S. foreign policy and create an overseas market for U.S. agricultural products. As recently as 2000 "three of the five reasons USAID gave on its website for food aid were, 1) expand U.S. trade, 2) develop and expand export markets for US agricultural businesses, and 3) foster and encourage the development of U.S. overseas enterprise" (p. xxxii). By 2006 such revelations had been purged from the website and instead "the focus is on the humanitarian aspects of food aid" (p. xxxii).

In appendix D, Schwartz concludes, "It is safe to say that whether or not food aid has been destroying agricultural economies is no longer an argument. It has. The issue now is how to stop the Governments and charities from continuing to deliver it irresponsibly and in areas where and at times when it is not needed" (p. xxxii).

Schwartz's personal involvement in food aid is recounted mostly in chapter six, which is titled "CARE International: Dedicated to Serving Itself", a play on the slogan of CARE, "Dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor." Schwartz’s job with CARE was to evaluate their food distribution process (p. 83). He found that CARE followed a policy of monetized food aid, "which means that USAID gives money but they give it to them in the form of food and the requirement is that the food must be sold on the local markets" (p. 94). And selling subsidized food on the local market, of course, destroys the local economy. Why do they do it? In the words of one of Schwartz’s informants, "The problem is there is no money available to buy local produce and it is monetized food aid that keeps CARE alive" (p. 106). Or as Schwartz states, "They have no choice. They have to meet payrolls. After all, NGO employees must eat too" (p. 102).

After the introductory chapter, chapter two is an intimate description of fieldwork in rural Haiti that should give pause to any anthropological abecedarian with romanticized notions of fieldwork.

In chapter three, Schwartz traces the rise of crime in Haiti to the fact "that in 1994 the U.N. occupying forces disarticulated the traditional means for dealing with criminal problems and family disputes" (p. 34). The indigenous system was replaced with an undertrained and understaffed police force of urban high school graduates who had no interest in policing rural areas. The peasants eventually took matters into their own hands (p. 35).

Chapter four chronicles a massive survey of a 168-square mile territory that Schwartz supervised for several NGOs. He details the difficulties of such work including the skepticism of the peasants, but interestingly saying, "In the end, they always politely agreed to cooperate, saying they were glad to see me and that maybe I could accomplish something different" (p. 48).

In chapter five, Schwartz points out that in the early 1950s the rural area he studied had profitable plantations that exported bananas to Miami, a 5,000-acre sisal plantation, a sugar cane plantation, a major rum distillery, and numerous tobacco farms. In addition, several thriving export houses handled goat and cow hides, coffee, castor bean oil, and aloe. Then the piebald world of NGOs exploded on the scene with all its destructive nature, so that by the 1980s "there were no more private companies, no mining operations, no manufacturing industries, no plantations, indeed, no agro-industrial enterprises at all. Beyond the small peasant homesteads and their semi-subsistence gardens and the few animals they tethered to bushes, there was nothing left in Jean Makout county [a pseudonym] but the NGOs and the Haitian Government" (p. 68). "In short", Schwartz concludes, "an industry of poverty emerged, one in which the University educated consultants in the field and the masses of foreign charity bureaucrats back in the city and overseas derived their salaries, not from curing the poverty, but from its existence" (p. 74).

Chapter eight is about "Orphans with Parents and Other Scams". It has to be read to be believed. Apparently many of the best orphanages are populated by the offspring of the elites rather than real, impoverished orphans (p. 149).

Chapter nine focuses on the abysmal condition of health care in Haiti.

In chapter ten, Schwartz tells a howling story that vividly illustrates his experience with the ignorance, feigned or real, of educated indigenous elites. He has the misfortunate of an encounter with two "distinguished Haitian ladies" who are full-time consultants to CARE. One has spent most of the past 20 years in Paris and the other has spent the past 18 years in New York City. Schwartz labels the Parisian Haitian, "the Cultural Expert", and the New York City Haitian. "the mulatto lady". The Cultural Expert asks Schwartz, "Do you believe that it is possible that a person who is not Haitian can ever really understand Haiti and the Haitian people?" Schwartz tries to give a brief explanation of anthropology. The mulatto lady responds, "You are going to find as you learn about Haiti that it is much different here. A foreigner could never hope to understand the nature of Haitians. Haiti is not like other cultures." Then the Cultural Expert inquires with apparently fake politeness, "Tell us, what is the topic of your dissertation?" "Well without boring you it concerns the high birth rates among rural women and the rather obvious probability that it results from the economic utility of children among peasant families." The Cultural Expert, who during her brief time in Haiti has probably never stepped out of her chauffeur-driven car onto any rural soil, laughs and says to the anthropologist who has just completed four years of living in rural Haiti and interviewing hundreds of farmers, "Oh dear, it used to be like that long ago. But not now. . . . it’s not like that anymore, no, not with imports and all? There is very little farming now." The mulatto lady adds, "And with inexpensive imported food, no, no, farming is no longer necessary. Why for a few goud [Haitian dollar] you can feed a whole family." The Cultural Expert chimes in saying, "Well, you see, . . . Children are no longer economically important to the peasants." And the mulatto lady states with finality, "Perhaps, . . . you should choose another topic" (pp. 177-179).

Chapter eleven is the peculiar story of a peculiarly perverse U.S. Christian missionary family running a school in Haiti. Although it would seem that this chapter deals with idiosyncratic behaviors, the underlying principles, or lack thereof, are systemic among missionaries, and their orphanages and schools.

Chapter twelve is an account of Schwartz’s failure to be hired as field director of a two-year nutrition project in Haiti funded by the World Health Organization. The story would be hilarious if it were staged as a comedy, but unfortunately it is real. Schwartz is contacted by, as he puts it, "the Professor" to be interviewed by several illustrious nutritionists from a major U.S. university. He is put up in an expensive Port-au-Prince hotel where the price per night is about five times the estimated per capita annual income of the people in his fieldwork village. He is given a large manila envelop and told to read the "20-page proposal for a food-aid research project put together by the Professor and a team of her colleagues, a collection of high-powered, world renown University nutrition professors" (p. 206).

The US$836,000 project turns out to be "an evaluation of the hypothesis that feeding children food supplements before they are malnourished is a more effective healthcare strategy than feeding them supplements after they are already malnourished" (p. 206). Schwartz is stunned and thinks, "WHAT? We are testing the hypothesis that feeding nutrients prevents malnutrition? Well no shit!" (p. 206). Schwartz, nevertheless, is determined to get the job and promises himself that "under no circumstances whatsoever was I going to say anything negative about food aid" (p. 207).

Two hours later during the interview "the idealist buffoon inside of me" (p. 207), as he phrases it, blurts out, "Food aid in Haiti is an absolute sham. . . . It is undermining the entire economy." Schwartz also points out that twice in the past food aid was delivered a year after droughts and actually during a bumper harvest by organizations that the nutritionists were involved with (pp. 208-209). In addition, he mentions, "Food aid was part of a World Bank and USAID plan to drive peasants off the land and into slums so they could be put to work in sweatshops" (p. 209).

The nutritionists do not directly respond, and it is decided that they will all meet the next morning at 8:00 a.m. for breakfast. This story concludes with Schwartz writing, "When 8:35 the next morning rolled around and I was the only person sitting at the breakfast table I knew that I had destroyed any chance of getting the job" (p. 209).

Chapter thirteen gives some background on Schwartz including how and why he got into anthropology, while Chapter Fourteen focuses mainly on the introduction of drugs and the consequences of Schwartz’s research area becoming a transshipment center for the Columbia drug trade.

All the information throughout the book is thoroughly documented and referenced.

In addition to the enlightening content, Schwartz’s lyrical and lapidary prose maintains the reader’s attention throughout. For example, I’ve rarely read a more evocative description of Haiti than this one of Schwartz riding from Jean-Rabel to Port-au-Prince:

In June 1999 I rode my motorcycle out of the county of Jean Makout, through desert scrub, up into the fertile and misty heights of the Massif du Nord mountain range, down into more desert scrub, through dry, rutted roads and down a different coast. I glided over sandy roads, along the shores of the placid Gulf of La Gonave, headed back up and over more dry and barren mountains, skirted the flat port city of Gonaives and then picked up National Highway Route One, the principal highway that bisects Haiti. I rode along the pitted and pot-holed highway through choking clouds of dust, dodging oncoming traffic, cattle, goats, boulders, and the rusting skeletons of wrecked buses and cars, through more desert, across the Artibonite flood plain, a vast green patchwork of rice paddies, through the decaying port town of St. Marc and at last, as I barreled down a coastal asphalt road beside a beautiful aqua blue sea and then rounded a bend there, in the distance, shrouded in a haze of grey smog, I could see Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti (p. 79).

Curing poverty seems to be not only a Sisyphean task but also an assignment that entangles its practitioners in unethical activities and results in consequences contrary to its expressed aims. I invite all those with ideas of saving the world to study Schwartz’s work. And since this book is self-published and will receive little publicity, I invite all those academicians and others with influence on library collections to urge their libraries to order a copy of this seminal work.