Unit 4 Destination Discussion - Haiti

Advance Reading: Members of the group should read Chapters Five, Six, and Seven of The Big Truck That Went By.


In Chapters Five and Six, and throughout the book, Katz presents instances where “good intentions” on the part of Western aid workers failed to produce positive outcomes, or even actively led to negative ones.

  • What are some of the underlying misunderstandings, miscommunications, or misconceptions that might have contributed to the failure of good intentions described in this chapter?
  • In light of our unit this week on “Crossing Boundaries,” what role did cultural difference play in these failures?
  • What prevented Western aid workers from consulting with Haitians on the relief effort?
  • What are some of the ways in which Western aid workers could have avoided some of these pitfalls, if they had tried?

Please read this passage from Katz’s discussion of accusations of “corruption” in Haiti in Chapter Six:

Those who accuse Haiti [and the Haitian government] of corruption often use the term in indefensibly broad ways. […] Moreover, practices condemned as corruption in one context are accepted in another. U.S. congressmen routinely sponsor bills that benefit companies that lobby them and then leave office to make millions working as lobbyists or for the companies themselves. Lewis Lucke returned to the private sector, consulting for a partnership of U.S. and Haitian companies on securing reconstruction contracts. The partnership’s portfolio included building the ‘T-shelters’ that Lucke, as a U.S. official, had helped convince Préval to endorse.

How do you read this passage, and others concerning American perceptions of Haiti’s corruption and Western distrust of the Haitian government, in light of the themes of our unit on “crossing boundaries”?

  • What kinds of “invisible assumptions” are involved in these perceptions (or misperceptions) about Haiti’s “corruption?”
  • What kinds of assumptions do you notice that you have about Haiti, as an American? About its government? Its economy? Was there anything in these chapters that surprised you or challenged these assumptions?

Chapter Six begins by relating an ugly joke passed among Western aid workers about how the only ways to “fix Haiti” would be either a Marshall Plan or a nuclear bomb.

  • Why is it that the desire to “help” Haiti and the desire to destroy it fit so closely together in this joke?
  • Does the passage affect your understanding of the relationship between these two desires?
  • What other thoughts and feelings arise for you in reading this passage?

In Chapter Seven, Katz criticizes the Collier report and similar programs for economic development in Haiti that focus on bringing in more low-wage, export-oriented industries.

  • How would you rephrase his argument against the Collier Report approach in your own words?
  • What sorts of “invisible assumptions” about the definition of a “job” or about the nature of “self-reliance” might underlie the Collier Report, in your view?
  • What sorts of cultural barriers and misunderstandings does Katz point to in this chapter in making his critique of the Collier Report approach?
  • How does Katz use the Haitian concept of chache lavi to argue against the Collier Report approach?
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