It takes an Earthquake…or, why we can’t abandon Haiti again

Acts of God, more often than not, expose the fallibilities of man.

In 2006, Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf states, particularly Louisiana and Mississippi.  Yet Katrina herself played second fiddle to official malfeasance, incompetence and corruption.  It took a hurricane to expose the rotten mess of both Louisiana government and federal disaster response programs.

In 2010, a 7.0 earthquake showed to the world what many historians knew for centuries.  In a region already known for political instability, official corruption, widespread poverty and economic disaster, Haiti has consistently ranked dead last in the hemisphere in every category. 

Haiti didn’t become a catastrophe…it was one already. 

I have a message for all the Hollywood morons with their massive relief efforts, concerts, their colorful designer pins and their canned expressions of hope on the red carpet:

Where were you for the last 200 years?

Where were you when the first successful slave rebellion in the western hemisphere occurred?

Where were you fighting for democracy and the rule of law?  Was it during number 4 or 6 of Haiti’s 32 military coups?  Was it during the infighting between the mulatto elites and the rural Africans? 

Where were you when a US military occupation from 1915 to 1934 brought limited stability to an unstable country, only to be saddled with a crushing debt that forever hampered economic progress?

Where were you when a country doctor, Francois Duvalier, became president in a sham election in 1957 and subsequently ruled through superstition, corruption and terror, at an estimated 30,000 lives lost?

Where were you when his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, lived the life of a playboy as his country sank deeper into the economic and social abyss?

Where were you when the fickle preferences of world powers caused a violent merry-go-round of political leaders between 1990 and 2009, destroying any semblance of respect for political institutions?

Where were you when 80% of Haiti’s population lived in poverty, with a per capita GDP of US$790—about $2 a day?

Where were you when Haiti suffered 50% illiteracy—the highest in the region—and over 8 in 10 college graduates emigrate to more prosperous countries?

Where were you when only 40% of Haitians have access to basic health care, at least 50% of children have no vaccinations and were nearly half the deaths reported are due to HIV/AIDS, meningitis, respiratory infections, cholera, and typhoid?

Where were you when the economy desperately needed a solid foundation—mostly to pay off its massive $1.3 billion dollar debt?  Is it a “stable” economy where 40% of the national budget is foreign aid?

Where were you when a lush, fertile country was systematically deforested for the sake of subsistence farming—a system that barely feeds its own people?

Where were you when, for the sake of expediency, buildings were built without regard for structural integrity, even with the knowledge of an impending tremor?

Where were you when Haiti really needed you—and not as a convenient photo opportunity?

With this recent earthquake, Haiti has experienced the worst disaster in its recent history.  Yet it is just the last dump of a monumental pile of manure that has been the Haitian political and economic system.

My sincere hope is that unlike so many times in the past, the developed world does not abandon Haiti.  Rather, Haitians should be working with foreign aid to create a more stable, more viable country that finally destroys the vestiges of its turbulent past whilst maintaining its own vibrant culture.

Political institutions must be reorganized and strengthened so that the rule of law is not only maintained, but respected.  Democratic success needs institutional respect.

Instead of nameless packages of aid and relief, real investment must become a priority.  Haiti cannot be a charity case forever—no one understands this better than the Haitians themselves.  The country must start creating its own revenue.

Finally, with renewed institutions of government and finance, programs must be implemented and supported for the long-term needs of Haiti’s citizens.  Health care, education, utilities, etc. not only makes Haitians’ lives better, but also entice investors and companies to put their dollars into Haitian enterprises.

This is a laundry list that has been repeated again and again.  Yet it remains relevant.  Once the humanitarian crisis is dealt with in the wake of the earthquake, Haiti has a chance—a real chance—to redefine itself.  It can finally become serene republic envisioned by those early rebels some two centuries ago.

There is a real opportunity here.  We cannot wait for another natural disaster to present itself.

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