The Tragedy of Haiti

January 18th, 2010

By Tom Carter

Like most everyone else, I’m following the news out of Haiti pretty closely.  The photos and videos are appalling.  Estimates of the number of dead range from 50,000 to 200,000 or more, but no one knows the true number.  Many more thousands of people are injured.  Hundreds of thousands are homeless, living in the streets and parks in makeshift tent cities with little or no food and water.

Violence, which is never far from the surface in Haiti, was predictable.  Looting, rioting, the strong attacking the weak — what social structure was there in the beginning is devolving into a virtual state of nature.  It will only get worse.

The UN is mostly absent and pretty much useless, as usual.  Their peacekeepers are of little value, and their contribution in other areas is minimal.  The bulk of the work, to include what disaster management and planning exists, is being done by the U.S., as usual.  And the criticism has already begun.

The government of Haiti, perhaps one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional in the world, is doing essentially nothing.  The U.S. is managing the airport, which has only one usable runway, and the port isn’t operating.  It’s obvious that every flight can’t get into the already overcrowded airport, and many have been delayed or forced to cancel.  Some countries and organizations (including France, of course) are criticizing the U.S. for keeping them out.  Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, never one to miss a chance, is accusing the U.S. of using aid as a pretext for occupying Haiti, no doubt warming the cockles of the hearts of his leftist fans in America.

At the same time, there’s already discussion of the world’s moral responsibility to re-build Haiti.  That mostly means the American moral responsibility, of course.  Where do we find the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to do it?  I’m sure the U.S. will do as much as possible, but “re-building the country” isn’t in the cards.

Haiti has been a mess since a bloody slave revolt resulted in its independence from France early in the 19th century.  Its history has been marked by violence, repressive dictators, and massive corruption.  The U.S. has long treated Haiti as being of special concern, and its involvement in Haiti has been mixed, sometimes being helpful and sometimes not.  Haiti today is the poorest country in the hemisphere — a huge mass of desperately poor people, with a very rich ruling class and highly corrupt politicians sitting on top of them.  That’s the nature of the country, and it isn’t going to change.

So what’s to be done, from the standpoint of U.S. policy?  In the short term, we should continue to do as much as possible to help save lives.  In the long term, we should participate in the country’s reconstruction, but that expensive task shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of the U.S.  The best approach might be to build a coalition of nations willing to help, with up-front commitments from all participants.  This has to by-pass the UN structure if anything is to be accomplished, although appropriate UN organizations (UNHCR, WFP, WHO, etc) should be encouraged to participate.

As we’ve seen even in the U.S., populations that are least capable of taking care of themselves and most dependent on others are always hardest hit by natural disasters.  In Haiti, virtually everything will have to be done by outsiders.  A lot of aid will be stolen outright by the corrupt elites or, at the least, diverted to their own purposes.  That should be guarded against, but it can’t be entirely prevented.

The fact is, Haiti was helpless and hopeless long before this latest disaster, and it will be helpless and hopeless long after.  Everything possible should be done to relieve human suffering, but in the end we can’t change the nature of the people of Haiti.

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3 Responses to “The Tragedy of Haiti”

  1. Brianna |

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. America can’t win when it comes to their actions in other countries. If we go in to distribute aid we’re imperialists bent on occupation; if we don’t go in, we’re greedy, wealth-hoarding bastards. If we take action to stop genocide (Iraq), we’re just going in for the oil; if we leave a country alone (Rwanda and Sudan) we’re racists who don’t care about the innocent and the poor. And yes, I know that Saddam Hussein’s treatment of his people was not the main reason we went in, but the fact remains that he was a dictator and murder whom plenty of people hated before America actually DID something about it. The exact same people complaining that nothing is being done about genocide in Sudan would be the first in line to scream “Invasion!” if we actually went and did something about genocide in Sudan (though of course, when the UN appoints Sudan to a human rights commission even as they are in the process of committing said genocide, they’re simply working towards peace and harmony). And the truly sad part is that, even as they did a complete 180 on their position, they’d think that they were on the side of truth and justice both times.

    So if you can’t win for losing when it comes to these peoples’ opinions, then why bother trying to win them?

  2. larry |

    The American Red Cross is proposing to resettle 45,000 quake victims in the U.S.
    A group of 2,000 are already in Florida.

  3. Tom |

    To sort the facts out just a bit:

    “The American Red Cross says a plan to bring 45,000 evacuees from Haiti to Florida, and 4,000 of those to Orange County, is not set in stone. The Red Cross clarified Friday who could be involved in a plan to move people out of Haiti. The Red Cross is preparing for two things: the repatriation of Americans living in Haiti and the possibility of a mass migration of Haitian nationals.” So far, the evacuees are Americans. The Governor of Florida said no final decisions have been made on evacuees.

    There are 45,000 or more Americans in Haiti when the earthquake struck, and these are among the evacuees who will come to Florida. NYT

    “U.S. authorities are readying for a potential influx of Haitians seeking to escape their earthquake-wracked nation, even though the policy for migrants remains the same: With few exceptions, they will go back. … The Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could house migrants temporarily…and the Catholic Church is working on a plan to accept Haitian orphans.” AP/

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