“Haiti Cherie says Haiti is my Beloved Land. Oh, I never knew that I have to leave it to understand…” Mickey Glantz. January 14, 2010

Written by Admin. Posted in All Fragilecologies, Disasters, Human Condition

Published on January 15, 2010 with No Comments

I was introduced to the song “Haiti Cherie” on a Harry Belafonte album released in 1957, the year I graduated high school and then entered university as a beanie-wearing freshman. The song, the whole album in fact, turned out to soothe the ruffled feathers of a naive young boy starting the rest of his life away from the security of the family nest. belafonte

The deadly devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, brought to mind Belafonte’s various songs of the Caribbean and especially Haiti Cherie. I have long been interested in Haiti though I have never visited the country. Its history has been in some instances interesting and in other instances sad. In the early 1800s (1802 actually) the black leader (later, King) Christophe overthrew French rule on Haiti’s half of the island of Hispanolachristophe-easton-102

(Yesterday, in his infinite stupidity, Reverend Pat Robertson referred to this independence from France as “Haiti having made a pact with the devil 200 years ago” and that was the reason for the earthquake).

When I was growing up, Haiti was plagued by the rule of Papa Doc Duvalier and his army of thugs—the Tonton Macoute—that kept the people under control through unfathomable horror tactics. Duvalier’s son, Baby Doc, followed his father’s rule and also relied on the support and protection of the Tonton Macoute, but the island’s economy was already in shambles. All demographics about the country were abysmal.

They ruled with an iron fist and fear of voodoo

They ruled with an iron fist and fear of voodoo

I learned early on that Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I also learned that in the 1960s it was receiving the most U.S. aid per capita in the Western Hemisphere, most likely because of its proximity to Castro’s communist Cuba. I have to assume that a lot of that assistance went to the military and to corrupt government officials. Then, Haiti was poor, undernourished, mostly illiterate, and the poor were living in such squalor and amid degradation that it would’ve been generous to call their habitats slums or shantytowns. But, somehow, the poor of Haiti managed to survive.

I also recall hearing about Haitian immigrants seeking refuge in America on overloaded boats and small crafts, even inner tubes, on the hopes of getting to the Florida coast, much as their Cuban neighbors had done. The difference is that the Haitians were sent back home, allegedly because they were not political refugees as the Cubans claimed but because they were labeled as economic refugees. Cubans could stay; Haitians had to go.

Haitian boat refugees seeking a better life in America

Haitian boat refugees seeking a better life in America

Fast forward to the stories now unraveling about the deaths, suffering and devastation of the people on one of the poorest nations on the earth. Countries and groups that were before unconcerned about the poverty of Haitians are now pouring out their hearts, souls and funds to somehow help the people of Haiti in their moment of need. It is likely the wrong time for me to bring up the fact that all governments knew of Haiti’s poverty—of women feeding kids salt-flavored clay wafers to fill their bellies with anything that could ward off hunger pains, of Haiti’s chronic hunger, of Haiti’s treatable water-borne illnesses, of Haiti’s squalor in its settlements, that the productive land surface of the country has vanished, that the Haitian population is illiterate by half and unemployed by three-fourths.

What we are witnessing in this global reaction to Haiti’s earthquake is a human response to a cataclysmic event: Sympathy, empathy in some cases, a desire to help Haitians in any way in their moment of dire need. All of the ingredients for a crisis had been visible for all to see.

msf: doctors without borders, Haiti

msf: doctors without borders, Haiti

Many non-governmental organizations and aid agencies have been for years engaged in trying to bring Haitians a better life. However, the big money, either from governments bilaterally or international aid agencies multilaterally, was not enough to even scratch the surface of Haiti’s numerous problems or was provided in uncoordinated ways that did not help the country become self sustaining. Haiti was neglected in the past, and if other complex humanitarian crises are any indicator of what is to follow in a year or two or three, Haiti will be neglected in the future.

Is there a concentrated effort equivalent to what went into the “Manhattan Project” that could be sparked by the current sad plight of the Haitian people that could help the Country surpass a tipping point that would enable it to provide a good, productive and healthy life for its citizens? There must be. Why can’t rich countries tandem with one of the poorest to bring its standard of living up? Why is it so easy to find money for a war or money for a disaster but not for attempts to improve the vulnerability of the lives and livelihoods of the poor?
The optimist in me says it can be done if the will of governments exists to do it. The cynic in me suggests that the dark side of human nature —greed, corruption, self-interest —will likely rule the day. Maybe the upcoming younger generation of policy makers can show my generation why and how the dark side must be changed or contained.

The bottom line is as follows: Who has responsibility for the well-being of people living in countries in the Fourth World?

Donations to assist organizations working in Haiti’s relief efforts can be made through the Clinton Foundation. http://www.clintonfoundation.org/haitiearthquake/clintonfoundation

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