Haiti: Some thoughts, 10 months after the earthquake

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Alone in the vast universe
I froze hell over
And walked on its ashes
To create my own history.”
(The Haitian struggle – the greatest David vs. Goliath battle being played out on this planet.)

Ezilidanto November 8, 2010

Earlier this month we attended a very impressively organized Festival for Haiti. People there cared about Haiti and Haitians.

The venue was a hotel alongside Interstate 35-W in Minneapolis. Three miles down I-35 is the Freeway bridge that collapsed during rush hour, August 1, 2007, killing 13 and injuring many.

One of the speakers noted that bridge, in context with the ten months that have elapsed since the cataclysmic earthquake that devastated Haiti January 12, 2010. He noted that ten months after the bridge collapse all of the rubble had been cleared. Twin Citians all know that an attractive new bridge has long been in service, replacing the collapsed structure.

The Festival was ten months after the earthquake. The same recovery after the bridge collapse cannot be said for restoring Port-au-Prince and other areas devastated ten months ago. Hurricane Tomas has just raged through Haiti, and cholera has added a new fear.

Ezilidanto’s quote, above, came today. It is most appropriate for this time in Haiti’s history. Here’s a recent video from the Haitian perspective, also via Ezilidanto.

While I was listening to the assorted speakers at the hotel, I began jotting some notes on the back of the program. Beginning two days before the earth quake, when a well known Cite Soleil priest preached at our church (he arrived back in Port-au-Prince just in time to get caught in the quake – he lived), I could count at least a dozen events I/we had attended in the last ten months which focused on Haiti.

There has been an immense outpouring of human and financial resources, particularly in the early weeks after the quake. Our church alone raised over $70,000.

But ten months later, even with an estimated over 10,000 NGOs in Haiti, the idea of recovery for Haiti is still a dream.

“Building Back Better” was a theme for the Festival. Recent photos still showed immense numbers of Haitians living under what can only very loosely be described as “tents.”

It has been seven years since I returned from my first journey to Haiti – a place I hardly knew existed. It was my great fortune, then, to become acquainted primarily with people who supported President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I learned the other side of the story – the story never told by the U.S. government, the source of information on which I had relied. Till then, I didn’t know there was another side of the story.

Less that three months later, February 29, 2004, Aristide was spirited out of the country in a coup d’etat engineered by the United States, with assistance of France and Canada. Democracy for Haiti’s peasants was apparently too risky for supposed democracies like the U.S to tolerate.

When I arrived home, in mid-December 2003, I made a decision to work to learn the geopolitical relationships between Haiti and the United States. It was a good decision. It has yielded troublesome insights.

Few would disagree with this statement: “Haiti is a tragic mess.” I have heard this said in countless ways by most everyone.

But then comes the interpretation of those words. With many variations, some blame the Haitians for their own fate. Pick your own words, you’ve heard them. Haitians need to be saved from themselves: so goes the narrative in many ways.

Another point of view, which I share, also conveyed in many ways, subscribes to the idea that the big sin of the Haitians was to have the audacity to break free of the shackles of slavery in 1804. This audacity terrified the leaders of our fledging slave-holding nation; it angered the French and the white Euro-centric world, and the rest is history. (The linked timeline has an error: 1919 should be 1915, but otherwise I think the facts are reasonably accurate.)

The guest speaker at the Festival, a Haitian minister from Port-au-Prince, laid out Haiti’s history in a very clear way, from the Haitian point of view. Then he recited some statistics now, ten months after the quake (my apologies for any inadvertent transcribing errors). In Haiti there is 85 percent unemployment, 48 percent illiteracy, 66 percent use candles as primary light source, 76 percent use charcoal for fuel, 80 percent have no potable water, 85 percent of products imported, 70 percent live on less than $2 per day, 1 million families (1.2 million people) homeless, 75 precent of homes need to be repaired.

This, ten months after perhaps the greatest outpouring of human and financial aid ever.

Powerfully, the minister said “Instead of giving us fish, teach us to fish. Empower us.”

The continuing disaster ten months out is NOT the Haitian’s “fault.”

Keep seeing Haiti.