The images from Haiti are heartbreaking; it looks like Hell on Earth. It was not exactly Paradise before. I have seen Haiti only once, in a fleeting afternoon excursion from a cruise ship. Royal Caribbean borrowed/commandeered a tiny beach, named Labadee, and ferried cruisers for a picnic, music and beach time. The actual population of the island was held back by fencing, while a select few islanders hustled to serve their visitors. I am sure that this enterprise fed many Haitians, but there was not enough cheery music and hammock time in the tropics to disguise the desperate poverty there. The coastline we saw was lovely. Beauty is a distraction to misery, but not a cure. I am sure these excursions evaporated in the aftermath of the earthquake.
I wish I had a better sense of the history there, but I do not. Since I was young, I have been aware of the chaos that seems to be the one constant for this island. Poverty and corruption in government never produce happy results. The half of the island that is the Dominican Republic has thrived of late, with resorts, golf and eco tourism. The instability that Haiti cannot shake has prevented developers from creating a tourism industry. The farming that once provided a national product has eroded. Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere.
I was guilted by my ignorance to gather at least a historical thumbnail to explain how Haiti can have remained so poor. Misery has reigned since Christopher Columbus sashayed onto the beaches of Hispaniola; the violent chaos that impregnates the Haitian history is mind boggling. Slavery, revolts, politically ordained genocide and violence are woven into governments that range from Spanish to French to German to native. All have failed, spectacularly. We see the results of this poverty in the images we view today: buildings that collapsed like jenga towers, no cohesive medical care or infrastructure. The one constant for Haiti is the Catholic Church. Missionaries minister and teach in Haiti, providing basic humanity to a country without resources. As a result, the country is 80% Catholic. May faith sustain them, but may we all reach out and send donations via Red Cross, Care or Catholic Charities. Electronic methods have been created, like texting 90999, with the word Haiti. This sends $10.00 directly to the Red Cross. All mobile carriers are participating without taking a fee. There are many other donation opportunities
available, all of them effortless relative to the work that will be required to restore any normalcy to Haiti.
Prisoners escaped when the jail collapsed, and the general safety on Haiti is uncertain. There is great fear that in the absence of construction assistance, most trapped people will die. There are reports of Haitians digging with silverware and bare hands to free those crushed by buildings. Dead bodies are being dragged to the side of the road, but there is no organized operation to collect, identify or deal with them. The decomposition is rapid in the tropics, and general health hazards
abound. Power has disappeared- generators are filling the gap in places, but the diesel fuel needed to power them is in short supply. President Obama has promised coordinated aid, and that is the only hope for this island. There is no place for dislocated and injured people to go. Without food and water, tents, medicine and medical personnel – civilization will devolve.
There will be aftershocks from the earthquake. The most wretched aftershocks will be felt in the future of all Haitians.
I know that the US has a complicated history with Haiti. Human rights violations have been endemic in its complicated history. Native Haitians have a dogged desire to be self determined, and few personal or material resources to do this. No one remains in power long enough to address the deficiencies in infrastructure. No international allies wish to be entwined with a political system that often devolves into violence or graft. The US government has an interest in pruning corrupt or immoral leaders from this island due to its relative proximity to the US and Cuba, but there is no sturdy relationship. Still, we will help. This disaster supersedes politics or ideology. It’s humanity. It is not enough to tune in with Anderson Cooper and gape at the ruins. We are all on this earth together. We can help, and we must. To those who have politicized this event
(Rush Limbaugh) or disgraced Christianity
by connecting the earthquake to voodoo (Pat Robertson) – shame on you. You have stooped so low that we shudder at your inhumanity. We are better than you. I like that about us.