Haiti & other disasters

(I went to Haiti in 1987 as a teenager. I’ve been interested in what’s been going on there ever since. My brother asked me what I thought about the most recent disaster. I spent enough time on the reply, that I thought I might share it with a larger audience.) I haven’t really been following what’s been going on. Not closely. Following the news out of Haiti is pretty depressing. Following just one man, Aristide, from 1987 onward gives some idea of the what is happening in Haiti.

  • 1987 – My missions team had to leave 2-3 weeks early because of the violence. Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, is told to stop preaching political sermons and is re-assigned.
  • Elections stopped in November 1987 because of violence.
  • 1990 – Aristide is elected, endorses “necklacing” (i.e. execution) his opponents
  • 1991 – Aristide ousted, ends up in the States.
  • 1991-1994 – Aristide embezzle’s money from Haiti’s international telecom revenue.
  • 1994-1996 – Aristide leaves the priesthood, marries. With U.S. military help, he is re-instated as president. His term ends in 1996.
  • 2000 – Aristide elected with 10% of the populice voting.
  • 2004 – Rebellion, Aristide is forced out and ends up in Pretoria, South Africa. (Aristide claims he was kidnapped by the U.S. military although it looks like he would have died had they not shown up.)

Of course, you could easily claim that Aristide is just one corrupt ruler in a line of corrupt rulers. But I think the problem is much deeper than Haiti’s corrupt leadership. Another way to look at Haiti and get an idea of just how bad things were before the earthquake is to look at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On the west side of the border, where Haiti is, you can see there are fewer trees than on the east side. People in Haiti have been using up the natural resources — in 2007, less than 1% of their forests remained. Which means they end up finding it very hard to produce anything. Two years ago, stories started popping up about people in Haiti resorting to eating clay “cookies”. (Eating dirt isn’t unusual, but making it the primary source of nutrition is.) For as long as I’ve been aware of Haiti, it has been on the brink of disaster. The earthquake is just another disaster on top of the countless ones that came before it. Its amazing how much poverty and political violence and unrest continues to exist in a country just an hour and half flight away from Florida. Of course, this isn’t a problem that money is going to solve. If money solved problems, Haiti would be able to bounce back from this and its other problems really quickly. And we wouldn’t have ongoing “hostilities” in the Congo or Sudan. There wouldn’t be pirates in Somalia. North Korea wouldn’t have concentration camps. So, while the problem in Haiti is systemic, I’d hesitate to over-spiritualize it as, say, Pat Robertson has by claiming this is all because Haiti made a deal with the Devil. And I’d hesitate to say that this earthquake is going to lead to dramatic change in Haiti. It could, true. But any number of the crises in Haiti’s past could have led to dramatic change. I’m mostly frustrated with disaster voyeurism that we in the States seem to delight in. I applaud people who try to do something with their lives to help others. And we even need, to a certain extent, disaster “tourists” who help out whenever there is a disaster. But I’m still frustrated. And part of that is because I have done so little and there is such a great need all over the world for help.

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