Haitians are fleeing their quake-ravaged capital by the hundreds of thousands, aid officials said Friday, as their government promised to help nearly a half-million more move from squalid camps on curbsides and vacant lots into safer, cleaner tent cities.
Aid officials said some 200,000 people have crammed into buses, nearly swamped ferries and set out even on foot to escape the ruined capital. For those who stay, foreign engineers have started leveling land on the fringes of the city for tent cities, supposedly temporary, that are meant to house 400,000 people. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — As the US is in the process of sending 20,000 troops to Haiti, one has to wonder how their mission has been conceived. Is this first and foremost what it purports to be, a humanitarian endeavor? Or is the highest priority in the minds of US government planners to prevent a massive exodus? Is this all about helping the Haitians over there so that we don’t have to help them here? Is the Obama administration afraid of being accused of being soft on refugees?
Before there were even any American marines’ boots on the ground, the message from the skies was unambiguous: “Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country,” said Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador in Washington, in a broadcast to homeless and destitute Haitians repeated for hours on end. “If you do that, we’ll all have even worse problems. Because, I’ll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”
The sound of Haiti’s suffering is deafening now but behind it one can hear already a familiar music begin to play. Haiti must be made new. This kind of suffering so close to American shores cannot be countenanced. The other evening I watched a television correspondent shake his head over what he movingly described as a “stupid death” — a death that, but for the right medical care, could have been prevented. “It doesn’t have to happen,” he told viewers. “People died today who did not need to die.” He did not say what any Haitian could have told him: that the day before, and the day before that, Haiti had seen hundreds of such “stupid deaths,” and, over the centuries, thousands more. What has changed, once again, and only for a time, is the light shone on them, and the volume of the voices demanding that a “new Haiti” must now be built so they never happen again.
Whether they can read or not, Haiti’s people walk in history, and live in politics. They are independent, proud, fiercely aware of their own singularity. What distinguishes them is a tradition of heroism and a conviction that they are and will remain something distinct, apart — something you can hear in the Creole spoken in the countryside, or the voodoo practiced there, traces of the Africa that the first generation of revolutionaries brought with them on the middle passage.
Haitians have grown up in a certain kind of struggle for individuality and for power, and the country has proved itself able to absorb the ardent attentions of outsiders who, as often as not, remain blissfully unaware of their own contributions to what Haiti is. Like the ruined bridges strewn across the countryside — one of the few traces of the Marines and their occupation nearly a century ago — these attentions tend to begin in evangelical zeal and to leave little lasting behind.
What might, then? America could start by throwing open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008. Such a step would not be glamorous; it would not “remake Haiti.” But it would require a lasting commitment by American farmers and manufacturers and, as the country heals, it would actually bring permanent jobs, investment and income to Haiti.
Second, the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it. The world’s greatest gift would be to make it possible, and necessary, for Haitians — all Haitians — to rebuild Haiti. [continued…]