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Haiti disaster redux

In Chính trị (Politics), Thế giới on 2010/03/01 at 00:01

Seven weeks have passed since the devastating earthquake in Haiti on Feb 12, 2010. In crisis, the world pays attention and gives sympathy to Haitians for their sufferings. The outpouring of goodwill and donations has come to Haiti in a short period of time. The world felt good for their charity deeds. Now, all the emotions and urgency seem faded away. Not so much news on the broadcast. It has moved on to the Winter Olympics with personal glory and national pride.

Over two hundred years have passed since the Republic of Haiti comes to existence in 1804. How is her existence? What have we learned of Haiti, our neighbor? A poor wretched existence, a “failed” state, a dysfunctional country, a political violence atmosphere. Haiti has been portrayed as such.

Yet, we did not learn of their proud history of existence, their resiliency, and the unbroken agony they suffered through colonialism, foreign interference and neocolonial racism. We did not learn of their uprising to gain independence from France 200 plus years ago. We did not learn of their burden, the enormous external debt (equivalent to 21 billions in 2003) that France imposed on its lost colony.

We did not learn that Haiti was cripple by debt, that it took out loans from US, German, and French (yes, France) banks at extortionate rate to pay interests and debt. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France (Times of London).

We did not learn that ‘the U.S. and other international financial bodies (IMF imposed reduction of tariff protections for Haitian rice and other agricultural products) destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create a major market for the heavily subsidized rice from U.S. farmers’. [1]

Haiti was home to the last heartbeat of the Middle Passage survivors’ dimming memory of home. Ordinary Haitians believed this to be an ageless and immortal truth. They understood its price and were willing to pay it, while persevering to overcome who had forced them to suffer for the crime of remembering themselves. If not in this lifetime, then in the next, or the next after that. They knew who they were, who they had always been and who they would always be. They had time. They were Haitian.

Bits of ceramic, no matter how pretty and shiny, count for naught once they tumble from the mosaic’s wedding. Similarly, the human story makes little sense when told in disassociated units of small mortal life, unrelated to a mothering culture that provides such life real and self-celebrating value – a place, one’s own, to belong.

Haitians have a culture that slaves once bled to defend. Culture, when not crushed from without, can be virtually eternal. As can be the souls that shelter complete within its protecting arms. The result is a self-ownership, unfamiliar to me, that sets Haitians apart from those to the north and regions around, where wills and memories were broken, and souls were crushed in hot fields of cotton and cane. Haitians, having won their war, declined to ape the master as the rest of us, I suppose, had little choice but to do. To paraphrase Bob Marley, they – the Haitians – more nearly than any of the rest of us kept their culture. For this, Haitians are reviled by a white world that the rest of us broken souls have long since succumbed to imitate.

Randall Robinson, An unbroken agony

I often heard comments about the American innocence myth, as if we could do no wrong, all with good intentions and America as a reluctant superpower who use forces to promote democracy and freedom. American citizens, including myself, are much more ignorant than innocent in understanding of the U.S. foreign policies, much more consenting than questioning their powerful country doing things around the world, in the past history and in the present.

There is a call on “reconstruction and development” conference for Haiti after the disaster. “It is a chance to get Haiti once and for all out of the curse it seems to have been stuck with for such a long time,” President Sarkozy said. This Freudian slip of the tongue said it all about the curse, the “compensation” demanded by France for its loss of a slave colony in exchange for French recognition of Haiti as a sovereign republic. This curse may not be easily removed when reconstruction model and framework is neo-liberalism.

Countries undergoing reconstruction display characteristics of what could be called a ‘reconstruction economy’, in which food, housing, services, recreation facilities, and business opportunities abound for international peacekeepers, administrators, development and security professionals, NGOs, and contractors, while the majority of the local population struggles with disfunctional infrastructure, non-existent or poor quality services, food scarcities, and dead-end jobs. A services and construction boom geared towards expatriates creates pockets of affluence in capital cities and select tourist and recreational areas while the economy in the rest of the country falls apart. The resultant disparity in living standards contributes to rising crime rates, social unrest, conflicts over land, water and other resources, and communal tensions that escalate into more serious civil conflicts and violence.

Shalmali Guttal, The Politics of Reconstruction, 2005

Haiti, a dream unfulfilled for so long. Let us together, brothers and sisters of Haitians, steadfast in support of Haiti to fulfill the Haitian Dream, the dream of a prosperous and independent state. [2]

NOTE:

[1] The U.S. Role in Haiti’s Food Riots

[2] A Letter from Haiti: A Dream Unfulfilled

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