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Opinion In Haiti, Plus ça Change

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Jan 24, 2010.

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    In Haiti, plus ça change ...

    George Jonas: In Haiti, plus ça change ... - Full Comment

    January 23, 2010, 9:45 AM by National Post Editor -
    George Jonas

    The tragic earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12 was what insurance documents call “an act of God.” However, God only laid the groundwork, as it were. Human beings finished the job.

    The seismic event that all but leveled Port-au-Prince and killed an untold number of people (estimates range from 100,000 to 200,000) might not have caused a fraction of the casualties in Tokyo, Vancouver or San Francisco. “Blaming victims” is taboo, but some victims do contribute to their own misfortune. Haitians couldn’t have prevented tectonic plates from shifting, but they could have prevented some of their buildings, perhaps most, from falling on their heads.

    “It’s really not the earthquake that’s killing the people, it’s the buildings that fall down on people,” was the way Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center put it.

    Ironically, a less developed society might have withstood a 7.0 magnitude jolt better. When the ground begins to sway, people in grass huts aren’t as vulnerable as those in flimsy concrete structures. But whatever edge prehistoric models offer in earthquakes, reverting to a hunting-gathering society clearly isn’t an option for Haiti.

    What is?

    In the short run, asking for help is Haiti’s only option, and the world’s only option is to provide it. There’s a country of attractive people in distress. Donate money, send medicine, help more couples adopt more Haitian orphans. Do fund-raisers, celebrity concerts, all the soppy, sentimental, feel-good things people always do. It’s only Band-Aid, a drop in the bucket, but every Band-Aid covers a cut. Not saving anyone because we can’t save everyone would be a poor excuse for doing nothing.

    However, in the long haul there’s no substitute for a community helping itself. Rescuing individuals in emergencies is fine; maintaining another Caribbean refugee factory isn’t. It’s neither kind nor sensible.

    The Republic of Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. The second has made a go of nationhood; the first hasn’t. The reason isn’t geology.

    The area is seismically active, but Haiti hasn’t had a major earthquake since its days as a French colony in 1842. A quake that struck its Spanish-American neighbour in 1946 rattled Port-au-Prince as well, but Haiti’s upheavals tended to be political.

    For a country that won its independence at the dawn of the 19th century (1804) in the New World’s only successful slave revolt, Haitians showed remarkably little aptitude for self-government. After sacrificing an estimated 100,000 of their numbers for liberty, they put up with a series of authoritarian governments — not the type that makes the trains run on time, either, but the type that derails them.

    Take the Duvaliers, father and son, who ruled for almost 30 years. In 1957, Dr. Francois Duvalier established a single-party state in Haiti, eventually declaring himself president for life. His life lasted until 1971, when his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, then 19, also declared himself president for life. Having put up with the Duvaliers’ thieving and tyrannical rule for another 15 years, Haitians finally sent Baby Doc packing, along with his pretty wife, in 1986. Then, a few more coups and military juntas later, came “Father” Aristide.

    Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ex-Catholic-priest-turned-radical-leftist, had a brilliant plan for his country’s economic restoration: Foreign aid. Considering the gullibility of Western donor governments and the patience of Western taxpayers, it might have been a viable plan, too, but Aristide undermined it by a penchant for intimidation, electoral fraud and murder. Seven months after being elected in 1991, he was ousted in a military coup by a strongman named General Raoul Cédras.

    For the next three years Aristide lobbied Bill Clinton’s sympathetic White House to restore him. Finally, in 1994, Clinton invaded Haiti to do so. Why? Search me. Gen. Cedras was a caricature of a South American military thug, but Aristide, a whispy-lispy quasi-Marxist turd, was probably worse.

    The Duvaliers had the TonTons Macoutes — stone-faced enforcers in dark glasses, as portrayed in the famous Alec Guiness movie based on Graham Greene’s 1966 novel The Comedians. Aristide had the Chimères, violent young thugs who differed from the Tonton Macoutes only in being less stylishly dressed. If Haiti had a national purpose in the years following Aristide’s restoration, it was to confirm the French saying that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    Aristide and his Lavalas party ruled Haiti in the manner of Don Corleone. Corruption reached new heights. By 2001 even the European Union voted to withhold aid from him. He was ousted in another coup in 2004 and rescued (he claims kidnapped) by American Marines. His protégé, René Préval, has been President since.

    What, short of a population exchange with Switzerland, would help Haiti? Well, the Americans currently digging in the ruins of Port-au -Prince might conclude that annexing the dysfunctional “republic” is more economical and humane than returning for futile rescue missions every few years. Unlikely — but God works in mysterious ways. It could certainly turn the catastrophe of January 12 into Haiti’s lucky day.

    National Post

    This article was forwarded by forum member Soul_Jyot ji. :up:

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