Haiti: 200 years of toil and pillaging

As our attention turns to Haiti with it's 100,000 - 500,000 dead, dying and injured, it's important to remember that Haiti has been the whipping boy of the Western world for some time. I have to think that Europeans have to shell to make up for some very tangible guilt we should be experiencing.

Haiti is the poorest economy in the Americas. Its GDP is $790 USD per capita is; or $2 per person per day. In its history, Haiti has seen 32 coups. Political chaos is a constant.

On more than one occasion US, French, German and British forces claimed large sums of money from the National Bank of Haiti. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson, sent in the marines to ensure that German and French forces wouldn't threaten nearby Panama Canal. The election in the Senate was overseen by US Marines, armed with fixed bayonets. Then the U.S. forced a treaty on Haiti's leader, Dartiguenave that would establish American control of customs houses. This allowed them to load up good and float them away.

In the last decade, the taps of aid money have gone on and off like so much bad Haitian plumbing. Following the disputed election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2000, European nations suspended government-to-government assistance. Haiti received no help from the World Bank nor the Inter-American Development Bank for years, prior. The US Congress banned any US assistance from being channeled through the Haitian government, choking off avenues for Haitian corruption as well as Haitian development.
Haitians continued to be practice democracy in front a US gun. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was effectively kidnapped in 2004. Supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas party and Aristide, as well as some foreign supporters, denounced the rebellion as a foreign controlled coup d'etat orchestrated by Canada, France and the United States.
Prior to his capture, Aristide demanded that France pay Haiti over $21 billion back, the adjusted amount that Haiti was forced to pay Paris after winning its freedom from France as the hemisphere's first independent black nation 200 years ago. Had his gambit to wrestle money from France succeeded, he would have had momentum to get back the money stolen by Germany, Britain and the US. Imagine a Haiti flush with $100+ billion. Before that could play out, Aristide was whisked away. He is now in exile in South Africa.

What do political strife, European raiding and earthquakes have in common? They are completely connected.

In the early 1900s, Haiti was an easy target-- they lost money that could have gone into their infrastructure and built generations of stability. Poor people don't have time to get engaged in democratic government when they don't know how they'll get food, clothing and shelter.

It was easy for Papa Doc Duvalier and his son, to rule a closed kingdom rife with corruption as his forces kept the populace in terror. In the 1970s, the US tried establish assembly plants for US manufacturers but that didn't build lasting success. In the mid-1980s, during the August days of the Cold War, the US continued military and economic aid to the Duvalier regime. Aristide rose to power after the ouster of Baby Doc Duvalier and a constitution was drafted in 1987. A coup d'etat sent Aristide into his first exile in 1991. Therein, Haiti fell into three years of chaos. In 1994, Haitian General Raoul C├ędras asked former US President Jimmy Carter to intercede to avoid another US military invasion of Haiti.
A transfer of power was successfully negotiated the departure of Haiti's military leaders and the peaceful entry of US forces under Operation Uphold Democracy, paving the way for the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president.

Haiti has been on shaky ground since long before the quake of Jan. 12th. The political chaos is a breeding ground for corruption, stalled projects and poverty. The lack of capital has robbed Haiti of its basics-- from building codes to good utilities, well trained healthcare professional and first responders. A lot more buildings should have withstood this shaking.
After the quakes, the death toll will climb. There's the Golden Hour-- seriously injured people who do not get to aid die. After that comes the emergency excavation with construction equipment re-tasked to lift walls off of survivors. A shambles economy means few big projects and very few bull dozers ready to presh into service. All of those moaning people trapped in the rubble will start to fall silent tonight. By Friday, only a lucky few will still be holding on as miraculous anecdotes.
What follows after that is more futile and sad to witness: Haiti's infrastructure leaves a lot of people without running water. Last Monday, 30% of Port au Prince's people didn't have access to clean drinking water. Last Monday, 29% of the urban citizens had access to sanitation. Today, those odds will be much worse. People will be scavenging for water; when they can't find clean water, they'll take what they can find. If an earthquake hit a North American home, the residents could poke open tins and live off of cold corn for the days while the disaster effects subsided. Haitans living on $2/day don't have a cupboard, let alone a full cupboard. Sickly, cold survivors will be starving.
Disease resurgence will be the final insult. Approximately 120,000 of the 9.8 million citizens are HIV positive. With hundreds of thousands of people bloodied and injured, and medical precautions in short supply, there will be lots of opportunities for new transmission. Money won't come fast enough to rebuild the flattened neighbourhoods. Come spring, stagnant water will become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and pathogens. Malaria and a host of other diseases will debilitate the survivors.

What can we do?
First: send aid. Inform others that they need to help and help now. There are suggestions that we should allow an influx of immigrants from Haiti into the US and Canada. That would take people out of harms way.
Second: settle up. Guilt the countries who pulled big dollar bank robberies. In Haiti's history, several countries have trucked off gold and goods. Guilt those countries into returning the cash. The cost in lives will never be settled up, but at least we can give them back their cash. Give them the cash they need to transform Haiti.


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