The devastating 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 has produced nonstop coverage of this tiny impoverished nation. However, many of the pundits who have been presented to the public as experts on the poorest country in our hemisphere have shown their ignorance.
Since 1990, Haiti has received more than $6 billion dollars in aid, $3 billion from the U.S. alone. Add to that another $1.5 billion it has borrowed from international sources (the debt has now been forgiven). Some said that is tantamount to pouring money down a rat hole.
How is it that this poor country that is within spitting distance of our shores is still unable to help itself?
Is Haiti a lost cause? Hardly.
Unfortunately, our efforts to help this country have done more harm than good and we need to learn from our most recent mistakes if we sincerely want to give the people a hand up and finally become the good neighbor Haiti deserves.
I have been writing and reporting on Haiti for 18 years (having posted columns going back to 1992 on my blog). Also, I am on the Advisory Board of Childcare
Worldwide, a Christian organization that ministers to the poorest of the poor. My husband and I have sponsored and educated two girls in Haiti who survived the earthquake and were scheduled to graduate this spring.
The Duvliers, Francois “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc,” ruled Haiti with iron fists from 1957 to 1986. During that time many Haitians fled to the U.S. to escape persecution.
In 1986, a revolution began, and the Reagan administration persuaded “Baby Doc” to leave. The way was paved for a free election.
In 1990, Jean Betrand Aristide, a former priest who was expelled from the Salesian order for preaching the righteousness of class violence, was overwhelmingly elected president. The results were predictable: Aristide forcibly removed the mayors in rural areas, unilaterally named five judges to the Supreme Court and began a seven-month reign of terror as brutal as any Haiti had ever seen. As a result, he was forcibly removed by the army and fled to the United States.
President George H. W. Bush was the first to prop up Aristide. His foreign policy consisted of supporting existing governments, no matter how bad or corrupt they were. At his urging, the Organization of American States began enforcing a blockade against Haiti. This wiped out the country’s light industry and destroyed the small but growing middle class. Bush then signed an executive order that gave Aristide access to Haiti’s treasury.
Aristide used Haiti’s money to hire a former Clinton campaign aid, Michael Barnes, as his lawyer. He also hired McKinney & McDowell – a top public-relations firm that handled such clients as the NAACP, the African National Congress and the National Organization of Women – to launch a campaign in Washington to promote his return to the island.
In 1994, President Clinton sent American troops to invade Haiti and forced Aristide back on his people. This was a terrible and costly mistake. Aristide continued to misbehave and stole the country blind. When his term was over he formally stepped aside but continued to rule the country, de facto, with an army of paid thugs from a sprawling pink palace he built for himself and his militia.
In May of 2000, after Aristide’s Lavalas Party stole the Senate elections and forced Leon Manus, the jurist who ruled it a fraud, to flee for his life, the OAS and the United States simply gave up on Haiti. Aristide was formally elected president again in a process that was so corrupt that barely 5 percent of the people even bothered to vote.
The turmoil continued until Aristide was finally removed to the Central African Republic with the aid of the administration of George W. Bush.
During the Aristide years, Haiti went from one of the poorest countries in this hemisphere to one of the poorest countries in the world. After Aristide’s departure, the news media slowly pulled up stakes and the world lost interest in the plight of this desperate country, made worse by a series of devastating hurricanes and tropical storms.
Before any fledgling democracy can take hold, order must be restored. This was a tall order for the new coalition government in a country that had been ruled by violence and drug lords. When this government took over there were 2,500 police for a country with 8 and a half million people. Before the earthquake struck, the drug lords were on the run and the number of police had risen to 9,500, with plans to ramp up to 14,000 by 2011. Just how many members of that government survived the earthquake is anyone’s guess.
The principle “You break it, you fix it” should apply here.
It is ironic that former presidents Clinton and Bush have come together to call attention to Haiti’s plight. Perhaps now the country finally will get the kind of focused attention that it needs to get back on its feet.