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Major earthquakes near heavily populated areas always produce destruction and mass casualties, but I’ve never seen anything quite like the carnage and suffering that Haiti has been experiencing. As I watch the aftermath of this tragedy, a number of thoughts go through my mind.
First is the question, “Why?” Why is the fallout from this earthquake so much more horrific than that seen in natural disasters in, say, the United States? How can such a cataclysm happen in the Western Hemisphere in the 21st century?
You can’t attribute it to the magnitude of the earthquake, which, though considerable, could have been much worse. Nor is the problem that Haiti is an island, separated from its nearest neighbors – with the exception of the Dominican Republic – by hundreds, or even thousands, of miles of ocean.
No, the real reason that the earthquake in Haiti has created such a nightmare of death and destruction is because it is such an impoverished country. And the reason it’s an impoverished country is the same reason that any country is poor: tyrannical government.
From François Duvalier (“Papa Doc”) to his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”) to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, president until 2004, to Haiti’s current president, René Préval, Haitians have been ruled in a dictatorial fashion that has made it all but impossible for the vast majority of citizens to achieve any semblance of financial success.
In simpler terms, Haiti’s rulers – euphemistically referred to as “presidents” in more recent times – have oppressed the majority of Haitian citizens (most of whom are descendants of African slaves) and lived opulently off of their labor. The result has been unimaginable poverty for the average Haitian; a government-induced poverty so overwhelming that it made it impossible for Haiti to withstand any kind of major natural disaster.
Wealth, on the other hand, is what makes it possible for people to build homes and buildings that have a good chance of surviving an earthquake. Wealth is what makes it possible for a society to have emergency food, water, earth-moving equipment, first responders, doctors, and more to keep the fallout from a natural disaster to a minimum. Wealth is what makes it possible for a society to have a power grid and other infrastructure that allows it to function, at least minimally, after a natural disaster.
In the midst of all the news stories about Haiti, I am concerned that the most important point is being lost on a compassionate public: Poverty is the real problem and government is the real cause of poverty. It is a problem and a cause that haunts countries throughout the world that are vulnerable to devastating aftermaths from natural disasters.
A second thought that occurred to me about the earthquake in Haiti is the nightmarish question: What if the United States of America did not exist? Just imagine, no U.S. troops, no U.S. charitable donations, no U.S. reporters on the scene to tell the world what is happening. James Cameron, the director of “Avatar,” could have a field day making a movie based on such an imaginary world.
In a world without America, one would have to assume that there would be millions – not hundreds of thousands – of corpses lying under the ruins of collapsed buildings in Haiti indefinitely, with millions more dying of malaria, starvation, dysentery, and other diseases. The island would be cut off from civilization, with only an occasional airplane from Venezuela, Brazil, or Cuba dropping sparse quantities of food and supplies via parachute.
Ever seen “Life After People” on The History Channel? How about life after America – which could very well be coming sometime during this century? Who would save the world as it faces one crisis after another? From Darfur to Sri Lanka, from Haiti to the Balkans, what would happen to a world without America? Read Mark Steyn’s “America Alone” and think about it.
Which brings me to my third thought about the Haitian disaster. In the coming years, as the U.S. pours billions of dollars into rebuilding a Haiti that was never built in the first place, as it provides aid and comfort to its citizens while other countries send gratuitous planeloads of food now and then, will the rest of the world continue to see the U.S. as an evil capitalist society (a society whose capitalist system is precisely what made it possible for it to save millions of Haitian lives!) or will it have a change of heart and come to view America with newfound respect and admiration?
More specifically, will future generations of Haitians themselves view the U.S. as the savior of their country or as an imperialistic devil? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question, but, like it or not, it will be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future.