Haiti, Two Years Later

Currents, the daily Catholic news program produced by the Diocese of Brooklyn, observes the second anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake by interviewing Father Jean Moise Delva who, sadly, reports that not much has changed.

“It was very sad to see the atmosphere, and the way people are living,” Father Delva says. Noting that 2.38 billion dollars have been spent he notes the difficulty in distributing aid. Haitians have seen almost no building connected to that expenditure. More than half a million people are still living in the tarp camps we were looking at two years ago:

It’s frustrating. One wants to help, one wants to send a check to Catholic Relief Services or Food for the Poor, or slip a donation to Passionist Father Rick Frechette’s established hospitals, and yet it seems like money is not the answer; it’s not getting where it needs to be. Something else is needed.

I wonder if what is needed is the adoption of Haiti by the private sector? Governments are not helping, but why aren’t corporations over there building plants and businesses and hotels? If government aid is not helping, why can’t markets? Is it because the Haitian government is so out-of-sorts that it cannot even function with business? It always strikes me as odd that the Dominican Republic can be what it is, while Haiti — sharing the same island — cannot. How do we help the people of Haiti to become what they want to be — how do we know when to help and when to get out of their ways?

Anyway, you can watch the whole interview here. There are, surprisingly, no photos accompanying the discussion, but if you check my Haiti category, there are lots of pictures. It doesn’t sound like pictures in 2012 will be much different than in 2010. What a shame.

These two videos bring you up to date on Haiti — some people who have really dedicated themselves to helping Haiti, including Father Fretchette and filmmaker Paul Haggis, and they’re interviewed, here. The 9 billion dollars pledged has been reduced to about 4 billion and even that seems not to be forthcoming (did you know that Harvard University has a $35 billion dollar endowment? Are our priorities screwed up, or what?)

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • craig

    I doubt there is much of a private sector in Haiti. Rule of law and respect for property rights is essential to obtaining private sector investment, and neither is guaranteed in Haiti. If potential investors think the political risk is too high, they don’t invest. Here is a good article that starts by discussing Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel visit to Haiti, and uses that as a point of departure for discussing why Haiti lags so far behind.

  • Carol Christopher

    I can’t find the info on this anymore, but before the quake one of the Clinton projects was to turn Haiti into what Cuba was before Castro, a gambling and entertainment destination. I remember thinking it was odd that he would be in charge of the financing to rebuild since he would stand to benefit the most from the “free” infrastructure. Things should start moving now since a man who was Clinton’s aide on Haiti ever since the earthquake has just been made Prime Minister.

  • kenneth

    Haiti is just a tragic place any way you look at it. Starting as it did, as a slave colony in revolt, it had not a single one of the social, economic or cultural ingredients needed for even a functional modern republic, let alone a successful one.

    Every other place in the world where aid helped a country move past disasters, you will find that country had SOMETHING going for it. Think for a moment of Europe after WW II, Japan, Korea. Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. All of these places were in bad, bad shape after their respective disasters. People starving, in rags, the whole nine. But they all had at least a few of the following ingredients, even if in modest or even miserly portion:

    A tradition of the rule of law, a ruling caste which had a broader vision of leadership than strip-mining the country’s wealth, a functioning middle class (or at least working middle class). A functional financial and transportation infrastructure, natural resources, an emphasis on education and a critical mass of technically educated people who knew how the wheels of the world really work. People who had the juice to organize the elites and business class to place all their bets in heavy manufacturing, chemicals, banking, tourism or tech sectors, as conditions allowed.

    If nothing else, these places all had or have a living memory of decent times. Haiti has not a one of those things going for it. That being the case, there is almost no way to envision how billions, even tens of billions in aid would have any long term effect whatever.

    Writing checks in a place like this is like sending bigger and bigger shipments of seed corn and fertilizer to a planet which has no water and no magnetic field to even hold an atmosphere. Fixing Haiti would be like terraforming a planet. It would take many hundreds of billions, maybe a trillion dollars in very well placed investment AND a radical overhaul of the country’s culture from top to bottom. It would take 30 years or more to really see dramatic results. No corporation is going to do that. They’re in it for 5-year returns, and they can get a much better bang for their buck in China, India, Malaysia, anywhere else you care to think of. The only shot I see for seed money is if geologists stumble upon huge reserves of petroleum, rare earth metals, lithium, something (all very unlikely). I don’t know the answer. I wish I did.

  • http://northshorejournal.org Chuck Simmins

    The biggest mistake the US made was to honor the pretense that Haiti had a government. For 95 percent of the Haitian population, the “government” is a group of wealthy individuals dedicated to keeping their wealth and status at all costs. In many place, our troops found the Haitians were organized in tribal like groups headed by a wise man, a teacher or priest or respected elder. The mayor or whatever was ignored.
    American troops should have stayed and spent a few years. Perhaps a UN trusteeship. Without outside rule, there is no law in Haiti, or any justice, social or otherwise.

  • craig

    More than anything, Haiti needs to be conquered by outsiders who will impose a new culture upon it. Haiti’s native culture is so debased by voudou and casual criminality that it would not be possible to form even a functioning dictatorship using Haitians — even if the new autocrat forswore the old ways, his subordinates would not. Colonialism is really the only path forward for Haiti, but no other country wants the job.

  • Greta

    I was reading an article on South Africa today. When all the world was pushing for an end to white rule, those who were saying this needed to happen over an extended period of time with some sort of solid plan were screamed out of the way. The people had waited too long. Many were shocked at how fast change happned and how quickly we saw Mandela as President. The story was covered a few more years and dropped. So were those calling for a more cautious approach correct in what they said about the explosion of crime and other enormous problems which would occur if their warnings were ignored? It would seem an amazing story to follow up on to see how things are working out. When was the last time you saw an indepth story on that country today? The media is only concerned to shine the light on some evil and then if they are successful in change, move on not caring abou results. haiti will not change unless there is a constant light with solid on the ground footwork reporting honestly about the problems no matter what happens with the information from a politically correct perspective. Frankly I think it is racist to not hold governments to high standards and give them a pass if they are not led by whites.
    The article on South Africa talked about the massive increase in crime, the killings of long time white farmers of their entire families, the fact that they have become the rape capital of the world, that unemployment is at record levels and drinking and drugs are becoming major problems. After reading the article, I watched the movie “Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” with Cicely Tyson. It showed the end of the civil war and a plantaion she was on setting everyone free. many did not know enough to understand they needed money and food and a place to go and set off without anything soon getting into trouble. During the years of war, with the clear understanding of Emancipation in place, it would seem that the government should have had a plan in place for what would happen next. In many ways, our race issues really started during this period when the government had a total failure and that failure continues in many ways to this very day. It is another reason why I do not think government solutions to major problems can work. Imagine if the government had brought in all the various churches that were screaming for the end of slavery and had them take ownership of what would happen next and provide them with about a tenth of what the government would spend to help them get programs started. We were and our a country of churches and need to bring the Churches back into doing what they do best and getting government doing what they do best in very limited ways. The same is true of haiti and S africa.


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