Guy W. Farmer: HAITI: Road to recovery long, arduous
For the Nevada Appeal
Long before a devastating earthquake struck Haiti earlier this month, that impoverished Caribbean nation was already an international basket case, what foreign affairs specialists call a failed state.
The sad fact is that the good, kind and devout people of Haiti simply can’t govern their own nation or take care of themselves because of a plethora of negative historical, political and societal factors. Therefore, the United States and other developed nations must step in to try to restore some semblance of order, although it would be easier to put Humpty Dumpty back together.
There are many reasons for Haiti’s dire predicament, starting with the country’s sad and depressing history. For starters, the Haitians have never been able to govern themselves. Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, was originally settled by African slaves. Under French rule in the 1700s, Haiti was a wealthy country that accounted for about 25 percent of France’s economy. But things began to deteriorate after a slave revolt defeated the French Army in 1801.
In the 20th century Haiti suffered three decades of American occupation, multiple corrupt regimes, natural disasters, environmental devastation and the scourge of HIV/AIDs. Much of the responsibility for the collapse of the country’s infrastructure is attributable to the brutal and corrupt regimes of “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc,” who ruled Haiti as their own private fiefdom between 1957 and 1986.
Many educated professionals fled Haiti during the Duvalier years, leaving a nation full of millions of good but very poor and severely undereducated people. Nearly half of the population is illiterate and many people live on $2 per day, or less. Although the U.S. government has poured billions of taxpayer dollars into Haiti – more than $800 million since 2004 – we have little to show for our investment.
Unfortunately, most of our aid has been stolen by corrupt Haitian officials. Therefore, nearly $50 million in earthquake relief funds should be administered by honest, efficient American and international organizations. The United Nations estimates that one-third of Haiti’s 9 million people need some kind of aid ranging from food to housing to medical assistance. As usual, the U.S. leads relief efforts with more than 10,000 military personnel on the ground augmented by thousands of official and private civilians and volunteers. Meanwhile, anti-American demagogues like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Castro brothers have yet to respond.
The magnitude 7.0 quake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 killed at least 200,000 people, including some 20 Americans. The road to recovery will be long and arduous. I hope for the best but fear the worst.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, spent 28 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, mostly in Latin America.