Today is the one year anniversary of the horrific earthquake in Haiti. The country, the rebuilding, the people have been in the rear view mirror of the ever-changing 24-hour news cycle until roughly last week. Our news agencies with a few exceptions should be ashamed for allowing many to forget. The US government, NGO’s, and other organizations providing aid need to be held accountable for providing sustained support to the rebuilding efforts. Monies being held up in Congress (over $1 billion) need to be released. I originally wrote this last year after the tragedy. This is Righting a Wrong.
Righting a Wrong
Profound words, a demonstration of the blessing and greatness of humanity during the most trying of circumstance. The ability to put aside the instinct of self-preservation and survival by President Preval of Haiti and be of service to his countrymen is a testament of the greatness of humanity. The act of compassion and “genuine” love towards others separates humanity from animals.
The United States of America thus far during this horrific tragedy led by President Obama has risen to the challenge. Over 100 million dollars pledged, Coast Guard ships moving into the area, the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, USNS Comfort, a Marine amphibious unit of 2000+ persons are either in theatre or heading to theatre to give logistical and humanitarian aid to our brothers and sisters of humanity. In a larger sense, the United States has a very rare and unique opportunity to rectify a grievous wrong; a crime that has been repeatedly committed over the past 206 years of Haiti’s existence with very little reprieve and respite.
Haiti is a youthful country with an average population age of 20.2 years old. However, life expectancy at birth is ranked 181st in the world at 60.78 years. Eighty percent of the population is living at or below the poverty line; 54% is in abject poverty. More than 75% of persons able to work do not have jobs. The desire for education is great, yet the literacy rate is 56%. Only about 65% of primary school aged children are enrolled in school. That figure drops to around 20% for secondary education. As we have all been educated of during the incessant media coverage; Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
How can the richest and most powerful country on the face and history of the Earth allow a nation to be one of the poorest and weakest ones to be a mere 90 miles from its shores? Is it another manifestation of the cancer of racism that has not been properly excised and irradiated from the American soul?
Thomas Jefferson, the third US President was in office. The scourge of bondage; Slavery was becoming more of a national issue in the United States in 1804. New York had begun abolishing slavery in 1799 (the largest emancipation of American slaves prior to 1863). By 1804, New Jersey was the last northern state to abolish slavery. In fact, slavery was unlawful in all states north of the Mason-Dixon Line by 1804. This was the period of the Napoleonic Wars; the War of the second coalition had ended in 1802. Great Britain declared war again on France in 1803 which by 1805 had turned into the War of the third coalition. Haitian Independence occurred in 1804, embroiled amidst the international intrigue.
Prior to 1804, Haiti was a French colony. Haiti was one of the richest French colonies in the Empire. African slaves were brought to the island to work on sugarcane and coffee plantations on the island. In 1791, an armed slave revolt began under the leadership of Toussaint L’Overture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, and Henry Christophe-all Black men. It was Dessalines who defeated Napoleon’s troops at the Battle of Vertieres in 1803. Haiti became an independent sovereign nation of January 1, 1804. The defeat of the French is one of the definitive causes of Napoleon’s selling the Louisiana territory to the United States. That sale inspires the United States’ “manifest destiny” and placed us on a path of unimaginable prosperity. The United States did not formally recognize Haiti until 1862.
To know where you are going you need to know where you’ve been. Do you see the crime? It should be a little clearer to you now. President Obama is striking all the right chords; making all the right decisions a leader needs to make during a time of tremendous human disaster. The United States tends to have Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to international affairs. The unique opportunity this country has is not to perform a simple act of kindness to the country and people of Haiti for the next 6 months or year. The United States must, we are impelled and compelled to correct the negligence we have been guilty in allowing the country of Haiti to become on of the poorest and undeveloped countries in the world.
We have and are guilty as a nation of racism. It is a tumor on the body America. Racism within America may at least for now be too much to heal. Our healing as a nation can begin by correcting the wrongs as a nation we have committed against Haiti. President Obama’s statement, “You will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten.” is a clarion call of action. Action now and action into the future. President Duval does not have to thank the United States, we owe a debt to the Republic of Haiti and its people. We must hold our elected officials accountable on extending and continuing aid to Haiti. We must start the public policy changes to stimulate economic development. We definitely do have the ability to influence policy!!! Remember, it was the protests here and the laws that was passed here in the United States that aided the end of apartheid in South Africa. As a nation, we consistently extend aid to countries that have been deemed “a clear and present danger” to the United States. Why can’t we do the same for a country that poses no danger? The issue is not the outpouring of help today, but the help we need to give tomorrow, next year, five years, a decade from today. Corporations should also be held accountable as well. Instead of “off-shoring” and “outsourcing” work to countries over 8,000 miles and multiple time zones away, that work can be redirected to Haiti. We, as citizens demanded change in both government and business over decades to end apartheid in South Africa. We must do the same now. Let’s help our brothers and sisters from the depths of poverty. In doing so, the United States will continue a therapy of ridding ourselves of racism.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Let’s not be silent anymore. Let’s speak up and let our voices heard. Honor Dr. King’s memory by changing the 200+ year paradigm in Haiti.