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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 11 February 2010

DISASTER IN HAITI

By Jim Jordal

The news is grim. The Caribbean nation of Haiti suffered a 7.0 scale earthquake on January 13 that devastated the southern part of the island near the capital of Port-au-Prince. Reports reveal almost total destruction of the buildings housing between 2 and 3 million people as well as loss of electric power, clean water, infrastructure and food supplies. Thousands remain buried in the rubble, while most others face possible death from malaria, dysentery, and wound infection.

The world—led by American, Canadian, and Brazilian mostly military forces-- responded quickly with massive aid. But in the long-term the crisis cries for more permanent solutions such as poverty reduction, better education, job creation, earthquake-proof buildings, widespread medical care, and responsive government controlled by the people rather than by a small number of privileged elite.

Haiti (which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic) is well known in economic development circles as a "basket case" among poor nations. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere--and one of world's poorest--with problems including extreme poverty, deforestation, soil depletion, shortages of clean water, 85 percent illiteracy, high childhood mortality, rampant disease, a history of corrupt military rule, and others almost too numerous to mention.

But it has not always been so. According to reports from the past, Haiti once was a beautiful country, green with lush forests and prospering from a large sugar industry. It was a jewel of the French Empire, furnishing 25 percent of France's wealth during the 1700s. When Haiti achieved its independence from France in 1804, it was wealthier and more heavily populated than its neighbor. But then began a long decline characterized by political instability, resource depletion, isolation from European immigration and capital flows, culminating in military occupation by the U.S. from 1915 to 1934 because of anarchy and threatened debt default.

 

During the infamous 1957 to 1986 rule of dictator Francois "PapaDoc" Duvalier and his equally cruel and rapacious son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the nation continued its descent into deprivation and squalor. Their 29-year misrule looted the country of wealth and greatly increased its foreign debt. Survival for the increasingly poor population meant such disastrous actions as finishing the destruction of Haiti's rain forests for charcoal production, resulting in decreased rainfall and massive erosion of the denuded slopes, further reducing soil fertility and crop yields. At present only 1 percent of Haiti's once abundant forests remain, and this remnant is threatened.

And now we have almost total disaster of another sort for about one-third of the country’s population. The relief and recovery efforts mounted by concerned nations of the developed world will be both massive and long-term. But whatever recovery occurs must not be aimed at a return to the status quo. Haiti does not need a return to poverty, illiteracy, sickness, corruption, continued resource depletion, and repression.

Think of what could be done to alleviate and even conquer the developing world’s problems if the developed world would apportion even a small fraction of what it spends for wars and militarization to providing real aid to countries such as Haiti. Literally, miracles could occur. Some critics believe that improved health and sanitation services would quickly be eaten up by population increases. But history shows that once people gain hope for the future through jobs and improved economic circumstances the birth rate soon stabilizes into something manageable.

Once again the U.S. as a world leader has the opportunity to model a new form of charity and rebuilding for disaster-stricken nations. The model of the past had strong, rich countries using the opportunity provided by Third World crisis to often institute military occupation and the setting up of friendly governments dedicated to turning over their suffering countries to new forms of political and economic exploitation. That must cease!

What the world needs now is strong nations that refuse to use military and economic power as tools of conquest and economic penetration. Such "servant nations" would instead use their power and influence to serve the poorer world by providing deliverance from poverty, ignorance, disease, corruption and economic exploitation by powerful global corporations.

Newly delivered nations would not become mere clones of the West as seems to be the trend now. They would retain their own unique cultures, but with the plus of now being able to live in economic, political, and social conditions of decency.

I think that if we were to provide this form of aid to suffering peoples we would soon discover a vast lessening of terrorism and hatred of the developed world. Perhaps then world peace would become something other than impossibility.