Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti Update

I told you so. Haiti is a total mess, not only from the earthquake but because there are no Haitians in charge. Over the past 20 years, most people with any competency and integrity have left the country, leaving those without it to manage the place. Oh, and "manage" means manage the corruption. There is no national or local government with any standing as far as the people are concerned. As a beleagured Haitian said it on NPR yesterday, "We need aid, but don't give it to the government because we'll never see it." It's true.

So, where does that leave things? Well, there are lots (10-15 thousand) of international relief workers and American soldiers doing rescue and immediate relief activities right now. The dead will be buried before long, the injured will get some sort of treatment, and food/water distribution will be figured out. When that's over, about 3 million Haitians will be left standing around the rubble wondering what to do next. That's when the next big problem becomes apparent.

If you recall, General Colin Powell said before the Iraq War, "You break it, you own it." Well, it could also be said that, "You relieve it, you own it." At this point, the U.S. government and private agencies have committed to about $250 million in relief spending in Haiti. If 3.5 million Haitians were affected, that works out to about $71 per Haitian, many of whom lost whatever home they had. In other words, even if this aid number doubles, it's a spit in the ocean.

There is already talk of making Haiti a U.N. Protectorate - in other words, the U.N. would take over the governing role for Haiti until a competent Haitian authority could be put together. This means years, not months. The U.S., of course, would be the primary muscle and money behind the Protectorate, since no other countries really care about Haiti despite words to the contrary. We are in this for the long haul, it appears, and it's a bad thing.

Why is it bad? Did you know that there were 45,000 Americans in Haiti when earthquake struck? That's one American for every 200 Haitians, and most Amercans were doing humanitarian work. Despite this level of involvement, which has been going on for many years, Haiti remained a poor, unsuccessful, backward country. Part of the problem is its unique "Creole" language, a blend of French and native tongues; it's hard to modernize when you can't talk to anyone. Another part is the level of pride Haitians exhibit; they may be poor, but they don't like listening to foreigners. These issues will haunt us, because we have excessive expectations and the Haitians now have a claim on us - we must keep them alive indefinitely.

We are stuck. In order for Haiti to manage itself, it must change. If we try to force change, we will be accused of killing their culture. It's a recipe for unending stagnation and unending support of that population. If Obama was smart, he'd announce right now that we'll give our best efforts for three years and we're out of there, governmentally speaking. If the NGO's want to stay and help out, fine; they've been there forever, anyway.

The U.S. could do amazing things in three years, infrastructure-wise. Reliable power, good and accessible drinking water, some sort of sewage collection and treatment, for example. We could build cement plants to convert the rubble into new concrete blocks, and we could try to organize some sort of workable government process at all levels. In the end, though, the country belongs to the Haitians, and we should give it back to them. We didn't cause the earthquake, and we have no obligation to attempt a huge "nation-building" project there. President Obama, the time to say "goodbye" is now.


Dave said...

Without enough thought, you are wrong at the end of the post. Leave Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan; but, it is a bit higher in your post - they didn't cause this disaster. They may be recalcitrant kids; but, that doesn't mean we let them die.

Lifehiker said...

No, we don't let them die. I've looked into their eyes, and they are beautiful people with a lot of spirit. But, make no mistake about it, Haitians have been Haiti's worst enemy. Their society needs to be fixed, and we can help - but in the end, they have got to do it.

I came back from there with a broken heart, but also with the conviction that the leadership class in that country could care less about the less fortunate. We do not want to become their leadership class, and we would fail if we tried. It's got to start at home, and Haitian exiles should go home and take care of their country - but that seems to be too great a sacrifice.

I may sound hard hearted, but I'm just a realist who's seen it for what it is, on the ground in Haiti.

Zoooma said...

I actually do not give a crap how America looks in the eyes of other nations but . . . how would it look if we did your idea, if we up and left Haiti struggling 3 years from now? Diplomats worldwide, and citizens, I guess, will condemn us for abandoning Haiti. Talk about being a hated nation!

I know we can't cover the globe but I want to see the U.S. helping everywhere possible. I hate to say this but we need to engage in nation building in Haiti otherwise they're screwed. You're right, we don't have an obligation to do that . . . but it's either that or we close our eyes and ignore the suffering of others. Out of sight, out of mind is an ugly disease when it comes to the world's suffering. The U.S. shouldn't be contributing to that, they should be helping out. As we watch Iraq slowly but surely become their very own (mostly) stable nation, I don't think we would fail in Haiti. Forget healthcare, helping Haiti get on its feet could be Obama's truest moment for glory. Even though everyone expects us to help in these types of tragedies, it's not our responsibility to rebuild . . . but we're all human beings here and Haiti is 10,000 times more in need now than it was a month ago. It's difficult to ask our government to help because that means money being wasted as they refuse to have accountability for taxpayer dollars. It's pathetic but even with that problem, we have the ways and means to get Haiti going in a positive direction if we really gave it half an effort.

P.S. haven't you heard, the U.S., according to Hugo Chavez, did cause the earthquake as part of America's plan to destroy Iran. Although, this is in conflict with Danny Glover's statement that America's failure at the Climate Summit in Copenhagen caused the earthquake.

Ron Davison said...

These seems about the worst curse you could wish on someone - living in a failed state. For all of our complaints about government and politics, chaos is so much worse.

thimscool said...

The natural condition is chaos. But we would not be here if we didn't ultimately win in metatime.

That does not mean that we impose order on this time, or in our lives. It means that we must engage the struggle as it tries to overwhelm us, and we must prevail, because what God wants, God gets.

Haiti falls into the category of the chaff, by and large, eh?

Lifehiker said...

Look, folks, we can't even fix our own inner cities, where we have a lot more control, mostly because the residents don't have a clue about strapping up their own boots. Schools with few students interested in learning, for example...and so many other problems.

Haiti, unfortunately, is a lost cause until the Haitians stand up.

Zoooma said...

In Haiti, isn't there no mandate for all children to be schooled? At least we have that in the United States. At least we actually have people who want all children to succeed. I'm not sure how much they actually gave a crap about that before the earthquake in Haiti. Now what? I suppose if you educate all, many will learn the U.S. is the place to be... but some of those will return with hope in their heart for their native land. Yeah, we have a problem with education in America . . . but how much below America is Haiti?

If Haiti is truly a "lost cause" then would you advise people not to donate to help? There's a grand opportunity right now to life Haiti up. With money and the right people in charge, and with time, Haiti can eventually thrive more than they have in the past several decades.

Lifehiker said...

I have donated to Haiti relief, and my church has donated quite a bit. I'm all for immediate relief , a clean-up, and upgrading Haiti's infrastructure for up to three years. After that, I'd leave it up to the Haitians.

People who have not been there have no idea how incredibly disfunctional Haiti is. There has been no government to speak of; the idea of "government schools" or any government control of education is absurd - it has never existed.

At the time of the earthquake there were 45,000 Americans in Haiti, most of them trying to improve this or that. I'd say the authorities were more of an impediment than a help due to all the corruption. If anything will work in the future, the corruption will have to cease - but it is ingrained in the culture.

We can help empower good leaders there, but the Haitians need to do their part and get with the program. This will be a very tough order.