In 1985 when Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wrote the opening lyrics above which other artists participated in bringing the song to fruition and subsequently dished out to the then slumbering world (and make no mistake the world is still slumbering) what they aptly crafted as ‘We Are the World’; in what seemed the greatest idea for the creation of an American benefit single for African famine relief within pop music that addressed humane concerns. The world was asleep and had to be awakened by artists to appreciate the gravity of the problem; people were dying for lack of food to eat in far away Africa. Disasters are inevitable but some are preventable and those they affected when shown affection by humanity in the hours of need will feel their wounds really soothed. By way of historical analogy it is Africa again in the news, even though you may call it Haiti. Excuse me, please, if I digress a little.
When the first clips were received by the world most people became instantly shocked. It is like there are two disasters in the world; one for the rich and the other for everyone else. The graphic images aired by the global media to many people could not be easily watched with amusement as news items day by day started rolling out - television stations had to add their bizarre caveat: ‘Graphic Material’, for whoever cares to glue his eyes to the ‘idiot’ box, the television. Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake on 13 January, 2010, the biggest recorded in this part of the Caribbean, left over 3 million people, who were even before the recent catastrophe regarded ‘homeless’ (for, they lived in deplorable conditions), tens of thousands of people dead and hundreds will have to survive with no limps and others with scars that will be leaving marks on their bodies for the rest of their lives.
Journalists who trooped into Port-au-Prince in numbers and rolled their cameras in search of breaking news when asked later about what they saw said to the world if it wasn’t because of journalism and the need to report the news they wouldn’t have been there and the enormity of the devastation was evident and corroborated again in the chilling revelations made by medical teams working round the clock on what looks like the today’s frontlines. They succinctly summed up what they saw of the charred bodies of human beings littering on the streets of Haiti that it defied anything a would-be medical doctor will learn inside the four walls of any medical college or classroom. Haiti, added some eye witnesses became like a ghost city within seconds after the quake hit.
Imagine what it is to be for a president of a country even jokingly saying that he had ‘no where to sleep’ in the hours of a dark, bleak night in his own country. In Haiti it was real and true; those who watched the live coverage would have heard Haiti’s President said he didn’t know where to sleep on Wednesday, 13 January, 2010 when his cherished country was grounded and devastated in matter of seconds unforgettable to most good memories; but Haitians have proven to us their resilient behaviour because the President in what was the best of answers in the circumstance replied when interviewed: ‘whether we live or die it is entirely in His [God’s] own hands’ and this is true as Haiti has not been forsaken by humanity as most observers thought otherwise. Haiti’s resolution to turn to God immediately has paid and still paying dearly well even in the shadow of the worst destruction in recent history.
People are becoming and turning international citizens. That is, how the world should be or ought to be: whatever happens to any corner of the globe we should feel concern because nobody knows when or where the next natural catastrophe will hit. In Haiti many people were trapped inside shopping malls, grocery stores, schools (as most often schools are attended in the afternoon in Haiti) when the quake struck. With Haiti humanity has come very close to appreciating the essence of its existence as a single community of brotherhood. We should see not what we did or still doing to Haiti as ‘helping’ Haiti per say. No, we are helping ourselves. These are good lessons never to be forgotten or set aside: they should remain with us and in fact we should wear them as our garbs and should form the bedrock of humanity’s thinking as we go about our daily life in this world of unpredictable circumstances. God has tested Haiti and from what we saw He has not forsaken its people. For, in recent memory it is a fact that humanity has risen to share common concern providing assistance to these victims of today’s disaster; humankind arguably is fast learning to bridge the gap of myopia of ‘I have not been affected’ or ‘it wasn’t my people but them.’
This piece is not meant to discuss as some writers have argued that the devastating effect of the quake that wiped out in one fell swoop people in Haiti was preventable; that a warning sign could have been issued at least with the current state of achievement made by man in scientific and technological development. It is again not an avenue to add that Haiti’s ‘bad history of socio-political factors ranging from instability caused and occasioned by dictators and all that who mismanaged the aids sent to them has contributed in thwarting its development’, as some writers said; or of ‘cutting corners… and the concrete was not so hard’, as reported few days ago by Fox’s Correspondent in Haiti that most houses were built not in accordance with global standard, etc.
‘What went wrong with the black man? Hurricane occurred in Haiti and now earthquake.’ You hear so many stories purporting to analyse the endless ‘wrongs’ in Haiti, but none substantive if the truth must be told. Others were: ‘Haiti as the first Black Country to get independence should have developed if serious and the successive governments transparent’; ‘aids go to drain pipes whenever sunk and what’s wrong’, they kept hammering, ‘with the black man?’ ‘What went wrong with Haiti all these years?’ These queries, ironically, have not allowed even the sky to clear from the chaos raised by the quake.
Many things indeed come into play if you have read history and ready to do justice to Haiti and her impoverished populace. After decades of unstable governance, around seventy-five per cent of Haiti’s population according to the UN’s statistics lives on less than 2 dollars per day while fifty-six per cent lives on less than a dollar per day, half of its people are said to be illiterate, half of its children are malnourished, sixty per cent of the houses in the capital, Port-au-Prince, were substandard; these horrific indexes are no good and the implications to a country vulnerable to ‘natural’ disasters are onerous.
Disasters have hit developed countries but the loss of lives and properties were curtailed bringing their disastrous effect minimal while some nib in the bud even before they blossom to cause havoc among the people. In the case of countries such as Haiti it will be and was different as seen and by that no mean coincidence. Even the order much needed with which to help towards the smooth distribution of aids was absent. What do you expect from a person who for most of his very life on this earth has been hungry? Definitely his or her attitude will rather be chaotic, no less of course. But this has been the attitude attributed to only a minute segment of this wonderful community of resilient people.
In disasters recorded in other parts of the world, Anderson Cooper of the CNN reported that, statistics were taken of the dead and wounded and the type of immediate assistance needed. But, in Haiti, Cooper lamented that it goes by estimation and the much awaited official figure with which to rely on is still elusive and hard to pin down: the corpses in the thousands were just trucked away and laid in mass graves and many still are buried under the rubble of concrete slaps.
Haiti owes creditor-nations 891 (in another calculation 850) million dollars in loan. Just some few days, a certain NGO gathered signatures of global citizens in a petition and forwarded same to the IMF; some concerned people now are asking that they [that is the creditor-nations] should relinquish the debts which you may say have for long strangulated countries like Haiti. To all intelligent minds this is part of the structures that can choke the growth and development of any nation; so when people say why is it that Haiti is the poorest in the western hemisphere they should go further to connect the dots to understand the ‘whys.’ Even to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, IMF Managing Director, in his most recent opinion could not run away from this factual reality and he said cancellation of debts has now become part of the matters being considered and surprisingly another round of loan is in the pipeline though it is said to be ‘interest-free for 5 years’ whatever that means it is worthy Haiti this time is spared for good since experts have interestingly argued that ‘meaningful development comes not through that way.’
Thank God, one astonishing thing in the midst of the ensuing chaos and confusion is that Haiti is not yet a failed state but has been characterised as non-functional. How will humanity help in rebuilding Haiti back into the future? ‘The international community should realise that it [that’s, Haiti] is starting from zero’ said the US ambassador, Kenneth Merten, when interviewed by Christiane Amanpour during the hosting of her programme, Amanpour, aired Sunday 24 January, 2010. In Haiti 30 or so big institutions have been destroyed, the US Ambassador further added. It is like Haiti has been dragged back to the drawing board - to start life afresh - because the visible sites of state’s utility institutions to ensure citizens that a government exists within their midst have all gone destroyed within the twinkle of an eye.
There is, again, the very question which all must give a helping hand in asking; the problem of rebuilding Haiti. What is humanity going to do or at best how can Haiti be rebuilt? If countries continue to send aids which turn out to be some sort of ‘revolving credit’ then there will be a stalemate here and an illusion will crop in. If at all the world is trying to sincerely rebuild Haiti, new phase of life shall be injected. It’s sad watching the coverage to hear a fellow human being raising his hand up to the sky and saying to the whole human race ‘this bag is what remains of my belongings.’ And I was wondering why can’t we ask the best of architects and city planners in our midst to redesign the whole of Port-Au-Prince and as well rebuild it anew? Decongesting the entire city will help Haitians to feel the breeze of a new world, rehabilitate schools so that the kids orphaned by the quake can go back and learn and many more good things like that.
In all disasters one finds predators lurking behind to cash in and descend stealthily, taking advantage of the weakness of the weak especially children. In the aftermath of the quake there are new concerns being raised: trafficking of small, innocent children to only God knows where by these predators identified. Here comes the issue of orphans who are now surviving in the ‘impromptu tent cities’ scattered in many parts of Port-au-Prince. Who could stop these marauders since they are now having the field day?
No doubt Haiti is relatively a traditional society. A lot of suggestions have been canvassed in the best interest of the orphans and social cohesion; first, to identify some measure of statistics as to who the orphans are and whether or not their relatives could be located so that their social parental background are not distorted. For, many experts have argued, interestingly people who are conversant with the business of orphanages, that a child is best cultured when raised within a family structure unlike under the umbrella of social institutions. This should not be seen as somehow degrading the role being played by orphanages and the likes; this is the truth orphanages should be seen as last resort except where feasible options have been looked into and turn out not workable. Otherwise in the spirit of love and concern children should be handed over to their loved ones and other extended families under careful supervision of the state and the international community.
Somewhere in the rubble underneath concrete cemented structures but yet Haitians got the strength sending text messages where they could be spotted and rescued, enduring days without food and water, two substances most essential to human survival on earth; wait, indeed to us living there is a lesson here, a very good lesson to be appreciated by humanity. We take things for granted we have food and water in the enclaves of our very homes ‘rotten’ in waste since we don’t want to share with those in dire need. This is something for all to ponder as essential things could one day become luxury. May God save our faces!
Haiti has now little choice as truly it cannot cope with the situation. When it was argued by some observers that the country has been taken over by other powerful countries; you will only but say let them be good brothers in the spirit of humanity, serve only and stay no longer than necessary. This is a country, as everybody knows, with a shattering colonial history, but no is it a simple bad luck either. It is worth reminding ourselves that many countries have similar socio-political as well as economic problems akin to Haiti’s when you widely focused among countries in the Caribbean or Africa; the only difference is disasters have not been striking sporadically in some of them otherwise worst humanitarian situations will have been witnessed and recorded.
There are lots of nasty issues that have become no-go areas for concerned observers. In essence, these are stories that the world or should I say those countries who call the shot do not want to hear. But, for the safety of the world that seems awful in need of peace and tranquillity we must wait, listen and act appropriately. For Haiti the picture is encouraging since humanity has started going the right direction; whatever affects one country in the comity of nations affects the rest of the world and all shall hasten in the hours of need to contribute their quota positively. There are however many issues that should and must be tabled and discussed beyond the subject of assisting areas shattered by disasters like Haiti. To say it mildly, there is of course no reservation here and that’s the question of ‘uneven development among nations’, in brief the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and other derogatory summation being used often as labels unnecessarily distinguishing the global community of the human race, as one analyst stated.
One of the influential Haitian novelists, Danticat Edwidge, has said it all in her words that there is ‘double standard’ for, ‘Haitians would have been productive’ to develop their own country, she summed up. And who dares say Danticat is not right for saying the truth albeit bitter to most ears?
Attahiru K. B. writes from Independence Plaza, Belmopan City, Belize, and can be reached at email@example.com.
HOW HAITI GOT POOR
Since this disaster I'm sure you've noticed in the news that every other sentence used to describe Haiti are those such as "Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere" or "80 per cent of Haitians live in poverty" or " most Haitians live on less than a dollar a day".
Whilst these statistics may be true, it seems that the media seem hellbent on emphasising the facts about Haiti's poverty without mentioning their role in how Haiti got that way.
Haiti was forced to PAY France for its freedom and independence.Yes you read right. PAY. When they couldn't afford the ransom, France (and other countries, including the United States) helpfully offered high-interest loans. By 1900, 80% of Haiti's annual budget went to paying off its "reparation" debt. They didn't make the last payment until 1947. Just 10 years later, dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier took over the country and promptly bankrupted it, taking out more high-interest loans to finance his corrupt lifestyle. The Duvalier family, with the blind-eye financial assistance of Western countries, killed tens of thousands of Haitians, until the brave Haitian people once again rose up and overthrew them in 1986. Today, the Haitian people are paying off the debt of an oppresive dictator that no-one (including the oh, so gracious US government, who have no problem bombing the hell out of countries who have leaders whose interests don’t serve those of the US/West – remember Grenada?) would help them get rid of for 30 years.
The rest of the world refuses to forgive this debt. Now these same bastards including the World Bank, French, and the US Govts – are the first to line up saying they will offer ‘financial assistance’ to Haiti. Do you smell a rat? History tells us that everything they do has a catch, it is never done sheerly out of the kindness of their hearts. I recall last year seeing Bill Clinton in Haiti on the television talking about bringing ‘foreign investment’ into the country. The caption then showed him visiting a giant factory owned by a European, with hundreds of Haitians sitting in line sewing garments that they will never truly benefit from, financially or otherwise. This was clearly the ‘foreign investment’ Clinton was talking about. So let's look out for multinational contractors such as Haliburton and all the rest showing up in Haiti hungry for profit and cheap labour. I don’t know whether any of you heard Bill Clinton’s interview on CNN last night, but he clearly said that America would be working closely with the Haitian govt to "free the Haitian people after 200 years of misery", referring to the period since the Haitians freed themselves!!! . On top of that Pat Robinson states, "Haitians made a pact with the devil for their freedom and that's why they are constantly in misery".
" True teaching is not an accumulation of knowledge; it is an awaking of consciousness which goes through successive stages."
- Ancient Egyptian Proverb
The Hate and the Quake
By Hilary Beckles
The University of the West Indies is in the process of conceiving how best to deliver a major conference on the theme “Rethinking and Rebuilding Haiti”. I am very keen to provide an input into this exercise because for too long there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building project, launched on January 1st 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption.
Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti’s independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy.
The evidence is striking, especially in the context of France. The Haitians fought for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty years earlier. The Americans declared their Independence and crafted an extraordinary constitution that set out a clear message about the value of humanity and the right to freedom, justice, and liberty. In the midst of this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery as the basis of the new nation state. The Founding fathers therefore could not see beyond race, as the free state was built on a slavery foundation. The water was poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the battle field a century later to resolve the fact that slavery and freedom could not comfortably co-exist in the same place.
The French, also, declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new philosophies of their national transformation and gave the modern world a tremendous progressive boost by so doing. They abolished slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a new, more intense regime of slavery. The British agreed, as did the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. All were linked in communion over the 500 000 blacks in Haiti, the most populous and prosperous Caribbean colony. As the jewel of the Caribbean, they all wanted to get their hands on it. With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch salivated over owning it – and the people.
The people won a ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared their Independence. Every other country in the Americas was based on slavery. Haiti was freedom, and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence Constitution that any person of African descent who arrived on its shores would be declared free, and a citizen of the republic. For the first time since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.
The French refused to recognise Haiti’s Independence and declared it an illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians looked to in solidarity as their mentor in Independence, refused to recognise them, and offered solidarity instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti, also moved in solidarity, as did every other nation-state in the western world. Haiti was isolated at birth - ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history. The Cubans, at least, have had Russia, China, and Vietnam. The Haitians were alone from inception. The crumbling began.
Then came 1825; the moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its 21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the streets of Port-au-Prince. The economy is bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The Cabinet took the decision that the state of affairs could not continue. The country had to find a way to be inserted back into the world economy. The French government was invited to a summit.
Officials arrived and told the Haitian government that they were willing to recognise the country as a sovereign nation but it would have to pay compensation and reparation in exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the wall, agreed to pay the French.
The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical, assets, the 500 000 citizens who were formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services. The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this reparation to France in return for national recognition. The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved persons before Independence.
Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The French Government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy and society. Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last instalment was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to 70% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Jamaica today pays up to 70% in order to service its international and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt payment. It descended into financial and social chaos. The republic did not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by Haitians on the battlefield, it had won on the field of finance. In the years when the coffee crops failed, or the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government borrowed on the French money market at double the going interest rate, to repay the French government.
Fledgling nation crushed
When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the reasons offered was to assist the French in collecting its reparations. The collapse of the Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and America, especially. These two nations betrayed, failed, and destroyed the dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust in an effort to destroy the flower of freedom and the seed of justice. Haiti did not fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful nations on earth, both of which continue to have a primary interest in its current condition. The sudden quake has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many ways the quake has been less destructive than the hate. Human life was snuffed out by the quake while the hate has been a long and inhumane suffocation - a crime against humanity.
During the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, strong representation was made to the
French government to repay the 150 million francs. The value of this amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US $21 billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and place it in a position to re-engage the modern world. It was illegally extracted from the Haitian people and should be repaid. It is stolen wealth. In so doing France could discharge its moral obligation to the Haitian people. For a nation that prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy, France, in order to exist with the moral authority of this diplomacy in this post modern world, should do the just and legal thing. Such an act at the outset of this century would open the door for a sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the Haitian nation free at last.