Archive | February, 2010

lie tee: part one

9 Feb

The title for this blog is the phonetic pronunciation (of my own design) for “Haiti”.  I have been avoiding a blog on Haiti for some time.  Since before the earthquake, believe it or not.  But now, as Washington DC sits under a couple dozen inches of snow, and headlines for city newspapers refer to this as “Snowmaggedon” and “Snowpacolypse”, I am left with some spare moments to gather my thoughts and share some of them.

First of all, it is incredibly revealing that the city of Washington, District of Columbia, has ground to a halt.  When it was announced last week that a major storm would dump 20 – 30″ of snow on us, the grocery stores were soon jammed with customers, hoping to stock up on –    well, I actually don’t know what.  Milk? Beer? Organic artichoke hearts? The eye witness accounts I heard, were that people were grabbing whatever was on the shelves.  When Whole Foods closed an hour early, a friend reported a woman standing in front of the closed doors, yelling, “Let me in!!! I need coffee!!!”

Tomorrow is the third snow day in a row for city schools, universities, many businesses, buses and the Federal government.  Did you catch that?  Federal agencies are closed thanks to TWO feet of snow. And rumor has it that the city has run out of salt for the streets.

The point I’d like to make is this: before any of us start bemoaning the state of affairs in Haiti, and make proclamations over the United States’ ability or responsibility to “take over” Haiti, we should keep in mind that a mere few feet of snow has our country’s capital shivering in its fur-lined boots.  The lesson of this snowfall, not to mention of Iraq and Afghanistan, should be that the United States is not in the greatest shape to save anybody.  And we Americans, who go beserk at the thought of 2 feet of snow blocking the entrance to Starbucks, should check ourselves before we pityingly shake our heads over the Haitian government, or looting in the earthquakes’ aftermath.

The idea that Americans, by ourselves or in cooperation with other developed countries, know how to “fix” Haiti is not new. We’ve actually had a go at running Haiti a couple of times: from 1915-1934, 1994-1995, 2004.  As has the U.N.  Not to mention other official (embargoes, debt, etc) and  unofficial (ousting presidents) ways in which France, the U.S., and other international players have heavily influenced events and patterns in Haiti.  Haitian history is a history of foreign meddling, and it is frightening how quickly that history has been forgotten.  This being said: how many of Haiti’s woes can be linked to these aspects of its history?  If the US has “run” Haiti before, is it possible that our handling of the country has been the source of some of its current woes?  If we couldn’t “fix” Haiti those times, what makes us think we can now?  Or that we ever even had the will to?  It would take in-depth research regarding the policies and activities carried out by the US during its past occupations of Haiti to know how to answer these questions.

US President Clinton reinstating Haitian President Aristide in 1995

If I can make one point in the post, its this: while we (Americans, both as citizens and as a government) are responding to the disaster in Haiti with admirable generosity and sympathy, we seem to be utterly lacking in humility and brains.  The Baptist missionaries who are now being charged with kidnapping are a small-scale example of short-sighted, messianic, uninformed heroics.  If we are really interested in someday seeing a stable, prosperous Haiti, we should begin by looking at our part in Haiti’s problems.