Sunday, October 09, 2016
I begin this post with the lovely music, seascape, and dancing above as a reminder that no people should be entirely defined by the tragedies that befall them.
It is also an important time to remember that the effects of injustices can be deep and long-lasting. In the case of Haiti, the injustices of two centuries ago continue to cost lives.
As the Guardian UK and others have reported, Haiti suffered the vast majority of casualties from Hurricane Matthew 2016, with 877 dead having been counted as of the weekend following the storm. The Guardian also laments the disparity in media coverage relative to the actual damage caused by the storm in Haiti and the U.S.
Post-storm research will undoubtedly show that one of the proximate reasons for the extremely high death toll is the lack of forest cover on the eastern side of Hispaniola -- a condition that began with clear-cutting during French colonization and one made impossible to remedy because of ongoing underdevelopment.
Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's most dramatic illustration of the development of underdevelopment, a framework that contradicts the prevailing wisdom that a "rising tide raises all boats" by focusing on the ways in which wealth accumulating in the core of the world economy is facilitated by impoverishment in the periphery.
A more striking example than Haiti and France would be difficult to imagine. In 1804, the people of Haiti used Enlightenment ideas they had gleaned from France and the United States to become the first people in the Western Hemisphere to free themselves from slavery and the only the second country in the same hemisphere to be free of European colonizers.
But the French managed to impose a penalty on the self-liberated colony -- a penalty that it continues to pay. Two decades after its defeat in Haiti, France sent a flotilla of naval vessels to extort 150,000,000 gold francs -- the equivalent of US$17,000,000,000 today. The excuse was that the freed slaves needed to pay for the land on which they had been enslaved.
Haiti never recovered from the robbery of an entire decade of income from the entire country. In 2015, the government of France considered repayment, and has at least forgiven modern-era debts as a gesture. But the prosperity that France enjoys today was built in part on both the enslavement of the people of Haiti and that 1825 extortion. The country can afford reparations that would go a long way toward the reduction of vulnerability to storms in Haiti today.
And now to us...
Knowing that the people of Haiti are just that -- people -- and that they are in need, it does little good to critique the underlying causes of that need if we are not also willing to step up and help. Over 800 people are now known to have died, and more than 350,000 are left in urgent need of help because of the loss of crops, homes, and bridges.
Large organizations such as the Red Cross are notoriously ineffective in Haiti, and downright larcenous in their corporate structure. During our fundraising and education efforts in Bridgewater following the 2010 earthquake, we directed all of it to Partners in Health, which puts 94 percent of donations directly into service in Haiti. (Our gift back in 2010 was processed at over 100 percent because of matching funds and a donor who covered administrative costs.)
Working long-term in Haiti and with Haitians -- Partners in Health remains an excellent choice for contributing to Matthew 2016 relief.