You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten,” Obama has promised Haiti. ” In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you.”
Can we believe America this time? Where was America for the last 20 years?
Where was the U.S. when Haiti’s poor were forced to cut down their forests to sell charcoal to barbecue joints in the Bahamas? Where was the U.S. when the infertile land and dire poverty pushed thousands into the nation’s capital, where they built ramshackle houses and found only more poverty? When Gonaives was destroyed in 2004, and then again in 2008, did we help rebuild it? Hardly.
When a popular albeit corrupt president was elected overwhelming by Haitians in 2000, did we try to purge the corruption? No, we cut off 500 billion in international aid instead. Then we supported a coup leading to years of instability and violence.
With all it’s tragedies, it is hard to see Haiti as anything but cursed. Yet if it is cursed, it is a human curse, not a divine curse. After decades of erratic American policy, Haiti’s suffering has become institutionalized.
A mother Theresa nun from India working in an Haitian orphanage first explained this to me. “Haiti is a factory of suffering,” she said, “and our product is misery.”
After every tragedy, America makes it’s promises. It pledges that Haiti will not be forgotten, that the future will be different. And yet it never changes. It’s hard to listen to the vetran CNN reporter talking over the same archival footage of people fighting for food handouts. “Look!” the reporter will say. “They are so poor! I’ve been in Afghanistan and Iraq and seen everything, but nothing like this. These people are poor!”
Will the incomprehensibly tragedy of this earthquake be different? Can we imagine a Haiti that is not a place of misery, but of opportunity? Today it may be impossible, as we try to digest the images of suffering flooding the Internet. But, maybe, just maybe, this horrible tragedy can finally lead America to wake up and really work for change in Haiti. If we can work to rebuild Afghanistan on the other side of the world, then surely we can work to rebuild Haiti right here in the Western Hemisphere.
Haiti deserves this opportunity, and it’s up to us to demand it.
We may not have created this earthquake, but there is much blood and dust on all of our hands.