What Haiti Looks Like From Far Away

Now, finally, the world looks at Haiti.  The typical disaster storylines are served up, readymade from the bin previously marked “Hurricane Katrina” or “Kashmir Earthquake” or ‘Tsunami ’04”.  There’s the first wave of shock and speculation, an awe of the tragedy’s magnitude and not a little voyeuristic jolt of seeing such a terror from a safe remove.  The actuaries run the numbers and give ranges of deaths and tallies of expense while satellite photos are shot for before and afters.  Then, come the survivor stories and amateur footage from the apocalypse’s dress rehearsal, bookended by grimacing news anchors and wrapped in the networks’ scrolling ribbons of text.

As I write this, we’re wading into the judgment stage where the horrors are put into context and the axes that have been grinding all along are revealed.  Survivors become ‘looters’, the victims are ‘impatient’ and the powers who gather with gifts begin to elbow each other as they jockey for position.  This is the part of the narrative arc of disaster where Haiti becomes a Rorschach test.

Pat Robertson says the earthquake was called up by God to punish Haiti’s Satanic originsHugo Chavez and the French cooperation minister call U.S. aid an occupation.  The Heritage Foundation notes that Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.  In the hermetically sealed bubble of politics, the usual cartoons debate what a serious effort would mean for Obama’s re-election chances.  And the usual cries rise up to name-call about who is a racist and who is unrealistic and who is cruel and who is kidding themselves, none of which I consider useful enough to link.

The sickness of our times is that we cannot separate all this noise, this mediated hologram from the actual fact of what is taking place in Haiti.  There’s a massive, sudden, depopulation and a breakdown of all support systems in a country with far less than adequate resources to deal with such a crisis.  This country is close to the U.S. with a large population in the U.S. and a long history of being manipulated, corrupted and drained of resources by larger foreign powers.  Such a long term poverty trap has driven a large amount of the population, especially the urban population hardest hit by the earthquake, to the brink, even before this present crisis.  Anyone else recall the last bout of poverty voyeurism where we recoiled from Haitians eating the earth itself for lack of food in a speculation-driven food crisis?

The poverty, violence and despair in Haiti have always been as real as it is today.  We’ve just never had to confront roadblocks made of bodies on CNN before.  A year’s worth of misery was unleashed in one spasm as the earth shook and collapsed the presidential palace in a media-ready symbol of the country’s fracture.

To those who say we can’t afford to help amid our economic woes and those who claim that this isn’t our crisis, I say: this has always been our crisis, we’ve just never been called to account for it.  First enslaved, then enslaved by debt, invaded at every turn and long crushed under a kleptocratic and cruel regime, Haiti’s been the vision of broken promises lurking just offshore of the American Dream.  It’s time we did more than just trickle foreign aid into the hands of whoever in Haiti can grab it first and then invade every twenty-five years.

Rather than try to swallow the ocean and cram it all into this post, I’ll be writing over the coming days about the future of Haiti, a fit of speculation about what could or should or might be done.  Provoked by the horrors and the bile flowing out of all media channels, I want to write about hope.

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