Americans and others were emotionally and morally driven to rescue Haiti after its devastating earthquake a year ago.  All signs are that we failed utterly.  Now we ignore the country.  What does this say about charity? The morality of helping? Racism?


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 17, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Haitian Charity: Our Efforts, Now Abandoned, to Show That We're Good

The return, for unspecified purposes, after a 25-year exile, of deposed dictator 'Baby Doc' Duvalier to Haiti was greeted by celebratory demonstrations - "a sign," said the L.A. Times, "of just how desperate the population has become."

Jean-Claude Duvalier was a brutal tyrant who - like his father, François 'Papa Doc' Duvalier - ruthlessly murdered Haitian citizens ('Papa Doc' relied on the infamous Tonton Macoutes corps and voodoo) to maintain his iron rule.  When Baby Doc left the country, it was hailed as a victory for humanity.  Could his return be welcomed as an improvement over the current situation?

A year ago, the island (half-island, actually) nation of Haiti was devastated by an earthquake. A year later, Haiti remains in ruins, its most fundamental institutions completely defunct. Here is how a Haitian blogger describes the scene :

Less than 10% of rubbish has been cleared of Port-au-Prince and other cities that have been severely affected by this disaster; hundreds of thousands of people are still living in makeshift tents. It is a perpetual struggle for those people. . . . Some of camps are synonymous of violence against women and children. Every second to them in life is another earthquake moral and mental.

In the aftermath of the quake, teams rushed in from around the world to help Haitians, American news media camped themselves on the Island, NGOs - which were already everywhere involved in Haitian life - redoubled their efforts.

The blogger continues: "One year later, the international community and countries said Friends of Haiti have done nothing concrete, donations that are slow to come. Of 2.1 billion dollars pledged for 2010, less than half has actually been used."

So, after more than a $1 billion spent, an observer can say nothing has been done. Moreover, Haiti has lost the concerned attention of the world - as the lag in funds indicates. In part, this is due to mass discouragement at the failure of relief efforts.

In one view of the country, the CIA's World Factbook notes about Haiti's around 10 million people that they suffer from "excess mortality due to AIDS. . ., higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates" (a situation that prevailed before the earthquake, and which certainly hadn't improved).

A year ago, I wrote a PT blog called "The Limits of Feel-Good Assistance," in which I cited NY Times columnist David Brooks's contention that Haiti was a failed nation despite the pervasive presence of NGOs.  According to Brooks :

Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth - with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.

A PT commenter pointed out Matt Taibbi's column in response to Brooks's:

But you know what? Next time there's an earthquake in Russia or Georgia, I'm probably going to wait at least until they're finished pulling the bodies of dead children out of the rubble before I start writing articles blasting a foreign people for being corrupt, lazy drunks with an unsatisfactorily pervasive achievement culture whose child-rearing responsibilities might have to be yanked from them by with-it Whitey for their own good.

So, let's summarize:

According to Taibbi, David Brooks is a racist.

Americans and others have failed to rescue - yet again - Haiti and Haitians.

Haitians live in a hell-on-earth - according to at least one on-the-ground observer - where crime, AIDS, rape, child abuse, early death, and the absence of education, health care, government services, and opportunity are the rule of the land.

We (Americans and others) made a great effort, we're not racists, but unfortunately we've washed our hands of - or at least moved on with - our humanitarian concerns, relegating Haiti to the world's dust bin.

How are we doing?