The catastrophic earthquake centered in Haiti on January 12 directly affected tens or hundreds of thousands of people and indirectly affects humanity in the millions. Regardless of the actual numbers of casualties and fatalities to be more accurately settled as the rescue, relief and recovery efforts continue, this emergency, like all others, has the effect of bringing out the best, and the worst among us, domestically in Haiti but internationally as well.
There is a particular poignancy to this tragedy because the Haitian diaspora extends throughout North America. Canada, for example, has a significant population of Haitian expatriates including its current Governor General Michaelle Jean, who migrated to Canada with her family in 1968 as an 11 year-old girl. The French cultural connection probably contributes to the fact that most of the Canadian immigrants from Haiti are to be found in the province of Quebec.
A significant number of Haitians have of course found their way to the United States of America, where the connection seems to be drawn along political or racial, rather than cultural lines. The US Congressional Black Caucus is for example the primary domestic advocate for the return of the exiled, and apparently corrupt, former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who currently resides in South Africa.
In each instance of migration in the sorry history of the island country, the prospects for better futures have been the indisputable goals of citizens voting with their feet or leaky boats, while their fates have depended upon the vagaries of irrational immigration policies. In some cases refugees and asylum seekers are welcomed, in others they are detained and turned away at the earliest opportunity. Even now, in the wake of this disaster, while US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has granted an 18-month amnesty to illegal immigrants or legal visitors in country at the time of the earthquake, they will with few exceptions be sent back to Haiti. In Canada, Liberal opposition calls for relaxed immigration processes and appeals by expatriate Haitians with family in the devastated country are being listened to but so far no plans are expected for accommodating a wave of refugees. Jason Kenney, the Immigration Minister is balking at any plans for expanded quotas of new immigrants. He thinks “reconstruction” of Haiti is the solution.
The charitable outpouring from Western countries is always remarkable, including that of Israel by the way, that island of semi-freedom in a sea of terror states and dictatorships in the mid-East. Many kind words have been spoken by world leaders, intended no doubt to comfort the suffering thousands victimized by this great natural disaster, providing assurances they will be neither “forsaken nor forgotten”. Some leaders made sure they provided plenty of “face time” through media channels, though I doubt many of those directly affected could have had the opportunity to be comforted by those words, given the poor communications system that existed even before it was impacted by the earthquake. With many of their own priorities filling the political arena some leaders were quickly disposed to turn away—at least temporarily—from the tragic emergency situation affecting fellow human beings in that devastated country.
There are some positive stories involving politicians as well. Apparently, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, who was travelling when he first heard news about the earthquake, contacted key government ministers within the hour to inquire about what arrangements were being made to provide relief and other assistance. The point was emphatically made that he was not interested in what was planned but what had already been done. As an immediate consequence, two Canadian naval destroyers were diverted to the relief mission and a physical presence of lead disaster and relief personnel was on the ground in Haiti the following afternoon. This is the act of a competent executive. (Why he would choose politics as a career is a mystery.) Recognizing the situation as a disaster and emergency requires action, not words. Details can be worked out later as to grand plans for channelling additional supplies and financing any rebuilding efforts.
As the story unfolds in the wake of the initial event and numerous severe aftershocks, there are also unfortunately several negative sides to the news as well. There is of course the looting, a consequence in my view not so much of desperation as is charitably reported in the press, but of a legacy of the corrupt structure of the society thanks to the gangs that have for so long held sway: dictatorial bureaucrats running the government and other gangs equipped with machetes that roam the streets, each in their own way and at different times picking their victims from among the helpless and undefended.
The impact of the disaster is intensified as a consequence of the unnecessary poverty of what is officially the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. So, why is the impact so severe? Why does an earthquake in the range of magnitude 7 practically destroy the country of Haiti but cause relatively little loss of life in California for example? The news reports have mentioned the inadequate infrastructure to distraction. Well, why is there no adequate infrastructure? Why is there so much poverty? Why were so many people killed: tens of thousands perhaps versus less than 100 in the last San Francisco earthquake of similar intensity? Even the great San Francisco disaster of 1906 had a relatively low death count of around 3000 souls.
If you are Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition, the people of Haiti have suffered retribution for making a pact with the “devil” or some such nonsense. If this supernaturalist had the ability any longer to stop talking gibberish and focus for a short time, he ought to realize that he has more in common with the predominantly Roman Catholic nation than he first opined in his abject ignorance and loathsome insensitivity.
Then there is the actor Danny Glover, who has blamed this disaster on the failure of the world’s nations to seriously address climate change at the United Nations-sponsored International Panel on Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last month. If ever someone should stick to what they do best, which is portraying a semi-stupid cop in the “Lethal Weapon” movies it would be Danny Glover. If there could be more stupid, insensitive statements than those of Robertson and Glover they are hard to imagine.
Undoubtedly, there are other agenda-driven comments that could be created, such as that of one blog commenter who opined that all these earthquakes are the result of man extracting fossil fuels from beneath the earth surface. For crying out loud, is there anything on this planet that can’t be blamed on human activity?
Having considered the foregoing lunacy, I suppose the media doesn’t ask geologists and seismologists much about these matters because it is just so boring.
The primitive thinking of Glover, Robertson and others is exactly why Haiti—in fundamental terms—has been so devastated. The simple reason for the tragic impact is the type of organization of society and government the country has been mired in for too much of its history. The result is poverty. The best defence against any natural or man-made disaster is economic prosperity and the only road to economic prosperity is a market economy, certainly not the aid-dependent culture imposed on Haiti through the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations.
A country with the failed history of cult dictatorships (e.g. Duvalier) and corruption (e.g. Aristide) which has devolved into an illicit drug distribution economy dominated by street gangs is not going to be helped by the addition of gangs from the United Nations and International Monetary Fund with their central planning bias. Collectivism and the command and control political-economy is the road to poverty. A market economy is the road to prosperity.
Clearly, the priorities for Haiti now are to impose martial law and order just to provide some safety and security to the victims and their rescue and relief workers. The thugs can be controlled using the advanced professional skills of foreign military personnel. Forget UN permission: just do it! Israel, the United States, Canada and other willing nations can certainly provide much help in that regard. Emergencies require action. See to rescuing and treating the sick and wounded, clear up the rubble and the dead to halt the spread of disease. Provide international aid for rebuilding by way of loans if you will, but use whatever remnants of knowledge are present in disintegrating Western cultures to assist in providing a framework for the new Haiti: property rights, secure defence of those rights and absolute minimum government intervention, the separation of politics and economics. Then kick back and watch Haiti prosper, and repay your loans—with interest.
©Copyright 2010 Edward Podritske