My email in-basket was flooded with appeals for donations this morning. Everyone, it seems, is collecting money for Haiti’s earthquake victims. So many relief planes have landed at the airport in Port au Prince that traffic there was paralyzed yesterday (a Chinese rescue mission is shown arriving at right). The world has opened its heart to the victims of this indescribable tragedy.
Meanwhile, corpses still crowd the sidewalks and rubble still covers the dead and dying. Maimed, hungry and bereft, throngs of survivors cry out for medicine, water and food. To a large extent, the massive relief effort has failed to reach its intended destination.
Without an effective central government, there is no coordinated initiative to direct the aid, and relief workers are milling about, apparently without direction. Somehow, as it usually does, the aid initiative will sort itself out eventually, and bring relief to many of the victims. But in the process, a lot of money and supplies will go astray.
Haiti’s poverty is no secret. The world has known about the misery of the Haitian people for a long time. Even when I was there, back in the Fifties, American and international organizations were active, operating a variety of medical programs, offering scholarships and grants, even showering the countryside with plane loads of fingerling fish in an attempt to add much needed protein to the Haitian diet.
Yet, the lot of the Haitian populace has not improved over the past half century. Indeed, conditions now are far worse than they were back then, before a benign President Magloire was ousted in favor of the maniacal dictator, “Papa Doc.” That rebellion opened the door for a series of disastrous regimes.
You might think that since the United Nations has established a presence in Haiti, the country would have made some progress; but as far as I can tell this has not happened.
Last night, on the Rachel Maddow show, a guest named Tracy Kidder, who is familiar with the way aid works in Haiti, noted that thousands of charitable organizations are active in the impoverished nation – and have been for decades – yet poverty and misery have continued to proliferate. Kidder (pictured at a book signing at right) was promoting a group called Partners in Health, the subject of his book “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” And I notice that Rachel’s web site has a list of aid organizations to which you can donate. I suppose she has vetted these groups.
I know there are organizations that do a great deal of good in Haiti.
When she was a reporter for the Clearwater Sun, Sandra wrote about a local plastic surgeon who belonged to such a group. They regularly visited Haiti to provide free surgery to disfigured children, some of whom were burned by open fires, others with birth defects and so on.
But, sadly, there are other groups and individuals – official and private – that prey on the country’s tragic circumstances.
Haiti is not unique. Much of the money and supplies donated to help the world’s poor gets diverted. Once, while traveling in the Dominican Republic, my brother, Bill, and his wife, Faye, bought a can of condensed milk (I think it was condensed milk, but it was something like that) at a small rural shop. Printed boldly on the label was the warning: “A gift from the people of Canada; not to be sold.”
In his book, “Travesty in Haiti,” Timothy T. Schwartz describes a culture of “fraud, greed, corruption, apathy, and political agendas.” The book’s chilling subtitle is:
A true account of Christian missions, orphanages, fraud, food aid and drug trafficking.
According to Schwartz, international drug traffickers and “Haitian money laundering elites” have been one reason that Haiti is a failed state.
The sickening irony is that some of the money being collected for the earthquake victims will probably line the pockets of the worst kind of creepy con artists and drug dealing scum. So, before you reach for your wallet, you might want to do some investigation to find out where your contributions might end up.
You could start at Rachel’s site. I doubt that her list is foolproof but it’s better than no guidelines at all.