It will be days before they count the dead and dig the injured out of the rubble left by Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. Television news channels will show us endless scenes of devastation. They will interview officials, survivors, relatives of the victims and anyone else they can get their hands on. President Obama will set in motion a massive relief effort and – somehow – his relentless critics will find a way to blame him for the Haitian disaster.
It will be a grand show, reminiscent of the spectacles of ancient Rome when gladiators shed their blood for the entertainment of the populace. But good could come of it.
Replacing the shattered masonry and mangled bodies, a new and better Haiti might be constructed. If private and public agencies do their job, there will be more than immediate relief measures, such as dispatching hospital ships and airlifting medicine, food, water and other urgently needed supplies. Cities might be rebuilt, roads might be repaired and a whole new infrastructure might be put in place.
There would be work for many, including some Haitians, although you can bet the big international companies would reap the real harvest. Wherever a lot of money is to be made, vultures inevitably congregate.
Maybe, just maybe, some good might come from this most recent horror.
How much good and for how long, is anyone’s guess. Haiti’s history reeks of endemic evils that – if left unaddressed – will inexorably bring about future calamities. Hatred between the Nègres and Mulâtres have kept the tiny nation in turmoil for centuries and drained it of technical and professional expertise. Corruption and anarchy have plundered its sparse resources, leaving denuded mountainsides, neglected infrastructure and societal disarray.
Haitians have never been able to hang together, as Benjamin Franklin advised, and so – metaphorically speaking – they have hanged separately. From my own experience living in Port au Prince back in the Fifties, they chafe under any form of discipline. They have the quintessential “Tea Party” mentality – insisting on “personal freedom” at any cost and rejecting any form of cooperative government, however beneficial. The result has been an endless series of dictatorships and revolutions, with accompanying bloodshed, destruction, dysfunction and disorder.
It was this prevailing culture of anarchy that caused much of the earthquake’s havoc. Without building or development codes, densely populated areas evolved like a pack of cards, structure on top of structure (photo at right), without reinforcing steel rods, without safety regulations. When the earth shook, it all came tumbling down.
How far is the civilized world willing to go, I wonder, to address the underlying causes of Haiti’s failure as a state? How much justification is there for outsiders to intervene in an effort to save Haiti from itself? The answer to this question will determine whether the future will bring an endless parade of disasters to that impoverished, unruly – and fiercely independent – Caribbean nation.