Thursday, January 12, 2012

Haiti: Looking backward

As I review the two years that have passed since Haiti experience a magnitude-7 earthquake, the millions of dollars in aid that has been delivered and the thousands of hours spent by volunteers and relief-workers, I must admit, I am disheartened. Two years have passed with very few measurable successes. Millions of citizens are still displaced, living in temporary housing that has long since become unsafe. Much of the promised aid has been clogged in the bureaucratic pipelines. A deadly cholera outbreak has taken nearly 7,000 lives and the number of abandoned children is steadily growing.

With two formerly ousted leaders, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier and Jean-Bertrand Aristide returning to Haiti during the controversial presidency of newly elected Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly, along with accusations against UN appointed peacekeeping forces, the political and civil discord is likely to continue for some time.

Haiti is, as they say, a hot mess.

But this year, instead of talking about what is going on in Haiti's present, I thought it appropriate to take a look into Haiti's past. See, we as the "benevolent" saviors of Haiti have no hope of making sense of the situation in Haiti, let alone develop a successful plan for recovery unless we understand the history of this tiny, conflicted country.

In July 2002, I visited Haiti for the first time with a mission team from my church. We sent two more teams during 2003 and were planning more trips when Pastor Joseph, our contact in Haiti, warned us not to come. It wasn't safe, he said. Remembering the Haiti that I had visited two years prior, I recalled that it didn't feel particularly safe then either. I had no idea what had happened to make things suddenly unsafe, something about riots and political unrest.

I was 17 and had trouble understanding my own government.

During my last trip to Haiti, I spoke to a Haitian man about the recent presidential elections and as during that conversation, he brought up Haiti's tumultuous political history. The conversation stuck with me after I returned and I started looking into some of the events of the past 20 years in Haiti. It's a fascinating and disturbing study.

I discovered that, in February of 2004, less than a year after our last mission trip, a rebel army took control of the northern part of Haiti, including Port-au-Prince, resulting in the a violent coup d'etat. Reports surrounding this event are rife with speculation, accusation and conflicting reports and general political unrest. The ousted president, Jean Bertrande Aristide was exiled to South Africa.

Not safe, indeed.

In 2005 Baraka Production released a documentary on the 2004 coup called Aristide and the Endless Revolution. If you're interested in watching the film, it is available for $13 on (I haven't watched it yet). The trailer is below.

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