Friday, January 14, 2011
A Miracle in Haiti
As we stop to acknowledge the first anniversary of the earthquake that ravaged Haiti, I find it interesting that nobody is noticing a major miracle that has occurred. With over 300,000 dead and more than a million people homeless still after so many months, most of the commentary is on how little has been done for the survivors. The presidential palace, symbol of power in Haiti and once the bastion of the Duvalier family, remains a total wreckage and the formerly empty park facing it, the Champs du Mars, is now a tent camp. But there is one thing that has not happened: no boat people. I was the Haiti desk officer in the mid-1970s when the Haitian boat exodus began. We used strict criteria in determining which of these boat people were legitimate refugees. Unfortunately, most were really economic and not political refugees and not in danger of being returned to persecution (known legally as refoulement)at the hands of the state, but yes to hardship and even hunger. However, it was largely a crisis that resulted from the retrograde political system that had existed under the Duvaliers and indeed for much of Haitian history.
I was struck by one commentator who opined that the international community had intervened after the earthquake to shape Haiti in a way that would benefit itself. I had trouble holding back a laugh because the only reason that international community intervenes in Haiti, aside from long standing humanitarian concern for a noble but battered people, is to prevent the outflow of people that would flood the beaches of neighboring countries, especially the United States. In 1994, when the United States intervened to restore President Aristide to power it was to end a politically deteriorating situation that was generating large numbers of so-called refugees. So why now is Haiti not generating thousands of people trying to escape the hardships of life after the biblically monumental disaster? Frankly, I don't have the answer. It could be that they are simply still in shock, too disorganized or not capable of leaving behind other family members. Or perhaps the people still believe that international help is still on the way and are awaiting a major opportunity to rebuild their homes and lives. I would love to know the answer to this question, but do know that the fact that they have not abandoned their homeland for a better life abroad, remains a major miracle.