The Ghosts of Port-au-Prince

Given the torrent of maladies that Haiti has suffered in recent years, it is tempting to conclude that the country lies beyond the edge of hope. Even before a massive earthquake transformed much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince into rubble, Haitians were already bound together by the shared trauma of collective memory. Ever since Haiti gained independence in 1804, the country has excelled in producing millions of refugees and at least 34 coup d’états, but it has failed to achieve even the most basic levels of economic and social development. Although much of the blame can be laid at the feet of generations of selfish Haitian leaders who cared for their power more than their people, Western countries played a crucial supporting role through battering Haiti with military interventions, unfair trade arrangements, and political isolation. During the Cold War, U.S. support for the staunchly anti-communist Duvalier regime provided succor for a noxious dictatorship.

Following Haiti’s first democratic election in 1990, the country became subject to the fickle battle between the humanitarian and punitive instincts in U.S. foreign policy, as Haitian leaders were alternately cajoled and scolded, celebrated and denounced, according to Washington’s whims. No single figure has so represented the bristling contradictions of modern Haiti as former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was twice ousted from power in 1991 and 2004. Aristide remains beloved and reviled, and his rule seared and perhaps betrayed the Haitian body politic like no other. Still, it remains true that his 1990 election and 1994 restoration by U.S. forces (after a 1991 coup forced him into exile for three years) remain the only two moments of national jubilation that Haiti has experienced in the past two decades. More recently, President René Préval, elected in 2006, has gradually moved the country forward, and Haiti’s endemic poverty, nonexistent social safety net, and vulnerability to hurricanes and tropical storms have bent but not broken the Haitian spirit. Now faced with a disaster that appears almost apocalyptic in its magnitude, one wonders exactly how much suffering the Haitian people can reasonably be asked to bear.

Complete article via Foreign Policy


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