Thursday, January 14, 2010

Help for Haiti

Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

Haiti is our neighbor. Everyone is our neighbor, but Haiti is a special neighbor. The French-speaking country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, has never been able to get it right as a nation. In 1492, Columbus landed on this island and named it Hispaniola, which means Little Spain. By 1697, Spain ceded the western part of the island to France, which named this area as Haiti. Unfortunately, for France, which would suffer a brutal revolution one hundred years later, was never able to establish civility in Haiti. It was in 1801, when a former slave Touissant Louverture was able take control of the government and abolish slavery. The French tried to take back control, but were defeated, and Haiti declared itself independent in 1804, when Jacques Dessalines declared himself to be emperor.
It is one thing to declare independence. It's another thing to have a plan. The thirteen colonies declared independence from Britain, fought a war, won that war, and then put together a government, first the Articles of Confederation, and then the Constitution. It must be sad, of course, that the Founding Fathers were learned men, educated, and for all the discourse between the colonies and Great Britain, there was something to said for the bi-cameral legislature and Common Law.
The French did not have that tradition, and Haitians, for their desire for independence, were woefully unprepared for what followed independence. Dessalines, a former slave, was assassinated in 1806.
The conflict between blacks and mulattos has never ended. For some years, blacks had no rights in Haiti. In 1915, due to the increasing tension between the mulattos and the blacks, the United States invaded the country in order to protect investments and property. The American military remained until 1934, but continued to run the country's finances until 1947.
Democracy and fair and free elections are largely unknown in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Francois Duvalier, a voodoo doctor, seized power in a coup in 1956. Papa Doc eventually declared himself President for Life. He was a brutal dictator, helped by the equally brutal Ton T0n Macoutes, who have been described as militia. I call them thugs.
When Papa Doc died in 1971, he was succeeded by his son, "Baby Doc," an equally oppressive dictator with a wife, Michelle, who had a penchant for Hermés and Givenchy. His reign of terror ended in 1986, when international pressure forced the Duvaliers to leave the country.
Coups and military rule continued, but there was a glimmer of hope in 1990 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president. The glimmer quickly faded, and the popular priest was overthrown in yet another coup a year later.
The UN approved sanctions and the threat of an American military invasion (with UN approval) brought down the military government. Aristide returned . U.S. troops were eventually replaced by UN troops.
In the last decade, Haiti has been devastated by gang riots, killings, food shortages, and continued government instability.
In 2004, Haiti received pledges of more than $1 billion dollars in international aid. Not long afterward, more than 3000 Haitians were killed in floods caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne. A year later, Hurricane Dennis wreaked havoc in Haiti.
Despite more food aid from the United States and the United Nations, Haiti has continued to struggle with shortages. The government is corrupted and there is no real infrastructure.
On January 12, a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, the epicenter only ten miles from the capital, Port-au-Prince. I cannot even imagine the horrors of this. The worst quake ever to hit the United States was on Good Friday, March 27, 1964 in Anchorage, Alaska. It was a 9.2 quake. 151 people died.
There is no official count for the dead in Haiti, but the death toll is expected to hit at least 100,000. The population of Haiti is about 10 million.
I cannot believe there are Americans who say we should not be helping because we are broke, and we should help our own people first. (These are probably the same people, who call themselves "Christians," but are opposed to health care or anything that helps Americans who are less fortunate.)
I am so tired of the me-me-me attitude. The USA is not broke. We have economic issues that can and will be fixed. We are not a poor nation. We have resources. We have the medical equipment and personnel. Yes, we do have poverty in this country (and this bothers me), but face it, the poorest people in the United States are rich in comparison to the average Haitian.
I actually heard an American say: why should we help Haiti? What have they done for us. No one ever comes to help us. Er um. I can think of at least three countries that provide aid and assistance after Hurricane Katrina: Canada, the UK, and the Netherlands. There were probably more.
(Moral of story: do not hire cronies to head FEMA.) We need to be more We the People, rather than Me the Person.

REAL Americans are compassionate, and care for our neighbors, whether the neighbor is a fellow American or a Haitian. Whether it is the President ordering the military to provide transport to bring aid or Americans digging into their pockets to send money, providing assistance is the right and moral thing to do. There is nothing more powerful or potent than a photo of a Marine carrying boxes that say "Gift of the people of the United States America." This is what the face of America should be. Providing aid, providing food, and not providing weapons.
The American Red Cross has made it easy to donate. For people who can send text messages (I do not text), you can use your cell phone by texting HAITI to 90999. This is an automatic donation of $10.00 to the Red Cross, and the charge will appear on your cell phone bill.

My charity of choice is Lutheran World Relief, which is one the top rated international relief organizations.

You can also donate online with the American Red Cross:

Three other highly respected relief organization: Catholic Relief Services ,Doctors without Borders and Habitat for Humanity

It is what Jesus commanded: Love your Neighbor as Yourself.

and one of the first rescue groups that is sent to disaster areas around the world is located right in my home county, Fairfax County, Virginia.


Susan said...

Excellent information, Marlene. Thanks for posting that. Among my 8th grade students are about 10 Haitians. None of the students who have families in the earthquake area have heard from their families. All of these students are quite upset.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Thank you for this! and Amen.

Anonymous said...

Dear Marlene,

Thanks for posting this excellent history of Haiti. I remember that glimmer of hope when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was President.

Thanks too for posting the excellent links for providing assistance from the USA.

One of my 3 godsons was missing in this area for a short time. We think that he is OK. It was so good seeing him at Christmas, just before he left here in Western Australia.

I will be sending assistance. I was awake all last night listening to BBC World Service. It sounds like chaos in Port au Prince. The best assistance possible, will be sent from Australia.

Best wishes from Keith.

Regards. Keith.

glamah16 said...

Amen Marlene. The comments coming form people in regards to this tragedy amaze me. But in the same light I'm seeing more good intentions outweigh the bad.