Haiti Security Update and Excuses That Don't Work

According to the Associated Press (article here), things look a bit better in Haiti today. But the re-count for the election results still isn't over. Unfortunately, if the political situation doesn't improve, that might mean that Haiti will lose whatever the support it still has from foreign governments, including the United States. Not good for a country trying to deal with a massive cholera outbreak, not to mention continued inability to rebuild after the earthquake.

I'll be monitoring the airport and safety situation closely. Commercial flights are cancelled through Monday, but cargo flights began again today. I got word from NPFS on the ground that they still believe it will be safe for me to travel to Haiti.

But sometimes it seems like Haiti can't catch a break. I recognize the frustration I'm hearing and detecting from even friends and relatives. It's difficult not to feel helpless in the face of one challenge after another. But I'll never be willing to concede that helping Haiti is a hopeless cause. I understand the temptation in giving up, and I do recognize that Haitians do have a responsibility to help themselves. But I have a few responses to the idea that we should abandon outside assistance to Haiti if they can't even orchestrate a successful cholera response or a legitimate election.

Why the excuses "Haiti needs to just help itself" or "We shouldn't worry about people in Haiti when people in the U.S. are struggling" or "Haiti is a hopeless cause" don't work for me:

1. Until one visits Haiti, one will not realize the impossibility of Haitians actually being able to fully help themselves. When your country is 98% deforested, when unethical foreign trade agreements making it impossible for you to sell your crops even if you can find land suitable for farming, when the life expectancy is only a staggering 29.93 years, when illiteracy comes in at about 58%, and when unemployment hovers around 60%, you need some help. The magnitude of these challenges are nothing compared to what people in poverty face in the United States, where there are hospitals and social services and free mandated education, etc. Keep in mind these statistics date from before the earthquake and before the cholera epidemic.

When a majority of your country can't read, I imagine it's difficult to find a lot of motivated and educated (and hopeful) people to work for change. Add all of these roadblocks to decades of cruel (U.S.-supported) dictatorships setting the stage for a corrupt government, and you've got a pretty impossible situation.

Sadly, I know these depressing statistics aren't unique to Haiti. But because of the decades of U.S. involvement, I think we're particularly obligated to help them get back on track for as long as it takes.

2. The statistical reasons for why Haiti can't help themselves don't necessarily answer to those who consider the country a hopeless cause; in fact, these facts might just strengthen that opinion. But I have my own explanation for that as well, an explanation that is more personal to me and is how I tend to rationalize why Haiti pulls at me in the way that it does.

I am not a person of strong religious faith, although some days I wish I did have a theological answer to some of the questions I have about why certain things happen (or why certain people live and certain people die or suffer). Anyways, I don't necessarily have many doctrinal views. But I do know one thing: Human life is Human life. (Or as Aristide would say: Tout Moun Se Moun). Every person is, in fact, a person.

I have enough faith in humanity that I would wager that not many people could look into the eyes of a Haitian person and tell them that a Haitian life is, in fact, worth less than their own. I've been fortunate - or unfortunate - enough to look into the eyes of enough Haitian people that I cannot forget that, as human beings, Haitian people deserve the same things that I deserve. It is not their fault that they were born to be Haitian and suffer. And it is certainly not my hard work that allowed me to be born into such a privileged position either. They don't deserve to suffer. The intrinsic value of their human lives automatically obligate us to help them. No matter what. No matter how corrupt their government, no matter how full of contagious diseases they might be, no matter how much it hurts to watch them suffer and die, nobody on this planet deserves what they are dealing with right now.

So I'll watch, and wait. And hope that it's safe enough for me to go to them. But if not; if my un-earned privilege allows me the regretted choice to be safe and travel to Haiti another time, I will still recognize that they do not have that choice. They do not get to fly away from the undeserved suffering they were born into.

But I will never forget that no human being is ever a hopeless cause.


P.S. On a side note, Sarah Palin is planning to visit Haiti. Maybe I can catch a ride with her to reap the benefits of her security detail. Perhaps then my parents might think it would be safe enough for me to go...

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