I try not to write “hop on the bandwagon” postings about the current “hot” topic in the news. I like to have a bit of time to consider and reflect on issues and situations. Within that timeframe I frequently find that simply quietly helping however I can is all I wish to say on the matter — and often, others have said it better than I could anyway.
The situation in Haiti is a currently evolving issue where, as I did a little research, I was shocked to discover things were much worse than I’d initially thought — because of my country. This is one situation where I believe others have indeed said it better than I could, but I feel strongly that their words need to be shared and passed around so we all know in what we, as citizens of the USA, are unwittingly being complicit.
I’ve pasted in an emailed letter I received from Sami, a graduate of the Women’s Spirituality Master’s program in which I too am enrolled. I think her suggestion that the USA forgive Haiti’s debt is an excellent one. Frankly, considering how much we’ve contributed (again, however unwittingly) to Haiti’s current crushing poverty, this seems the absolute least we can do to restore justice. Perhaps it would also be an excellent first step in realizing we have issues with poverty here at home which desperately need to be dealt with as well.
It’s been a sad and surreal several days since the earthquake in Haiti. I think I’m still in the mire of processing what is going on… between not knowing if friends and teachers there are okay, and hearing the hyperbolic media reports… it’s difficult to really imagine what Haitian people are experiencing right now, and frankly it breaks my heart to think about.
The good news is that my drum teacher (who is from Port-Au-Prince, but lives in the Bay Area half the year) is okay! His family, who cooked every glorious meal for us when I was there last April, are all miraculously safe as well. However they, like so many people there, are homeless now and sleeping in make-shift shelters on the street. The infrastructure in Haiti is… well, it isn’t much to speak of. Most of the buildings and homes are made of cinder block and scraps of metal and wood. They certainly don’t have earthquake-retrofitted buildings, to say the least. This is why the hurricanes and earthquakes are so completely devastating for them.
Without going into the complex and overwhelmingly frustrating history of Haiti’s struggles, I just want to share that one of the main reasons for Haiti’s extreme poverty is this: when the slaves rose up and won their independence from the French colonizers in 1804, they were simply not recognized by the international community as sovereign [note from Collie: this, right after the US had won their independence and international recognition!]. The US, Great Britain, & France placed a ONE BILLION DOLLAR fine on Haiti in return for their independence. Haiti had no way of paying this debt, and they continue to be beholden to it plus the interest that has continued to accrue since that time more than 200 years ago. (Paul Farmer, an American doctor who has worked in Haiti for many years, has written an excellent book on Haiti’s history: The Uses of Haiti). [note from Collie: it’s out of print at Amazon.com but I included the link so you have the information in case you want to look it up at the library, or there’s a reprint]
There is an organization who has drafted a petition asking the US Treasury Secretary to forgive this debt. Please, please sign it. While aid is good and necessary for short-term recovery, all the aid in the world will never erase this horrendous, unjust debt, and Haiti will continue to struggle with poverty and governmental corruption as long as they are buried beneath it.
I know the Haitian people to be resilient, resourceful, and strong. I personally benefited from their generosity and loving spirit when I was there last year. I can hardly imagine what they are going through, but I bet that they’re singing in the streets right now. Haitians are always singing! They’re making up songs about whatever they see and think and feel, and they’re doing it with a prayerful, passionate heart. Despite what the media says of violence and “looting,” I know they’re looking out for each other and doing whatever they can to survive.
I have a lot of hope for Haiti. I think her people — and their culture and music and rhythms and food and ceremonies and energy and all-around zest for life — are far too beautiful and powerful and strong to let another set-back hold them down for long. Haiti will rise. Haiti will rise.
The second bit of information I’ve included here is a link to an article written by someone who is understandably unhappy with the media coverage of the Haitian earthquake disaster: When the Media Is the Disaster: Covering Haiti by Rebecca Solnit. I was relieved to discover this, since I’d had that unpleasant nagging sensation in the back of my head (since Katrina, in fact) that what we were being breathlessly and excitedly shown by the media was not necessarily what was actually happening there on the ground. The author’s article starts below the (also interesting) Tomgram “In Haiti, Words Can Kill.”
Unfortunately I think Solnit’s rightful indignation gets away from her a bit at the end of the article, such that it will likely lose some of the more conservative readers and cause them to dismiss the entire article rather than retaining the important point she makes regarding the media. However, I still feel it’s well worth reading, and hopefully will make those who are willing to think actually do so — it certainly did for me.
I guess more than anything this teaches me that once again, my country’s media is in the business of titillation, rather than informative news. I don’t know yet how to get good, accurate news, but if I discover such a venue I’ll gladly post it here.