By PAT WATSON
It is an irony of timing that just over three weeks before the Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s largest and most populous city, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive had made an official visit to Ottawa to discuss ongoing bi-lateral initiatives. Then, the Haitian Prime Minister stressed the importance of creating jobs and creating an environment where private, national and international enterprises could work in cooperation with the Haitian government to create employment. He spoke of the need for more security, better enforcement of the rule of law, and better infrastructure.
In the wake of Haiti’s worst earthquake in 200 years, Bellerive was again in Canada this week, this time in Montreal, meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Canadian officials as well as international leaders such as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
While rescue and humanitarian aid have rightly captured international attention, the urgency of his country’s priorities is now even greater. Bellerive made it clear in Montreal that while Port-au-Prince is currently in ruins, it is the people of Haiti who are prepared to lead the way in their country’s reconstruction.
The emphasis on this point is no small matter, for even as the world rallied to give rescue to victims of the earthquake, there has been criticism, for example, of the heavy-handed management of ports of entry by U.S. troops. Haiti’s “failed state” label has up until recently seemingly left it up for grabs, and the earthquake may serve as another glaring example of the kind of chaos, if not anarchy, that has for too long been the order of the day.
The historical catalogue of interference by the United States in decades past and as recently as the 1990s with the ouster of populist president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the exploitation by colonial power France have contributed to handicapping the nation as it has struggled for two centuries to gain its balance, post revolution.
Internal abuses by past dictators including the mid-20th Century reign of terror under the Duvaliers – pere et fils – have, too, greatly contributed to the wreckage, earning Haiti the unwelcome title of the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere.
Significantly, the reason somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 lives were tragically taken during the 30-second earthquake is that so many have flocked to the capital city from the countryside in search of opportunity. It is therefore hardly a surprise that fully one-third of the country’s nine million people have been affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
In Port-au-Prince and its environs there are an estimated 200,000 injured and needing medical care and some one million displaced persons. Everybody there knows somebody who has been hurt by the disaster, which, by the way, has been followed by some 50 aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or higher. So, while the world feels profoundly for the suffering of the Haitian people, it is they who will have to bear the greater part of the challenge for reconstruction.
It is therefore important to remember that out of this tortured nation whose founding fathers include Black revolutionaries General Toussaint L’Ouverture, Henri Cristophe, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines have come some of our most gifted individuals. Haiti has given us the likes of writers Alexandre Dumas and Edwidge Danticat, artist Jean Michel Basquiat, musician and activist Wyclef Jean, Canada’s current Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Olympic athlete Bruny Surin and American Civil Rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois, of Haitian parentage.
Hence we know there is no shortage of creativity and resourcefulness that can flourish and come to the fore in Haiti, if given the chance.
Prime Minister Harper has said that it will take a good 10 years to reconstruct Haiti. If a decade of solid support is all it will take, then the miracle of this earthquake would be that it was the catalyst to finally push Haiti out of the quagmire.
At this point, we can surely hope.