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Charles D. Ellison

Charles D. Ellison

Posted: January 14, 2010 11:18 PM

Some Geopolitical Context in Haiti

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Big question of the day is whether or not it's appropriate - at the moment - to discuss the political and economic context of Haiti's disaster. Many folks, thoughtful observers included, seem to gingerly step around the issue.

It may be uncomfortable, but it is appropriate. In fact, it's necessary. Haiti's very volatile, very active and tragic history will very much influence the response, relief efforts and rebuilding in the years to come. Haitians deserve the analysis as a way to prevent further disaster.

Contrary to the ignorance and pure bigotry unleashed by Robertson and Limbaugh, Haiti is much more critical than its current headline. You wouldn't know that by the unfolding sideshow. Media observers may want to expect that this is a simple story of a bad luck country slipping into chaos (pundits and reporters alike are already anxious for an outbreak of "anarchy"), but it's much more complicated than that. Its status as the Western Hemisphere's "first Black Republic" and the chronology of events dating back to the 18th century - from the organized revolt of slaves against brutal French rule to it's fragmented, twisted relationship with the United States to this day - all plays into what happens in Haiti and to its people as relief efforts are underway.

Careful examination and acknowledgment of Haiti's history will help it recover into a healthier nation. There are already reports of the Cubans, Venezuelans and Chinese placing resources and personnel on ground in Haiti (from medical assistance to logistical support and supplies). Obviously, this will greatly influence the dynamic between these three countries and the U.S. in the Caribbean, as there is a growing sense of fierce political, economic and military competition brewing in the West Indies. The competition between the U.S. and China for resources throughout the Caribbean and Africa will escalate over time, and, unfortunately, Haiti could become a point of tension if recovery efforts are not managed well. Let's also not forget a legacy of tensions with its much more stable neighbor the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola.

Watching what these three countries are doing in Haiti is very much on the mind of U.S. military and diplomatic planners assessing the situation. As the situation further stabilizes, signs of a larger geopolitical realignment could start to show depending on where you're sitting. Observers and governments in the Caribbean will be watching very intently - as they have been for some time.

The other concern is whether this response will be the prelude to something Haiti cannot sustain more of: debt and dysfunction. In its moment of desperation, will Haiti accept help without setting conditions that prevent it from taking on more debt? Will corporate developers eye it from the sideline as an investment opportunity, blatantly dismissing the history, concerns and needs of the Haitian people, thereby leading to a repeat of past mistakes? The other main story deals with Haiti's governance - the inability of its own government response to the earthquake, the lack of infrastructure and rule of law are all relevant.

The earthquake, for many reasons, feels like the beginning of something much larger on the horizon ... for better or for worse, we don't know, yet.

 
 
 

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