03/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Haiti Hopes

Nearly a quarter century ago I spent weeks in Haiti hoping to find an eternal truth that made sense. Ah, the hope of youth . . .

Craig Crawford
The Orlando Sentinel (Feb. 15, 1986)

Port-au-Prince __ Dozens of crudely made wooden caskets were taken off dump trucks by blank-faced workers who nonchalantly dragged them to a huge pit.

This is the paupers graveyard about 15 miles outside Port-au- Prince. It is called Bon Repose -- "Good Rest."

One casket has no cover, and three tiny, decomposed bodies are inside as it is pulled off the truck.

One body falls out. It is covered with a greenish-black slime the workers call a "death suit," and it cannot be told whether it was a male, female, child or adult.

Edouard Carmant, 26, picks up the body and tosses it back into the casket. "This one has been dead many days," he said. "It missed the last shipment."

Twice a week, dump trucks make the rounds through this city's poorest areas.

If someone dies and the body doesn't get on the first haul, the family just carries it to the nearest pile of bodies waiting for the next haul, Carmant said. He has picked up bodies that have been dead for as long as five days.

This is the most compelling example of Haiti's cruel poverty, more graphic than any statistic. Most of those buried here died of starvation, pneumonia or tuberculosis.

This is the Haiti that Jean-Claude Duvalier and his family fled Feb. 7. It is not likely to change soon, no matter how much enthusiasm has been rallied up for the celebrations of the fall of the 29-year Duvalier dynasty.

Every day these people see in each other the effects of malnutrition, suffering and death.

"There are no old people here," said a foreign diplomat. "Those who are alive are nearly always half the age they appear to be."

Street peddler Rose Goise is 43, but the deep age lines in her face make her look 70. She earns less than $2 a day selling candy near a foul-smelling Port-Au-Prince food market.

Her son, Alfonse, 18, shines shoes. Together they support Alfonse's sisters, ages 11 and 14.

Goise's husband, John Robert, died of pneumonia two years ago. His body was tossed into the pit at Bon Repose.

There is no welfare in Haiti, no social security, no guarantees that starving people will find food.

The new government has promised to "share the wealth."

Creating new jobs is the first order of business for relieving the poverty here, said Benjie Duval, 34, president of Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce.

"Public works projects like roads, bridges and sewers are badly needed," Duval said. He is with the growing community of Haitian business leaders closely aligned with the new government.

This will give many people jobs, Duval said, noting that it will take American aid to do it.

About $50 million in U.S. aid to Haiti was held up last year because Duvalier's record on rights was so pathetic, a U.S. Embassy spokeman said.

The new government is "doing all the right things" to prove that rights are being restored here, the spokeman said.

Even when American aid flowed to Haiti, Duvalier and his cronies kept much of it for themselves, said many Haitians and foreign diplomats.

"Millions were diverted, that is clear," Duval said.

Lowering taxes is another way to help Haiti's poorest people, experts say. Reports abound that the new government will repeal Haiti's 100 percent import tax and the 10 percent sales tax on all products including food.

"This would lower prices in a way that most people can see," Duval said. He added that he hopes steps to ease taxes will come soon.

Duval said lower taxes right away would be a sign to the people that the ruling council is serious about change.

Although most observers here agree that it could take generations to wipe out Haiti's most deep-rooted poverty, they believe that progress will be visible soon.

"With American help, we could see change by next month," Duval said.

Craig blogs daily on CQ-Roll Call