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03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Haiti needs structural change to overcome tragic history

Images from the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti. Photo: Matthew Marek/American Red Cross

There are those who ask why Haiti has been hopelessly poor for so long. Yes, it is one of the first democracies, but the Haitian people have suffered just as long, victims of colonial folly. It's assumed benefactors in France and the United States have hardly been constant. I agree with Paul Farmer, who has long advocated a Marshall Plan for Haiti.

Here is part of what he wrote in the October 6, 2008 edition of The Nation.

Haiti is a veritable graveyard of development projects has less to do with Haitian culture and more to do with the nation's place in the world. The history that turned the world's wealthiest slave colony into the hemisphere's poorest country has been tough, in part because of a lack of respect for democracy both among Haiti's small elite and in successive French and US governments. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the US simply refused to acknowledge Haiti's existence. In the latter half, gunboats pre-empted diplomacy. And in 1915 US Marines began a twenty-year military occupation and formed the modern Haitian army (whose only target has been the Haitian people). After the fall of Duvalier in 1986, Washington continued to support unelected, mainly military, governments. Indeed, it was not until after 1990, when Haiti had its first democratic elections, that assistance to the government was cut back and finally cut off. The decay of the public sector-through aid cutoffs and neoliberal policies-is one of the chief reasons Haiti, unlike neighboring Cuba, is unable to respond to hurricanes with effective relief.

Farmer wrote in response to devastation of the 2008 hurricane season. In 2010, structural change has never been more required. Tears must be replaced by an unprecedented international commitment to rescue Haiti for all times.

- Peter Eisner

Peter Eisner writes about the roots of Haiti’s desperate poverty. Even before the earthquake, Haiti remained mired in poverty for much of its history.http://worldfocus.org/files/2010/01/th_haiti_earthquake-americanredcross.jpg

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