The earthquake's devastation in Haiti is no longer front-page news. Most cameras shifted their lenses when the morbid and grueling work began--massive discard of the dead and what to do with the displaced living. As bulldozers clear rubble intermingled with bodies and other remains, top officials meet in global cities to decide Haiti's fate. Private organizations and companies are positioning themselves for the expected economic windfall, recruiting foreign workers and organizing conferences in the Diaspora on how best to rebuild the fractured republic.
Post-quake Haiti is up for grabs, and the key players remain the same.
As nameless, undocumented, uncounted bodies are dumped in mass graves, President Rene Préval and his government refuse to address this or any other substantive issue. Haitians at home and abroad wonder who is truly running the country. Although this silence may smack of barbarity, it is in fact a structural one that has historical roots and dangerous implications for Haiti's future.
Haitian officials are not alone in this disregard for the dead and the living. Initial rescue efforts prioritized citizenship and privilege. The valuable foreigners were saved first. Rescue teams ignored overpopulated slums coded as "red zones" or high security risk areas. Young children labeled "orphans" were whisked off to foreign lands. Dispute overpayment for those treated in the US suspended medical airlifts and endangered lives. The United Nations approach to managing the desperate and hungry lined up for food is to teargas them into submission. People are dying not because of the earthquake but because of neglect.
We are bearing witness to human rights violations in the name of expediency. This need not be the case. Haiti, once more, is being called upon to lead changes in the world. Two centuries ago, the island caused a disorder in things colonial that ultimately ended slavery and France's hope of enlarging its empire in the New World. Yet, this time, the situation in Haiti is challenging the international community to rethink their concepts and applications of aid and to discern these from racist ideologies that impede sustainable reconstruction efforts from taking hold.
Well-meaning advocates and hateful critics alike focus on Haiti as a failed state, citing its pervasive corruption as they simultaneously dismiss references to the past. Unless they think historically and explore these interconnections to find new solutions, all efforts to get Haiti right are simply doomed. This moment is especially critical because the Haitian state is being called upon to do something it has never done--have and show a responsibility to the entire nation. Historically, which lives matter in Haiti have always been determined by socio-economic status. And nothing makes this more apparent than the mass graves; the state treats the dead as they do the living.
To get Haiti on another more democratic course, concrete steps are necessary to ensure that the poor and nameless have advocates in discussions of rebuilding plans. They cannot continue to be casualties of non-representation. Their opposition to the UN Special Envoy's plan for Haiti must be revisited. January 10th, 2010 should not be used as a pretext to go back to business as usual. In spite of the narrative pervasive in the mainstream media, Haiti only seemed stable. The Collier solution to build sweatshops and export mangoes being touted again this week as the answer to poverty is an archaic development model detrimental to Haiti's future precisely because it reinforces the concentration of wealth and exploits the masses.
If you are concerned, keep asking questions. External pressure affected the World Bank days after the quake. So make calls, text, tweet, send letters to local, national and foreign officials, as well as international funding agencies to demand the following:
• Forgiveness of Haiti's debt
• Greater transparency on the part of both Haiti and the United States regarding the terms of current relationship between the two nations.
• Public debates (at home and abroad) concerning Haiti's future that actually include real oppositional voices and not the usual suspects who claim to represent the nameless.
• Recognition of and partnership with local grassroots organizations to ensure expedient delivery of relief.
Indeed, nothing would be a more fitting requiem for the dying than a sustainable Haiti that will not crumble in the future from the man-made disasters that are currently underway.