Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Haiti is Hell

"Haiti is Hell!" said the big man, throwing down a clump of dirt. "Wherever you dig on this island, if you dig deep enough, you will find Hell!" Gerard was one of the few Cap Haitien men who stayed to work on our job, after the others had left because of a wage dispute. I remembered him because of his size, the intensity of his manner, and his wild stories of Haitian magic and treasure digging.

It was because I knew his name that I noticed a month after he had left that he was still on our payroll. One of the company's most trusted bookkeepers had created a "Zombie," probably one of several, and was enriching himself at the company's expense.

Not that this behaviour was untypical. Even our own on-site timekeeper, whom we considered to be unimpeachable, bought himself a brand new Peugeot truck after the job was over, to be used as a "tap-tap."

Corruption, as in other places, is practiced from the top down in Haiti. As an unwritten law it's actually admired and emulated. This is one reason the nation has never been able to lift itself out of its cultural and economic morass, and the many ills which seem to descend on it like a curse.

Poverty, tyranny, disease, and ignorance are its recent history. Added to this is the curse of AIDS, overpopulation, political violence, drug trafficking and gang-inspired kidnappings.

This is not to say that there are not good and decent people among them. Even Sodom and Gomorrah were "spared for the sake of even ten righteous men," but I fear that today a great many of the righteous have been slain along with the wicked in Haiti.

A 7.0+ on the Richter scale earthquake doesn't ordinarily discriminate among its victims. In the countryside most of the houses are simple wooden structures with thatched roofs. In the city and "suburbs" are many substandard buildings made from concrete blocks and little if any reinforcing steel. Deaths and injuries must be substantial.

There is great suffering in poor Haiti tonight. The first news reports are slow in arriving. It will be interesting to see how the world reacts, and whether the better elements of Haitian society rise to the occasion, or whether the country sinks into further depravity and violence.

Well-intentioned Americans must decide what they can best do to help the afflicted, without unduly enriching the inevitable middlemen and agents even now planning how they will "tax" the largesse about to be disbursed.

The sadness about to be revealed in Haiti, while it holds our attention, will make our own national problems seem insignificant.

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