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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Bringing Change to the Shores of Haitii

With the inauguration of President Barack Obama comes the opportunity for change to “the failed policies of the past” that many Americans citizens have long desired from their national government. However, few were more hungry for change than the citizens of Haiti, as few have suffered so much from U.S. policies than our oldest neighbors in the Caribbean.

From the last eight years to over two centuries, Haiti has suffered from problems ranging from eradication of diseases to political injustice, and yet the United States, a mere 600 miles from Haiti, has shown the utmost neglect for one of the world’s poorest nations. With a new promise of leadership and government, Haiti hopes the U.S. can assist in building a stronger, more resilient, and prosperous nation from the current state of disaster.

There are many accounts of the suffering in Haiti; some of the most effective testimony has come from renowned individuals such as Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health; actor and activist Matt Damon, who recently visited Haiti to assist victims devastated by hurricanes; Massachusetts State Representative and Haitian-American Linda Forcena Dorry; and Brian Concannon Jr., director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. These individuals shared their own stories of the struggle to save Haiti during a public forum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum on Tuesday, January 27, 2009.

Haitian-American relations have been tense, if not outright cold, ever since this island nation became independent from French colonial rule in 1804. The U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 to ensure payment of a debt to Citibank. In the 1980s, the U.S. decimated Haiti’s agricultural base by forcing subsidized U.S. rice on Haiti markets. More recently during the Bush administration, the U.S. imposed a development assistance embargo in 2001. This embargo stopped urgently needed government programs such as water projects, which, studies have shown, had a disastrous impact on health. In 2004, U.S. officials forced Haiti President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on a flight to Africa and replaced his vacant office with a Bush supporter from Florida. Such a decision caused ensuing political violence. Thousands were killed and years of hard-won progress toward democracy were brought to a crashing halt.

Haiti’s struggle for democracy has been a movement to provide accessible justice, education, and healthcare – all challenges that the many poor citizens of Haiti face.

“The great majority of assistance that Haiti received went to private sectors and very little went to the public sector,” explained Dr. Farmer. “Privatization has been taken to the greatest extreme – to the point where families in poverty do not have a right to education, healthcare, and even fair living conditions and clean water. It is not an accident that Haiti has the highest illiteracy due to this privatization.”

Farmer spoke with much passion as he lectured that, “To understand Haiti’s dire poverty, you do need a historically deep and geography broad analysis. You do not, for one minute, understand Haitian poverty without understanding the slave trade, without understanding the economy of France, the gorgeous cities in Paris, which were built on the backs of Haitian slavery. The Haitian people, who were majority enslaved, fought the greatest army in the world, of Napoleon. 80,000 men sailed to retake Haiti and 80,000 [men] failed. The Haitians won their own independence. And yet, the Haitians had to pay France for their own liberation. That itself was simply obscene. Do not believe you can understand Haitian deforestation without understanding American occupation. To understand Haiti’s dire poverty, it is essential to understand history and economy, but why? Because of the default explanations for Haiti’s poverty – Haitian culture, Haitian psychology, Haitian deficits, Haitian attitudes. It is just a list that conveniently erases all of history so we do not need to see how the world made Haiti the way it is.”

America has provided important contributions to restoring constitutional government in 1994 and with this grand opportunity to work with Haiti once more, Congresswomen Dorry urged Americans to push forward, not simply for saving Haiti, but for the sake of saving lives.

“So it is our mission to come together and find a solution in having the United States of America in a more positive direction because over the years, we [Americans] have been involved. But has it always been under a positive light? No. People immigrate to America because there is no hope here. Our mission is to reverse the failed policies of the past, instill hope, and bring change to the shores of Haiti.”