September 21, 2010

Redemption

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We all have unique routines of getting up in the morning; some of us are efficient and, like clockwork, can be out the door within 20 minutes of waking up. For others, as much as our roommates hate it, getting ready in the morning is a therapeutic ritual. We take ceremonial 40-minute showers; the mirror fogs up from the steam as the warm drops blanket our bodies and then the loud bangs on the bathroom door begin. Screams to hurry up can be heard over the running water, but usually go largely ignored. For this is our time, 40 minutes of privacy, peace and sanctuary. Tomorrow stand under the shower head like you usually do every morning, but this time instead of warm or hot water turn the dial to cold. As the icy water hits your skin you’ll immediately flinch, but ignore your visceral reaction to turn it off and just brave through the inability to breathe. Try your morning routines now, attempt to shampoo and rinse your hair under these conditions. The truth is the experiment will last no more than a minute; we can’t bear to be uncomfortable. Squalid tent cities with no electricity, security nor adequate sanitation are now the homes of two million people in Haiti. The flimsy tarps that serve as the rooves of Haitian families in these camps provide little relief from the beating sun and often collapse onto themselves during heavy rains. Hunger is uniform throughout these sites, and the malnourished children of earthquake-torn Haiti remain close to parents and family for fear of rape, or getting kidnapped into the growing industry of child sex trafficking. It’s been nine months since the largest city and capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, was reduced to rubble by an earthquake. The aftermath was catastrophic. Where hospitals, schools and whole neighborhoods once stood, only crushed stone and bodies remained. 200,000 people died and the infrastructure of the America’s poorest country had been decimated. The global community was deeply saddened by the crisis in Haiti, and reacted with swift relief efforts and bountiful donations. The much-needed supplies were quick to get to Haiti, but much too slow to arrive to the people in need. The news began reporting that planes carrying food and water couldn’t land because of backed up air ways, so for hours the potential meals of children circled in the air awaiting a slot to land. Tons of rotten food had to be disposed of because of the mismanagement of the logistics regarding getting the aid to the people. Until this day millions of Haitians still remain homeless, and, as hurricane season quickly approaches, the people of Haiti are protesting in front of the collapsed presidential palace of Port-Au-Prince in outrage over the government’s inability to provide housing. There is a large disconnect in project timeframe between planners and the millions of homeless families. A balance must be struck between the short- and long-term needs of rebuilding Haiti. Not much is left in Port-Au-Prince, and the reality is that there wasn’t much opportunity there before the earthquake. The story of Haiti’s path to becoming the poorest nation in the Americas shares its pages with that which led the United States to become today’s richest world power.  Haiti has been resilient since its inception — reveling in victory and proclaiming its freedom and independence in 1804. Forcing Napoleon’s army to retreat from the island of St. Dominique back across the Atlantic, the Haitian revolutionary cry was humanity’s first successful slave revolt. Weakened and embarrassed, France’s strategy shifted away from the West Indies altogether. Invasion plans for what is now Florida and the southeast United States were dropped and it was the 13 long years of Haitian slave revolts that brought about the Louisiana Purchase, an opportunity that doubled the size of the United States. France and the U.S. celebrated Haitian independence by imposing crippling economic embargos upon the fledgling state. The U.S. economic sanctions lasted nearly a century until 1863, and fearing that millions of people still enslaved in the U.S. might also revolt, the U.S. took 60 years to recognize Haiti as an independent state.The purchase price of the Louisiana Territory was 80 million Francs, but the price that France ordered Haiti’s state to pay in the form of reparation for the freed slaves was nearly double that, 150 million Francs. Eventually Haiti was forced to borrow from the U.S. to pay the French extortion fee, which was finally paid off in 1947. The U.S. has promised $1.15 billion in relief aide to Haiti, of which only 10 percent has been received. The current value of debt and interest that Haiti paid to the U.S. in 1947 was $20 billion. The United States is not only responsible for stifling Haiti’s economic growth since its birth, but through the French extortion debt, invasions and the IMF forcibly opening Haiti’s markets, America reduced Haiti’s once-bountiful rice industry and made it the second-largest importer of American rice.Long-term solutions for Haiti include more than rebuilding infrastructure, and will need large infusions of cash to begin the process of state building. The U.S. can contribute to Haiti’s economic growth through two quick solutions; emigration and enterprise funds. Haitians abroad that send remittances back home make up 25 percent of Haiti’s GDP. Relaxing immigration caps and cutting the waiting time of visas for the people of Haiti means an influx of cash directly to starving families now. The tax-payer funded enterprise funds that were piloted successfully in some of Africa’s poorest countries should be replicated in Haiti. It allows for large investments in entrepreneurial ventures, which not only create jobs, but also diversify the Haitian economy. It will be years before Haiti rebuilds, but the families in Haiti cannot wait in tents, and deserve safer shelters, a litany of other basic necessities and access to warm showers. Vicente Gonzalez is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at vgonzalez@cornellsun.com. Color Between the Lines appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Vicente Gonzalez