Jonathan M. Katz’s The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster is a memoir by the only full time AP reporter who was stationed in Haiti during the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince and killed around 217,000 people in Haiti. The 2010 Haitian earthquake was worst natural disaster to ever hit the Western hemisphere.
Jonathan Katz lived through the earthquake and its aftermath and is highly critical of the international response. Led by the United States, private US citizens donated $1.4 billion and the world pledged $5.2 billion for the relief effort.
Less than 1 percent of this money was ever allocated to the Haitian government. The vast majority of it never left the countries in which it was donated. Instead, the relief money was generally funneled through the “Republic of NGOs” – the 3,000 international organizations which have been operating in Haiti since the 1980s – and was either never disbursed or used to cover their operating expenses.
Some of this was predictable. The American Red Cross, for example, is focused on short term emergency assistance and disaster relief, not on long term reconstruction. The ’emergency phase’ of the Haitian earthquake was over within a few months. There were donors who never fulfilled their pledges after the shocking images of helpless people and the destruction on television had passed. Also, the impact of ‘debt relief’ was never felt by the victims on the ground.
Jonathan Katz makes a number of fair points about how US imperialism contributed to the disaster:
– During the US occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, power was centralized in Port-au-Prince, which thereafter became Haiti’s primary city and contributed to the overpopulation in the fault zone.
– Whether it was through supporting François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier during the Cold War or Bill Clinton intervening in Haiti to install Jean-Bertrand Aristide in power in “Operation Uphold Democracy” in 1994, the US has repeatedly interfered in Haiti’s internal affairs. In 2004, the US supported Aristide’s removal from power and has considered him a rabble rouser ever since.
– In the 1990s, the “Washington Consensus” of trade liberalization which was imposed on Haiti as a condition of foreign aid devastated Haiti’s agricultural sector and made the country dependent on cheap US food imports. Displaced peasants responded by flooding into Port-au-Prince from the countryside.
I found some of Katz’s arguments much less compelling:
– While it is true that the UN introduced the strain of cholera into Haiti which has killed more than 9,000 people, it is also true that the deplorable poverty of the country, specifically, the total lack of sewer systems and water treatment facilities comparable to those which exist in the US, where cholera has been eradicated, is the real reason the epidemic has been so deadly.
– It’s true that the mayhem in Haiti that was forecasted in the aftermath of the earthquake never materialized, but that can be attributed to the thousands of UN troops who were already stationed in Haiti and the thousands of more US troops who sent into Haiti after the earthquake to maintain order.
– US imperialism can’t explain Haiti’s present deplorable condition. Puerto Rico, which has a $23,678 per capita income, is a US territory. Martinique, which is an overseas department of France, has a €19,607 per capita income. St. Kitts, where Jonathan Katz went on vacation, has a $15,573 per capita income. Even the Dominican Republic has a $10,060 per capita income.
– The only reason a 7.0 magnitude earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince is because of the poor construction of the buildings there which are not built to the standard found in countries like the United States and Japan. Earthquakes have destroyed Port-au-Prince before in 1751 and 1770, as well as Cap-Haïtien in 1842. It’s ultimately the fault of Haitians for building such a large city on a known fault zone and for failing to prepare for such a foreseeable disaster.
– While the textile industry is highly unlikely to turn Haiti into the “Taiwan of the Caribbean,” it sparked industrialization in Britain, New England, the American South, South Korea and plenty of other successful countries.
– It is easy to damn US imperialism in Haiti, but the US has typically intervened in Haiti in response to indigenous dysfunction: the original US occupation was provoked by Haiti’s long established tradition of political chaos and indebtedness to its European creditors, the 2010 intervention was a response to a horrific natural disaster, and the 1994 intervention was launched to install Haiti’s first ‘democratically elected president’ in power – Jean-Paul Aristide, a leftwing anti-American demagogue – following a military coup d’état.
Insofar as there is any ‘democracy’ at all in Haiti, it is largely an effect of the overwhelming American influence. The US has spent billions of dollars on stabilizing and fostering democracy in Haiti. Liberia was stabilized by a US intervention in 2003. The US has also spent billions of dollars there to prop up the facade of democracy and keep the warlords from retaking the country.
Were it not for US influence, Haiti would be immeasurably worse off than it is today under Michel Martelly. Without the medical assistance provided by foreigners in the aftermath of the earthquake, countless thousands of more Haitians would have certainly died. Without the UN and US troops as a backstop, the 2010 earthquake might have ended like the 1842 earthquake, where the strong rushed in from the countryside to plunder and prey upon the weak.
The only way to fix Haiti is through annexation or recolonization.
While liberals are aghast at the prospect of ‘white supremacy’ and ‘colonialism’ returning to Haiti, one only needs to look at the fate of Guadeloupe and Martinique, which remained a part of the French Empire, to see what Saint-Domingue might have become had the Haitian Revolution been a failure. There’s also the example of Puerto Rico, which has an economy 13x the size of Haiti’s economy, and the Mississippi Valley which hasn’t collapsed to anywhere near Haitian conditions.
If Haiti were ever formally annexed by the United States, it could develop into a cross between Mississippi and Hawaii like its counterparts in the eastern Caribbean. Fortunately, the liberals in Washington have lost interest in US expansion and blame American influence for Haiti’s dysfunction. Even if they are small, White guilt sometimes has its benefits.