The heartbreaking and pathetic scene I and a group of other American visitors witnessed at the small beach town in Northern Haiti still haunt me. We had no sooner arrived at the beach when a contingent of Haitian police and local officials frantically waved away a throng of the town's residents who had poured onto to the beach to hawk food, trinkets, and carvings, and tattered clothing items, but mostly to beg. Their torn tee shirts and ragged shorts, and emaciated, hollow eyed looks bespoke of more than Haiti's legendary, world leading poverty. It spoke of the sheer, utter desperation to get anything from those they regarded as rich foreign tourists.
The tormenting scene that I and thousands of other visitors to Haiti have routinely witnessed routinely during the past decade has become the national emblem of Haiti. Yet, it took a murderous earthquake, clips of bodies sprawled in the streets, a collapsed palace and shanties, torn streets, and the shocked expressions on children's faces for the US and legions of public agencies and private donors to leap over themselves to promise to send an armada of food, medical supplies, clothing, building materials, construction teams, security forces and cash to Haiti.
Why did it take a natural tragedy for this? Haiti's sorry history of American occupation, brutal dictatorial and military rule, the flood of refugees trying to escape the nation's destitution, the perennial food crisis's, the wave of devastating hurricanes that tore through the country in one month in 2008, the US, Canada and France's meddling in the nation's internal politics , and the grinding poverty is well known.
Haiti's corrupt, repressive military rulers and government officials get standard blame for the country's chronic poverty and bankruptcy. There's much truth to that. But Haiti is also a relentless victim of crushing and never ending debt servitude to the IMF and foreign banks, vicious labor exploitation, and the blind eye US aid policies that stunt Haiti's farm and manufacturing growth.
The nation's debt burden would sink virtually any developing nation. Haiti is compelled to shell out nearly $1 million a week to pay off its debt to the World Bank and the IMF; debt incurred by the Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier regimes and their successor military governments in the early 1990s propped up by the US. Half of the loans were given to the Duvaliers and the other dictatorships. They squandered the cash on presidential luxuries with barely a cent going to development programs for the poor.
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