Doing the right thing in Haiti

If you cry for Haiti, let your tears mobilize you. For those watching the non-stop media reports streaming out of Haiti conveying the brutal complexity of the 7.0 earthquake and its aftermath, it’ll be important to keep your eyes open. Things move very fast from here on out. The disaster stories coming to us now will be colored in many hues, for many reasons.

As this tragedy unfolds, it will be interesting to monitor how the media covers both relief efforts in Haiti as well as long unanswered political questions about the policies toward the country.

The pain of this moment makes it hard to consider such questions. Many thousands are gone. Many thousands are injured, hungry, thirsty, and tearfully missing family members. But despite the mass devastation, a nation of people desperate for help may find it in their own history.

Of course, it was the indomitable spirit of the Haitian people that led to the country becoming the world’s first independent Black nation, as it threw off the colonial rule of France during the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803. Why is this bit of history important now? Because its people have endured generations of hardship, instability, and under-development brought about in recent times by violent dictatorships and government corruption, some speculate fueled by US policies.

For example, according to a March 2004 article in the New York Times, a group of democrats of the Congressional Black Caucus charged then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Bush administration of “effectively carrying out a coup d’état” of Haiti’s first democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

While the politics behind Haiti’s long history of foreign “influence,” especially as it relates to regime changes and ruling elite governments is another conversation entirely, the current situation on the ground represents a new opportunity for us to make things politically right in Haiti. And we can’t do that without considering the past.

Help is on its way. Speaking to reporters Thursday at the White House, President Obama pledged “one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history,” as he announced he would send $100 million in initial funds for the humanitarian mission to help Haiti.

But that help, who it reaches or doesn’t, as well as what the media chooses to report, are all apart of a disaster relief playbook where too often the powerless are further marginalized, misunderstood, and given only Band-Aid relief. As we rally to help those affected by the disaster, its important to frame the crisis through discerning eyes and ask sobering questions.

What will be the long-term implications of U.S. funding to Haiti and how will it affect current immigration policies (i.e., many argue that Haitian deportees in the U.S. should be given Temporary Protected Status) or the new government structure?

As relief work turns into rebuilding efforts, will the media choose to portray Haiti as a resilient nation filled with stories of courageous men, women, and children or as a lawless island where looting and corruption rule? Who will get contracts to rebuild and will Haitians be employed in the rebuilding?

Amid a 24-hour news cycle, will would-be volunteers suffer from “Haiti fatigue” and tune out, siphoning off the flow of potential aid? What opportunities to pipeline new technologies, economies, and infrastructure into Haiti will emerge from the rubble? And Will President Obama and the United Nations see the historic possibilities of finally bringing true democratic, sustainable “change we can believe in” to help empower the Haitian people?

Some may say these are too many questions, too soon after such a disaster. But amid the raw suffering, pain, and heartache, let each prayer and each tear we offer to Haiti, mobilize us to ask tough questions and do the right thing.

Help Haiti

In addition to the Red Cross, there are many other agencies that will get your donations directly to the Haitian people.

Here is a list of a few groups that offer recommendations:

TransAfrica Forum
Doctors Without Borders