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NYT: Country Without a Net

January 13, 2010

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Tracy Kidder's op-ed in the New York Times discusses Haiti's man-made vulnerability to natural disasters.

THOSE who know a little of Haiti's history might have watched the news last night and thought, as I did for a moment: "An earthquake? What next? Poor Haiti is cursed."

But while earthquakes are acts of nature, extreme vulnerability to earthquakes is manmade. And the history of Haiti's vulnerability to natural disasters - to floods and famine and disease as well as to this terrible earthquake - is long and complex, but the essence of it seems clear enough.

Haiti is a country created by former slaves, kidnapped West Africans, who, in 1804, when slavery still flourished in the United States and the Caribbean, threw off their cruel French masters and created their own republic. Haitians have been punished ever since for claiming their freedom: by the French who, in the 1820s, demanded and received payment from the Haitians for the slave colony, impoverishing the country for years to come; by an often brutal American occupation from 1915 to 1934; by indigenous misrule that the American government aided and abetted. (In more recent years American administrations fell into a pattern of promoting and then undermining Haitian constitutional democracy.)

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