The rest of the world needs to listen to the Haitian people as the country recovers from a devastating earthquake and a presidential assassination, said Daive Dunkley, a University of Missouri professor who studies the Caribbean and its history.
Dunkley is associate professor in the Department of Black Studies, adjunct professor in the Department of History and director of the Peace Studies program at MU.
President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7. On Aug. 14, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the country, with more than 2,000 dead so far and more than 12,000 injured.
One must look at Haiti’s history to put its present situation in perspective, Dunkley said.
“If we look at the longer history of Haiti, it led the charge against colonialism and slavery,” Dunkley said. “It was the first to abolish slavery. Haiti has received a good deal of backlash from Western countries. Haiti was diplomatically and politically isolated for most of the 19th century.”
Haiti was in debt from its beginning, he said.
“Haiti owed reparations to France for slavery, which is absurd,” Dunkley said.
The island nation’s isolation benefited it at one point in the 1800s, Dunkley said. When the rest of the world was experiencing outbreaks of cholera, Haiti was untouched.
Substituting for development and infrastructure projects has been international aid, he said.
“The aid work is so disorganized,” Dunkley said of international organizations. “They do this work and it makes very little difference to the country as a whole.”
While Haiti is recovering from an earthquake, the attention of the United States and the rest of the world has been diverted to the pandemic, Afghanistan and Hurricane Ida.
“I’m not sure we can blame Afghanistan or the pandemic,” Dunkley said.
There’s nothing sustainable in the aid being provided, he said. What’s needed is infrastructure to withstand earthquakes.
Former U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton established The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund to respond to a 2010 earthquake. If it was useful, there would not be so much destruction now, Dunkley said.
“What sustainable work was done?” Dunkley asked of the 2010 effort. “Where is the evidence? We need to see the evidence.”
The U.S. has a history of intervening in Haiti, Dunkley said.
U.S. Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. U.S. business allies benefited, Dunkley said.
“The U.S. occupation exacerbated economic inequality,” he said.
The U.S. military intervened again in 1994 to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after a coup. Another coup in 2004 ousted him again, with Aristide claiming it was orchestrated by the U.S. government.
The assassination of the president is part of the country’s history of political instability, Dunkley said.
“Again we are seeing historical continuity rather than change,” he said.
How can Haiti solve its problems?
“The people of Haiti have always known what Haiti needs,” Dunkley said. “Organizations need to work with the government.”
The efforts must be coordinated with the people, he said.
“When we look at the history of the Caribbean, we need to see through the eyes of the people,” Dunkley said. “They understand the landscape. They understand the politics and culture. But nobody listens to them.”