It’s hard for me to write this.
But I think it’s time for Aid to leave Haiti.
It’s hard for me to write this because it goes against everything that I believe and value as a humanitarian. It goes against my belief that not only should we “help”, but also that we can. I think the foreign experiment in Haiti, for the past two hundred years and culminating with a roundly botched response to the earthquake of 2010, however, is showing that we actually can’t and probably shouldn’t.
The international community has spent the better part of the past two hundred years proving itself fully incapable of helping. And if you look with any kind of objectivity at Haiti during that same period, it seems clear enough that Haiti has also shown by its actions that it is not particularly interested in being helped.
Before you fill my comments thread with hate for that, let me first clarify that I do not at all minimize the damaging effects of a brutal colonial period, the repeatedly exploitative nature of international treaties since independence, or basically self-serving interests of foreign investors, missionaries and secular humanitarians alike. Haiti has been and continues to be a victim, no question. But it also seems clear enough that the relationship between Haiti and everyone else is essentially a dysfunctional one. And it takes two to have a dysfunctional relationship.
It is hard for me to write this, because it feels ethnocentric or as if I am blaming the victim. It is hard to write this and I do so with deep reservation and misgiving. But this is how I see it.
I think it’s time for Aid to leave Haiti.
I’ve certainly defended Aid enough on this blog, including different things about the earthquake response in Haiti. In this case, though, I see the earthquake response in Haiti as simply the icing on the cake. Many have said that Haiti was a disaster before the earthquake, and I’d agree. What is said less often, is that Aid also was broken in Haiti before the earthquake. Depending on which numbers you crunch, and how you crunch them, Haiti is only incrementally worse off now than it was on January 9, 2010. I do not say this to in any way compliment the combined, inter-agency relief response, but rather to highlight just how bad things were pre-earthquake, despite decades of foreign assistance. It’s time to call this what it is: a massive debacle.
I honestly think that the very best thing for Haiti would be for us all to leave. I do not (yet) believe that Aid is broken globally. But it is certainly broken in Haiti. I sincerely believe that in the grand scheme of things we are not doing Haiti any real favors by staying on. We need to get out. All of us. All of the foreign governments with their incentives and their politicians who visit and make speeches about “Haiti’s bright future.” All of the UN and INGOs with their massive compounds and their VHF radios and their strategies. All of the hippy architects with their houses made out of recycled trash, the BOGO entrepreneurs with their GIK dumping, the bright-eyed innovators with their “platforms” and their earth-friendly gadgets. The journalist opining on about how “aid has failed” while utterly failing to understand what that even means. The comfortable-in-New York Haitian diaspora arrogantly claiming to be “one of the people.” For heavens’ sake, all of the church groups with their matching T-shirts and their pet orphanages.
I honestly believe that what Haiti needs more than anything else is simply the opportunity to figure out for itself what Haiti wants and needs, without interference variously disguised as “help” from outside. Haiti has never in its entire history had this opportunity. Yet it seems clear to me that this is what is needed most.
If we take seriously The Humanitarian Imperative – the value which holds that when people need help, the international community is obliged to respond – then I do not believe we can hide any longer from the reality that what Haiti needs more than anything else right now is for us to stop meddling. And historically we, the outsiders, have never once been up to the task of being part of the Haiti conversation without simultaneously imposing our will. It is time for Aid to leave Haiti.
It is hard to write this. But for the sake of The Humanitarian Imperative, if nothing else, we all need to have one last Prestige, and then head for the airport. All of us.