L’Union Fait La Force

How the Earthquake Turned Haiti’s Greatest Strength Into its Greatest Weakness


Published: December 9, 2010

You saw the photos; the devastation in Haiti was just too big to ignore. You provided sympathy for those families that were desperate to find out whether their relatives were lucky to have survived. A year later, the country is still in shambles, physically, emotionally and economically.

The only aspect that has changed is the obstacles that they face now: including the Cholera outbreak spread by waters from Hurricane Thomas. The number of victims continues to climb: recent reports claim that approximately 1,415 people have died so far and 60,000 people are now infected. It seems like this country cannot catch a break.

For me, it’s never easy to listen to the bad news being reported about my country and its people. It’s as if everyone is holding their breath wondering, “What more can happen?” I will never forget the first night after the earthquake hit. Our house was filled with the sound of the phone ringing. Since calls could not get through to Haiti, everyone here called each other instead to see if they’d had any luck to reach someone.

I still remember one of my mom’s friends wailing nonstop on the phone, in complete bewilderment, mentally preparing for a funeral that she didn’t even know was needed yet.

The thing is Haiti has been struggling for years prior to these disasters. Haiti, a country who at one time was known to be the first black republic to gain independence, is now known as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Military dictatorship, political violence, corruption and poverty have reduced this country to almost nothing and have tainted their history. The question that seems to resonate among the Haitian community: how can a nation fall so far from grace?

How did Haiti get to where they are today? As Haitian Americans, it’s hard for us to answer that. Not because we don’t know the answer, but because we do.

I would love to say that it was the lack of interest from other powerful countries that caused our fall from grace. It’s the United States fault; they gave up on us, or the United Nations and their “humanitarian efforts.” Where were they?

But in reality, what really caused our downfall was ultimately the Haitian community itself. The lack of interest isn’t what caused our impoverishment, but it sure as hell prolonged it.

The one aspect that many people are amazed about the Haitian community is their self-reliance and strength. We take major pride in that. This is what helped us win our independence in the first place!  But what was once was seen as a virtue quickly became our Achilles heel. We became too defiant.

Our defiance hindered us from accepting help, even when we knew we needed it. U.S. Occupation of Haiti (1915-1935) helped our country immensely. Roads and bridges were rebuilt. The education system was restored, and the government became more centralized. But instead of putting our energies into sustaining these projects, we put our energy into riots and uprisings against the Occupation.

Government corruption is a major issue that has prevented Haiti from moving forward.  Elected presidents make empty promises to restore this country back to its glory days, but in the end, all they are truly after is money. The most notorious president to have taken advantage of Haiti like this is François Duvalier, better known as Papa Doc.

With his militia, Papa Doc ruled the country with fear and repression: he had approximately 30,000 people terrorized and killed, all who supposedly did not support him. Bribery and extortion were common practices in his government. When he died in 1971, he left the country in a state that they haven’t been able to recover from until this day.

At the same time, Haiti was neglected for years by countries around the world. The UN did little to help them. Before the earthquake, a majority of Haiti’s communities contained unstable buildings without the proper material to keep it up. Hygiene and water were already unsanitary before the cholera outbreak.

Poverty was always an issue: people selling what they could in the markets of Port-au-Prince to make enough to have dinner for the next couple of days. But it took an earthquake, a hurricane, an outbreak for everyone to realize this. Or perhaps they always knew the problems, but needed the pictures and the stories to invoke enough sympathy. Even today, media attention has slowed down, but Haiti is in worse conditions than before!

The cholera outbreak along with the disastrous effects of the earthquake should be seen as a wake up call for both the Haitian community and the global powers around the world. The country needs help socially, politically and economically. Many are hoping that this month’s Presidential elections will bring some light into the consistent gloom that has covered Haiti for years. Maybe this time around, someone will finally help us all understand the extent of the problems and that this country cannot face this alone.