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After the flood…

Just finished reading all 250 posts to the Haiti newsgroup since I joined at the beginning of the year. Whew!

My brain is on overload right now and I’m still sifting through my thoughts, but here are a few observations:

1. It is striking how different reports of the same event can vary so widely. Of course, this is rather obvious, but I think this is the first time I’ve read about the same event – the Haitian Independence celebration of jan 1, in this case – covered by so many sources. From AP wire stories to personal accounts to government propaganda, descriptions of particular events vary so widely that it’s impossible for me to know what the truth is. I can’t tell if Haitians love Aristide or hate him. Is the Group of 184 a spontaneous and legitimate dissenting voice, or was it manufactured here in the US? How many people really have been killed in protests during the last month.

I find this all especially interesting now that I’m reading Trouillot’s Silencing the Past. Given our unprecedented access to information in this age, if it’s impossible to know right now what truth is, how can historians hope to make any sense of it?

To that point, Louise turned me on to the New Yorker article Theatres of War by Daniel Mendelsohn. In it, the author describes Thucydides’ History of the fall of Athens, and current authors’ attempts to deconstruct it and use it for their own purposes. The significant discovery for me in the article, though, is that Thucydides wrote a sort of interpreted history. He wrote the dialog of the players involved, sometimes as if an entire people was speaking with one voice. He used the device of dialog to try to capture the sense of the debate, the flow of ideas that was taking place at the time. Perhaps this is what history can do: capture a flavor, an essence.

2. Haitians, most of them, are poor. Really, mind-bogglingly poor. When you read descriptions of people eating mud just to survive, it’s hard to fathom that kind of reality. Toussaint must be weeping to see what’s become of his country.

3. It seems that all Haitians agree that things need to improve – many of them are desperate for change, for a better life – yet none seem to have any hope that things will really ever be different. There is outrage and agitation aplenty, but few talk of an actual plan for how things are going to improve.

For my part, my armchair observer’s two cents says that Haiti needs stability. Aristede needs to serve out his term, even if he spends too much on cars and has goon squads running amok. The man that Haiti elected needs to finish a term, and elections for the next president need to be held and that person needs to finish HIS term. Democracy must be seen to be working, and without the further intervention of outside forces. When Haitians see that they have a voice in the voting booth, they may start to speak with more confidence and authority.

Of course, without money, even a stable governmental body may not make much difference. Desperate people are driven to desperate measures. (You see? You see how easy it is to lose hope for Haiti?) If the international community would simply release the money that has already been allocated for use in Haiti, and if it could somehow be distributed rationally – perhaps along the lines of the cash infusion that Ireland has seen in recent years – then it’s hard to see how there wouldn’t be some improvement. Of course there will be abuses, but the current practice of withholding funds is certainly contributing nothing positive.