The observation has been widely made that ordinary cities don't collapse from an earthquake the size of the one that just hit Port au Prince, and ordinary countries have better and more widely dispersed disaster recovery teams of their own. Haiti, though, is special, and there's a reason for that: From 1804 to the present, during all but a few years, it has been the official policy of Washington DC and of every European capital that Haiti must fail.
A capsule summary of colonial history is essential at this point. Basically everywhere south of US Interstate highway 70, that is to say basically everywhere south of the 40th parallel north, the European colonial pattern was the same, and still shows. The intent of the European powers was to use their military superiority to carve the agriculturally viable and mineral-valuable parts of the New World into estates, haciendas, plantations for white nobility. To that end, everywhere south of I-70, what they sent were:
- a very tiny number of white families of noble birth, or who were owed favors by royalty and elevated to nobility,
- a not much bigger number of white technical specialists, such as doctors and clerks, who understood that their whole reason for being there was to provide services to the nobility, and ...
- a substantial white army, whose job was to subjugate the natives and make them the slaves of the nobility.
But Hispaniola, the island of which Haiti is the western half, started out special. By the time it was safe enough for the nobles to move in, there were exactly zero inhabitants left to enslave. When the native population of Hispaniola realized that they were going to lose, they fought to the death, and the last surviving women, children, and the elderly committed mass suicide rather than have their children grow up under European rule, and if I were a praying Christian, I would pray for their heroic, martyred souls every Sunday. So even before the island got divided up between the French and the Spanish, the slave caste of Hispaniola was 100% black, not the mestizo brown/black mix that most Americans think of when they think of "Hispanics."
But Haiti got even weirder, by western hemisphere standards, because it didn't get its independence from France by having its white population rebel against European rule and enlisting their slaves to fight "for freedom." No, Haiti is the only country in the western hemisphere to win its independence from Europe against the wishes of its white minority, to win its independence in a slave revolt. And that is why, unlike every other country and state south of the 40th north line of latitude, when Haiti got its independence, the entire white population of Haiti fled, taking everything they could pry loose with them. And, even more to the point, that is why it became official US policy all the way back during the Jefferson administration that Haiti must fail, a policy that has remained to this very day under every US president but two, Carter and Clinton, and under every British prime minister since then until now, and under every French president until the current administration: the world must never see, the world's poor must never see, the world's former and current slaves must never, never see a slave rebellion that works. Period.
To that end, the US and all European nations declared war on Haiti as soon as it won its independence, and stayed that war upon the promise of a terrifyingly high danegeld: the Haitian people had to pay back France the full market value of every acre of property in Haiti and the full slave market value of every Haitian citizen, or else be the victims of a threatened genocidal war by the armed, mechanized might of the white world. They paid it. It took them until 1948, it took them working their fingers to the bone every single one of them and shipping every penny they earned by exporting all but starvation-level food overseas to do it, but they bought themselves. And were poised to succeed.
And, well, we couldn't have that. What if black Americans were to see a thriving, prosperous black country, just 70 miles off the Florida coast, doing just fine without any white rulers? The result could be unthinkable levels of violence, maybe even armed revolution. So in 1957, just as Haiti was starting to recover from centuries of deprivation, the US backed the private army of would-be dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and gave him clear marching orders: he was to sink Haiti back into debt that it couldn't pay. The Duvaliers, and their successors from within his private murderous army, have consistently used weapons sent to them for free by the US government, and backed by invasion by the US Marine Corps whenever that wasn't enough and democracy threatened to break out, to force the Haitian government to take out hundreds of billions of dollars in loans in the name of the Haitian people, and give at least 80% of that money to the Duvalier family and their followers. And every time they get close to paying it off, every time it even starts to look like some day they might pay it off, the Duvalierists (still!) take out more loans, and steal that money, too. Less than 20% of that money was used to build the roads and bridges and railroads and factories and food processing plants and schools and firehouses and other infrastructure that a modern economy needs. It was, quite intentionally, nowhere near enough: the Haitian people were told, on pain of re-invasion by the US and its allies, that they could not have any of those things until they paid off the Duvaliers' loans, loans that they will never be allowed to pay off.
So when the earthquake hit, they had almost none of those things, and the few that they had were shoddily built because that was all they were allowed to spend, and they died by the tens of thousands: murdered by America's fierce determination to kill them rather than let them succeed.
Nor will they be allowed to succeed after this, if our political class, yes, including Barack Obama, are not challenged: almost all of the "aid" we're sending to Haiti is in the form of more IMF loans. And as anybody who's studied the history of the International Monetary Fund and its "emergency stabilization loan" program will tell you, those loans come with murderous strings attached: none of that money can be used to build any of the public infrastructure or train or hire any of the government workers that would be needed to raise Haiti out of desperation and anarchy. It can't be used to hire teachers to teach the Haitians to compete in a global economy. It can't be used to build roads for them to get their goods to the port, it can't be used to improve the port so that more countries can buy their exports, it can't be used to hire and supervise truly professional police or the independent oversight boards and judges it would take to make it safe for Haitians to invest in and run their own businesses, that loan money can't be used for any of the things. It can only be used to fund the expropriation of more food from Haitians' own mouths, more assets from the island if any can be found, plus every dollar of those loans, back into the hands of the American and European governments and banks that lent it in the first place.
What can you do about it, what can I do about it? Probably not much. Withdraw your consent; it's probably not enough, but it's better than nothing. Just about every year, one or more members of the US's Black Congressional Caucus introduces a Haiti debt relief bill, a bill to cancel all of Haiti's foreign debts and to require that all future aid to Haiti be in the form of grants, not loans. But since this idea is "radical" and "out of the mainstream" (that is to say, unacceptable to America's wealthy elite and to the graduates of the universities, funded by that wealthy elite, who run the country on behalf of the wealthy elite, since as Dr. Chomsky pointed out back when he was still sane, that is what the word "radical" means in politics), calling your congressman and your senator and asking them to support debt relief for Haiti probably won't do any good, not so long as our political class consists almost entirely of people who were taught oh-so-carefully that loans are better than grants.
You can argue to them that since none of the Haitian people were allowed to benefit from those loans, and since any further loans will be stolen before the benefits get to the Haitian people, that it's morally wrong to expect the Haitian people to pay them back. Maybe that argument will carry water, now that there are piles of corpses to show your congressman and your senator. But probably not. Any bills to enact this are unlikely to come to a vote in the next three weeks. And within three weeks, everybody not actively engaged in keeping the Haitian people down will have, once again, forgotten all about Haiti.