Professor Joanne Cummings
Social Science 412: Geopolitics
28 October 2014
Haiti: How the World Really Can Not Help
Jonathan M Katz’s book The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster shows how after the horrible earthquake in Haiti, many nations and organizations banded together to assist in rebuilding. Although the intention of those who give money to disaster relief agencies is good in nature, it will not help the core issue that is keeping the country in poverty. When foreign aid came to help the nation, not only did it have trouble getting started it also struggled to remain to help the citizens. Also if the corruption in the government remains in place, there will be no bright future for this poverty stricken nation. But most of all the core issues stem from the history of the small island nation.
George Santayana said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” So in order to better understand how this disaster came about, Katz chose to recap some of the history of Haiti. In the very first chapter Katz brings up the migration from rural areas to city centers that happened in the late twentieth-century. Because of this massive migration many of the buildings in the urban centers were very utilitarian in style. Katz lists off the characteristics, “hand-poured concrete boutiques, one-story houses with iron bars for windows, and brutalist four-story office buildings towering too close to the road” (27). Katz explains that because of the rush of people into these parts of the city of Port-au-Prince the zoning and building codes weren’t of much importance and those who built the buildings had little to no training.
In the second chapter Katz goes into even more detail about the history of Haiti, from the formation of the island to present day. Although a good deal of the history from this chapter is quite important, there appears to be certain moments that seemed more relevant than others. Perhaps for the book to be more concise, he could have left out some of the history that seemed more like fluff. After Haiti won its independence from France, it soon faced other problems. The fact that the United States and Europe relied on slavery and the country of Haiti was made up of mostly former slaves made it difficult for the new nation to gain recognition.
Katz then states, “Cut off from an unwelcoming world, the young republic developed as a place where free people provided for themselves without having to answer to much authority” (39). This is the root of the instability of this nation’s politics. Because they did not have recognition as a state for many years, this created an atmosphere of lawlessness. For a state to be sovereign it must have recognition from other states. When other states do not recognize a state as sovereign then they do not hold that state to any set of standards. This often leads to corruption in government because other countries are not holding the non-sovereign country accountable for their actions. Then when the U.S. attacked in 1915, the Haitian people were thrown into turmoil. Because the parliament did not agree and back the U. S. government on a few issues, the parliament was dissolved by the United States through a bogus national vote. In order to deal with the uprising, the U.S. government created the capitol city of Port-au-Prince, and in creating it made it too powerful. The city was so powerful that it seemed easier to live in the city rather than not. This may be one of the reasons for the mass migration referred to in the above paragraph.
After a golden age for the country of Haiti caused by some keen investments in World War I there were problems due to overpopulation, deforestation and a decline in crop prices. Because of these problems, the citizens were not happy with the government at the time and called for another election. The man that was put into office was Francois Duvalier. Katz describes his…