Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

The Haitian People

Highs: If you're a Haitian, a high point, let alone a good moment, was hard to come by this year. The country did get the international donor community to pledge more than $10 billion in earthquake recovery aid. The government showed an unusual flash of engaged, compassionate competence when it successfully cracked down on fraudulent international adoptions of Haitian children — most strikingly when it briefly jailed a group of Idaho Baptists who'd tried to transport youths out of the country illegally (most if not all of whom, it turned out, weren't even orphans). But the most impressive Haitian achievement in 2010 was the people's display of a resilience that would put Job to shame: they didn't give up, even though they had just about every reason and right to.

Lows: The first reason, of course, was the massive, 7.0-magnitude earthquake that in early January demolished the capital, Port-au-Prince, killed some 230,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless — the worst natural disaster to ever hit the western hemisphere. Compounding that tragedy was President René Préval's response, widely criticized both at home and abroad as aloof and ineffective. Despite the efforts of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who head up the earthquake recovery commission, observers say not enough aid is getting through, and too little progress has been made removing rubble and moving Haitians out of squalid tent camps to new housing. As if all that wasn't bad enough, a cholera epidemic broke out in October; it has so far killed more than 2,000 people. And as if the quake and cholera weren't bad enough, the Nov. 28 presidential election was marred by poll registry chaos and reports of fraud, which have prompted violent street protests against Preval's government. A runoff election is set for Jan. 16.

Tim Padgett