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The Unbuilt Nation - Erzulie Danthor Reference

The Unbuilt Nation - Erzulie Danthor Reference

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Published by: Blankety Blank on Sep 22, 2008
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06/16/2009

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The Unbuilt NationParalyzed by politics, Haiti finds that life will not waitBy BILL DURYEA, Times Staff Writer © St. Petersburg Times published May 25, 2003------------------------------------------------------------------------The passengers on the flight to Port-au-Prince are a strange subset of Haitian culture. The majority are those Haitians wealthy enough toafford airfare that exceeds the average annual income. The rest are aconspicuous mixture of white missionaries - black-brimmed Mennonitesand doughy couples in matching T-shirts bearing the name of their church - young backpack-laden NGO workers and laptop-toting reporters.The real Haiti rushes at you the minute you step off the plane - porters clamor for your attention, jostling each other to lay hands onyour baggage, racing ahead once they have possession, knowing you will pay precious American dollars to get it back.And it keeps coming at you as you escape the airport veering throughthe anarchic traffic - no traffic lights, no lanes, sometimes no road.You pass the La Saline slum, the lesser known but no less horrificcousin of Cite Soleil. It is a hive of commotion, strapped together with plastic tarps, sheet metal and sticks. No one knows the actual populations of these bidonvilles, which, despite the daily toll of disease and hunger and violence, continue to swell with displaced peasants from the country.Tap-taps, the brightly painted pickup trucks that serve as taxis,swerve through traffic belching diesel plumes. Goats, pigs and feraldogs trot through the crowd, nosing through smoldering piles of garbage. Flies shimmer like heat waves over butchered chickens.Women balance baskets on their heads piled with mangoes and monstroussacks of charcoal (the preferred source of fuel) and wend their wayalong the margin of the road, poised and strong beyond knowing.Hundreds of people line the road selling small quantities of  plantains, bundles of sugarcane, rice and wilted vegetables. Eachtransaction will net a few gourdes, the shaky national currency. Sella handful of limes and you have maybe five gourdes. Amass 41 gourdesand you have a dollar.Passing through Carrefour the road becomes a main street of sorts.Here there are businesses with actual storefronts. The most successful
 
of them are the chateaux funeraires and the ubiquitous lotteryoutlets. Both businesses thrive on odds, but in neither case do theyfavor the customer.Less than an hour in the country and it is clear the cliches of  poverty do not apply.Poverty does not grind here. It is virulent and alive. It is notcrushing. It is far more agile. It teems, it scratches, it gets upearly and it works late. The economy is, on the face of it, hopeless,and yet the activity is frenetic. When you're living life without asafety net, the one thing you never want to do is stand still.Yet, that is exactly where the country finds itself - paralyzed in a political and economic crisis that is worsening by the day."If it weren't for aid that various foreign governments and relief agencies send," says Bill Roen, a Lutheran pastor from Hernando Countywho does missionary work in Haiti, "starvation would begin within acouple of weeks."Amazingly, this disaster is transpiring under the leadership oJean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected president inthe nation's history, a man the United States dispatched 20,000 troopsto restore to power in 1994 after he was deposed in a military coupd'etat. Nine years later, more than $500-million in international aid is beingwithheld because of concerns that Aristide's Lavalas Family Partymanipulated the ballot counting in the 2000 elections. Former Aristidesupporters who have defected to the opposition say the populist theyonce admired has become a dictator equal to the legendary Duvaliers.Outspoken journalists have been assassinated in broad daylight,opposition leaders set on fire; and critics say the government is toocorrupt to care.Aristide, meanwhile, decries what he calls the international racistconspiracy that still views Haiti as a colony to be exploited. He andhis supporters talk about the dangers of unfettered "neoliberalism"and "the laboratory" where the CIA concocts its plans to destabilizelegitimate governments.To an outsider Haitian politics can be a disorienting rhetorical din,originating from a bloody and byzantine history of alliance and betrayal. And the United States' role - two military invasions thathave produced no lasting stability - is hard to explain. Not that
 
anyone outside a fervid cottage industry of Haiti pundits is trying;the world is too preoccupied with the most recent nation-buildingeffort in Iraq to care much about the one before.But traveling through Haiti, from the grimy markets of Gonaives to thearmed compounds of Petionville, you cannot avoid the subject. Nothingyou see and touch, hear or speak is completely divorced of politicalmeaning.Evidence of the crisis is everywhere and though solutions to it areconfoundingly elusive, you are forced to marvel at the ability of the people to function - and sometimes even to work small miracles.Going east from the capital, once you put the congestion of Delmas behind you, the road is surprisingly good, owing to how littletraveled it is. Few people have reason to travel this way unless theyare trying to sneak into the Dominican Republic. An estimated 150Haitians are deported by the D.R. every day.On the other side of the village of Ganthier, Times photographer Kathleen Flynn and I turn off the main road down a sandy track thatleads toward the Etang Saumatre, a large salt lake on the border.We've been told there is a fishing village that recently experienced adisastrous fire and we want to find out what's become of theresidents.The end of the road gives out onto a wide sandy shore. It is not somuch a village as a collection of a dozen or so thatched huts with mudwalls. Lillette does have a couple of small buildings made of concrete. One of them was built as a home for a missionary who never came.As we climb out of the truck, the wind is whipping dirt and sand intothe crowd of about 40 people that has quickly gathered around us. Someof the children have no clothes. Their hair is tinged orange at theends, a sign of malnutrition.I asked what caused the fire, the remnants of which can be seen insinged patches in the sand, like scattered camp fires."We don't know," says Sauel Joseph, the 43-year-old head of thevillage. "We woke up and everything was on fire."In all about 54 huts were destroyed. They don't have the money torebuild.

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