Skip to main content


Crisis for the West’s poorest country

Jonathan Alpeyrie/Bloomberg/Getty Images

“It is as if we are cursed,” said one Haitian priest in the town of L’Asile as he prepared for yet another funeral. There have been many. The death toll from last weekend’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake has risen to nearly 2,200 and 600,000 people need humanitarian assistance, says Anthony Faiola in The Washington Post. Days after the quake, Tropical Storm Grace lashed the nation with heavy rain and 35mph winds, hampering the reconstruction effort.

Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, is used to pain. More than 220,000 people died in a “catastrophic” earthquake in 2010. Last month the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated, allegedly by Colombian mercenaries. Since then Haiti has been “limping along” with an interim government, “racked by fractious warlords, soaring hunger and the coronavirus”.

International help is essential, says El País. The US and other countries in the Americas have rightly been offering aid. But that’s a mixed blessing, says The Economist. As it flows largely through private networks, it has weakened and hollowed out the government. Worse, in the past decade UN peacekeepers accidentally introduced cholera, causing about 10,000 deaths. They have also been accused of sexually abusing Haitian girls.

This stereotype that unlucky Haiti “can’t catch a break” is rubbish, says Jonathan Katz in Slate. The country was “deeply lucky” that last week’s earthquake, which was even more powerful than the one in 2010, struck on the southern peninsula, away from the bulk of the population. And the suffering Haiti does face “is the result of very intentional decisions”. A decade ago Hillary Clinton, then the US secretary of state, jetted in to demand, in effect, that the results of an election be changed. The new leaders oversaw rampant corruption and authoritarianism. By the time of Moïse’s death, he had dismissed all but 10 of Haiti’s elected politicians. No wonder many Haitians fly to Brazil and “literally walk across the continent” to America.

It’s the members of this diaspora who can help their homeland prosper, says Fabiola Santiago in the Miami Herald. Haitian-American builders, entrepreneurs, and investors can “break through the poverty cycle”, and Haiti’s future “savvy leaders” may well be attending American universities right now. The least the US can do is offer citizenship and stop the deportation of Haitian migrants. No one can change the country’s “geographic misfortune”, sitting on a tectonic fault line and “in the path of ravaging hurricanes”. But the manmade problems are up to us, not to chance.