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Was I safe?
The week before I arrived, Guy Philippe, a leader in the 2004 coup to overthrow the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was arrested on drug trafficking charges and extradited to the United States. Seen by some as an affront to the nation’s sovereignty, there were protests in Haiti, and several groups felt it necessary to evacuate their missionaries or aid workers, or else had them seek shelter among United Nations forces. The arrest was also seen as a last-chance effort to apprehend Philippe, as he was days away from being sworn in as a Senator, which would have rendered him immune to prosecution (senators in Haiti have passed a law which places them above the law.)
I was blissfully unaware of all of this before I left. My family was even more unaware. If they had read this account from the NY Times they would have been driving me crazy with phone calls and warning me not to go. My cousin Nettie would have said, “Are you CRAZY?” and my older sister would have been yelling at me on the phone. The article wasn’t published until the day after I left ( a week after the event), highlighting its relative lack of importance in the American mind, especially in the run-up to the Disastrous Inauguration. The arrest was reported a week earlier by the BBC and the Miami Herald.
Haiti is a small country, only slightly larger than Vermont. However, distances are much greater than they would be in the US due to the conditions of the roads. The problems that occurred were far from where I spent my time. My presence in Haiti was relatively cloistered, and if I hadn’t been told about these events I would not have learned of them otherwise in the course of my visit.
Haiti disbanded its military in 1995, partially in response to military coups, partially out of financial necessity. There is a national police force, and the United Nations peacekeeping forces have been in the country for over a decade for police and stability operations. The UN forces are viewed by some as occupiers, and they are responsible as well for the current cholera epidemic. UN soldiers reintroduced cholera to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, and though on the decline, the disease continues to cause morbidity and mortality.
The term “basket case” arose during WWI as a rather cruel way to refer to a quadruple amputee. It now refers to something or someone that is such a mess that it is unable to help itself, most often a person who is suffering from a mental or emotional problem that renders him or her less than functional.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It got a lot of attention in 2010 when a devastating earthquake hit the country. Since then, it has kind of fallen off of the map. In a way, that’s understandable–there is no shortage of need everywhere, we’ve had a crazy political environment, and the whims of news cycles are ephemeral.