Thursday, January 18, 2007

Haitian blues

Haiti is on the doorstep of the U.S. and is one of the most messed-up countries in the world.

Haiti was judged by Transparency International as the most corrupt country in the world in 2006. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has one of the highest levels of poverty outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Armed gangs run the country. Politically-motivated killings are often indistinguishable from organized crime or random violence. Recently, vigilante killings have emerged as a response to the lack of government-enforced security. This has been a phenomenon seen in troubled parts of Latin America and often leads to serious human rights abuses. Waves of refugees have periodically washed onto U.S. shores since the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier in 1986. The U.S. has a long history of involvement in Haitian politics, and invaded the country a couple times in the 20th Century. Some less savory characters in Haitian politics have found their way onto the CIA’s payroll.

But since Haiti is poor and black, and since Haitian communities in the U.S. have not managed to accumulate political clout the way some other immigrant communities have, Haitian refugees and asylum-seekers are routinely deported back into the maelstrom to fend for themselves.

Some Haitian-Americans have lived their entire lives in the U.S., but had the misfortune to be born in Haiti instead of in the U.S. like their younger siblings, and find themselves in middle age being sent back to a country they don’t know anything about. There they are targeted for being (relatively) wealthy, for being American (Haitians are unhappy with the U.S.’s recent roll in exiling Aristide), and often are scapegoats for anti-crime public sentiment.

The U.S. is famous for stirring up trouble in its backyard and then ignoring the human consequences, but it has perfected this technique in Haiti.

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