One of the many ways chosen by our government to ease the pain of the Haitian people is the fast-tracking of immigration from that nation. The government intends to give priority to applications by Canadian citizens seeking to sponsor close family members from Haiti. And Haitians temporarily in Canada will be allowed to extend their stay.
It is hard to blame our government for any of this, of course, as I’m convinced its motives are pure. Surely no one would want to deny quick relief to those relatively few Haitians who will qualify for these temporary measures. Yet I can’t deny the unease I feel for the long-term recovery of that Caribbean nation.
Haiti’s problems go back decades before this most recent catastrophe. Some might say that Haiti has not had a stable, fully functioning society with anything close to social justice since the late 1400s when the Tainos ruled the island of Hispaniola that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.
Spanish rule was pretty well a disaster for the indigenous Taino population. And, although it is true that during French colonization Haiti was one of the richest countries of the Americas, that society was built on a slave economy with all the brutal reality that suggests. From 1791 to independence in 1804, revolutionary battles took the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians. Historians have estimated the slave rebellion resulted in the death of 100,000 blacks and 24,000 of the 40,000 white colonists. And, in its attempt to retake the colony, France lost more than 50,000 soldiers.
In its 200-year post-independence history, Haiti has suffered 32 coups; the instability of government and society has little equal in the Americas. For the period 1915 to 1934, Haiti lost its independence and was “administered” by the United States.
In 1937, after the U.S. had withdrawn, between 10,000 and 20,000 Haitians living on the border with Dominican Republic were murdered by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. And its been downhill from there.
So what kind of Haiti will there be once the international community has restored some measure of stability there? Will Haiti be much the same as it was in pre-2010 times? It would be a great shame if that happened, but what’s the alternative? After decades of brain-drain to Canada, the United States and elsewhere, can Haiti now sustain itself. And, if it cannot sustain itself, how long will it be before it can?
Every well-educated and talented Haitian who immigrates to Canada is one less Haitian to participate in the rebuilding of that society. Teachers, technicians, trained medical workers, farmers, civil servants and entrepreneurs will all be vital to the reconstruction. And where will they be found?
We need be very careful we do not kill Haiti with our love.
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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