I’ve been getting emails about the aftermath of the Earthquakes in Haiti via a list serve with some very unique commentary from the Haitian perspective. As we proceed with relief and peacekeeping efforts in this country that has been subject to occupation throughout its history, including an “often brutal” American occupation from 1915 to 1934 (NY Times), it’s important to recognize that certain acts of intervention may be perceived differently by Haitians and Americans.
Regarding the decision to land U.S. military helicopters on the National Palace lawn…
From Ilio Durandis via Bob Corbett’s Haiti mailing list:
I know that many people would say this is not the time for questioning any moves by the United States of America. Many would say that we should be grateful that they are even considering helping the “poor” Haitians in distress. But oh boy, that sight of US helicopter landing in the yard of the National Palace does not give me any impression that those soldiers are there for humanitarian relief. As a matter of fact, it is a direct message that us, Haitians, are meaningless in those whole relief effort. Yeah, US airborne can take over the National Palace, and there ain’t nothing anyone can say or do about it.
Of all the places that the helicopters could land, why the yard of the National Palace? I am getting even sicker. Please can any American on this list tell me how they would feel if a foreign army were to land their soldiers in the yard of the White house, after any kind of disaster in the US. Come on now, help us with some dignity. We are still a sovereign and an independent country. Aren’t we? I will say it clearly here, I am opposed of any silent invasion of my country. We need humanitarian relief, not warriors in our country.
Bring relief, not M-16 and war tanks.
— Your Passionate Servant,
Well, how would it seem if a foreign country landed a military helicopter in the White House lawn if such a tragic disaster occurred here?
Obviously the most important thing is saving lives and getting aid to injured and dying Haitians, and maybe using the Capital as a landing pad is the best way to do that. But moving forward, we must be sensitive to Haitian perceptions. If foreign intervention is carried out in a way that builds resentment among Haitians by making it seem like an occupancy rather than a humanitarian relief effort, will be much less able to succeed in helping those who desperately need it.
*Also interesting, that photo accompanied this article in The Ledger. Read the lead paragraphs and contrast that with the email you just read. It seems there is some doublespeak going on here…