A Land of Duvaliers

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. "

- Abraham Lincoln

I’ve been hearing so much about Haiti on the news lately. Its impossible to escape it. That earthquake had almost as much journalistic power as Michael Jackson’s death.

If you can spare me a minute, I’d like to talk about something that I’ve been thinking quite a bit about.

We, as a nation, are obsessed with Charity. Not the ideal of charity, but of Charity as a cult. We find a new Livestrong, Invisible Children, or To Write Love On Her Arms’, every week.  We are a country of Organizations. Its an admirable, and even honorable practice. But with time, and constant cycling of focus on issues, I’m beginning to feel it to be a naive and misplaced effort. This all sounds a bit jaded or cynical of me doesn’t it? I surely don’t mean it to be at all. Anyone who is reading this, who has given to any of the charities mentioned, or any charity at all, please don’t take this as an attack. If anything, I say “You did the right thing!”. Giving to Charity is never a bad thing. We do it with good intentions, and with the hope the money goes to some place it is needed much more than our  Levi-American pockets.

What I’m beginning to get at, is rethinking how you practice your charity.

Every time some disaster hits in another country, we are quick to fund a group or organization that is there to remedy the situation. When something causes mass destruction in another country, we rush to help. Again, not a bad thing, but I have some other things to consider.

We openly, and proudly spend millions of dollars on said group or issue, and a dragons-horde of money is put together in a matter of weeks. My good friend Matt was telling me that any money sent to Haiti, will get TRIPLED by the U.S. Government. When was the last time that the U.S. Government said they would TRIPLE any money sent to our own cities and neighborhoods to clean up ghettos, work with city aid groups, or help get homeless people off the streets, clean and working?

Why are we so eager to help other situations, when we’re falling apart from the inside?

I truly don’t mean this is as Xenophobic Nationalist garbage by any means, but what happened to the very real and serious problems on our own doorstep? If you want to look for third world poverty, take a plane trip to the Appalachian Mountain Range in the South. If you want to look for a place hit by disaster that STILL needs help getting back on its feet, fly to New Orleans. Just because we don’t hear about Katrina in the news anymore, doesn’t mean the effects don’t have a lasting effect on the city, or even the state to this very day.

We as a country say that we are heading down the tubes due to economic crisis and lack of jobs, yet we are going to TRIPLE the amount of money given to Haiti as charity? It just seems as though our priorities are completely backwards.

A major reason the earthquake in Haiti caused so much devastation is due to some very simple reasons: The weak infrastructure, and the quality of housing and industrialization. There were reports of entire School buildings collapsing due to outdated, or even by today’s standards, archaic craftsmanship. Why was this country in such a bad state to begin with?

Starting since 1957, Haiti was ruled by the Duvalier Regime. Francois Duvalier was appointed President in 1957, and then in 1964 , swore himself in as “President for Life”. To me , this translates in modern standards to “King”.

He ruled the country through fear, oppression, and oddly enough Voodoo (If you can believe it). To enforce his laws, and to cut down anyone who spoke out, he used a Militia group dubbed by the people “Tonton Macoutes” , commonly known as the Creole term for “The Bogeyman”. Essentially a glorified death squad, the Tonton Macoutes murdered countless thousands in a reign of oppression and terror.

Who funded this country? The United States of America. Even when Kennedy was president, and we scorned his ruthless tactics, all we did was cut a new deal that restricted how much money we gave to the Duvaliers. Shortly after, we went back to giving him as much money as before because he was an “Enemy of Communism”.

The countries downfall, and collapse, politically, and economically was due to the regime, which in part was funded by The U.S.

Its a sad Domino effect that has had horrible consequences decades later.

In final, I would ask for everyone to think about ways to help put the money back into your community, where I can assure you, there is just as much heartbreak and disaster happening on the streets. Maybe not as much as some places, but it definitely exists. We are so quick to throw money comfortably from our couches to far off places, but scared to drop change into the cup of the homeless.There are handfuls of soup kitchen programs in the Bay Area, and they are at no surplus of volunteers or of donated food.

It was once said “Be the change you wish to see in the World”, but would it be so bad to say “Be the change you wish to see in your City”? If this were practiced on a large scale, I’m certain beyond a doubt that this practice and the positive nature it would bring, would seep across borders and parallels by default.

We may never see this change in our lifetime, but now is a good time as any to start.