Haiti’s earthquake anniversaries must include action, not just media mourning

By News | Last updated: Jan 29, 2013 - 9:04:33 AM

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A view of a street in downtown Port-au-Prince illustrates the extensive damage wreaked by the earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010.

The plight of our Haitian brothers and sisters still recovering from a great earthquake that devastated the capital Port-au-Prince and sent the country into a tailspin must not be reduced to annual anniversary stories about what has happened over the last year.

Media coverage languishes over time, moving from wall to wall coverage during and after an immediate disaster to marking time in intervals—usually five year intervals, with significant coverage coming on the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, twentieth anniversaries. Such is the nature of media and media attention generally and certainly when it comes to the lives of Black people.

What we need as we mark the third anniversary of the deadly earthquake Jan. 12 is continued engagement and commitment to Haiti and progress for Haiti. Engagement and action mean we are not limited to remembrances on the anniversary of the tragedy but are steadily working to alleviate suffering and to move the first Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere forward. The lives of 250,000 people were lost in 2010 when the earthquake struck. At its height a million people were homeless, many living in tent cities covering nearly all open land in Port-au-Prince. Then there are the thousands who have died from a subsequent cholera epidemic linked to UN peacekeepers, who are seen by many as an occupying army.

Billions of dollars in promised aid has never been delivered and millions continue to flow to charities and non-profits, like the Red Cross, keeping Haiti’s government much weaker than it should be and could be.

Haiti is much more than a place of suffering and political instability, it is a bastion of Black Pride and self-reliance against all odds. Despite continued U.S. meddling and shameful policies—whether it was the blockade imposed when Haitians defeated the French and took their freedom in the 19th century or product dumping and economic sabotage that helped wreck the country’s chicken and rice industries during the Clinton administration—a walk through the streets of Haiti’s capital finds people struggling to do something for themselves. There is little begging and a lot of creativity at work, but you would never know it based on usual news media accounts.

Like any nation, in particular a country struck by a natural disaster, Haiti has its challenges. But Haiti also has great resources with beautiful artwork and crafts, breathtaking historical tourism sites, exotic beaches and entertainment, great potential in many industries and a population eager to go to work. These elements make Haiti a place to find good investments and partnerships. Prior to the earthquake, there was an effort to get the word out that Haiti was open for business.

We need to support and link up with the efforts of Haitian American brothers and sisters and organizations providing medical services, building schools, running businesses and caring for family members and their fellow countrymen. We must connect with Haitian organizations on the ground and bypass the middlemen who siphon resources, serve as gatekeepers and are often robbers and thieves.

It’s also time for the Obama administration to hear and grant the reasonable request for action on petitions that would bring family members of Haitians in this country quickly. “DHS has already approved family-based visa petitions for 106,312 Haitians, 11,715 of whom are the minor children and spouses of U.S. green card holders, who nevertheless must wait 2 ½ to 12 years in Haiti despite those approvals. This makes no sense, and many may die waiting, given conditions there, if they haven’t already,” argued Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, Inc./Haitian Women of Miami and Steven Forester of  the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. Their commentary was recently published in the Miami Herald.

President Obama did the right thing by having the Department of Homeland Security grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians after the 2010 earthquake. It’s time for the next step.

“Expediting their entry has strong precedent: the Obama administration in 2010 renewed the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, under which over 30,000 Cuban beneficiaries have been paroled since 2009. Haitian-American advocates for nearly three years have urged the administration to create a similar Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. The United States has welcomed hundreds of thousands of vulnerable immigrants before,” the Jan. 11 commentary noted.

“Creating a Haitian Family Reunification Program needs only the president’s approval, not any congressional action, and we hope he will instruct DHS accordingly,” the advocates said.

We urge the president to act on this necessary measure and one that has bi-partisan support. It will cost America little and ease some of Haiti’s suffering. It also keeps immigration safe and legal.

“No one would get a ‘green card’ any sooner under such a program but, like paroled Cubans, they could wait for a green card safely here rather than in devastated Haiti,” said the commentary.

Instead of looking at Jan. 12 as another sad day and anniversary, it should be looked at as a marker for how much action we take in tribute to those who lost their lives. It is fitting that we strengthen support for Haiti and that President Obama approve family reunification. Support for these measures will prove that we truly love Haiti and out of love are dutiful to the development of the country and proper treatment of her people.