Keeping Haiti in Perspective
LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN, 29 Jan 2018
23 Jan 2018 – Recently Conan O’Brien announced he was visiting Haiti for a “Conan Without Borders” episode to “get in President Donald Trump’s face” for reportedly calling Haiti a bad word during a White House meeting on immigration policy.
O’Brien is in Haiti now and yesterday the comedian was filmed on a beach while exclaiming how beautiful the surroundings were. It is true that Haiti has great natural beauty but we can’t forget that people living in thatched huts, not far from that beach, are being denied basic rights. O’Brien is a smart guy and is not turning a blind eye to this fact.
Several days ago CNN’s Anderson Cooper gave O’Brien a glowing review of Haiti before the talk show host’s trip there. In a chat on “Conan,” Cooper declared the Caribbean nation “…among the richest countries I’ve ever been to.”
Yes, I would agree with Cooper that the Haitian people are indeed “rich people”, but not in a material sense. (Cooper knows this too.) Around 10 million Haitians are lacking the essentials. They live in a country that ranks almost first in the world for hardship.
Cooper also said, “The Haitian people are incredibly strong, carry themselves with such dignity, and for generations have had governments which have not paid attention to them, which have stolen from them, and yet, whatever adversity they have faced, they faced it head-on.”
This is all true too. But it is important to realize that even though Haitian people are very strong and face things “head-on”, they are not immune to pain and death. Haiti has a very high infant mortality rate, a very high maternal mortality rate, and a multitude of “stupid” infectious diseases that kill and maim and are “diseases of poverty”. And just because they carry themselves with dignity in the face of horrible circumstances, their dignity does not negate the very undignified crosses they carry.
We need to keep things in perspective. What word Trump used to describe Haiti is not important. As O’Brien explained, it is his attitude behind the word. It is the connotation that Haiti is not worth our time. This is the danger.
And even though both O’Brien and Cooper are well-meaning, we need to remember that during their visits to Haiti, just yards away from their security and cameras, are scrawny kids wearing rags and begging for…anything.
Keeping Haiti in perspective is important. Understanding President Trump’s motives is not difficult. But after that, we need to be careful.
John A. Carroll, M.D. is a physician working in Port-au-Prince.
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