January 13th, 2010

Haiti devastated by earthquake—and more

As if tiny Haiti didn’t have it bad enough, now it has been hit by an earthquake of magnitude 7.0. Buildings in Haiti are flimsy even without a temblor, and many have fallen, with extremely high casualties very likely. Communication is so poor we don’t know what the death toll might be, but it looks very bad.

Haiti has had a bad time of it almost since its beginning. Violence, corruption, poverty, thy name is Haiti, and it’s been that way for centuries.

Haiti is a very beautiful country, as I know from personal experience. I was there for a single day on a trip with my parents at the age of fourteen, during the rule of corrupt dictator Papa Doc Duvalier. I well remember the island’s exotic, lush vegetation; its attractive people, the graceful women going to market with huge loads on their heads; the green mountain that constituted its landscape; and the grinding poverty that was everywhere visible.

We don’t ordinarily think of the Caribbean as a huge center for earthquake activity, but they occur there with some frequency and severity. Jamaica, for example, was once the home of a large and flourishing city of 6,000 known as Port Royal, destroyed by an earthquake and subsequent landslide and tsunami in 1692, during which the bulk of the city virtually slid into the sea.

This 2005 article describes the considerable risk of earthquake in the Caribbean:

With nearly twenty million people now living in this tourist region and a major earthquake occurring on average every 50 years, scientists say it is not a question of if it will happen but when…In a new study published December 24, 2004 in the Journal of Geophysical Research from the American Geophysical Union, geologists…report a heightened earthquake risk of the Septentrional fault zone, which cuts through the highly populated region of the Cibao valley in the Dominican Republic…In addition, they caution, the geologically active offshore Puerto Rico and Hispaniola trenches are capable of producing earthquakes of magnitude 7.5 and higher…The Hispaniola Trench parallels the north coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti…The island of Hispaniola faces a double risk: an earthquake from the Septentrional fault on the island itself as the plates move past each other, and an earthquake deep in the earth in the subduction zone on which the island sits.

But what can a poverty-stricken, disorganized country like Haiti do about such warnings? Nothing. It already had more than enough to worry about, and precious little money and organizational ability with which to do it. This is a terrible blow to a people who have already suffered more than most. If you’re the praying sort, now might be a good time to do so.

Humanitarian aid is already streaming in, and there will be more. But Haiti has always been a broken country, even before the earthquake. And once countries are so broken, can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men ever put them together again?

[ADDENDUM: Richard Fernandez reflects.]

33 Responses to “Haiti devastated by earthquake—and more”

  1. Scottie Says:

    Just out of curiosity, since I have no personal knowledge of Haiti, what seems to be the root cause of the poverty for that nation?

    I mean I realize an island has limited mineral and agricultural resources with which to work – but other islands/island nations around the world seem to succeed.

    So why is Haiti burdened with poverty and backwards when other islands seem to succeed (at least by some measures)?

    Not demeaning Haiti at all, and what has occurred is horrible and sympathy is certainly warranted under these circumstances – but neo’s original comments touched on the nation’s poverty, and until the root cause of that poverty is addressed I am not sure one could hold out much hope of resolving the issues that poverty creates.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Scottie: I linked to a Wiki article about the country. But the short version (and believe me, I’m hardly an expert) is that, after the original native population died of disease, it was established as a French slave colony. The French, you may notice from other hot spots around the world, were especially bad at running their colonies, and Haiti was one of the worst. The slaves revolted shortly after the French Revolution, and established an independent country. But, as you would imagine, that country was wracked by violence and disorganization from the start. Other countries tried to exploit that fact in various ways too numerous to mention, and Haiti had a long long series of corrupt dictators as leaders as well. There really has been no good period of modern Haitian life and government to look back on.

  3. SAB Says:

    Some of these people are so poor that they make dirt cookies out of lard and mud, dry them in the sun and sell them in the market.

  4. stan Says:

    EM Smith has an interesting website http://chiefio.wordpress.com/ with posts about earthquakes around the world. [note — in the climate arena, he’s done some great analysis of the GISS dataset, pointing out how messed up it is.]

    One thing that struck me about California quakes (and Alaskan) and Caribbean quakes when I looked at his site was the way that a discernable pattern ties them together.

  5. vanderleun Says:

    Why is the poverty so persistent? It could be that a large proportion of the population that’s born smart either gets into the oligarchy or gets out as soon as possible.

  6. Relief Efforts for Haiti – UPDATED » The Anchoress | A First Things Blog Says:

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  7. Artfldgr Says:

    by socialist standards they did well, they didnt have any of that bourgeoise anti quake luxury codes for their buildings… such efficiency. cant wait till we share similar ideals.

  8. Artfldgr Says:

    neo-neocon, scottie..

    the hsitory is very similar to south africa
    the story as neo put it
    and then they chased out those people
    and then the place collapses into factions and despotism… the women get to have their matriarchy, but live i fear.

    applying the doctrines they learn from the socialists, and they decline into the state they are in as you cant remove incompetents, the good leave and are replaced by incompetents…

    read the paper i have linked to several times that describe such declines… its happening here too (its a side effect of affirmative action and plans to no longer decide by merit, and replace social darwinism with social creationism. ie a feudal state)

  9. physicsguy Says:

    Haiti always seemed to me to be a prime example of what happens with dictatorships and corruption over the long term.

    Perhaps in the long term this devastating earth quake will cause the government to collapse. If Haiti became part of the Dom. Rep the survivors certainly would benefit. Not that the DR is a shining example, but perhaps together the two sides of the island could accomplish a better future.

  10. Scottie Says:

    Soooo, the simplistic answer is Haiti needs to clean up it’s corrupt system of government before it can see the beginnings of prosperity?

    Again, not saying they are not due sympathy at the moment – but it may very well be an important consideration later on in case Haiti becomes something of a welfare dependent due to incoming aid from other nations.

    Perhaps now would be a good time for Haitians to consider cleaning their house – or perhaps building a brand new one to replace the old corrupt one.

  11. Haiti Earthquake Destruction Unimaginable; Scientists predicted “major seismic event” in 2008 Says:

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  12. Artfldgr Says:

    i guess we forgot what happened when the isrealis left gaza and the left here with the world bank bought the greenhouses and gave them to the palestinians.

    American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own cash.

    more from another article here

    a while after this there was an excellent piece where someone who was with one of those organizations who help the poor in far off lands described and laid out why and what. he talked at length as to similar acts that happened in africa… in america you have similar in that they describe certain things as white culture, and so the others avoid those things and the success they bring.

    its hard to find good informatino as most treatises now put it into marxian dialectical thinking and so blame the current condition on the french. (which at best is a crappy way of avoiding the same problems in sub saharan africa, where there are no french)

    a COMMON problem in african states is the BIG MAN problem. same in spanish states but to a lesser degree.. and so on. men who claim to Pluck the chicken without making her cry

    we forget the Tonton Macoutes… Francious Duvalier is iconic as an example. (poppa doc i think he was called) and how about aristide? their behavior as a nation is not that different than the behavior of a nation in africa. from waring factions hacking each other apart with machetes… to Big Man type leaders… do a search on “big man” politics and you will find all manner of explanations offensive and more reasoned.

    its refered to as a syndrome, a desease, etc

    South Africa’s next “big man”? economist—Big Man in africa: insdie teh mind of a tyrant—www.amazon.com/Big-Men-Little-People-Leaders/dp/081477542X

    do note that Obama is following the similar concepts… like the man his uncle helped with the communists to take over kenya)

    A number of things distinguish these power-hungry African leaders – the first one is that they are hanging on to power after their “sell-by” date. Second, they are deft in manipulating the constitution and electoral laws to ensure that they continue being embarrassments and drags on their countries. Third, they refer to same “book of excuses” not to exit the political stage after the curtain has come down on their poorly scripted and performed political melodrama. Fourth, one of the flimsy excuses they are using is that “there is no one capable of taking over” the mismanagement of their country’s affairs – read this as a failure to groom their successors – and that they have not completed their tasks of building (or more aptly destroying) their nations – read this as being intoxicated with power. Fifth, they have systematically dismantled all institutions or sought to destroy all opposition that might interfere with their patrimonial system.

    and one can blame everything on just that tendency in african judgment when electing or making leaders.

    There are a number of reasons as to why African “Big Men” try to hang on to power needlessly. Among these is a theory that African leaders are hostages of their sycophants. In having patron-client relations with their followers the presidents act as dispensers of favors, mainly in form of public properties and offices which are in turn used to accumulate wealth or share the “national cake” with members of their ethnic groups. In what has developed into a symbiotic relationship, the “Big Man” becomes dependent on his sycophants to assure him that the mistakes he is making are in the national interest and the sycophants, on their part, come to heavily rely on their patron for their survival – which commonly involves looting public coffers and properties. This relationship in the short and long runs mature into a sycophantic system that makes it hard for the “Big Man” to extricate himself from his clients.

    [edited for length by neo-neocon]

  13. Wolla Dalbo Says:

    President of Haiti now reported saying that “hundreds of thousands” of Haitians have been killed by the quake.

  14. Gringo Says:


    If Haiti became part of the Dom. Rep the survivors certainly would benefit. Not that the DR is a shining example, but perhaps together the two sides of the island could accomplish a better future.

    The only problem with that idea is that any politician in the Dominican Republic who proposed a merger of the two countries would have a life expectancy measured in minutes.

    Neo gave a good quick summary of why Haiti is so messed up. Lawrence Harrison gave a more in-depth summary in his book Underdevelopment is a State of Mind. Unfortunately, only snippets are available. HisCulture Matters, which has much more available at Google Books, covers much the same material.

  15. Artfldgr Says:

    video of dog sensing quake, and running.

    since a quake travels slower than sound, the sound of the quake precedes it. though they article wants to presercve the special bond animals have – truth is that people who arent so domesticated have that too… (there are examples of such odd behavior as acurately reading wahts underwater by the way waves shift).


    the text of the article does not do the video justice.

    the dog heard something and unlike humans who will sit there and attempt to guess and rationalize and be reasonable second guessing themselves… gets the heck out.

    [humans do do the same thing… read as to iraq and its the inner city kids who grew up as victims of others that respond correctly this way. i did it when i sense a problem in indonesia. turned out that a gang was following us, and i turned the tables on them and got my son and wife back to the hotel. the son was too busy arguing abotu being reasoanble based on odds, and things that dont count in a REAL situation]

    here is link directly to the video

  16. will Says:

    Over thirty years ago I served in the U.S.C.G. and was involved in picking up what was left of many refugees from Haiti. I won’t go into what I saw then, but suffice to say that it has stayed with me all these years. Haiti was a hell-hole then, and remains one at present. The United States and other countries have poured millions, if not billions into that country and still most villages have neither electricty, sewers, water etc. Now, this horror, and the pieces will be left for us to pick up. Thousands upon thousands will be brought to the U.S. on the understanding that they will return once order has been restored, but of course, never will. Every decent country on the planet should help out at this terrible time, but I have absolutely no faith that any change will happen regarding leadership in Haiti.

  17. nyo Says:

    Send a little bit of money, or more if you can.

  18. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    There really has been no good period of modern Haitian life and government to look back on.

    Except, perhaps, the period 1915-1934 when the USMC was assigned there? and even that wasn’t all peaches and cream.

  19. JohnC Says:


    The American Red Cross Wednesday reported that donations for its Haiti earthquake relief effort can now be made by text messaging.
    Those interested in making a one-time $10 donation to this effort should send the message “Haiti” to 90999. The sender will receive an immediate reply, asking the person to confirm by replying “yes.” The $10 charge is then applied to the sender’s mobile bill.
    “This will be a great way to get younger people, who are text-savvy, involved in the relief effort.” Bruce Rutter, CEO of the local Rhode Island Chapter, said in a press release. “It’s a lot easier than going online or making a call. I’m 58, and I managed the process in about 15 seconds.”

  20. Gray Says:

    Guess who is going to show up with medical supplies, food, clean water, security and generators?

    10 foot tall blue alien supermodels?

    Ethnic Studies Professors?

    Depressed Avatar fan-boys?

    James Cameron?

    Masculine-man Hollywood cossets?

    No! The maligned, derided and despised US Military!

    And when the Haitians are on their feet enough to riot and throw them out, injuring some and killing some, like they always do?

    They’ll be ready to come back and help, like they always have.

  21. Mr. Frank Says:

    Graham Greene has an excellent novel set in Haiti which gives some insight into that grim country. It is entitled, “The Comedians.”

    While the world must make every effort to relieve the suffering in Haiti, any kind of investment is like pouring sand down a rat hole.

  22. Gray Says:

    If Haiti became part of the Dom. Rep the survivors certainly would benefit. Not that the DR is a shining example, but perhaps together the two sides of the island could accomplish a better future.

    Ewwwww… Yeah…. No. Everytime there is some godforsaken anarchy in Haiti, the Haitians storm the border with the DR and the DR shoots them.

  23. Artfldgr Says:


    I had the misfortune of being in an 8 storey building about 150 miles from the epicenter of an intensity 7.7 quake and I can tell you for a fact that it taught me a great deal about human nature. I was in an open plan office with about 80 people in it. Three persons fell to the ground in complete hysterical panic. By that I mean kicking their feet in the air and writhing on the ground. Three persons went into a state of enhanced consciousness. By that I mean they were taking it all in and thinking. In less time than it takes to blink, the three had made eye contact with each other. The rest were in a state of shock and were literally open-mouthed. In about one or two seconds, the three persons in enhanced consciousness took charge of everything. The remaining seventy odd persons instinctively took their orders from the three and carried the panic stricken like hogs down the stairs.

  24. Gray Says:

    I’ve got nothing but compassion fatigue for Haiti.

    Though if I ever became a Strong Man, I would definitely have some Tonton Macoutes.

    From L’ Wiki:
    The name Tonton Macoute (translates as “Uncle Gunnysack”) originated from Haitian Creole mythology. It was the name of a bogeyman who walked the streets after dark, and would kidnap children who stayed out too late. He stowed them away in his gunnysack, never to be seen again.


    Yeah…. That makes for some good democracy!

    I was 2 days from getting deployed to Haiti when Clinton had us install the Communist Aristide. My unit ended up sending nobody. I’ll never know what happened other than: “Unpack your shit.”

  25. rickl Says:

    I just left a comment on Belmont Club’s “Intensity” thread, FWIW. I’m #87.

  26. sergey Says:

    If anything at all can be called a satanic cult, Voodoo qualifies best. All components of societal meltdown are present here: population completely devoid of businesslike skills, primordial superstitions, total lack of trust beyond one’s close family – everything makes self-government a sad joke. Culture matters, and poor, dysfunctional culture can make hell from any tropical paradise.

  27. sergey Says:

    “can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men ever put them together again?”
    Probably, yes, if they have guts to do what they are supposed to do, at the first place: just govern them. Where are all these colonialists and imperialists when they are needed most?

  28. J.L. Says:

    physicsguy Says:

    If Haiti became part of the Dom. Rep the survivors certainly would benefit. Not that the DR is a shining example, but perhaps together the two sides of the island could accomplish a better future.

    Gringo Says:

    The only problem with that idea is that any politician in the Dominican Republic who proposed a merger of the two countries would have a life expectancy measured in minutes.

    Unfortunately, the Domincan Republic has already had an unfortunate experience with Haitian occupation, in the 1820s and 30s . The D.R.’s present flag has its origins from the organization that fought for D.R. independence from Haiti. After that experience, the D.R. so feared another Haitian annexation that they voluntarily agreed to temprarily revert back to colonial control by Spain .

    So, in short, Gringo is correct that the D.R. would not want another “merger” experience with Haiti.

    In any case, my prayers are with the Haitian people, and wish them the best as they rebuild their country.

  29. Scottie Says:

    Regarding sympathy for Haiti, I am quite sympathetic in that losing 100,000 people (last count that I heard) is a traumatic event for any population.

    What normal parent isn’t going to grieve at the loss of any child? Doesn’t even have to be their own child, IMO, for such a loss to strike a nerve in the heart of a parent.

    Likewise with the loss of a parent or sibling – still a horrific event we all ponder at some point in our lives.

    Sympathy is a normal reaction, and acting on that sympathy is likewise a normal reaction.

    However, that sympathy was tempered today when I heard news reports of the looting that is starting – not looting for food, water, shelter, or medical aid, but rather looting goods from electronics stores and such…..

    I mean, seriously, how does one fix that kind of societal problem????

    Thousands of dead and dying all over the country, and people are instead expending their valuable time and energy to steal.

    Makes no sense to me.

  30. Sergey Says:

    It looks more and more like Katrina aftermath in New Orlean – a very unnatural disaster. There were also lots of Haitian immigrants in New Orlean. Looting, lack of help from neigbours, incapability to self-organize, bad engineering and construction work, which aggravated disruption, and so on. Is it just a concidence or the mere presence of these people is a magnet for disasters?

  31. Artfldgr Says:

    Tonton Macoutes

    interesting legend!!!!

    and if you know lousiana, the bayuou folk have the same creature… i dont now how to spell it. but it sounds kind of like paramaou fait..

  32. Artfldgr Says:

    anyone want to time how long before someone says that it was caused by AGW and that the US owes them social justice funds?

  33. Caramoan Says:

    I pray for those people who have been injured in Haiti. the earthquake in Haiti is one of the word disasters this year. I just hope that they would be able to recover soon.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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