Our nappy-headed stepchild

Imagine a very large, extended family — brothers, sisters, cousins, children and grandchildren. Some have done well in life; some haven’t been as successful. But most of them at least muddle through life, more or less on their own.

Then there is one part of the extended family that has to be helped, bailed out, rescued, over and over. Dysfunctional home life; substance abuse; fired from jobs; in trouble in school; in trouble with the law; filing for bankruptcy; and begging, forever begging, “Could you loan me twenty dollars until my check comes Tuesday? I’ll pay ya back — promise!”, and the like.

Other parts of the extended family love this particular branch; after all, they’re family. They help them out; they bail them out; they loan them money; they look after their kids when one of the adults goes to prison and the other is too strung out on drugs, or drunk, to take responsibility.

But finally, eventually, the other family members’ patience wears thin. You feel sorry for these well-meaning but feckless relatives. But at some point, you start to run out of “sorry.”

The large, extended family? It’s the Western Hemisphere — North and South America. The totally inept part that can’t manage money, hold a job, or keep out of trouble? That’s Haiti — our red-headed stepchild. Make that, “nappy-headed” stepchild.

The earthquake of a month ago left a country that is permanently flat on its back, comatose besides. Upwards of 250,000 people dead — most of them poor as Job’s turkey. Port-au-Prince wrecked. They should have named it “Port-au-Pauper.”  The handsome government house, built by U.S. Marines during one of the periods they had to occupy the island to prevent total anarchy, collapsed down onto itself. Thousands of common criminals escaped from the main prison that was also destroyed by the quake, now preying on the homeless and helpless — especially women and children with no adult male family members left to protect them.

This was only the latest in a seemingly endless string of disasters to hit Haiti in its history dating back to Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ declaration of independence in January 1804. Some were natural — quakes, storms, floods. Others were done by the Haitians to themselves — thuggish, thieving governments, feckless stripping of a once-verdant island of 97 percent of its trees for construction or charcoal, outright discrimination against the 95 percent of the Haitians who are of unmixed African descent by the Mulatto minority that views itself as an “elite.” Haiti isn’t enormously blessed with natural resources, but the people could have done far better than they have, with what the nation DID have. Instead, they have wasted them.

Two hundred six years of independence, and Haiti is still a basket case. Other nations, led by the U.S. with its usual generous and humanitarian impulses, have rushed forward to help the Haitians. Hundreds of millions, possibly billions of dollars have been or will be spent to try to put Haiti “back on its feet again.” But there is a question that keeps coming to my mind: When was Haiti EVER really on its feet?

Of course the earthquake was an enormous human tragedy. Millions of Americans sent contributions to try to help the hapless victims. I sent a donation myself, via the Bush/Clinton website that was set up for that purpose.

Former President Clinton has made a couple of trips to Haiti since the earthquake, campaigned vigorously for others to help the Haitians more — and quite possibly worked and worried himself into a second coronary episode this week. He survived and is apparently OK now. But I hope the Haitians are properly grateful to him. He was trying to get companies to build plants in Haiti to provide more jobs, even before the earthquake struck.

And of course, with all we’ve done, some American doctors who flew down there to help, raised the devil with the U.S. government for not allowing them to transport hundreds of critically injured Haitians to U.S. hospitals for treatment. The reason? There was no mechanism to pay for their treatment, and they obviously couldn’t.

If they need to be treated for free in some out-of-country hospitals, then how about taking them to Cuba, or Venezuela? Fidel Castro has made a 50-year career out of posing as the “champion of the downtrodden.” Hugo Chavez in Venezuela seems to have taken a page from his playbook. Have those countries offered substantial aid? I doubt it.

So what it boils down to is, the Haitians have proved over 200+ years, that they are incapable of building a society that is democratic, prosperous, and reasonably honest. There is a saying in South America, “The Argentinians do everything well, except govern themselves.” The Haitians can’t govern themselves, and their history suggests there isn’t much else they do really well, either.

So: Is Haiti worth saving? Can the U.S., teetering on the bring of bankruptcy itself in many people’s opinion, afford to take in a nappy-headed stepchild? Should we “take them to raise” for the fourth or fifth time in their history? And if somebody should do it, why does it always have to be us? If Haiti has to be placed under guardianship — yet again — why can’t it be a collective effort of the two dozen-odd republics in the Western Hemisphere?

We’re being asked by the humanitarians to “Save Haiti!” But shouldn’t we be determining what that means, and if, as an old saying goes, the game is not worth the candle?

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