Amid Haitian Devastation, Green Shoots


Leogane market

In the wake of a natural disaster, especially one that hits a poverty-stricken country like Haiti, there is a tendency to view the survivors as helpless victims who can do nothing but wait passively for international assistance. The New York Times offers a snapshot of the Haitian city of Léogâne that belies that impression:

Commerce was thriving at the warrenlike shantytown that has sprung to life on what was once this city's main square. Shoeshines and hairstyles, coal and soap, Casino brand chocolate and Comme Il Faut cigarettes, even new homes constructed from salvaged wood and sheet metal — each could be had for a price. …

Not a donated tent is in sight, but Carmalite Henry, 51, was watching as two men built a small shack, about eight feet square, for her family of four. She paid them about $50, money borrowed from friends.

Gerome Julie, a mother of four, said she had built her own small hut, digging holes for the posts and spending about $60 on nails, wood and metal. Asked if it was watertight, she said: "I don't know. It hasn't rained yet."

She was selling toilet paper, laundry detergent and soap from an inventory she had before the quake, making a quarter in profit on each item, she said.

Léogâne was the city closest to the earthquake's epicenter, but its people are already getting back to work with very little help from the outside world. People are restarting their businesses, and buying and selling the goods available at the prices the market will bear. Haiti's development has been stifled by decades of misrule, but its people are as capable as any country's of working to improve their own lives.


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  1. “”In the wake of a natural disaster, especially one that hits a poverty-stricken country like Haiti, there is a tendency to view the survivors as helpless victims who can do nothing but wait passively for international assistance””

    Proverty-stricken and international could be struck from the paragraph. Even in non-poverty America, when disaster strikes we tend to label them as helpless victims that can’t help themselves. And more sadly, is that the federal government has envoked a sort of approved rescuer program where only qualified individuals can assist in disaster areas. I believe this was used when some tornados tore up parts of Oklahoma.

    1. There are good reasons for limiting help. There are also good ways of getting around these rules without breaking the law.

      1. There have been looters and other criminals posing as “helpers”.
      2. More commonly, the helpers don’t really know what they are doing and do things that make the situation worse (like do damage to themselves or others, creating more victims.)
      3. The helpers often don’t commit the time it takes to clean a section of a city and so when we take 30 people out on a crew, by the end of the afternoon, we might have 5 left.
      4. There are highly trained people who are good at this job (usually volunteers, like Ham radio ops, the SouthBears, SATERN, and the Red Cross) who are often trained to do some dangerous things (like the SouthBears’ chain saw ministry (yes, I said ministry) that trains to use their equipment and time to help clear trees and large debris from Tornado and Hurricane sites. These guys can”t be safe if their helpers leave at a whim, or stand where they shouldn’t. They can’t be efficient, if they are constantly asking for or training replacements for the non-trained volunteers.

      How to get around this?

      1. Volunteer at the base camp and accept that you as the untrained Newbie are going to be picking up trash (only fair as that is what most of the Hams and other volunteers do.)
      2. Actually stay till the job is done.
      3. Volunteer for CERT or one of the other agencies.
      4. Dust off that high school science class background, learn two sections of FCC safety regs, and get your Ham radio license. Yes, it really is that easy. ($15 for 10 years of messing around in the garage with a Federal license to do so.)

      Every new Ham is an emergency communications node. Every new ham can keep information flowing even when the cell towers and the Internet are long gone (usually about 30-90 minutes after a large scale event.)

      1. It is attitudes like this (only experts are qualified) that cause me to dislike so-called experts.

      2. Big Red:

        You’re an ass.

        You make the assumption that no one but “trained professionals” has basic skills. Now, perhaps most dip shits from New York has never used a chain saw in their life, but where I’m from, (Western Washington) a sizeable fraction of the population has, and knows how to do it pretty well, to pick an example. So to assume only pro’s know how to do technical work…phtttttttt!

        As far as your point 2: Well, I’d take a half day of help from an untrained volunteer cleaning up my destroyed home / neighborhood over zero help, which is what I’d get sitting on my ass passivly waiting for pro’s to come on by, as you suggest.

        And another thing: It only takes one or two skilled folks to run a crew of know practically nothing volunteers AND do a good job at it. I’ve seen it, and done it, building and maintaining trails here in Washington. You just have to, you know, know how to LEAD.

      3. only “official” help is any good, got that right? Holy Katrtina Batman

        1. I have been there. I have done it too. I have watched the volunteers come and go randomly and without any kind of notice, not even a “we can only be here for two hours” thing.

          There is a lot of difference between doing something like building a mountain trail where hiking clubs and scout troops who know what they are getting into come out and fill the base of your “untrained volunteer” corps and cleaning up tornado damage, where people don’t know, can’t prepare, and are overtaxed, or just overcome by the scope of even a little EF1 storm.

          The fact is that untrained volunteers can help, but your analogy about chain saws is not pertinent all over the country as there are a lot of people who have never used one and are not able to help.

          We use untrained volunteers for charity bike rides, even 2 day events, and they do fine, but these are discrete, knowable events for a cause they are committed to. The motivation for these groups makes it easier to, you know, LEAD.

  2. Shoeshines and hairstyles,

    First on the list, eh?

    I’m telling you guys, the only way to get subtly pro-market stuff in the Times is by couching it in crazy-ass racism. There should be a task force at the Foundation that conceals libertarian economics lessons in anecdotes about black people shining shoes and cooking in giant pots and getting their hair did. All Little Bastiat Sambo and shit.

    It’s the only way in.

  3. John Murtha in Intensive Care:


  4. She paid them about $50, money borrowed from friends.

    Why haven’t the police arrested and summarily executed those profiteering capitalist devils?

    1. Obama will probably have the U.S. Marines take care of it, or send large bags of money to the kleptocrats so that they can do it themselves.

  5. Little Bastiat Sambo

    Fucking SWEET!

  6. Green shoots? One person doing for them self? There’s 10 million Haitians on their half of the island and agriculture makes up 60% of their economy. They need large scale work or mass emigration.

    Know poverty Haiti.

  7. Good God, are they keeping track of their sales tax?!?

  8. I think that Haiti would do much better if the rest of the world stopped ‘helping’.

  9. Quick! Record as much of this as you possibly can, as quickly as you can. Soon, “help” will arrive and ruin everything, and we should have SOME record of how things could have been.

  10. Its pretty messed up dude. I dont think people are doing enough to help!


    1. Well, at least nobody’s passing around legs.

  11. This is pretty much disaster capitalism at it’s worst. Greedy entrepreneurs taking advantage of the poor. The Haitians should do their best to keep capitalism and the evil corporations out.

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