Haiti needs our help in myriad ways

Friday, January 15, 2010

Americans, moved to generosity by images of Haitian suffering, should be wary of perpetuating the country's deeply rooted culture of victimhood.

Given that Haiti was a slave state for two centuries, occupied by U.S. Marines from 1915 to 1934, and the Western Hemisphere's principal basket case for the past two decades, it's no surprise that many Haitians see the outside world as Satan and salvation. An army of well-intentioned foreign relief workers is pouring in, giving Haitians food, medicines, shelter and clothing, along with an even deeper sense of dependency.

Humanitarian aid is the easy part. Much more difficult, and too often overlooked, is helping Haiti address the structural problems that make every disaster there, be it an earthquake, a hurricane or civil unrest, much more devastating than elsewhere in the region. Part of the answer is strengthening the government's ability to prepare for and respond to emergencies. But that will be a temporary fix until Haiti rejoins the ranks of functioning states by embracing sound economic policies and good governance.

Chris Hennemeyer, Silver Spring

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Regarding the Jan. 14 front-page article "Catastrophe in Haiti":

I am reminded of the words of The Post's great writer Marjorie Williams, who died in 2005, in a 2002 column about trying to explain to her son about the Washington sniper and her own cancer. This week she might have been inclined to use similar words all over again:

"What we really labor to keep from our children is the same bitter knowledge that their elders avoid: not that people get killed by strangers, or that there are too many guns in our world, or that madness never sleeps, but that there is no logic at all to some of the worst blows that life metes out. Time and chance happen to us all, darling boy, and even grown-ups can bear it only a little bit at a time."

James Adler, Cambridge, Mass.


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