INTERNATIONAL PRESS REVIEW: “The unluckiest country”, “devastation”, “cursed”… This morning’s papers struggle to find words to sum up the disaster that has struck one of the world’s poorest countries.
The front pages of papers around the world this morning lead with images of the devastation that has struck Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged its capital, Porte-au-Prince. One photo taken by AFP photographer Daniel Morel appears on the front page of Libération, Le Parisien and France Soir as well as the Italian daily Corriere della Serra and the British paper The Guardian. It shows a woman, her face covered in dust, staring into the camera as she emerges from a collapsed building.
China Daily leads with the story and the 60-member strong rescue team it is sending to Haiti. China’s Sichuan province is recovering from an earthquake in May of last year that killed 86,000 people. The death toll in Haiti is likely to eclipse that by tens of thousands.
Returning to the French press, Le Figaro leads with a different picture to the one that AFP photo journalist Daniel Morel took. It shows a little girl crying with the headline, “Haiti, the tragedy”.
Its editorial calls for Haiti’s curse to be broken. Four hurricanes wreaked havoc on the country in the summer of 2008. Its infrastructure is already in tatters. It cannot now get any worse for Haiti, but there will be a massive humanitarian response, the paper notes. May the attention that is now being focused on Haiti provide a turning point in its history so that it can finally get a political and economic regime that is viable, concludes Le Figaro.
In this morning’s The Guardian, Rory Carroll, the Latin American correspondent, provides analysis and witness accounts.
“Just the end of a busy humid day – then everything changed,” reads the headline. He says, “the devastation was so instant, so thorough that survivors struggled for words.”
One of the most striking images that has been recounted again and again is the near collapse of a mountain in Port-au-Prince.
“The entire mountain seemed to fall down all around me,” said Emmet Murphy, a US charity worker.
A witness said on the social networking site Twitter that every second house has collapsed. Another called it a “natural holocaust”.
Also writing in The Guardian, Peter Hallward analyses “Our role in Haiti’s plight.” Here are some extracts of this damning indictment of the international community’s responsibility for Haiti’s current situation:
“Much of the devastation is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.”
“This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of post-colonial oppression.”
“The noble international community scrambling to send its humanitarian aid to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce.”
“Since the US occupied Haiti in 1915 every viable attempt to allow the country to move from absolute misery to dignified poverty (Ariside’s phrase) was blocked by the US government and some allies.”
Aristide was a deeply corrupt man but was elected by 75% of the population before being overthrown by a US-French coalition in 2004. The international community has effectively been ruling Haiti since the coup, says Hallward.
He concludes, “If we’re serious about helping, we need to stop trying to control Haiti’s government, to pacify its citizens and to exploit its economy.”
True/Slant is a U.S. blog and this morning one of its contributors, the half-Haitian journalist Elie Mystal, sums up some of the despair Haitians and the Haitian diaspora feel. Here are some extracts:
“I mean, after all these people were displaced from their destroyed homes, you know what happened last night? It rained. And it’s going to rain again tonight. I’m not a spiritual man but if you’re down with the Lord, can you pleased ask God to stop peeing on Haiti?”
He goes on to compare Haiti with the Dominican Republic with which it shares the island. ne of the major differences is topography – the Dominican Republic is comparatively flat while the Haitian side of the island “looks like a crumpled up piece of paper.”
“Ask Mongols/Turks/Russians/Americans about their experiences in Afghanistan if you want to know how difficult it is to exert centralized government power over a mountainous region.”
Mystal goes on to say that while natural obstacles exist to governing Haiti effectively, it’s not natural that every hospital in Port-au-Prince is destroyed or abandoned. “It happens when your infrastructure does not have enough fall back options.”
This situation has now been made even worse seeing as the earthquake has destroyed the buildings that house core governing institutions. The UN building has collapsed.
Most of us have by now seen the image of the cracked Presidential Palace. The Parliament was also swallowed up by the Earth.
The military is perhaps the only functioning institution, says Mystal. “These disasters can be golden opportunities for warlords who would be dictators,” says Mystal.
“And it’s going to rain tonight. That just isn’t fair.”
Let’s finish with a look at the Miami Herald’s coverage of the earthquake. Miami is a big centre of Haiti’s diaspora. The paper carries a report by Associated Press writer Jonathan M. Katz who was in Port-au-Prince as disaster struck. Here’s one observation I found poignant:
“Imagine if nearly all the institutions in your life - flawed, but still the only ones - disappeared, all at once.
In a life where the next meal is uncertain, where the next rain may claim your home… think of having those institutions smashed all around you.
At the very moment when you have lost someone, perhaps many people, you loved.”
Also in the paper is a cartoon by Jim Morin with the caption, “Why us?” It probably sums up what everyone in Port-au-Prince is thinking this morning.