NY Times: The earthquake that plunged Haiti into darkness is another blow to a nation that has seen more than its share of misery.
Endemic instability, murderous dictators, more than 30 coups and a seemingly endless series of hurricanes and other natural disasters have claimed countless souls over Haiti’s tumultuous 206-year history, leaving it the Americas’ poorest country and utterly dependent on foreign aid.
Add to that Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake, the strongest to hit what is now Haiti since 1770. Initial reports on its destruction are frightening.
The quake occurred along a fault line believed responsible for seven large quakes between 1618 and 1860, said Harley Benz of the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado. According to historical records, the 1860 quake struck Port-au-Prince and may have produced a tsunami.
The largest recorded earthquake in modern times on the island of Hispaniola was an 8.1-magnitude temblor that produced a tsunami and killed 1,790 people in 1946. Centered in the Dominican Republic, it extended into Haiti, according to the USGS.
Haiti was born in 1804, after the world’s first successful slave rebellion. French troops surrendered to forces led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines. But the country’s leaders drove it into a paralyzing disorder from which it has yet to recover.
Political turmoil prompted U.S. Marines to occupy Haiti from 1915 to 1934. In 1937, some 18,000 Haitians were massacred along the Dominican border on the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.
In 1957, Francois ”Papa Doc” Duvalier rose to power, launching a 29-year dynasty of terror. Tens of thousands were killed under Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude ”Baby Doc” Duvalier.
It wasn’t until 1990 that Haiti had its first democratically elected president: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a slum priest who inspired the overwhelmingly poor majority. But Aristide was overthrown in 1991, and Haitians took to the seas by the thousands in a desperate exodus to Florida.
President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 U.S. troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide, who was re-elected in 2000. Aristide’s initial promise soon flickered: Accusations that his party rigged legislative elections, pocketed millions of dollars in foreign aid and sent gangsters to attack opponents produced a bloody rebellion that ousted him in 2004.
Two years ago, President Rene Preval implored the world to commit to long-term solutions for his nation, saying a ”paradigm of charity” would not end cycles of poverty and disaster.
”Once this first wave of humanitarian compassion is exhausted, we will be left as always, truly alone, to face new catastrophes and see restarted, as if in a ritual, the same exercises of mobilization,” Preval declared.
The same could be said today.