Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Haiti: Still Totally Screwed, In Case You Forgot

As you can see, there wasn't anything yesterday. My time was poured into the soccer book.

The earthquake that devastated Haiti happened nearly two years ago. So it's probably been put out of your mind by now. Considering that the scale of the destruction was such that I can still remember one estimate from the actual time of the quake saying it would take 20 years for Haiti to recover. Looking around, that estimate hasn't changed.

We're less than two years in.

And very few outsiders have the heart to keep at post-disaster recovery for two years, let alone 20. As it stands in Haiti, actual reconstruction has barely even started. Aid organizations are still working on cleanup and basic survival needs; only about half of the rubble has been cleared, at most. Still. They're also dealing with containing an ongoing cholera epidemic. The reasons for the long recovery are many- lack of government, prohibitive delays at customs, destroyed records, the cost, the various agencies all running around doing their own thing, the sheer amount of damage, among other things. And the aid money is drying up, which in turn is threatening to bring what relief efforts are in place to a standstill.

Many of the Haitians themselves, naturally, are in turn not willing to wait around for two years, let alone 20. That is proving problematic as well. The simplest solution, you'd think, would be to head east to the Dominican Republic, but in the minds of the Dominicans, Haitians crossing their border are to them what Mexicans crossing our border are to a lot of us: nothing more than illegal immigrants that ought to be sent back where they came from. There was a grace period in the aftermath of the earthquake, but that grace period is over. This sentiment is taken to the point of there being talk of stripping citizenship from people born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, people that under normal circumstances would have birthright citizenship in the Dominican Republic. Because Haiti doesn't do dual citizenship, that would leave those people stateless.

Any alternative destination requires leaving the island of Hispaniola, and to that end, refugees have scattered across the Western Hemisphere- in addition to the United States, Canada, Chile and Brazil have also taken in Haitians, albeit with varying degrees of tolerance. In all cases, integration is extremely difficult, as after all, the refugees are going from one of the poorest countries in the world to some of the most prosperous, with most of what little they had in the first place taken by the quake. In Brazil, refugees never even get close to the population centers along the eastern coastline. They arrive through the western borders and end up trying to find jobs with Amazon infrastructure projects. Many end up getting no further than the tri-national area along the borders with Bolivia and Peru, where they tend to make the crossing.

Technically, the refugees headed the Brazilian route aren't recognized as immigrants, and that section of the Brazilian frontier has been fortified with additional border guards. However, given the sheer isolation of their eventual ending point, the distance traveled, and where they came from to get there, the locals that aren't border guards generally don't have the heart to do all that much about it when someone gets through. They know that nobody who has made it that far along that route is about to turn back and return to Haiti anytime soon.

After all, the refugees have 18 years to kill.

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