Outside editorial: Out of adversity comes opportunity

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2010

Televangelist Pat Robertson says the earthquake that hit Haiti was part of a curse by God because Haitians made a pact with the devil 200 years ago to escape French domination.

Such rubbish hardly represents the spirit of Christian charity that Robertson claims to believe in. In fact, as devastating to Haiti as the earthquake was, it could end up being a blessing of sorts, if the attention it is receiving can help put it on a path out of poverty.

But that's for later. Now, the concern is finding and caring for the millions left homeless, hurt, and without food or water, after the earthquake Wednesday that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter near Port-au-Prince. Tens of thousands may be dead.

The carnage was terrifying. Teenage girls in orange uniforms, their faces smashed, being pulled from the rubble of a school. The National Palace collapsed. Mothers pleading for help for injured babies. Human limbs protruding from demolished buildings. Corpses lying in the streets.

It was heartening to see the rest of the world spring into action, sending rescue workers and relief supplies - a reminder of similar humanitarian efforts after a deadly tsunami hit Thailand in 2004. China, on the other end of massive aid efforts after a 7.9 earthquake hit it in 2008, was quick to send a team to Haiti.

President Obama appropriately promised $100 million in aid, and was ready to name former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush co-leaders of U.S. humanitarian relief efforts. Obama should take the further step of suspending efforts to deport Haitians who are in this country illegally. The $1 billion they send home each year is desperately needed now.

Our countries have had a special relationship, not always good, ever since the former French colony's slaves successfully revolted in 1803.

From 1915 to 1934, U.S. Marines occupied Haiti to protect our business interests. In the '60s, we winked at the repressive government of President Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier; in 1986 we helped arrange the exile of "Baby Doc," the son who succeeded him.

In 1994, a multinational force led by U.S. soldiers reinstalled former parish priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. But by 2004, Aristide was accused of rampant corruption, and U.S. Marines arrived to maintain order as he was forced into exile.

With the presidential palace in ruins, current President Rene Preval was among the homeless after Wednesday's earthquake. His immediate task is to restore some semblance of government that can provide for his people. But he also must build on the goodwill being offered to Haiti.

There's an old saying: Out of adversity comes opportunity. Here's an opportunity for Haiti. Most of the earthquake damage is in or near Port-au-Prince. While it is being repaired, Haiti needs help agriculturally in rural areas and with other infrastructure in the nation to make it viable.

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