Saturday, January 30, 2010

U.S. TO HAITI: "STAND IN LINE, CHILDREN, OR...we’re not going to help you.”

Thanks to television, on Tuesday, January 19, I heard a member of the U.S. military say to a group of Haitians, “If you don’t stand in line, we’re not going to help you.” I hope the Haitians didn’t understand him.

A week had passed since the tragic earthquake struck Haiti. These Haitians had been waiting seven days, “standing in line,” shall we say? And this well-fed U.S. soldier had the gall to say to them that if they didn’t stand in line the way he wanted them to do so, “we’re not going to help you.”

It is fortunate that he probably couldn’t speak the Haitian Creole, or even the French that some people there speak. But wouldn’t it have been nice if he would have said to a translator, “Please ask the people to stand in line, so we can distribute (whatever he was going to distribute) as fast as possible. Tell them we want to be of help, but we need their help and cooperation.”

And he should have also added, “Please tell them we are sorry that it has taken us so long to get here. Please forgive us.”

The Haitian tragedy happened Tuesday afternoon, January 12. By Wednesday morning Venezuela had the first plane land with supplies and rescue personnel. By Thursday morning, China had a similar plane there—before one arrived from the U.S. And then, seven days later, U.S. planes were dropping supplies in front of the onlooking Haitians, together with soldiers carrying weapons in their arms. There were complaints of looting. There wouldn’t have been as many if food and other necessary supplies had arrived sooner. Yes, in behalf of the citizens of the United States, he should have asked for forgiveness.

A kind elderly Catholic bishop once told me that Saint Vincent DePaul said we should ask forgiveness from the needy when we give them bread. The same should be in order for us U.S. citizens.

Even Anderson Cooper and two other CNN reporters said that excessive security measures were keeping the Haitian people from receiving help they needed. They mentioned they had no problem going wherever they wanted to go without security. The Haitians were treating them with respect.

During those first days of the tragedy, I also heard that the Haitian ambassador to the U.S. advised his countrymen and women that they should not try to enter the U.S. They would be turned back. Then I heard that the Venezuelan government formed a Haitian-Venezuelan brigade to go to Haiti. And, also, that the government planned to speed up documents for any illegal Haitian immigrant in the country that wanted to join the brigade so that they would have no problem returning to Venezuela when they wanted to do so.

Writing what I just have written makes me sad. I love my native country. I don’t want the U.S. to be the best country in the world. I just want it to be as great as every other; but I also have to recognize that we do have great power. I grew up with the impression that we also had high ideals in everything we did as a nation. It hurts to learn that we have fallen far short in the past. It hurts even more to see that we are still fumbling our responsibility, because as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” It also calls for gentleness.

I have read that there is a custom in Haiti that when one knocks at a door, one should also say, “Honor.” The person inside replies, “Respect.” After having troops in Haiti for so many years, we could have learned that custom. We should have.


This reflection was prepared originally for 21st Century Socialism .