The Profit of Tragedy

There are those who sympathize with a tragedy, and unfortunately, there are those who see an opportunity for profit. In the wake of recent turmoil that plagues the Caribbean nation of Haiti, the latter group tightens its grip on the hapless island of Hispaniola. Since the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, Haiti has seen a flock of NGO’s and international interests, each one greater than the other, including the likes of former President Bill Clinton to Hollywood stars (e.g. Sean Penn). One thing remains in the rubble: the interests of the people of Haiti. The world wants to show empathy to Haitians under the guise of lending a hand, while the other hand retracts what it had just handed over to Haiti.

The world donated 9.9 billion dollars to Haiti relief efforts and the local government merely saw $1.5 million of that fund. (These funds were mostly split between NGO’s; the “middle-man” that absorbs most of the funding.) A pricey trend seems to be developing in the Caribbean and that is the cost of flights to the islands. If you were to compare vacation travel among any three particular islands in the Caribbean, the cost to travel there would be far less than the cost of travel to Haiti. Truth be told when we attempted to pose the question of why to one of the popular airlines to many of the caribbean nations, their answer referred to “demand” and “the market”. This surprised me. There has yet to be a flight to Haiti from any of the departure states that was not filled; and if you missed a flight you’ll have to wait months to get on another, unless you’re willing to pay the extra charges. So there’s your demand; what about the “market”? The adjoining island of Dominican Republic, when compared to Haiti in respect to the cost of flights, has lower rates than Haiti. So how is it that an island that has seen so much tragedy and that the world is united in helping suffers the burden of high travel costs, far greater than any other caribbean island?

When the current government of Haiti, Martelly - Lamorthe, was campaigning to the diaspora, they pitched that Haiti needs the help of the diaspora to rebuild itself. They emphasized that Haiti needs the diaspora to get involved. To quote Mr. Clinton at the World Economic Forum regarding the Haitian diaspora’s involvement in Haiti, “It is my opinion that is by far the best chance that Haiti has had in the 35 years”. That chance was to implement the assistance of the diaspora in the rebuilding of Haiti. That hasn’t happened, in the midst of constant political turmoil and changes in government, the diaspora are still at the door awaiting the invitation. President Michel Martelly stated in his inaugural speech, “Haiti is open for business.” I believe he might have misspoke. Haiti is open to businesses but not for business. When the president called on the diaspora to return home and help rebuild its neighborhoods and help Haiti become the pearl of the Antilles again. We, for the most part, felt the nostalgia that was present in the early 90’s when Mr. Jean Bertrand Aristide (elected by the people, for the people) also sang the same song.

It’s safe to conclude that there are profits being made at the expense of those in tragedy. Whether it’s the airline companies like Americans Airline whose ticket prices are the highest in the region, or local NGOs, who, after three years, are still holding campgrounds and still have people living in disarray. One thing is certain, the abilities, potential, and expectations of the diaspora are not included or considered in the thought processes of the government.

Yvens Riviere