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Damned if we do …

Haiti occupies about one-third of an island known as Hispaniola in the Caribbean.

Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492 and claimed the island for Spain. Its history is one of great European influence and it is now a free country that lists as its official language as French. It is also the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

As most everyone knows, a massive earthquake hit the capital city Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12 about two weeks ago. Port-au-Prince was devastated and the death toll may reach 200,000 people. The citizens who have been made homeless by the earthquake are close to a million and the suffering has been broadcast into our homes ever since that fateful day.

Even before the earthquake Haiti was a huge mess.

Despite billions of dollars in foreign aid given to the country in the past 20 years, the improvement in the country had been nil. In fact, the poverty of Haiti was actually worse after the billions. Most would say that the failures of the aid could be laid at the feet of the corrupt government and the crime in the nation. In other words, we have been trying to help Haiti for decades.

The health issues, before the earthquake, were gargantuan. HIV/AIDS runs rampant throughout the population and is a major killer among children, along with meningitis, cholera, malaria, typhoid, etc., according to the World Health Organization.

Then, on Jan. 12, a 7.0 earthquake hit the Port-au-Prince area of Haiti. The poorly constructed buildings fell like houses of cards. That was two weeks ago and, just now, the search for people trapped underneath all that debris has begun to subside. I suppose there might be another survivor found, but most workers feel that the search for the living can be ended.

Haiti is only 600 miles from the United States and, as is usually the case in natural disasters all over the world, the government of the United States, the many aid agencies within our country, and plain, ordinary Americans began immediately with massive efforts to help with the tragedy. And, as is par for the course with these kinds of situations, the sniping and harping about our efforts began also.

It didn’t matter that the harbor of Port-au-Prince had been destroyed or that the airport no longer existed, the cry from one side of the coin was that we were too slow. Every road in that city was debris-filled and what buildings that were left standing were in danger of further collapse. Still, we were expected to forego all dangers and good sense and rush into Haiti with everything we could muster. If we didn’t, we were damned for not caring.

So, we sent in 20,000 troops to help with the rescues, the deliveries, the security, and whatever else they could do. Let me just say right here that our armed forces must be the best trained, most versatile and most courageous that I know. They are called upon to do all sorts of things.

In this case, they were thrown into horrible scenes of suffering. They were called upon to clear the airstrips so that the needed medicine, food and other supplies could be flown in. In addition, they were asked to use the only tools appropriate, their hands, to clear rubble off of anyone who was underneath, and they did so with all their strength. They had to hurt when they saw those tragic scenes.

But were they thanked by the international community?

Were they given credit (they didn’t ask for it) for being the first on the scene and preparing the area so that others may come in?

Was the country that was “first there with the most generosity” recognized for its goodness?

Not really.

Instead some found fault as they always do. The fact that we used one of our greatest resources, our military, opened a floodgate of criticism.

A French official had the gall to say this about America’s efforts. “This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.”

Guido Bertolaso, head if Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, denounced the U.S.-led effort as “pathetic.” He criticized the United States for always sending in its military, saying that this was an emergency and humanitarian operation, not to be entrusted to the military. Bertolaso spoke of American efforts as intending to make a “big show.”

Two Latin American leaders, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortego and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were concerned that the United States had used the tragedy to send in an occupying force. They seemed to suggest that our country was seeking to make a land grab of poor Haiti. Almost as if we had waited patiently for this tragedy so that we could go in and steal the poorest country in the hemisphere.

Those statements really got my goat!

I don’t know whether to call them jealous or just plain crazy. Is Haiti sitting on the world’s greatest oil reserve?

Do they have other natural resources that would greatly benefit the richest country in the world?

Are the Haitian people geniuses and full of great health that would improve the population of the United States?

No.

The fact is that they are neighbors, the poorest of our neighbors. And even though they have never helped us and we have nothing to gain from their country, they are in great need. They are hurting and helpless. We are going to help and we expect nothing in return.

America has many great attributes, but this one may top the list.

Too bad France doesn’t remember when we helped them.