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Somber, subdued ceremonies mark Haitian quake anniversary

January 12, 2013|By Tracy Wilkinson
  • A Haitian national flag flies at half staff on the front lawn of the former National Palace, marking the third anniversary of a devastating earthquake.
A Haitian national flag flies at half staff on the front lawn of the former… (Dieu Nalio Chery / Associated…)

MEXICO CITY -- Three years after a ferocious earthquake devastated Haiti and killed more than a quarter of a million people, the impoverished nation remains a broken picture of halting recovery and persistent misery.

In  simple ceremonies Saturday in and around the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, President Michel Martelly laid a wreath at a mass grave and, earlier, called on his countrymen and women to remember, persevere and move on. He was joined by former U.S. President Clinton, a U.N. special envoy to Haiti.

"Haitian people, hand in hand, we remember what has gone," Martelly said against a backdrop of a Haitian flag at half-staff and Cabinet members dressed in mourning black, according to the Associated Press. 

Clinton told the Reuters news agency that though some progress has been made, particularly in rebuilding airports and roads, “we still need a lot more infrastructure work."

"From my point of view, keeping the investment coming in, dealing with the housing and unlocking the education, those are the things I'd like to see real progress on this year," Clinton said.

The outpouring of international sympathy and pledges of support for Haitian victims was enormous in the weeks after the 7.0-magnitude quake, which on Jan 12, 2010, flattened buildings throughout Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti. But today, questions swirl about how much money actually arrived and how it was spent in a nation that is largely dysfunctional and riddled with corruption at the best of times.

The Haitian government in power when the quake hit put the death toll at more than 300,000, with 1.5 million displaced. The cold reality is that no one really knows how many people were killed. Today, many Haitians have returned to old neighborhoods, found new housing and dismantled the squalid tent cities that sprang up in the disaster’s aftermath. But nearly 360,000 remain in displacement camps.

Despite tangible progress, “major challenges remain to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake and overturn decades of collective neglect and weak governance,” Oxfam’s country director in Haiti, Andrew Pugh, said in a statement. “Basically, it’s three steps forward and two steps back.”

Most of the tons and tons of rubble have been cleared and, according to reports from the island, corpses of quake victims are rarely discovered anymore.

But the aftermath included a deadly cholera outbreak, purportedly caused by U.N. troops dispatched to help Haitians and exacerbated by vulnerable displaced populations living in unsanitary conditions, and a wave of sexual violence targeting women and children in precarious situations.

The international community pledged more than $13 billion to help the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, but by some counts only half has actually been spent.

“The numbers are an indictment of how the international community has once again failed Haiti, in this case in its time of greatest need,” Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, said in a statement.  “The housing effort has been abysmal, people are facing a food crisis.”

In the Haiti Times, a U.S. newspaper by and for the Haitian diaspora, an editorial Saturday  lamented the spotty nature of international focus on the island nation. It said Haitians, from artists to intellectuals to community activists and farmers, will somehow get by.

 “Her culture endures,” the paper said of Haiti. “It is what the Haitian people hold on to, in remembrance of a painful chapter in their history. It is what fuels them to look toward a future in which they can rebuild their homeland. It is what the foreigners’ narratives cannot strip away from collective memory, and the earthquake could not shake away from existence.

“Three years later, Haiti endures.”

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