Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti

The veteran Haiti observer Wilentz returned to Haiti after the devastating earthquake that struck the country in January 2010 to further ponder the causes of Haiti’s deep poverty and dysfunctional governments and to witness the massive reconstruction. Wilentz is at her best when describing the more exotic aspects of Haitian culture: its pagan religions, zombies, and werewolves. She also brilliantly savages the vulgar, exploitative journalism of some of her Western col-leagues. Wilentz very much wants to blame foreign interventions for Haiti’s misery, but she provides plenty of evidence that distrust, defensiveness, and duplicity on the part of Haitians themselves bear much of the blame. Her jaundiced assessments of the international development community suffer from her search for the selfless, the purely authentic, and the deeply knowledgeable—high bars that few can clear. Her heroes are the altruistic medical professionals who rushed to assist the injured and the sick in the aftermath of the quake. Yet as harsh as it might sound, modern medicine has also indirectly added to Haitian suffering: improvements in health care allowed more people to live longer but were disconnected from the kind of comprehensive family planning that might have tempered the country’s population growth in the decades before the disaster. As Wilentz herself notes, the population of Port-au-Prince soared from under 150,000 in 1950 to over two million by 2010, a demographic explosion the country could barely have contended with even in normal times, much less after hundreds of thousands of people flooded squalid relief camps following the earthquake.

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