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President’s bid to revive Haiti also in ruins
By David Blair in London
Published: January 18 2010 18:30 | Last updated: January 18 2010 18:30
Even before the earthquake, Haiti’s threadbare government provided only 10 per cent of the country’s schools and less than a third of its health facilities.
Regardless of natural disasters, the Haitian state was so weak that it failed to offer the most basic services, and the densely populated nation of 9m people was barely governed at all.
Consequently, most Haitians were overwhelmingly dependent on aid agencies and the United Nations. If their children went to school or if they were able to visit a clinic, foreign donors were probably the providers.
Following the quake, which has levelled government ministries and forced President René Préval to conduct cabinet meetings outside a partially ruined police station, all this will be doubly true. Appearances will doubtless be preserved, but Haiti will, in effect, lose every vestige of national sovereignty and become a ward of the international community for the foreseeable future.
Many forces unrelated to natural disasters have caused the implosion of the Haitian state.
Deforestation has ruined much of the agricultural land and come close to toppling the main pillar of the economy. The government has a pitifully small tax base. The entire national budget is barely $1.1bn (€764m, £673m) – rather less than the budget of a typical medium-sized town in the developed world.
But decades of tyranny and misrule are probably the prime cause. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier was the caricature dictator who tormented Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971, aided by the Tonton Macoutes secret police and his standing as a Voodoo high priest.
He was succeeded by his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, widely known as “Baby Doc”, who ruled in the same disastrous style until he was ousted in 1986 and driven into exile in Paris, where he lives today.
Since then, Haiti has endured constant regime changes and the 1991-94 military dictatorship under General Raoul Cédras.
Mr Préval, however, won power in free elections in 2006 and ushered in a period of relative stability and genuine constitutional rule.
Helped by the UN mission, he has made some progress towards rebuilding the fabric of the state.
On top of the death and suffering, one of the tragedies of this quake is the severe damage it has inflicted on Haiti’s chances of ever becoming a governed nation.