The earthquake in Haiti has shaken the world. On 18 January, despite increasing help from the international community, violence in the affected area did not ease. The humanitarian crisis worsened. The American military is the main force in the rescue efforts. Nonetheless, its motive has been under scrutiny. American soldiers are faced with difficult tasks in carrying out an effective operation. The French cooperation minister, Alain Joyandet, urged the United Nations to examine Americans’ motives (Jan 19 by China News). Media reported that the Americans have turned the disorderly Port-au-Prince airport into a private American airport. Americans were given the priority to evacuate, while some relief airplanes were denied services.
The U.S. has pledged to secure order and save Haitian lives. 5,500 troops were dispatched to an island of less than 10 million people. Last Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made a personal visit. All these actions were out of the ordinary and suggested the U.S.’s desire to take the opportunity to expand its military influence. Every move by the U.S. was highly publicized and watched carefully. Faced with negative reports from the media, America clarified that, by controlling the airport, its intention is to effectively manage the relief goods that come in through the airport. Its action of not allowing the relief airplanes to land did nothing to remedy its negative image.
This is not to discredit the U.S. contributions. There are plenty of needs in the aftermath of a powerful earthquake. The way the U.S. controlled an airport of a sovereign country worried many people. The American government has been politically correct by denying charges of a “take over,” fearing its bad connotation may hint at sovereignty infringement. But in reality, the Haitian government has been under American control for many years now.
Among international criticism, Haiti’s own voice was notably lacking. This could mean silent approval or that it simply has lost its voice. Haitian President Préval admitted on 15 January that the present government has “lost its normal function.” He went on to say that he had moved the presidential office to a police station near Port-au-Prince airport to be close to “the foreign partners,” i.e. American troops.
Facing the challenge of a calamity, the Haitian leadership’s weaknesses were exposed for all to see.
It’s disheartening to see an elected president of a democratic country proclaiming its government has “lost its function,” unable to fend for itself and having unconditionally given up control of its main airport to American troops.
For many years, many democratic political system elites have praised the Western democratic system and held a hostile view against Eastern political systems, especially Chinese-style socialism. In the case of the great earthquake of Wenchuan, the Chinese people came together as one heart and one mind. The healing process was swift and Wenchuan was rebuilt in a miraculously short time. That proves the merits of Chinese-style socialism.
Easterners have long taken the democratic system with a grain of salt. It’s not to say that Western democracy is without any merit or that Chinese-style socialism is perfect. The Chinese have been continuously improving socialism with components of democratic political systems. One cannot blindly copy Western democratic systems without examination.
The chaotic situation in Haiti after a disastrous earthquake has cast doubts on whether popularly elected political power is good for all.
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