Lessons of another quake

Will Tucker

An earthquake tore through the capital city, leveling most of it and killing thousands of inhabitants. The disaster displaced almost 50 times that number. Additionally, it left the capital with only 10 percent of its infrastructure — pipes, roads, hospitals, etc. — intact, and the survivors suffered as a result. The corrupt and incompetent government was caught with its figurative pants down, and the people had nowhere to look for leadership.

The costs of reconstruction loomed in the distant future, if it was ever to come at all.

The year was 1972. The place was Managua, Nicaragua. The story didn’t end there.

Twenty-five countries poured in millions of dollars in aid. The Red Cross donated liters upon liters of blood, as well as other supplies, as demand soared. The corrupt government of Nicaragua, led by a tentative alliance between liberals and conservatives, led by Anastasio Somoza saw that only about 10 percent of the aid appropriations made it to the people. Even the Red Cross-supplied blood was stockpiled and sold to surrounding countries, making a profit for those who held power. Eight years of political unrest ensued for the formerly most-prosperous Central American country. Eventually, a communist regime led by Manuel Ortega toppled the still-American-backed conservative-liberal junta government, leading to unilateral U.S. involvement in what would come to be known as the Contra War.

The international community can’t let this happen in Haiti.

The similarity between the Nicaraguan earthquake and Tuesday’s Haitian one is too similar for comfort. Like Haiti’s, Nicaragua’s earthquake was huge: a 6.2 on the Richter scale, compared to Haiti’s 7.0. The political incompetency in Haiti will soon come to resemble that of Nicaragua’s in the 1970s, if it doesn’t already.

You can easily make the case that Haiti faces civil war in its future, too. And as not only “a” but “the” big regional neighbor, the Haitians will turn and have already turned to the United States for help. Our country has obliged, and shouldn’t stop — yet.

We have to anticipate the mistakes history has highlighted for us, and realize that the capabilities for international response dwarf those of 1972. Now, the U.S. has a chance to work together with the international community, not unilaterally. “Working together” only seems like a simple kindergarten lesson until it becomes the most important aspect of the response to a natural disaster in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries. If there were ever a time for international groups and governments working together, it would be now. If anyone ever needed it, it’s the Haitians.

First, we need multilateral cooperation on making sure funds are appropriated correctly.

To put it simply, we need more than one country watching the money and where it goes.

Had the accountability this provides existed in Nicaragua in ’72, would the surrounding nations have bought the stockpiled supplies from the corrupt Nicaraguan government?

Probably not. They wouldn’t have had that ability.

Secondly, we have to use diplomacy to prevent possible, if not looming, civil war. That means we can’t arm the group in power, like the United States did in Nicaragua. What kind of diplomacy? Only the most effective: economic diplomacy. We need to help them help themselves — basically, we have to engage them in the regional economy. The Haitians need to find something, anything, they can profit from. Any service, produce, commodity, or resource. Then outside groups need to microfinance that industry, and set it up for modest, although constant, success and growth. The international community should not just throw money at the country and tell them to rebuild. The biggest assurance for reconstruction Haiti can have is the prevention of conflict.

Increasing economic interaction will do just that.

Conflict has arisen from a situation strikingly similar to this in the past. There is clearly a right way and a wrong way to respond to a crisis like this one. The Haitians need the international community to respond correctly.

Will Tucker is a freshman majoring in international relations. His column runs weekly on Friday.