Remarks at Bingo for Haiti Misleading

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The recent Bingo Benefit for Haiti was an impressive display of the USF community’s ardent commitment to helping Haiti overcome a disastrous seismic event. Students, faculty and alumni alike gathered together to raise desperately needed funds for relief efforts. During the event an altruistic sense of global solidarity filled the halls of McClaren with a positive energy that seemed almost invincible against the specter of political rhetoric. Almost.

When Fr. Privett and Pierre Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee (HAC) spoke to those present, the message was clearly about the necessity of further assistance for the people of Haiti. When HAC’s Robert Roth took the stage, however, he went even further. Roth proposed that the world must examine the events in Haiti, “with a critical lens, a critical eye.” Unfortunately for Roth’s “critical eye,” instead of retaining a broad and positive vision of the relief efforts, it has zoomed in with unjustified narrowness on the actions of the U.S. armed forces to the crisis in Haiti. The “militarized response” is most worthy of highest criticism for in his view, it necessarily cannot co-exist with a “humanitarian response.” Besides the sharp break in mood wrought by this ideologically-charged allocution, Roth raises several allegations which now require the attention of our own critical eyes.

A central part of his criticism was summarized by reporter Ericka Montes in the March 4 issue of the Foghorn: “While the US dropped off 11,000 troops in Haiti, there were five cargo planes full of doctors with medical supplies that were denied access to Port-Au-Prince airport. Instead, these planes were re-routed to the Dominican Republic.” As a result, said Roth, “Each day that those planes were delayed… it took an extra day to get [aid] to Haiti. Partners in health estimated 20,000 Haitians died needlessly.”

The comment concerning the 11,000 American troops seems to imply that the US military clogged Port-au-Prince airport while forcing civilian aircraft to the Dominican Republic. Such a suggestion  mischaracterizes the American mission in Haiti and assumes an over-simplified process of delivering aid by air.

First, Port-au-Prince airport was not the only gateway used by the military; Naval and Marine Corps personnel deployed amphibiously through ports and beaches, while other ground forces cleared makeshift airfields and drop zones. Furthermore, the military turned away planes by necessity; the tarmac lights and communications in the control tower were knocked out, rendering the airfield temporarily out of order. When air traffic control operations began at Port-Au-Prince, the volume of humanitarian air traffic trying to enter Haiti reached levels that exceeded the capacity of the two operable runways in the area.

Roth deprives his narration of all these nuanced details; deliberate or not, his depiction of US military actions is disingenuous at best.

For all his criticisms of a general “militarized response,” Roth seemed either oblivious to or deliberately ignorant of the fact that the first medical efforts on scene came from a UN peacekeeping contingent already in Port-Au-Prince. Does this “militarized response” deserve condemnation? Who, in the absence of military forces, has the infrastructure and means to airlift and sealift tons of economic aid and workers in a matter of days? Perhaps it is a defect of mine, but my critical eyes cannot imagine a more positive sequence of events in Haiti without military intervention.

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