by Marisa McKay
When reading headlines about Haiti, the first thing that comes to mind is the devastating earthquake that happened eleven months ago, and second the cholera outbreak currently terrorizing the island nation. Collective memory is defined by scholar George Lipsitz as the way in which a time period or event is seen by a generation or any large group of people: a society, state, or a nation (Lipsitz, 2010).
As Americans, we view the events of the Haitian earthquake in terms of how any natural disaster is viewed: how many lives were lost, was there a way to predict or prevent the amount of devastation, and who will help them? As it transpired, the Haitian earthquake was predicted by seismologists, or scientists who study fault lines in the Earth’s crust that can rupture and produce an earthquake. The fault line that runs near Port-au-Prince was going to rupture, and scientists lament the fact that this disaster could have been preventable, in terms of the amount dead and the amount left homeless. Kathleen Tierney, the director of CU-Boulder’s Natural Hazards Center said that Port-au-Prince “increased in size and population with virtually no attention given to the fact that it’s in a seismic area … [and] no effort was made to make buildings seismic-resistant. No restrictions were placed on where or how homes were built” (Tierney, 2010).
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Tierney, as most people, takes the viewpoint that the devastation from this event was increased by the level of poverty in the nation and that the Haitian government is not able “to provide for daily needs, much less a disaster” (Tierney, 2010). There have also been numerous accusations about the level of corruption plaguing the government. Because the world was made aware of these facts, the disaster is even more difficult to swallow and the government is associated with negative connotations of inaction. The cholera outbreak follows a similar format, and the government of Haiti is fighting an uphill battle attempting to rebuild in the midst of another crisis while defending their actions internationally.
As we read about the preliminary elections that took place this past week, it’s clear that Americans are not the only ones associating Haitian leaders with their collective memories of negative consequences. Last week the United Nations sent their police into major rioting cities, such as Port-au-Prince, to mediate the delicate and increasingly dangerous situation that resulted from the people’s dissatisfaction with the presidential results. Allegedly, the elections were rigged, but the current “president [of the Unity Party] dismissed allegations that fraud invalidated the election results” (NPR Staff, 2010). The people are demanding Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly to serve as the next president but the official results showed the former First Lady Mirlande Manigat in the first place seat followed by Celestin, the Unity Party candidate. It was his campaign center headquarters that were some of the first to be assaulted and set ablaze. It is clear that the inaction resulting from the previous Unity Party’s President is still resonating in the minds of voters, and the previous corruption has given way to new accusations of fraudulent elections. It seems that the collective memory of the people of Haiti has the power to sway the political goings-on of the nation, and we will have to wait and see if that comes to fruition.