Help Us Stay Paywall-Free

We rely on readers to keep our website open to all. Help sustain a public space for collective reasoning and imagination—make a tax-deductible donation today.

August 21, 2021

Haiti and Afghanistan

How U.S. intervention devastated both.

Today marks one week since a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, with latest figures estimating that 2,000 people died and more than 10,000 were injured. This occurred just eleven and a half years after a quake of a similar magnitude traumatized the country, and five years after Hurricane Matthew left 1.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance due to crop loss, cholera, and flooding and infrastructure damage. 

But these catastrophes are not solely “natural,” as Junot Díaz reminds us, “they are always made possible by a series of often-invisible societal choices.” Whether it was Haiti’s early history as a French colony or the United States siphoning away 40 percent of the country’s income, the world has “done its part in demolishing Haiti” and implicated more than just those drowned or buried in rubble.

Indeed, even as Haiti tried to rebuild after 2010, the damage inflicted by the international community did not end. As Jake Johnston notes in his damning essay on how disaster relief became a disaster of its own, little of the $10 billion donated to Haiti was actually used in its reconstruction. “This is, sadly, another chapter in a long history of poverty perpetuated by outside powers,” he writes. “Bureaucracy, internecine quarrels, moneyed lobbying, waste and inefficiency—these are not monopolies of poor, ‘developing’ countries such as Haiti. They are the problems of the United States and its foreign aid complex.” 

We also want to acknowledge the ongoing situation in Afghanistan where, like Haiti, U.S. intervention has had catastrophic consequences. Readers can expect more on Afghanistan in the coming weeks as we start to roll out our special coverage of the War on Terror for the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. But for now we have highlighted some archival essays and forums that critique the pursuit of counterinsurgency—and predicted its ineffectual conclusion. “The counterinsurgency efforts appear a tactically superior, yet more humane and culturally sensitive alternative to earlier U.S. strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Nasser Hussain wrote for us in 2010. “But a deeper understanding requires a sense of history. And even a cursory review of that history reveals the colonial roots of contemporary counterinsurgency theory and practice.”

Junot Díaz
There are no natural disasters, only social ones.
Nasser Hussain
Can a colonialist strategy be reinvented?
Colin Dayan

It is now eight days since an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince.

Jake Johnston

Four years after the devastating earthquake in January 2010, despite billions of dollars in aid, the housing crisis persists.

Ethan Bueno de Mesquita
Washington Post reporting exposed that U.S. operations in Afghanistan were horribly mismanaged, but even a well-run mission would have been doomed to fail.
Colin Dayan

Jonathan Katz has written the book about the Haitian earthquake. How does he contextualize the tragedy in the country's history?

Sidney W. Mintz

The inescapable truth is that “the world” never forgave Haiti for its revolution, because the slaves freed themselves.

Nir Rosen

Counterinsurgency doesn’t make sense. It asks soldiers, concerned primarily with survival, to be Wyatt Earp and Mother Theresa.

Colin Dayan

I went back to Haiti on August 15, a year and a half after the earthquake. The place where I had lived on and off since the summer of 1970 was unrecognizable. But the politics were familiar.

Sidney W. Mintz

In the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake, an anthropologist reflects on his fieldwork in Haiti fifty years earlier.

Steven Hahn
Several recent books offer a more complete, bottom-up picture of the role sailors and Black political actors played in making the Atlantic world.

Our weekly themed Reading Lists compile the best of Boston Review’s archive. Sign up for our newsletters to get them straight to your inbox before they appear online.

Boston Review is nonprofit and reader funded.

We believe in the power of collective reasoning and imagination to create a more just world. That’s why we’re committed to keeping our website free and open to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. But we can’t do it without the financial support of our readers.

Help sustain a public space for collective reasoning and imagination, without ads or paywalls:

Become a supporting reader today.

Get Our Newsletter

Sign up to get vital reading on politics, literature, and more sent straight to your inbox.

Donate Today!

Most Recent

Lewis Gordon and Nathalie Etoke discuss the space for freedom opened up by Black existentialist thought.

Nathalie Etoke, Lewis Gordon

The post-work movement reckons with reproductive labor.

Rachel Fraser

Melvin Rogers and Neil Roberts discuss the difficulty of keeping faith in a foundationally anti-Black republic.

Melvin Rogers, Neil Roberts

We can't publish without your support.

For nearly 50 years, Boston Review has been a home for collective reasoning and imagination on behalf of a more just world.

But our future is never guaranteed. As a small, independent nonprofit, we have no endowment or single funder. We rely on contributions from readers like you to sustain our work.

If you appreciate what we publish and want to help ensure a future for the great writing and constructive debate that appears in our pages, please make a tax-deductible donation today.

"An indispensable pillar of the public sphere."

That’s what sociologist Alondra Nelson says of Boston Review. Independent and nonprofit, we believe in the power of collective reasoning and imagination to create a more just world.

That’s why there are no paywalls on our website, but we can’t do it without the support of our readers. Please make a tax-deductible donation to help us create a more inclusive and egalitarian public sphere—open to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.