Adrian Walker

Thinking of Haiti’s future

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / January 18, 2010

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Like so many members of Boston’s large Haitian community, Exantus Azor has spent much of the last week waiting for word, a hope greeted only by silence.

His mother and six siblings are somewhere in Port-au-Prince. He managed to speak to one of his sisters on Friday, and she’s fine.

But all she was able to tell him about the rest of his family was that their house collapsed in the earthquake Tuesday. She does not know whether they escaped or are in the rubble.

So he watches television, and wonders.

“I see someone under the rubble and think, ‘that could be my mother, that could be my brother,’ ’’ he said yesterday. “Terrible isn’t the word. I have no way to explain it, to be honest with you. Not being able to talk to them is killing me.’’

For Azor and others, the momentous tragedy is felt in stark, personal terms.

Azor, who is 34, has always considered himself the lucky one in his family. That’s because he was able to come to the United States as a 14-year-old. He works in a metal shop in Brockton, sending money back home every month.

He was especially concerned that one brother, who is a police officer, hasn’t been in touch. He figured that a cop would have better access to communications equipment than most of the population. But so far, it hasn’t helped.

The magnitude of the destruction has raised many long-term questions. Rebuilding Haiti - in the most optimistic scenario - will be a years-long project.

And already Haitians, grateful for the swift mobilization of the US government and charitable institutions, are worrying about whether that outpouring of sympathy will last for the decade or more it might take to rebuild a country.

Ernst Guerrier, a prominent attorney in Boston, was talking to his 9-year-old son about the tragedy when the child asked about the tsunami that ravaged Indonesia a few years ago.

“What country did the tsunami hit?’’ was Myles’s question.

For his father, it was a reminder of how just how quickly events get replaced in the public consciousness by other events. For Haiti to recover, Americans will have to stick to the mission for years.

Guerrier, though, has been lucky. When I spoke to him Wednesday, he was worried about his insulin-dependent mother-in-law. He knew she had survived, even though her house had collapsed around her. But he didn’t know how long she could survive without medical supplies. By yesterday she was in a hospital in Florida.

Haitian-American elected officials and activists have been thinking over the past week about what recovery will entail. They say that once the current search-and-rescue phase is completed, government buildings and hospitals will have to be rebuilt.

The need for medical help will continue for months, if not years. Law enforcement will have to be reestablished. And all of that is on top of reconstructing Port-au-Prince.

Guerrier noted that natural disasters have hit the capital before. “Every time it has been rebuilt, the United States has rebuilt it,’’ he said

What this means for the future of Haiti is the question many are asking. As Azor waits for word from his family, he wonders if some good can come of the earthquake, by forcing reform of a government that could politely be called corrupt.

The weakness of the country’s institutions has not escaped his notice.

“Since the whole world is watching, maybe someone can step in and do something for the country,’’ Azor said.

“I don’t do much politics, but so much money goes into Haiti, and it doesn’t get to the people who need it.

“To lose so many people now, it has

to mean something,’’ he said. “Maybe we can have a better life.’’

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at