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Nichols: World must respond to help Haiti rebuild
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Bangladesh may be the poorest country in Asia. There can be no doubt that the poorest country in the Americas is Haiti.

Christopher Columbus came ashore in what is now the Island of Hispaniola in 1492. Since that time, that island has been the focus of many struggles to control that rich tropical land.

First the Spanish decimated the local native peoples executing some, killing others with the diseases brought by the Europeans. Buccaneers and pirates fought the Spanish on land and at sea. The French and Spanish fought over French settlements in the western end of the island. In 1697, Spain ceded the western third of the island to France in what is now Haiti.

Haiti became a slave-run economy producing sugar, coffee, tobacco and forestry products at greater value than any other colony in the Americas. Many of the slaves died under harsh conditions and were replaced by more slaves imported from Africa.

The slaves revolted and established the first black republic to declare its independence in 1804.
The United States became interested in Haitian affairs after over 6,000 free black Americans immigrated to Haiti in the 1820s. Their descendants remain in Haiti today.

In the period of U.S. history after our Civil War, a number of U.S. investors became interested in Haiti and we tried to bring stability to that economy with strong American influence from the World War I until 1947.

Political turmoil, dictatorships, military coups and corruption prevailed, and a number of Haitian refugees tried to come to the U.S., but we turned many back. Our courts ruled that our law welcomed refugees from communist countries with political reasons to flee their homeland. Economic reasons to force people to flee to our shores were not covered by our laws our judges ruled.

Obviously some refugees did in fact manage to come to the United States. A suburb of North Miami is called "Little Haiti" and advertises itself as a good place to experience Haitian culture without leaving our shores.

Forestry was an early source of wealth, but the trees have been destroyed without replanting, conservation that might have maintained the forests. Thus today, only 3 percent of the earlier forests remain. The earthquake on Jan. 12 collapsed many concrete buildings, killing thousands. Wooden buildings might have withstood it better, as in Japan. But wood is not plentiful now in Haiti.

Hurricanes also hit the country, and without the original forests floods and mudslides, kill many.
I was in Grand Cayman on Jan. 12 but we felt none of the shock waves from that earthquake. One reason may be that the ocean between Grand Cayman and Jamaica has a trough in which the ocean is some four miles deep. Maybe that deep trench acted as a buffer, but I am uncertain if this is correct.

The terrible disaster of the earthquake in Haiti presents the world with the opportunity to draw together to help this miserable and torn country rebuild. It will need worldwide help for at least another decade. Is it not better to spend some of our resources on humanitarian assistance than only on unending military efforts to deal with terrorism wherever is occurs?

We can do both, protecting our national security and helping this devastated country rebuild. We will have to balance our plans for the future.

Persistence is needed. Helping others might lose its appeal in the long term. But we must not lose the spark of humanity as we put love into practice.

We are the richest country in the world. When we use some of our wealth for others, we set a good example.

Haiti is so badly damaged it cannot possibly recover without our help, and by example, encouraging others to be generous with their resources.

We do not have any choice. We must help Haiti rebuild. We really are one world on this common planet.

Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears regularly on Mondays and on