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Haitis past is key to understanding challenges, speaker says
Attendees had group discussion following presentation
Tamara Spike, associate professor of history at North Georgia College and State University, delivers her presentation “Rebuilding Haiti” Thursday evening at the Gainesville Civic Center during the school’s first installment of the Great Decisions lectures.

Great Decisions lecture series

The eight-week series began on Feb. 15 and runs through April 7. The Forsyth County events are held on Tuesdays at the Sharon Forks Library, with the Hall County events following on Thursday at the Gainesville Civic Center. Both events are held 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Week 1: Rebuilding Haiti
Week 2: U.S. National Security
Week 3: Horn of Africa
Week 4: Responding to the Financial Crisis
Week 5: Germany Ascendant (held on Monday rather than Tuesday at the Forsyth County location)
Week 6: Sanctions and Nonproliferation
Week 7: The Caucasus
Week 8: Global Governance

Before Haiti can look forward following the devastating 2010 earthquake, it must look back.

That was the message presented by associate professor Tamara Spike at Thursday's Great Decisions lecture event, the first in a series of community dialogues hosted by North Georgia College & State University for the second year.

"People need to understand the context of why Haiti is such a different case than Santiago, Chile, where there was a much bigger earthquake, why it's different than the Indonesian tsunami," said Spike, an associate professor of history. "These profound problems that are just endemic to Haiti, I think that it has real resonance to the recovery efforts today."

Spike focused much of her presentation on the root of those problems, starting with the Haitian revolution, which took place from 1791 to 1804. It was significant because the war against France was the only successful slave revolution.

But it created problems for the Haitian people because in the aftermath, they rejected the oppressive sugar crop industry the economy was based on, Spike told the nearly 35 people in attendance Thursday night at the national and annual event sponsored by the Foreign Policy Association.

As countries around the world placed trade boycotts on Haiti, it slipped into further economic despair.

The country became a breeding ground for political corruption.

In a 71-year-period, there were 22 heads of state. Five died in office of natural causes. One died when his palace was bombed. One was hacked to death by a mob.

Fourteen were overthrown. And just one served his entire term.

"(Governmental instability) has built a lot of mistrust and a very profound mistrust between the Haitian people and the Haitian government and quite frankly other government as well, as other governments that have tried to interfere in Haiti," Spike said.

She then turned to the current recovery, looking at what money has been donated and what has been spent.

Of all of the government aid promised to Haiti, only 64 percent has been delivered, she said. And of $1.4 billion in private aid donated by U.S. citizens, only 38 percent has been spent since the earthquake.

Spike said there are two schools of thought on the matter. Some believe the money should be spent quickly to deal with the harsh conditions on the ground.

"On the other side, the Red Cross and many charitable organizations argue that you want to spend slowly because if you spend everything immediately you've only solved short-term problems," she said. "You haven't solved any long term problems."

Andy Lebor said he has participated in a Great Decisions group at Lanier Village Estates for several years, but this year the group decided to join the college's event rather than hold its own.

"I find it interesting," Lebor said. "Not only interesting, but it is in fact vital to the United States to understand what's going on elsewhere."

A group discussion followed Spike's presentation. One attendee shared his own experience volunteering in Haiti after the earthquake. He talked about the debilitating fear that causes many Haitians to still sleep outside of their homes worried another earthquake will hit.

Spike said the Haitians' general fear and mistrust can clearly be tied back to their governmental instability, and while hope exists, the outlook for the country is bleak.

"The idea that people have taken from this is ‘Haiti has a chance of a new start,'" she said. "But is it actually going to happen? I'm not so certain."