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Haiti: A long survival story

How the Haitian diaspora feels angry for a nation born in pride.

PARIS, France — It is more than heartbreaking to watch the images that are pouring out of earthquake-stricken Haiti.

In the time it took for the cameraperson to capture the scene one, 10 or dozens of people still trapped beneath the concrete nearby were likely breathing their last breaths. Now, multiply those images from the last few days by a number that yields 200,000, the latest death toll estimate. Will we ever even know the final tally?

Haiti the nation began when African slaves led a successful revolt for freedom from French colonial rule. Now it bears the scarlet letter of poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Here is a partial list of what has gone awry in Haiti since its 1804 independence: corruption, greed, neglect, brutality, coup d’etat, instability, natural catastrophe upon natural catastrophe, abject poverty, insurmountable debt, and lack of infrastructure, sustainability and leadership.

Or, if you ask the evangelist Pat Robertson, the country made a pact with the devil to help it gain freedom from France — a proposition so ludicrous that it warranted the wry response it received from the Haitian ambassador to the United States: that the Haitian revolt made it possible for the U.S. to buy the Louisiana territory from France at a bargain-basement price.

“That’s 13 states west of the Mississippi that the Haitian slaves’ revolt in Haiti provided America,” Ambassador Raymond Joseph told Rachel Maddow in a television interview. “What[ever] pact the Haitians made with the devil has helped the United States become what it is.”

Indeed, after heartbreak comes anger and tears — and not just about unbelievable comments by people with a pulpit.

It made me angry to watch people dig into rubble with their bare hands in the blazing sun as trapped relatives and neighbors screamed for help. The vast majority were not prepared nor expected this to happen but to not have one visible piece of heavy machinery or earth-moving equipment available in the first crucial hours in a country experienced with disaster infuriates me.

When it mattered most, the reassuring words, “I want to speak directly to the people of Haiti,” did not come from Haiti’s President, Rene Preval — at least not that I heard — but came instead from U.S. President Barack Obama.

“You will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten,” Obama said, the way a leader is supposed to. “In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you.”

I listened to a breathless woman in an online radio broadcast from Haiti say she had witnessed the collapse of a multistory-building with people inside, with children inside, and she came to the station to appeal for help because she didn’t know where else to go. And that made me angry. Where is the leadership on the ground?

Port-au-Prince was the nerve center of the shoestring operation that helped keep Haiti functioning. What happens now?