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Opinion: Haiti’s roller-coaster public image

It's been from hip, to not cool at all, and back again. Searching for a silver lining in the earthquake aftermath.

Other jetsetters enjoyed the hedonistic seclusion of the nearby Habitation LeClerc, where each room has its own pool, all tucked behind the lush foliage of the city’s only surviving rain forest.

But things began to go wrong in the 1980s. Reports of an AIDS epidemic brought sex tourism to a halt. In 1982 came publication of the book "The Serpent and the Rainbow," by Harvard scientist Wade Davis, examining the local voodou tradition of spirits, and the zombie phenomenon. It was quickly turned into a ghoulish horror movie.

Club Med closed its doors in 1986. It didn’t help that Haiti’s first democratic election in 1987 after the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier ended in a bloodbath.

For the next 20 years the country lurched from crisis to crisis, sinking deeper and deeper into poverty. In 1990 radical priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected to much acclaim, only to be ousted in a military coup barely 10 months later. Another U.S. invasion followed in 1994, and again in 2004.

The American dancer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham tried to revive Habitacion LeClerc, as a botanical garden. But it was too late as the estate was by then surrounded by a massive slum.

At the Oloffson, a new Haitian-American manager Richard Morse took over. He enjoyed brief fame with his voodou-themed "rock’n roots" band RAM, when one of their songs was included on the soundtrack for Jonathan Demme’s movie "Philadelphia," starring Tom Hanks.

But for years Morse struggled to keep the hotel open, relying not on tourists but aid workers and foreign journalists there to cover the mayhem.

I’m happy to say the Oloffson survived it all — including the Jan. 12 earthquake. “The Oloffson looks like a refugee camp for journalists. So many people working and sleeping in the yard. I'm taken aback. I've never seen this,” Morse wrote on his Twitter page.

Always able to keep a sense of humor, Morse noted that the hotel, and its guests are no strangers to chaos. “Been through a lot here during the last twenty or so years. most of my guests r used to 'events,'” he wrote.

David Adams made his first reporting trip to Haiti in 1988. He was Latin America and Caribbean correspondent for the St Petersburg Times in Florida for 15 years from 1994 to 2009. He is currently editor of Poder magazine in Miami.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the events of Friday's telethon.