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The Big Truck That Went By: How the World…

The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left…

by Jonathan M. Katz

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The author, Katz, was an AP reporter in Haiti during and after the 2010 earthquake that killed over 100,000 people. This book tells the story of the earthquake and about the next 18 months, through the subsequent presidential election.

The story of the earthquake itself is quite good, and one gets a good feeling for the situation in Haiti, as well as for the life of an AP reporter. However, the book declines in quality toward the end, especially with the author's detailed description of his reporting on a cholera outbreak (which was brought to Haiti by Nepali UN peacekeepers). Katz is obviously very proud of his reporting on the outbreak, but the story is not nearly so interesting as the earthquake, and Katz's reporting is annoyingly repetitive and insistent. (We need a much fuller investigation, he says, because it could be a coincidence that the cholera has the same DNA as the Nepali strain---it could have come from a shipment of food from somewhere else, and maybe the same shipment will go to the US!) But there's no mystery here, and it is obvious where the cholera came from.

One has to be careful reading this book. Katz is a fine reporter, but is incredibly naive about anything outside that expertise. His opinions on development aid, on economics, politics, and on corruption are all mostly wrong, and usually ignore the evidence right in front of him. For example, he heavily criticizes aid organizations for worrying about riots. There were major riots about 11 months after the earthquake, but Katz sees the 11-month delay as evidence that riots should never have been a concern. The spark of those riots? A corrupted election. Katz says the election should have been delayed, despite Haiti's poor record with dictators. Despite this, Katz says that Haiti's reputation for corruption is overblown---even as his long-time Haitian aide and photographer triple-charges him for gas expenses and then effectively steals his personal car. On economics, Katz describes how Southeast Asian countries have developed their economies by starting with textiles production and moving on to higher-value industries as labor costs rise. But then he says that Haiti should not try to go into textile production (or any industry) because if labor costs rise then the factories will leave and Haiti will be back to square one. (Who knows why Haiti can't move up the same as everyone else did.) ( )
  breic | Oct 15, 2014 |
Nonfiction. A great primer on the history of US involvement in Haiti, the problems with international and American approaches to aid, and the devastating earthquake and its aftermath. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Oct 27, 2013 |
The contrast between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has already been a case study in Jared Diamond's book Collapse. Since then, besides the political turmoil, Haiti has been hit by a devastating earthquake that hit the country on January 12, 2010. Katz, foreign correspondent for Associated Press in the country, not only offers an account of the catastrophe but also a unique presentation of the failed reconstruction.

The absence of a functioning bureaucracy as well as the absence of a minimally educated citizenry makes all reconstruction dependent on a thoroughly corrupt political class, foreign development agencies and shady companies that seek opportunities to cash in on a helpless victim. It is truly sad to read that most of the money pledged never arrived in Haiti (and even if it had arrived, it would most probably been misspent). Money allocated to Haiti ended up repairing the elevator in the US embassy or pizza parties for the Virginia coast guard. Some of the money spent by the US government was pocketed by the defense department for the upkeep of the US aircraft carrier that gave valuable assistance at that time but that money didn't help restore the Haitian economy.

Katz places much of the blame on Bill Clinton who during the 1990s created much instability in Haiti and after the catastrophe promised and talked much but delivered little. It is crazy that the president who removed so much of the financial regulation that kept the banking system in place and who failed to deal with Bin Laden is held in such high esteem in the United States. He might be terribly charming but that charm sells devastating policies.

Haiti's first problem is that its language is neither English, French or Spanish. Haitian Creole offers access to nothing but closes avenues to easy jobs. With an ultra low human development index (ranked 145th in the world), any democratic approach quickly ends in a farce. The United Nations Stabilisation Mission In Haiti (UNSTAMIH) is neither fish nor fowl. UN soldiers from Nepal were even responsible of introducing cholera into the country, because they failed to screen their own soldiers and did not properly manage their waste. Too many doctors are squeezing a very weak and sick patient. Katz has written a highly readable account about a catastrophe, its botched reconstruction and a generally wretched country whose people, despite all the misery, somehow have not yet lost their joie de vivre. ( )
  jcbrunner | Feb 28, 2013 |
It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and nowhere do we see the truth of this more vividly than in Jonathan M. Katz's The Big Truck That Went By. Katz shines a bright, unforgiving light on the bureaucracy, politics, and infighting between NGO's that often due more harm than good over the long term with their emergency response to massive disasters.

The earthquake that devastated Haiti in January, 2010 generated one of the largest and most costly recovery efforts of modern times. And yet millions of donor pledges never made it to the people who needed it most. Pledged money was never released by the governments that promised aid. Donations made to international charities to help Haiti got spent on the charities' normal operating expenses. Unscrupulous businesses cut behind-the-scenes deals to make sure pledged money was used to by supplies and services from their companies at considerable profit. And all the while, the people of Haiti were left wondering if their own government was stealing all of the alleged money that was promised even though the local government had been stripped of any control during the reconstruction.

The book highlights the piecemeal, often offensively patronizing, way international disaster relief works. By refusing to give money directly to the Haitian government, citing concerns for corruption, donor nations instead force Haiti to submit to an international, third party committee to oversee how the money is spent. Of course, this results in even less transparency and accountability even as the Haitian government takes the blame for the lack of progress. It also shows how things that seem like no-brainers (delivering free medical services and food) actually hurt the local economy (local food suppliers and medical practitioners driven out of business). And how corporations, such as the garment industry, use such disasters as opportunities to take advantage of poorer countries for cheap labor.

Katz spares no one, not even himself as a journalist reporting on the disaster for AP, from scrutiny. There is a distinct undercurrent of raw anger in the narrative. It is an honest, righteous anger that transfers easily to the reader as senseless roadblock after roadblock is thrown up against the reconstruction by various factors all vying to control the situation for their own benefit. More poignantly, we witness the actual struggles of the people of Haiti in intimate detail as they try their best to get along with their lives.

For anyone who wonders why third-world countries continue to struggle after the billions of dollars pledged to them over the decades, this book will open your eyes to the horrors often inflicted in the name of charity. ( )
  juliedawson | Feb 7, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 023034187X, Hardcover)

"A top-notch account of Haiti's recent history, including the January 2010 earthquake, from the only American reporter stationed in the country at the time ... An eye-opening, trailblazing exposé." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Katz is a great storyteller who enmeshes the reader in a lively web of history, incident, and examples of humanity pushing through disaster, hard luck, iniquity, and triumph to muck it up all over again." -- Announcement of the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award

On January 12, 2010, the deadliest earthquake in the history of the Western Hemisphere struck the nation least prepared to handle one. Jonathan M. Katz, the only full-time American news correspondent in Haiti, was inside his house when it buckled along with hundreds of thousands of others. In this visceral first-hand account, Katz takes readers inside the terror of that day, the devastation visited on ordinary Haitians, and through the monumental--yet misbegotten--rescue effort that followed.

More than half of American adults gave money for Haiti, part of a global response that reached $16.3 billion in pledges. But three years later the effort has foundered. Its most important promises--to rebuild safer cities, alleviate severe poverty, and strengthen Haiti to face future disasters--remain unfulfilled. How did so much generosity amount to so little? What went wrong?

The Big Truck That Went By presents a hard hitting investigation into international aid, finding that the way wealthy countries give today makes poor countries seem irredeemably hopeless, while trapping millions in cycles of privation and catastrophe. Katz follows the money to uncover startling truths about how good intentions go wrong, and what can be done to make aid "smarter."

Reporting at the side of Bill Clinton, Wyclef Jean, Sean Penn, Haiti's leaders and people, Katz also creates a complex, darkly funny, and unexpected portrait of one of the world's most fascinating countries. The Big Truck That Went By is not only a definitive account of Haiti's earthquake, but of the world we live in today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:29 -0400)

An assessment of how Haiti has fared after the 2010 earthquake reveals how the country continues to suffer from poverty, illness, and a broken infrastructure, assessing the factors that prevent aid from reaching people in need.

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