Silver lining for Haiti?

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The World's Katy Clark examines whether the Haiti earthquake could ultimately lead to a better life for Haitians overall.

MARCO WERMAN: Right now the emphasis in Haiti is helping the survivors of last week's earthquake but many are hoping this disaster may wind up offering Haiti a rare change in the long term. The World's Katy Clark has more.

KATY CLARK: Haiti's ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph, is among those who've been trying to see something hopeful come from this catastrophe.

RAYMOND JOSEPH: It is an opportunity when Port au Prince is being rebuilt, that the government makes sure that the buildings are built to code and a lot of the shanty towns which were built in and around Port au Prince, would not return.

CLARK: Someone else who's trying to focus on the positive is Robert Fatton, a professor at the University of Virginia. Fatton was raised in Port au Prince. He says his immediate family there is fine and their houses are in good shape, but he lost several friends in the earthquake. Fatton refers to what took place in Haiti last week, as the great and cruel equalizer.

ROBERT FATTON: Everyone has suffered, irrespective of race or class, so that may generate among Haitians, a new sense of solidarity that would carry the country to a very different trajectory.

CLARK: And there's no shortage of places to improve upon when it comes to Haiti. The country, even before the quake, was the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Peter DeShazo runs the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He cites the need for a better trained national police force, a central government that can provide for its citizens and an economy that creates jobs to help wean Haiti from foreign assistance.

DESHAZO: There had been some progress in the past few years, partly due to the presence of the U.N. stabilization mission and of course all of these gains have been set back by the earthquake.

CLARK: Still, Amy Wilentz says we shouldn't count Haiti out just yet. Wilentz is author of ?The Rainy Season, Haiti since Duvalier.? She says well meaning donor countries such as the United States need to read carefully when helping to rebuild Haiti, considering Haiti's history.

AMY WILENTZ: Haiti was occupied by the United States from 1915 to 1934. So that was a long and very difficult occupation, in which the United States put Haitians to work building infrastructure, it's true but not for pay, for food. I think all of these things have to be thought about very carefully in dealing with how the outside world is going to cooperate with the Haitians to build institutions. We're always talking about institution building. Well here we can build them from the ground up. We have to work with the Haitian government, what's left of it and with the Haitian people, you have a respectful cooperation.

CLARK: There's precedent for such cooperation in the aftermath of disaster. Joel Charny of Refugees International says the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is an example.

AMY WILENTZ: In Aceh in Indonesia, it really was a chance to re-configure things, both politically in the sense of getting a gradual lens of the civil war there, but also to some extent economically in terms of you know, rebuilding, doing things differently, doing things better. By contrast, in Sri Lanka, you know, the conflict never really went away and that opportunity was missed.

CLARK: Charny says in the case of Haiti, the opportunity could also be missed but he says given the level of poverty in Haiti and its historic problems with poor governance. Simply bringing Haiti back to where it was at 4:52 p.m. the day the earthquake struck, wouldn't be acceptable. For The World, this is Katy Clark.