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Sarah Palin Visits Haiti

December 13, 2010

Sarah Palin has made the news again, this time with a trip to Haiti over the weekend. Apparently, Fox News had the exclusive filming rights on her visit and she held a press conference without taking questions. Fair enough: after all, she’s working for Fox News and, as for the press conference, she’s not been to Haiti in order to get asked about her possible presidential ambitions or her family life. In refusing to take questions, Palin made sure that the focus of her trip would be Haiti.

For many years now Haiti has been plagued by many and sundry catastrophes, natural and man-made, and almost habitually — and barely — survives on short-lived, inefficient foreign aid. To set Haiti on its own two feet it will take more than Sarah Palin. But as far as one person’s efforts can go, the former governor of Alaska has more potential than virtually any other person the French Cowboy could think of.

Many public figures, from politicians to Hollywood stars, have tried to draw attention to the tragedy that is Haiti. Without wanting to talk down their good-will efforts, here’s why I think that Mme Palin’s trip to Haiti may be of greater value for the Caribbean country than those by Demi Moore or even Bill Clinton. It’s a combination of two things. 1) She has serious supporters who know how to think in political and strategic terms. This is what distinguishes her from Hollywood stars. And 2) she has no agenda of her own. This is what distinguishes her from any other politician.

What that means for her potential effectiveness on Haiti is that she can do more than just raise money that will be poured into more or less effective projects (maybe a hospital will be built, maybe a school — but you can be darn sure the amount of resources that will simply go to waste will be mind-boggling). She can speak of the need of sustainability in the help offered to Haiti. And there will be people who will listen to her.

Mme Palin has nothing to gain personally from trying to have a lasting positive influence on the pit of despair that is Haiti and I don’t expect her to make the place a prominent long-term project for herself. But she’s the rarest of animals: a political figure who’s neither calculating with an eye on personal promotion, nor feeding an inflated ego. She has organisational experience and knows how things get done. Both is what lacks in many of the well-meant activities in places like Haiti where the most basic needs aren’t met. And she has a certain political star power that gives everyone from the governing elite to the average Joe a heads up. So whenever Mme Palin so much as mentions Haiti, the world will be listening.

The French Cowboy is glad that Mme Palin has decided to travel to Haiti, a place so downtrodden one would rather not have to think about it, and I’m optimistic that she can divert the way one looks at Haiti from the short-lived, first-aid view to the teach-them-how-to-fish perspective. Only in this manner will the necessary short-term aid be of the desirable quality and only in this manner will there be hope for a better Haitian future.

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