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A Piece of My Mind
August 2, 2000

The Cardboard Box

JAMA. 2000;284(5):534. doi:10.1001/jama.284.5.534

The Haitian sky at night is breathtaking, a sea of jet ink in which flow shimmering stars more numerous than can be imagined. Or is this an illusion, meant to hide the reality of starving children and the impoverished villages they inhabit, which are so starkly revealed by the light of day?

Haiti derived its name from the Arawak word for "mountain." The French conquered, enslaved, and corrupted Haiti, only to lose it to a slave rebellion almost 200 years ago. Haiti thereby became an independent black republic, but a succession of despots, allowed to rule by the mostly French barons living in luxury in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, has condemned the peasants to live in huts amidst animal and human excrement. And in the process, the island was stripped of its resources—mahogany, indigo, coffee, cotton—leaving behind the skeleton of a once robust economy for its current inhabitants. It has been cruelly said that no people on Earth are more expendable than Haitian peasants. Certainly no people on Earth have less reason to be born and no people leave less behind when they die than Haitian peasants.