For those of us who have lived in Haiti the heartrending scenes of earthquake devastation are particularly sad. Again, the question I so often ask myself, “Why have such a happy, pleasant people been visited with so much tragedy?”

By now all have seen pictures of the President’s home, a massive white structure, that is the most substantial building in Port-au-Prince, left in ruins by the earthquake. Directly in front of the building is the largest park in the city and in that park is the Pantheon of Haiti’s Leaders. One gets a fair idea of the country’s tortured history by visiting this monument. Every one of the men honored in this memorial from its liberator, Dessalines, to those of the first half of the 20th Century, is present in images and words. “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc,” were not yet admitted when I visited in 1994 and am sure they are still not there. Nor was the president at the time, “Father” Jean Aristede.

Those who preceeded “Papa” and “Baby” were no less brutal than these two who ruled by terror and their infamous “Tonton Macoute.” Think Henri Christophe who reportedly marched a group of his soliders off the parapet of his famous “Citadel” to their deaths on the rocks below. It seems that all of Haiti’s leaders were little more than tinpot despots who ruled by fear, not by popularity or good sense. And Aristede, who many saw as the “Second Coming,” was no different. He too used gangs of thugs to keep dissidents in their place. I was given to saying that the only difffence between Aristede and Duvalier was that the former was slimmer and darker.

Given this terrible leadership it is no wonder that Haiti has become the “basket case” of the Americas.

Is there a way out for the country? I expect to see in the wake of the earthquake a massive outpouring of assistance from the large Haitian community in the USA, especially the community in Florida where they constitute a main component of the health care industry. And herein lies the hope for Haiti, it needs even tighter links with its sons and daughters in the USA. As a group the Haitians in America are successful, well educated, and maintain strong links to their families back home. But to make the exchange between the Haitians in America and their home more meaningful, the country needs a regime that rules with the will and cooperation of its citizens, not its fear.