populated country in the Western Hemisphere established conditions that in a major storm like Jeanne could sweep away all in its path. But here, once again, blaming the victim makes it easy for us to walk away. It’s the peasants’ fault for cutting down the trees, we assume. The real cause of the death and despair of the floods is the same as the AIDS epidemic—poverty and its consequences. Poverty drove the Haitian peasants to try to terrace and till every inch of marginal farmland. Poverty continues to drive them to use the cheapest fuel possible, charcoal, knowing full well they are killing their country in the process.
If one probes deeper, things become even more complicated. Gonaïves lies on a flat plain at the mouth of the Artibonite River. The Artibonite, Haiti’s largest river, starts at the infamous dam at Lac Péligre. Rumor has it that the night of the storm, the damkeepers, fearing the dam might burst, opened its flood gates, dumping billions of gallons of water down the valley toward the sea. Canals intended to facilitate drainage at the mouth of the river had long been neglected. In practically an instant, man and nature had conspired to transform 250,000 people from a state of decent poverty to one of despair.
Worldwide, in 2004 the AIDS epidemic showed no signs of abating. International agencies and giant foundations gave millions of dollars to make AIDS drugs available at lower costs. While this was undoubtedly a good thing, little was being done to address the root cause—the exploitation of the poor, particularly women. Until the world wakes up to that reality, that little clump of nucleic acid will continue to outsmart us.
In fact, if an evil scientist or dictator were scheming to design a plan to spread AIDS around the world as a weapon of mass destruction, he couldn’t come up with a better plan than the way, in the United States and the developing world, we deal with issues surrounding poverty. Foremost is the exploitation of women—always poorer than their male counterparts, dominated by them, kept socially and politically inferior, and forced into such survival choices as