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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Bedrock of democracy will keep Chile from collapse

Early Saturday morning, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter near Concepcion, Chile, left more than 700 people dead and several thousand wounded. The country struggles to suppress looting and to dispatch aid to the more than 16 million residents of the South American country, 85 percent of whom live in urban areas.

This natural disaster and the recovery effort that will follow draw an inevitable comparison to the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 12. The death toll for that natural disaster is over 220,000, and much of the capital city was destroyed. International aid agencies reacted quickly, with the first team arriving in Haiti less than 24 hours after the quake. On Jan. 14, the U.S. government announced it would give $100 million to the aid effort and pledged that the people of Haiti “”will not be forgotten.””

In contrast, the earthquake that occurred four days ago in Chile was the fifth largest in recorded history. According to The Washington Post, American aid to Chileans has been much slower than the aid that the world directed toward Haiti and both the U.S. Government and the American Red Cross were waiting to determine the level of aid needed.

The Post article said, “”President Michelle Bachelet opened the door to international aid a day after saying that ‘we generally do not ask for help.’ Her remarks came after a lengthy meeting with advisers convinced her, she said, that the country faces ‘a catastrophe of such unthinkable magnitude that it will require a giant effort to recover.’ Experts said repairs will take years and will probably cost 10s of billions of dollars.””

As quoted in The Washington Post article, Tracy Reines, director of the American Red Cross’s international response center, noted “”you certainly want to get assistance quickly, but it does not have to be international assistance … It can come from within Chile.”” An interview in the Post with the Red Cross leader said that while the organization will be directing some of the $322 million it received for aid efforts in Haiti toward helping Chileans, there are no plans to set up a text-messaging campaign like the one that raised $7 million in 24 hours for relief efforts in Haiti.

As nearly every writer who has considered this comparison has noted, Chile is in a much better position to recover from this natural disaster. According to Time Magazine, Chile has Latin America’s highest gross domestic product and is a wealthy, developed nation with a working system of government and experience in dealing with earthquakes. Time also notes that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.

As columnist Amy Applebaum noted in The Washington Post, “”A society’s ability to recover from a natural disaster is also a reflection of its economic and political culture. There will be “”looting”” in Chile this week as people struggle to survive in the ruins, but the Chilean army and police, not the U.S. Marines, will control the situation.””

She also noted, “”Though it is not especially fashionable at the moment to note these things, Chile, unlike Haiti, is also a working democracy … In the aftermath of a natural catastrophe, this matters: To call Chile a democracy is another way of saying that Chile is a country whose political leaders have to take voters’ concerns into account … In the coming months, the state may not be able to help all of the poor citizens who have suffered, but it cannot ignore all of them indefinitely either.””

The relative need, in terms of the country’s wealth and ability to react to a disaster, may well be less in Chile. But every person who asserts Chile’s strengths highlights the weaknesses of Haiti that existed before the earthquake and will exist long after. As The Washington Post reported, Transparency International ranks the index of corruption in Chile at 25, only six spots below the United States. Haiti ranks at No. 168.

There were obviously problems in Haiti before this disaster. The assumption that Haiti needs the aid more because of the political and economic situation of that country is to acknowledge what few would before the earthquake: corruption and poverty are at astronomical levels in this half-island nation not so far off the coast of Florida. It is not the responsibility of the United States to fix the problems of Haiti. But it is fair to assume that the people of Haiti needed aid before the quake that left 230,000 dead. To delay or avoid giving aid to the people of Chile because their democracy works illuminates by contrast how profoundly the system of government in Haiti does not. It will take more than texting “”poverty”” or “”corruption”” to 90999, but the greatest problems that plague Haiti are far from geological.

—Anna Swenson is a sophomore majoring in English.

She can be reached at

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