Jonathan M. Katz

The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster

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The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster Summary

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The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left a Disaster Behind is Jonathan M. Katz’ account of what happened to the ordinary Haitians in the aftermath of the devastating 7.0 earthquake that took place in 2010. Katz is a former writer for the Associated Press. He cites statistics such as how none of the more than one billion dollars that the United States promised in aid had arrived even six months after the event. Moreover, three years after the earthquake, there were one hundred thousand Haitians who were still without permanent homes.

Katz talks of a private school called La Promesse (The Promise) that was filled with children from a nearby slum even though the school was located in a wealthy area. It was not well built and in its collapse in 2008, ninety-three people, most of whom were children, were killed. He mentions this as a way of showing that most of Haiti was built in a similar slipshod manner. When the earthquake hit, he was living in that same suburb and was the only journalist from the United States stationed in Haiti on a full-time basis. When the quake hit, his bed began shaking. Everything began moving around and a colleague had to help him to safety.

After recalling his personal experience, the author goes on to paint a picture of a country that had already experienced many natural disasters. Most often, however, it was the poor who suffered, not the rich. The earthquake of 2010 was different. This time not only the shoddiest of homes crumbled to the ground, but government ministries and fancy hotels were destroyed as well. Well-to-do embassy workers had their homes fall, along with the businesses and storefronts of the working class. The classes become equals of a sort in the time of disaster, but not, however, in the time of recovery.

When foreign aid and assistance arrived, it appeared as if it were for the benefit of the upper class. Katz tells of a half dozen rescue teams going to the aid of foreigners staying in an expensive hotel to save the guests, while a local Haitian girl not far from the scene remained trapped because the local workers did not have the necessary tools to execute a rescue. Haiti has what is called the “blan bubble,” with “blan” being the Creole word for “white” that in fact refers to all foreigners as long as they have the power and money to live away from the Haitians they have supposedly come to assist. Katz points out that a type of double standard seems to exist when it comes to international aid.

The book includes solid background information about Haiti, as well as an examination of the land grabs that took place following the earthquake and a cholera epidemic, and some minor references to sexual violence. The author is able to use his years of experience living and working in Haiti to examine and analyze the prevailing notions that people hold about poverty stricken countries. He tells that the common view when it comes to aid is that governments are corrupt and cannot handle the funding on their own. The assumption was actually made worse when countries controlled the money being donated themselves, as the Haitians then assumed that when promised money was not received, their own government had stolen it.

Following the school collapse, the former president of Haiti, Rene Preval, addressed the United Nations. He told the less than crowded audience before him that Haiti was a nation that was not sound from a structural standpoint. He was aware of it, this confirmed, but had no power to change the situation. The results of international aid following the earthquake has not changed anything. The people with the most power in Haiti are donors from foreign lands who are not elected by Haitians and do not have any onus of accountability.

Kirkus Reviews said of The Big Truck That Went By, “A top-notch account of Haiti’s recent history including the January 2010 earthquake, from the only American reporter stationed in the country at the time. Katz broke the story of how the deadly cholera outbreak, which spread in the months after the earthquake, was brought to the region by infected Nepalese UN peacekeepers and spread by inadequate sanitation. In his debut the author chronicles his many investigations during his years living in and writing about Haiti. Unlike coverage by other writers on the island’s recent history, Katz’s recounting of the earthquake disaster, and the international mobilization that followed, is part of an ongoing story…An eye-opening, trailblazing expose.” Publishers Weekly adds that the book, “Debunks the assumption that a disaster leads to social disintegration or rioting and observes how media sensationalism prompted unwise giving.”