Since the earthquake in Haiti there has been a torrent of international aid, a growing movement to cancel Haiti’s foreign debts and turn emergency loans into grants, and talk of how Haiti can begin to rebuild. Colin Dayan, author of Haiti, History, and the Gods, looks to Haiti’s history and argues that when considering aid and intervention, the US and other countries need to shift the focus away from charity, and toward empowering and strengthening Haiti from within. “We need to remember that Haiti saw the only successful revolution of slaves in human history, and Haiti was also the first black republic in the Americas”, she says in this PBS Newshour Quick Take. “These local, grassroots organizations exist, and they promise the meaningful development that numerous international aid institutions…have repeatedly failed to produce over the past two centuries.”

In a Boston Review article, Dayan finds that news reports focusing on looting and violence after the quake echo media portrayals of Haiti throughout history as a chaotic and unstable country—portrayals that have long been used to justify foreign intervention and occupation, and that ignore Haiti’s history and the reasons for its poverty. In the PBS interview, she describes how foreign debts have hampered Haiti’s development since the day it won independence from France, and calls for these debts to be canceled so that Haitians can use aid to reconstruct and move forward: “It seems to me the first thing that is necessary now is to offer debt relief to Haiti, to make it possible for Haitians to use that aid money to rebuild the country and to develop Haitian expertise”, she says.

Listen to Colin Dayan on PBS NewsHour’s Quick Take: Should the U.S. Change Policy on Haiti?

Read Colin Dayan’s Boston Review article “Civilizing” Haiti