The Jan. 17 Forum commentary by David Brooks regarding Haiti claims that "poverty is a product of culture." Obviously, Mr. Brooks has no clue as to what "culture" denotes.
He claims the earthquake tragedy "is not a natural-disaster story." Instead the "poorly constructed buildings" were caused by "poverty." He then attributes Haiti's poverty to a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. True, but these are political, not cultural factors. He attributes these influences also to Barbados and to Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic, but claims these latter two have fared better; he is comparing apples to oranges. Indeed, neither the Dominican Republic nor Haiti fared well under their respective dictators, Trujillo in the DR and Baby Doc and Papa Doc in Haiti.
Mr. Brooks attributes Haitian poverty, etc., to voodoo. Indeed some Brazilians practice magic too, but neither country is controlled by voodoo or related cults' priests.
Also, where is Mr. Brooks' evidence for his assertion that "child-rearing practices often involve neglect ... and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10"? As a teacher of middle- and high-school level students in New York City, I have never seen evidence of any such abuse among Haitian parents.
Other factors like the United States never recognizing Haiti (the freed slave republic) for 60 years and in recent times deporting President Aristide, Haiti's first democratic leader, to the Central African Republic, as well as welcoming most Cuban escapees but turning back Haitian hopefuls, were daunting. Also, few global corporatist interests favored this poor country, where 1 percent of the people control 50 percent of the land. "Paternalism" isn't the answer, but rather merciful aid now and Marshall Plan-type development in the future.
Remember the "culture" of Haiti includes the Creole language, an ethnic identity that is African-American, and "culture" is a way of life that does not control or dictate policy. That is Mr. Brooks' confusion.
BEVERLY L. DARWIN