Unit 6 Destination Discussion - Haiti

Advance Reading: Members of the group should read Chapters Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, plus the Epilogue and Afterword of The Big Truck That Went By.


What feelings arose for you from the descriptions of the cholera epidemic in Chapter Eleven? What passages do you find have stayed most vivid in your mind?

  • Do you remember seeing news reports about the cholera epidemic in Haiti?
  • Do you recall seeing reports about the possibility that UN troops caused the outbreak?
  • If you had to guess the origins of the cholera epidemic in Haiti before reading this chapter, what would you have said? Did Chapter Eleven alter or confirm this impression?

In the concluding chapters of Katz’ book, he lays out an argument for thinking that U.S. interference in Haiti’s 2010-11 election was intended to ensure an outcome that would be favorable to US economic interests and US prescriptions for development (see p. 269 and p. 271). The result has been the electoral victory of Michael Martelly, and with it the return to power of figures associated with some of the bleakest chapters of Haiti’s recent history (including leaders of the right-wing coup in the ‘90s, the Haitian army and the Duvalierist dictatorship).

  • First, please describe Katz’s argument for this claim in your own words. How, in his view, did U.S. actions and the actions of the opposition candidates, Martelly and Manigat, prevent a fair election?

Turning to the “Epilogue,” in what ways has Haiti returned (or been made to return by outside actors) to the same problems it had before the earthquake and that made that disaster so destructive, in Katz’s telling?

  • What feelings were provoked for you by reading the Epilogue?
  • Do you find yourself arguing with his account of events in any way?

In our own human rights and social justice work, at UUCSJ and elsewhere, we may often find ourselves feeling deeply shaken by the suffering we witness abroad and activated by a desire to help.

  • In doing so, are we at times guilty of the same “breathless” rehearsal of tragedy that Katz critiques in the afterword?
  • What might we gain from heeding Katz’s critique of this approach? What might we lose?
  • How might we continue to bear witness to suffering and struggle against injustice without falling into the patterns Katz describes in this afterword and in the book as a whole?

On p. 284, Katz cites approvingly a reviewer who deemed The Big Truck “a book without heroes.” Arguably, however, it is also a book without villains. Nearly all the figures in the book, from Bill Clinton to René Preval to Michael Martelly, are depicted as complex and imperfect people inspired by a wide range of motives, some of them better than others.

  • Why do you think Katz depicts people in this way?
  • How, if at all, does this trait of his writing relate to the larger themes Katz wishes to convey in the book?

Our UU heritage has often placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of human agency, meaning a belief in our shared capacity and responsibility as people to reshape the world around us. Based on your reading of the final pages of the afterword, and of the book as a whole:

  • In what ways, if any, does Katz present a challenge to this side of our UU heritage?
  • In what ways, if any, does he share the UU emphasis on human agency?
  • In what other ways might you relate the insights you’ve gained from Katz’s book to your theology?
  • How would you relate these insights to your deepest convictions about human beings and our role in the world?


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