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Native of Haiti shaken by extent of destruction

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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WEST STOCKHOLM — Dylia L. Claydon has stopped watching the news from Haiti.


The daughter of a former Haitian interior minister, she says she can't bear to see the hardships her native country faces in rebuilding after last month's devastating earthquake.


"It's overwhelming. It's overpowering," Mrs. Claydon, 82, said. "They're going to have to use security, tremendous amounts of security, to keep the people safe. It can turn ugly very, very fast."


Mrs. Claydon has few family members still living in Haiti, just some second and third cousins whom she has never met. One of her sons and her younger brother are there now helping with the relief efforts. Her son, Fritz Allen, is an ophthalmologist and her brother Roger Lanoue, who is in his 60s, is working in security and intelligence, she said.


Both arrived in Port-au-Prince days after the earthquake to help, she said, but she could not provide details of what exactly they are doing.


It has been more than two decades since she went back to her native Haiti, where she lived until she was 30 years old. She moved to West Stockholm to be near her daughter, Dominique Lavoie, who is a guidance counselor at St. Lawrence Central School, Brasher Falls.


It is still difficult for her to come to terms with the destruction.


"I am looking at houses, I am looking at quarters, I am looking at neighborhoods and they have disappeared," she said. "My father had a great big house and a guardhouse in front. I remember at that time we had a big bed of roses. Gorgeous, gorgeous, 200 of them in raised beds. All that is gone, flat, flat gone."


Mrs. Claydon is the daughter of Christian P. Lanoue, who was the minister of the interior from 1938 to 1942, according to Jean-Francois Briere, a French studies professor at SUNY Albany and author of "Haiti et la France: 1804-1848, Le Reve Brisť."


She left in 1958, after the election of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier the year before. Papa Doc's 14 years in power were noted for repression and corruption. Mrs. Claydon and most of her family fled.


Haiti is now the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, where it was once one of the richest.


It was forced pay France large sums of money after gaining its independence, according to Shelley A. McConnell, assistant professor of government at St. Lawrence University, Canton. Its main export was sugar, which was a commodity and a cash crop.


"Poverty was driven by leaching the soils and the boom-bust effect of growing a commodity," said Ms. McConnell, who has a doctorate in philosophy and political science. "Third, because they had a series of dictators and those dictators did steal a lot of money."


Since Haiti gained its independence in 1804, 23 presidents have been overthrown and only eight have completed their full terms, several of which were completed under U.S. occupation in the early 20th century, according to the Web site of Robert Corbett, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Webster University, St. Louis, Mo.


Mrs. Claydon said she fears Haiti's violent history may repeat itself with the government in shambles once again.


"Half of them are dead, half of them are in shock. I saw the president, I saw the prime minister" on TV, she said. "I knew their parents. I looked at them and said, 'You belong in bed. You don't belong making statements.'"


In the absence of solid government, she said, international aid is the only thing that can help. There has been talk recently of making Haiti into a protectorate to get it back on its feet as well, according to Ms. McConnell. That, Mrs. Claydon said,is something some Haitians have been asking for for years and would be a boon to the country.


"What has to be done in Haiti is so tremendous, is so big, is so large, the international community does not have the visceral fortitude to deal with it," she said.


"It cannot be done in two years. It cannot be done in 10 years. It has to be a 20-year contract or write it off."

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