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Study Guide Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

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CHAPTER 12

 

Summary

Ophelia visited Cange during the rule of the junta in the early 1990’s. She had felt nervous there in the early years, but now she felt living there was worse. Paul also took many chances, acting rude to the soldiers at checkpoints and refusing to take down the iron sculpture in the clinic supporting Aristide. The soldiers began poking around at Zanmi Lasante, and Ophelia worried that they would come in and massacre them. Iron Pants (a generic name for a strong woman in Haiti) comforted Ophelia by telling her, “We’ll defend this place with our lives.” However, Ophelia wondered what they would use as weapons: pots and pans?

Farmer continued his frequent commute between Boston and Cange. One time, Farmer got $10,000 from Tom White and smuggled it in to the underground, pacifist movement. When Jim Kim cautioned him to be careful, Farmer actually screamed in frustration and anger. He fretted about everything, especially what he would do if the soldiers came in and arrested a patient. He even tried to defy soldiers who told him to say, “Long live the Haitian army,” at one of the checkpoints. He eventually said it, but only when a rifle was pointed at him. A soldier actually came into the compound one day, and Farmer told him he couldn’t bring a gun in there. The man demanded from Farmer, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” Farmer’s answer saved him, “I’m the person who’s going to take care of you when you get sick.” The soldier knew that only at Zanmi Lasante could he get good medical care, too.

Farmer received a MacArthur grant in the summer of 1993. He was depressed by it, because it was meaningless in the face of the junta’s control. The body count continued to grow there. Three of Farmer’s closest friends were murdered, and Farmer retreated to Quebec City, one of his favorite places, and began the draft of a book he would call The Uses of Haiti. He wrote as if in collaboration with a Haitian peasant and revealed the history of American policy all the way back to the 1790’s and up to the present day where the American position was openly against the junta while privately unwilling to drive it out of power. People considered heroes were not so heroic in his book, including Woodrow Wilson, FDR, the CIA, and even Mother Theresa, who openly embraced the so-called good works of Michele, the wife of Baby Doc Duvalier.


When it seemed like the Clinton administration might support the restoration of Aristide, Farmer wrote an editorial in the Miami Herald in which he said, “Should the US military intervene in Haiti? We already have. Now we should do so in a way to restore democracy.” The editorial was mentioned in Haiti on government radio, and the soldiers came looking for Farmer. Fortunately, he was back in Boston, but now he was formally expelled from the country. At the same time, he heard that another friend had been murdered, and he became almost inconsolable.

That summer, 1994, he spent as much time as could lecturing people about Haiti in small towns in Maine, Texas, Kansas, and Iowa. He also went on radio talk shows and challenged anyone who said they couldn’t allow the Haitians to come into our country. Finally, in mid-October, 1994, Aristide was reinstated, and Paul returned to Haiti the day after.

The three years of military rule had nearly decimated the country, especially its health system. All the programs they had set in place were suspended, once the clinic had been briefly shut down, patients were afraid to come there for help, the ones who did come were victims of assaults by soldiers, cases of typhus and measles were up, the number of patients with AIDS had increased by 60% and much of the staff had resigned or were afflicted with a lassitude. However, to Farmer, the situation was far from hopeless, and he was glad to be back.

Farmer was now 35 years old and on the rise in both medicine and anthropology. PIH now had permanent headquarters in a building in Cambridge. It was involved in many programs not only in Haiti, but also other areas of poverty around the world. However, Farmer felt that they were still just a small public charity and that they should reign themselves to a somewhat marginal status. Little did he know that a big change in PIH was about to begin. They were about to become players in international health.

 

Notes

This chapter describes how Farmer dealt with the military junta both before and after he was expelled from the country. He lost many friends, but ultimately never lost hope that he could return and help the people who meant so much to him.

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