The Uses of Paul Farmer: The Doctor and the Haitian Machine

Published by CounterPunch:

Photo credit: Reuters
Photo credit: Reuters

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
– Martin Luther King Jr.

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Dr. Paul Farmer stood alone in a corner of Hotel Karibe conference room, watching the spectacle.

Reporters buzzed around Bill Clinton, jostling with one another and yelling out questions. The former president was the newly-minted United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti.

It was September 2009, just a few months before the earthquake.

Farmer had been appointed as the Deputy Envoy. But it seemed perverse that the reporters would ignore him.

“Dokte Paul,” as his patients here call him, has been a true friend to Haiti.

A Harvard-educated doctor and public health expert, Farmer co-founded Partners In Health. As a tiny clinic in rural Haiti has grown into a medical complex and now a hospital, he’s innovated and delivered top-class healthcare to the poorest Haitians for three decades.

His accomplishments are profiled in Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is taught in classrooms across the country. I was reading it at the time.

As a recent college graduate and a newcomer to Haiti, I wasn’t going to miss this chance to interview a personal hero of mine. So I ran over.

We talked about Haiti’s challenges. He folded his arms and leaned in, peering through round wire-rimmed glasses. His answers were thoughtful. Farmer had always been a sharp critic of the international community’s treatment of Haiti.

Eventually I asked him a blunt question: “Do you think the administration here was under pressure from international forces to fight the increase in the minimum wage?”

I’d seen graffiti calling for bump in wages in Port-au-Prince earlier that day. In the preceding months, as the government stalled on enacting the wage hike from $3 to a mere $5 per day, protests had engulfed the downtown area.

Farmer stammered a little bit, said he didn’t know, and subtly changed the subject.

One reader left an ominous comment on the interview. “No disrespect to Dr. Farmer, as I believe he is sincere,” he wrote, “but he is now a part of the ‘machine’ that essentially drives Haiti.” Continue reading “The Uses of Paul Farmer: The Doctor and the Haitian Machine”