What Were the American Missionaries Thinking?

Theories on an attempted child abduction in Haiti

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American missionaries jailed for attempting to spirit 33 children out of Haiti accuse the American government of not doing enough to help them. The New York Times' Ian Urbina reports the 10 missionaries are suffering from infected mosquito bites, languishing in small and dirty cells, with one diabetic denied insulin for a full week. From the very beginning of the Haitian child-abduction drama, commentators disputed the missionaries' motives. If the missionaries genuinely wished to do good, then has the Haitian response been disproportionate?

  • They Were After Money The Reverend Dale Johnson points out on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 that the missionaries' leader, Laura Silsby, was in a sense treating the children as a commodity. "She's going to get some money off of adoptions and things. You can't do that for free."
  • Bad Leadership Following a report from his colleague Dan Simon, Anderson Cooper himself admits that he "hadn't realized that, that it's a lot of just churchgoers who wanted to do the right thing and were following this woman down there ... if anybody has to stay," he admits, there is some wisdom to the defense attorney's argument that it should be Silsby.
  • Paternalism, Pure and Simple  At The Huffington Post, Martha St Jean is horrified at missionary leader Laura Silsby's reported statement that "the mistake we made is we didn't understand additional paperwork was required." Asks St Jean, "Would she have misunderstood the situation in some town in Idaho?" The American Prospect's Monica Potts is of a similar persuasion: "what's bothered me about the case is what can only be the Americans' arrogance, even if it was well-meaning. It's beyond me why they felt they knew how best to help the children--because they're Americans? because they're Christians?--without checking with the Haitian government that their actions were legal or better than anything else already in place."
  • Disproportionate Punishment?  Reporting with a discernible opinion, new conservative site The Daily Caller writes that "for their efforts to try to rescue twenty-three children from earthquake-ravaged Haiti ... ten U.S. missionaries are now facing child trafficking charges." The staff is unimpressed with Sec. Hillary Clinton's declared faith in the Haitian government--"despite the island country’s essentially nonfunctional judicial system"--to handle the incident.
  • Haitian Authorities Probably Right  "Did the Haitian authorities overreact?" asks The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. Given the "thousands of Haitian children" each year essentially sold as domestic workers, called in Creole "restaveks," he thinks not.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.