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on October 14, 2003
This is not an easy book for an American to read. Page after page confronts us with the links between U.S. policies and the horrible suffering of poor Haitians, which continues to this day. It exposes the lies we have told ourselves to justify this treatment- demonizing Haitians who seek a more just international order (from the leaders of the Haitian revolution through the opposition to the U.S. occupation to the current pro-democracy movement), distorting or misrepresenting facts about Haiti, and so on.
But a reader who disables his or her defense mechanisms will find a coherent explanation for Haiti's current misery, and clear directives for how we can help end it. But the book says almost as much about America as it does about Haiti: how we justify doing things abroad that we would never tolerate at home, with the willing collaboration of the press we trust to keep government honest.
Uses of Haiti is a combination of emotion and academic rigor, which is unsettling to most readers used to one or the other. But the emotion (a normal and human response to 20 years of treating Haiti's sick), and rigor (the author is an MD and a PhD in anthropology)complement each other, if the coexistence is sometimes awkward.
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on July 1, 2004
It is very hard to view the world with anything but pure cynicism after reading the book. Even the title suggests it. Reading about the history and the current troubles of this tiny nation, which has so much in common with the United States, is both depressing and maddening.
This book is a very important read for anyone who is interested in US foreign policy or Latin America. As Farmer says, Haiti is usually not thought of as part of Latin America (indeed, it's usually not thought of at all) but it should be. Like all of Farmer's books, it is extremely well written: it is a fairly quick read that is chock full of information, but it is never overly technical. Someone who is not familiar with the subject or the region (like me, before I read this book) would have no problem reading it.
In fact, I suggest that you keep 2 or 3 copies on you at all times. That way when someone makes an ignorant comment about Voodoo (no matter how multi-cultural and intelligent they're trying to sound) you can hand them a copy and tell them to learn a bit more about Haiti.
EDIT - There seems to be something of a smear campaign going on against this book. The book was originaly published in 1994, and this edition came out in 2003. Therefore, the current happenings in Haiti are not mentioned in the book. One reviewer mentioned that Farmer is so rich because Aristide is lining his pockets. This reviewer is overlooking the fact that Farmer is one of the head doctors at one of the largest hospitals in the US (a post that pays a pretty penny), and teaches at Harvard (ditto), and does frequent speaking tours, is a published author, and much more. Farmer is also quite open about the fact that he lives in a tiny appartment in a very bleak area of Boston, and puts his tremendous earnings right back into Partners in Health.
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on January 29, 2004
Dr. Paul Farmer has had incredible amounts of experience, close to 20 years, living and working for the poor people of Haiti. The key word here is poor, because regardless of what detractors like a fellow reviewer on this page might say, the plight of the poor people of Haiti has forever been slighted and undermined by subtle but draconian US policies. What Dr. Farmer exposes in Uses of Haiti, is the true nature of the war being waged against the poor of Haiti (and similar situations occur worldwide), and he uses meticulously researched details that are not very well known to the general public. I would rather take the word of a medical anthropologist who for close to two decades has been treating the poor people of rural Haiti for free over the word of someone who claims to have "been there" and endorses the right of a military junta to overtrhow a popularly elected president. Uses of Haiti is a riveting read from top to bottom and comes from someone 99.9% of people would agree has his heart in the right place i.e. alleviating the plight of the Haitian poor.
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on June 29, 1998
I read Dr. Farmer's first book "Aids and Accusation" after it was given to me by his sister Jennifer. The book really opened my eyes to the modern Haitian condition and how the origin of AIDS has been "pinned" on this tiny nation. "The Uses of Haiti" tells the truth about the U.S. policy towards Haiti, its upperhanded subversion of democracy for a people it considers less-than-human; a policy that, unfortunately, is not restricted to just Haiti. I only wish that Dr. Farmer's work could be exposed to a larger audience.
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on October 4, 2003
There is no doubt that Paul Farmer's account of the US policy towards Haiti is biased. Certainly his close relationship with Aristide goes unmentioned but has a huge influence on his analysis of Aristide's election, overthrow, and re-instatement -- and this is unfortunate. As someone who has spent time in Haiti, though, I do not believe that his criticisms of the US were too biased or unfounded in any way. To experience Haiti is to experience how the evils of colonialism, slavery, US imperialism, and the 'development machine' can cause deep and lasting suffering; as a physician, Paul Farmer confronts this suffering each day, and as an anthropologist, he can analyze how this suffering have affected the Haitian people as a whole. His anger sometimes makes his writing unweildy and tough to follow, but the education this book provides is well worth the effort (and well worth the nuisance of reading the information about Aristide with a grain of salt). Because this book tells us much about the US that we have not learned, and would rather not believe, this book is hard to read -- but for those same reasons, it is essential that one takes the time to do so.
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on May 7, 2009
Paul Farmer is a wonderful human being who has devoted his life to helping the poor of Haiti get medical care. This is barely mentioned in the book. To me, this gives his opinions even more credibility.

He details the abuses of Haiti by our hegemony and then details the reasons for these abuses. I had always suspected the reasons, and my suspicions were confirmed. I wanted my opinions bolstered by facts or I wanted to change my opinions. This book was erudite, cogent, and salient. I want to say it was enjoyable, but the subject is so sad, that word does not quite fit.

If you're interested in Haiti's plight, this is a great boook to read.
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on January 15, 2007
The content, in the beginning, was difficult for a non political/history reader....but before long I was locked in and was amazed...appalled...at the role of our government in keeping the Haitian people in 'slavery' while claiming to support democracy. Life is a political game to which I have closed my eyes for too long! I am ashamed of the underhanded political dealings my government has been part of in keeping the poor people of Haiti prisoners of the elite and military powers of their own country....Paul Farmer has no ax to grind....he should be applauded and held in high esteme for his courage and wisdom ....and for the first hand exteriences of Haiti that he shares with the little people of the world...us. We give too much trust and power to our gov/politicians who work the system to their own advantage. Learn something citizens of America.....we are being led like sheep....we are part of the problem of the economic abuses being leveled against a small, destitute , struggling country that is fighting for their right to govern themselves as they see fit, with no real support from the rest of the world...least of all the U.S.
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on November 1, 2004
Tracy Kidder's recent book Mountains Beyond Mountains was written entirely about Farmer and his life of unswerving, almost overwhelming devotion to the sick of Haiti in particular and of the third world in general. While Farmer comes across as a bit naive (while at the same time incredibly intelligent and quite cynical) or excessively saintly, the chance that he is simply a mouthpiece for Aristide who wants to line his own pockets seems to me to be less than zero.
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on April 7, 2016
For those interested in the history of Haiti and what Paul Farmer terms Colonial Enterprises domination this is a must read book. He was Mother Teresa to Haiti. We need him to return to that attitude God bless Paul Farmer
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on June 2, 1998
Farmer writes with passion and precision of the deleterious effects of American policy on the lives of ordinary Haitians. A truly exceptional book.
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