[News] The Incapacitation of Haiti before and after the quake

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Thu Jan 14 12:38:36 EST 2010


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January 14, 2010


Before and After the Quake


The Incapacitation of Haiti

By ASHLEY SMITH

A devastating earthquake, the worst in 200 years, 
struck Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, laying waste to 
the city and killing untold numbers of people. 
The quake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, and 
detonated more than 30 aftershocks, all more than 
4.5 in magnitude, through the night and into Wednesday morning.

The earthquake toppled poorly constructed houses, 
hotels, hospitals and even the capital city's 
main political buildings, including the 
presidential palace. The collapse of so many 
structures sent a giant cloud into the sky, which 
hovered over the city, raining dust down onto the wasteland below.

According to some estimates, more than 100,000 
people may have died, in a metropolis of 2 
million people. Those that survived are living in 
the streets, afraid to return inside any building that remains standing.

Around the world, Haitians struggled to contact 
their family and friends in the devastated 
country. But most could not reach their loved 
ones since phone lines were down throughout the country.

* * *

WHILE MOST people reacted to the crisis by trying 
to find a way to help or donate money, Christian 
Right fanatic Pat Robertson stooped to new depths 
of racism. He explained that Haitians were cursed 
because they made 
<http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xbukkh_pat-robertson-on-haiti-disaster_news>a 
pact with the devil to liberate themselves from 
their French slave masters in the Haitian revolution two centuries ago.

The corporate media at least reported that 
shifting tectonic plates along a fault line 
underneath Port-au-Prince caused the 
earthquake--and that Haiti's poverty and the 
incapacity of the Préval government made the 
disaster so much worse. But they didn't delve below the surface.

"The media coverage of the earthquake is marked 
by an almost complete divorce of the disaster 
from the social and political history of Haiti," 
Canadian Haiti Solidarity Activist Yves Engler 
said in an interview. "They repeatedly state that 
the government was completely unprepared to deal 
with the crisis. This is true. But they left out why."

Why were 60 percent of the buildings in 
Port-au-Prince shoddily constructed and unsafe in 
normal circumstances, according to the city's 
mayor? Why are there no building regulations in a 
city that sits on a fault line? Why has 
Port-au-Prince swelled from a small town of 
50,000 in the 1950s to a population of 2 million 
desperately poor people today? Why was the state 
completely overwhelmed by the disaster?

To understand these facts, we have to look at a 
second fault line--U.S. imperial policy toward 
Haiti. The U.S. government, the UN, and other 
powers have aided the Haitian elite in subjecting 
the country to neoliberal economic plans that 
have impoverished the masses, deforested the 
land, wrecked the infrastructure and incapacitated the government.

The fault line of U.S. imperialism interacted 
with the geological one to turn the natural disaster into a social catastrophe.

During the Cold War, the U.S. supported the 
dictatorships of Papa Doc Duvalier and then Baby 
Doc Duvalier--which ruled the country from 1957 
to 1986--as an anti-communist counter-weight to Castro's Cuba nearby.

Under guidance from Washington, Baby Doc Duvalier 
opened the Haitian economy up to U.S. capital in 
the 1970s and 1980s. Floods of U.S. agricultural 
imports destroyed peasant agriculture. As a 
result, hundred of thousands of people flocked to 
the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince to labor for 
pitifully low wages in sweatshops located in U.S. export processing zones.

In the 1980s, masses of Haitians rose up to drive 
the Duvaliers from power--later, they elected 
reformer Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be president 
on a platform of land reform, aid to peasants, 
reforestation, investment in infrastructure for 
the people, and increased wages and union rights for sweatshop workers.

The U.S. in turn backed a coup that drove 
Aristide from power in 1991. Eventually, the 
elected president was restored to power in 1994 
when Bill Clinton sent U.S. troops to the 
island--but on the condition that he implement 
the U.S. neoliberal plan--which Haitians called the "plan of death."

Aristide resisted parts of the U.S. program for 
Haiti, but implemented other provisions, 
undermining his hoped-for reforms. Eventually, 
though, the U.S. grew impatient with Aristide's 
failure to obey completely, especially when he 
demanded $21 billion in reparations during his 
final year in office. The U.S. imposed an 
economic embargo that strangled the country, 
driving peasants and workers even deeper into poverty.

In 2004, Washington collaborated with Haiti's 
ruling elite to back death squads that toppled 
the government, kidnapped and deported Aristide. 
The United Nations sent troops to occupy the 
country, and the puppet government of Gérard 
Latortue was installed to continue Washingotn's neoliberal plans.

Latortue's brief regime was utterly corrupt--he 
and his cronies pocketed large portions of the $4 
billion poured into the country by the U.S. and 
other powers when they ended their embargo. The 
regime dismantled the mild reforms Aristide had 
managed to implement. Thus, the pattern of 
impoverishment and degradation of the country's infrastructure accelerated.

In 2006 elections, the Haitian masses voted in 
longtime Aristide ally René Préval as president. 
But Préval has been a weak figure who 
collaborated with U.S. plans for the country and 
failed to address the growing social crisis.

In fact, the U.S., UN and other imperial powers 
effectively bypassed the Préval government and 
instead poured money into NGOs. "Haiti now has 
the highest per capita presence of NGOs in the 
world," says Yves Engler. The Préval government 
has become a political fig leaf, behind which the 
real decisions are made by the imperial powers, 
and implemented through their chosen international NGOs.

* * *

THE REAL state power isn't the Préval government, 
but the U.S.-backed United Nations occupation. 
Under Brazilian leadership, UN forces have 
protected the rich and collaborated with--or 
turned a blind eye to--right-wing death squads 
who terrorize supporters of Aristide and his Lavalas Party.

The occupiers have done nothing to address the 
poverty, wrecked infrastructure and massive 
deforestation that have exacerbated the effects 
of a series of natural disasters--severe 
hurricanes in 2004 and 2008, and now the Port-au-Prince earthquake.

Instead, they merely police a social catastrophe, 
and in so doing, have committed the normal crimes 
characteristic of all police forces. As Dan 
Beeton wrote in NACLA Report on the Americas, 
"The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti 
(Minustah), which began its mission in June 2004, 
has been marred by scandals of killings, rape, 
and other violence by its troops almost since it began."

First the Bush administration and now the Obama 
administration have used the coup and social and 
natural crises to expand the U.S.'s neoliberal economic plans.

Under Obama, the U.S. has granted Haiti $1.2 
billion in debt relief, but it hasn't canceled 
all of Haiti's debt--the country still pays huge 
sums to the Inter-American Development Bank. The 
debt relief is classic window-dressing for 
Obama's real Haiti policy, which is the same old Haiti policy.

In close collaboration with the new UN Special 
Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, 
Obama has pushed for an economic program familiar 
to much of the rest of the Caribbean--tourism, 
textile sweatshops, and weakening of state 
control of the economy through privatization and deregulation.

In particular, Clinton has orchestrated a plan 
for turning the north of Haiti into a tourist 
playground, as far away as possible from the 
teeming slums of Port-au-Prince. Clinton lured 
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines into investing $55 
million to build a pier along the coastline of 
Labadee, which it has leased until 2050.

 From there, Haiti's tourist industry hopes to 
lead expeditions to the mountaintop fortress 
Citadelle and the Palace of Sans Souci, both 
built by Henri Cristophe, one of the leaders of 
Haiti's slave revolution. According to the Miami Herald:

The $40 million plan involved transforming the 
now quaint town of Milot, home to the Citadelle 
and Palace of Sans Souci ruin, into a vibrant 
tourist village, with arts and crafts markets, 
restaurants and stoned streets. Guests would be 
ferried past a congested Cap-Haïtien to a bay, 
then transported by bus past peasant plantations. 
Once in Milot, they would either hike or 
horseback to the Citadelle...named a world heritage site in 1982...

Eco-tourism, archaeological exploration and 
voyeuristic visits to Vodou rituals are all being 
touted by Haiti's struggling boutique tourism 
industry, as Royal Caribbean plans to bring the 
world largest cruise ship here, sparking the need for excursions.

So while Pat Robertson denounces Haiti's great 
slave revolution as a pact with the devil, 
Clinton is helping to reduce it to a tourist trap.

At the same time, Clinton's plans for Haiti 
include an expansion of the sweatshop industry to 
take advantage of cheap labor available from the 
urban masses. The U.S. granted duty-free 
treatment for Haitian apparel exports to make it 
easy for sweatshops to return to Haiti.

Clinton celebrated the possibilities of sweatshop 
development during a whirlwind tour of a textile 
plant owned and operated by the infamous Cintas 
Corp. He announced that George Soros had offered 
$50 million for a new industrial park of 
sweatshops that could create 25,000 jobs in the 
garment industry. Clinton explained at a press 
conference that Haiti's government could create 
"more jobs by lowering the cost of doing business, including the cost of rent."

As TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson told 
Democracy Now! "That isn't the kind of investment 
that Haiti needs. It needs capital investment. It 
needs investment so that it can be 
self-sufficient. It needs investment so that it can feed itself."

One of the reasons why Clinton could be so 
unabashed in celebrating sweatshops is that the 
U.S.-backed coup repressed any and all 
resistance. It got rid of Aristide and his 
troublesome habit of raising the minimum wage. It 
banished him from the country, terrorized his 
remaining allies and barred his political party, 
Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular in the country, 
from running for office. The coup regime also 
attacked union organizers within the sweatshops themselves.

As a result, Clinton could state to business 
leaders: "Your political risk in Haiti is lower 
than it has ever been in my lifetime."

Thus, as previous U.S. presidencies have done 
before, the Obama administration has worked to 
aid Haiti's elite, sponsor international 
corporations taking advantage of cheap labor, 
weaken the ability of the Haitian state to 
regulate the society, and repress any political resistance to that agenda.

* * *

THESE POLICIES led directly to the incapacitated 
Haitian state, dilapidated infrastructure, poorly 
constructed buildings and desperate poverty that 
combined with the hurricanes and now the 
earthquake to turn natural disasters into social catastrophes.

While everyone should support the current 
outpouring of aid to help Haiti, no one should do 
so with political blinders on. As Engler said:

Aid in Haiti has always been used to further 
imperial interests. This is obvious when you look 
at how the U.S. and Canada treated the Aristide 
government in contrast to the coup regime. The 
U.S. and Canada starved Aristide of almost all 
aid. But then after the coup, they opened a 
floodgate of money to back some of the most 
reactionary forces in Haitian society.

We should therefore agitate against any attempt 
by the U.S. and other powers to use this crisis 
to further impose their program on a prostrate country.

We should also be wary of the role of 
international NGOs. While many NGOs are trying to 
address the crisis, the U.S. and other 
governments are funneling aid to them in order to 
undermine Haitians' democratic right to 
self-determination. The international NGOs are 
unaccountable to either the Haitian state or 
Haitian population. So the aid funneled through 
them further weakens what little hold Haitians have on their own society.

The Obama administration should also immediately 
lift the ban against Aristide's return to Haiti, 
as well as the political ban on his party, Fanmi 
Lavalas, from participating in the electoral 
process. After all, a known drug criminal and 
coup leader, Guy Philippe, and his party Front 
for National Reconstruction (FRN) has been 
allowed to participate in the electoral process. 
Aristide and his party, by contrast, are still 
the most popular political force in the country 
and should have the right to participate in an open and fair vote.

The U.S. should also stop deportations of 
Haitians who have fled their crisis-torn country 
and grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitian 
refugees. That would allow any Haitians who have 
fled the political and social crisis since the 
coup, the hurricanes and now the earthquake to remain legally in the U.S.

On top of that, we must demand that the U.S. stop 
imposing its neoliberal plans. The U.S. has 
plundered Haitian society for decades. Instead of 
Haiti owing any debt to the U.S., other countries 
or international financial institutions, the 
reverse is the case. The U.S., France, Canada and 
the UN owe the people of Haiti reparations to 
redress the imperial plunder of the country.

With these funds and political space, Haitians 
would be finally able to begin shaping their own 
political and economic future--the dream of the 
great slave revolution 200 years ago.

Ashley Smith writes for the Socialist Worker, 
where this originally appeared. He can be reached 
at: <mailto:ashley05401 at yahoo.com>ashley05401 at yahoo.com




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