[News] Haiti: Two Competing Aid Approaches
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 27 11:20:52 EST 2010
Haiti: Two Competing Aid Approaches
January 27, 2010 By Supriyo Chatterjee
The first aid aircraft to reach the Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti,
within 14 hours of the devastation, was Venezuelan, with a search and
rescue team. Almost immediately afterwards, they drove to a disaster
site and pulled out four women alive. And then came the Americans.
Two very different visions of disaster aid and reconstruction are
playing out in Haiti. Manuel Medina, a Caracas fire officer who was
part of the first Venezuelan team, spoke of his country's "historical
debt" to Haiti. In 1815, President Alexandre Sabes Petion gifted
Simon Bolivar hundreds of elite fighters, ships, arms, money and a
printing press at a time Venezuela's liberator was down and out. Now,
Haiti and Venezuela have agreed on setting up a Petion-Bolivar
Solidarity Brigade to focus on the country's reconstruction. Nicolas
Maduro, Venezuela's Foreign Minister, said his country had no
intention of occupying Haiti: "our deployment is that of solidarity,
not of military force".
The theme of solidarity extends beyond a pending historical debt.
Venezuela, Cuba and other countries of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative
for Latin America) see the Haitian people as protagonists of the
reconstruction. The Haitian people are hard-working and honest and we
will work together with them in reconstruction, says Maduro. The
first Venezuelan rescue team refused bodyguards, and nobody attacked
them. They were, however, impeded once while moving concrete slabs
from a collapsed sweat shop with hundreds of dead in it. As they
dragged bodies out of the rubble, the factory owner interrupted their
work demanding that heavy equipment be used to demolish the structure
so that it could be built over.
Venezuelan aircraft and Navy ships have been offloading supplies in
neighbouring Dominican Republic and driving into Haiti. The food
supplies are shifted by Venezuelans and Haitians together. The aid
convoys also bring in pick-ups and small vehicles destined for
Haitian community organisations. Aid from the people goes straight to
the people. The earthquake has prompted spontaneous community
organisation in Haiti. While the state sank without a trace, the
people were on the feet, burying the dead, organising themselves into
camps and handling the little relief that reached them efficiently.
The ALBA aid is aimed at them.
More than 400 Haitian medical students in Cuba have gone back to
their country to help. Venezuela's 15,000-odd Haitians, many of them
street vendors, have been included in the relief mobilisation.
Venezuela is constructing health centres in each of Haiti's 10
departments. Cuba pitches in with literacy programmes. The two
countries have a programme of boosting rice production and creating
popular markets. Ships from Caracas are bringing in small vehicles to
be given direct to the community organisations. President Hugo Chavez
says his country will contribute to setting up community media
outlets in Haiti managed by the Haitians.
The Other Approach
On the other side of the divide is an aid and development doctrine
self-consciously tied to the strategic interest apron. Hillary
Clinton, in a platitudinous speech on January 6, revealed the core of
"... development was once the province of humanitarians, charities,
and governments looking to gain allies in global struggles. Today it
is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative - as central to
advancing American interests and solving global problems as diplomacy
and defense." Development will be the "central pillar" of foreign
policy; USAID will be used to "advance global stability, improve our
own security, and project our values and leadership in the world".
She mentioned Haiti, "ravaged by poverty and natural disaster", as a
country "where the odds of success are long but the cost of not doing
anything is potentially far greater".
Mrs Clinton's honesty on that day could not be faulted. She spoke of
integrating development, defence and diplomacy, leveraging "the
expertise of our diplomats and our military on behalf of development,
and vice versa" and aligning "overseas development efforts with our
strategic objectives and national interests" so that some time in
future the world would applaud "American knowhow, American dollars,
American caring, and American values".
This is not a new thinking and neither is her State Department the
sole purveyor of policy. The Pentagon is in the driver's seat, with
President Obama making it the lead agency in the Haiti operations.
Among the troops to arrive were the 82nd Airborne Division which was
involved in the invasions of the Dominican Republic, Granada and
Panama. A day before the earthquake, on January 11, the U.S.
military's Southern Command, rehearsed a disaster scenario in Haiti,
involving a hurricane. Some of the communication systems went live
two days later linking "non-government organizations with the United
States [government and military] and other nations for tracking,
coordinating and organizing relief efforts".
International NGOs which do not wish to be sucked into the military
orbit and governments considered inimical to U.S. interests will be
shut out of the loop in future scenarios. This can achieved
relatively simply by the U.S. military taking over key installations
like ports and airports, armed checkpoints being set up in the name
of security and denying communication space to others. In diplomacy,
the United Nations will be bypassed for bilateral deals with weak
national governments desperate for help and client states happy to
have U.S. troops stave off civilian anger. The presence of armed
American soldiers and contractors means that Haiti for now will not
have a repeat of the Nicaraguan uprising of 1972 after a devastating
earthquake. In the longer term, a residual U.S. military presence
will make sure that pesky nay-sayers cannot make too much trouble
when privatisation and deep cuts takes hold.
It is not that Venezuela and Cuba do not have strategic interests in
Haiti. As with Mrs Clinton, President Chavez has been saying publicly
that no revolution is safe in Latin America until the continental
bourgeoisie has been defeated. But the doctrines have different
consequences for Haiti and everywhere else: military boots on the
ground versus hospitals and schools, community organising versus
disaster capitalism, privatisation, wage freezes and enormous loans
versus public ownership, independence versus servitude.
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