[News] Haiti: Two Competing Aid Approaches

Anti-Imperialist News 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 
Washington's thinking:

"... 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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