[News] How Haiti was abandoned

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 21 10:56:59 EST 2011

Comment: Ashley Smith

How Haiti was abandoned

Ashley Smith describes the broken promises of 
support for Haiti from the world's most powerful 
governments--and the neoliberal agenda they are pursuing instead.

January 13, 2011

WHEN THE devastating earthquake struck 
Port-au-Prince in Haiti last January, it killed 
250,000 people, injured another 300,000, 
destroyed 250,000 houses, displaced 1.5 million 
people and reduced large parts of the capital to rubble.

The people of the world responded with an 
outpouring of generosity. They donated money, 
volunteered in relief missions and reached out to 
Haitians in their own countries. The world's most 
powerful governments, the United Nations and 
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) collected 
the donated funds, pledged their own support in 
the emergency, and promised, in the words of UN 
Special Envoy Bill Clinton, to "build Haiti back better."

But by every measure, those states and 
institutions failed Haiti and betrayed the generosity of the world's people.

An angry Ricardo Seitenfus, special 
representative from the Organization of American 
States (OAS) to Haiti, told the Swiss daily Le 
Temps, "If there is failure of international aid, 
it is Haiti." For that moment of honesty, the OAS 
fired Seitenfus. But he was right. Haiti's past 
year explodes the myth of imperial humanitarianism.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WHILE THE U.S. responded to the initial disaster 
with 20,000 soldiers and a 17-ship naval blockade 
around the island, other countries, including 
Cuba and Venezuela, and NGOs rushed to deliver 
food, water and temporary housing. But since the 
initial aftermath, conditions for Haitians have 
actually deteriorated in Port-au-Prince and across the country.

Today, according to the Miami Herald, at least 
810,000 people are still trapped in 1,150 tent 
camps throughout Port-au-Prince. These quake 
refugees have little hope of finding transitional 
housing, since only 15 percent of the promised 
temporary shelters have been built.

And forget about reconstruction. Not even 5 
percent of the rubble in Port-au-Prince has been 
cleared for building new, permanent housing.

The NGOs collected hundreds of millions of 
dollars, but many have sat on the funds, saving 
them for future projects. The Red Cross, for 
instance, collected $479 million in donations for 
Haiti, but has only spent or committed $245 million to aid projects.

In a scathing study of relief efforts titled 
"From Relief to Recovery," Oxfam indicted the 
NGOs and the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission 
(IHCR). Roland Van Hauwermeiren, country director 
for Oxfam in Haiti, stated, "Despite the success 
of emergency lifesaving aid after last year's 
earthquake, long-term recovery from the disaster has barely begun."

The worst offender is the ICHR. As Haitian journalist Christophe Warny wrote:

Everyone counted on the Interim Haiti Recovery 
Commission, with its co-presidents Bill Clinton, 
the UN's special envoy to Haiti, and Haiti's 
prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive. 
Disappointingly, it has met just three times in 
10 months, few projects have been confirmed, and 
there's poor coordination between the sponsors. 
Haitian civil society has been spurned. The donor 
states...seem a long way from the $10-15 billion 
target announced: just 10 percent of donations have materialized.

Without effective reconstruction, Haitians in 
Port-au-Prince were been left vulnerable to 
storms and disease, both of which struck at the 
end of last year. Hurricane Tomas turned the 
camps into cesspools of human excrement and trash.

Worst of all, a cholera epidemic has exploded 
across the country. The World Health Organization 
reports that the disease has killed more than 
3,600 Haitians, and in excess of 170,000 have 
been infected. Epidemiologists fear that as many 
as 600,000 will contract the disease in the coming years.

Soldiers from the very force nominally in Haiti 
to aid the population, the United Nations 
Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), have 
been identified as the strain of cholera sweeping 
the country--specifically, soldiers from Nepal. 
Harvard University microbiologist John Mekalanos 
corroborated the findings of other 
epidemiologists that the strain of cholera came 
from outside Haiti and "likely did come either 
from peacekeepers or other relief personnel."

Outraged by the epidemic, Haitians staged a wave 
of protests in which demonstrators confronted UN 
forces and called for an end to MINUSTAH's 
occupation. Desperate to solve a crisis of its 
own making, the UN sent out emergency plea for 
more $174 million to help treat victims and 
prevent the further spread of the epidemic. But 
according to spokeswoman for the UN Organization 
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the 
response has been "shameful...The UN has only 
received $44 million, or 25 percent of the funds 
we asked for, although [the situation] is of the utmost urgency."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

TO COVER up their failure, the major powers, the 
UN, NGOs and the media have turned to the most 
traditional of alibis--blaming the victim.

One common form of this alibi is to claim that 
the Haitian government is responsible. For 
example, Oxfam argues, "Haitian authorities have 
been moving extremely slowly to address vital 
issues. They have not resolved legal 
complications related to the repair of houses or 
the removal of rubble from the streets, and have 
not acted to support people living in camps to 
move back into their communities or to other appropriate locations."

But the Haitian state itself was shattered by the 
quake. Many of its buildings were destroyed, 
including the National Palace, and 30 percent of 
government personnel were killed.

Perhaps even more common is to highlight 
insecurity and lawlessness in Haiti, as if this 
was the reason for the lack of progress after the 
earthquake. For example, the most recent program 
by the PBS program Frontline, called "The Battle 
for Haiti," focuses on the breakdown of law and 
order in the aftermath of the disaster. As the 
New York Times review of the program concluded, 
"The atmosphere of lawlessness discouraged the 
kind of business investment that might rebuild infrastructure and create jobs."

This was same excuse the U.S. used right after 
the earthquake to justify its disproportionate 
military response. But according to the accounts 
of those in Haiti, there was little violence and 
crime in the immediate aftermath of the 
earthquake, as desperate Haitians rallied to help one another.

Of course, the horrific conditions in the camps 
have worn away this initial solidarity, leading 
to violence, especially rape against women. Those 
conditions--the result of the failure of the 
great powers and NGOs--are the real source of "lawlessness."

Nicholas Kristoff captured another common and 
reactionary alibi in his deplorable column in the 
New York Times titled "Ladders for the Poor." 
After an absurd homage to entrepreneurialism as a 
means for the refugees in the camps to pull 
themselves up by their bootstraps, Kristoff warns 
that aid itself may cultivate a culture of 
poverty in Haiti. "Whether in America or Haiti," 
he writes, "poverty is sometimes linked to 
self-destructive behaviors that lock families into unending cycles of penury."

It is frankly disgusting to argue that people in 
Haiti driven into refugee camps by the quake and 
actually denied aid are poor because of their own behavior.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

ALL OF these alibis absolve U.S., Canadian, and 
French imperialism of their responsibility for 
causing the social conditions in the country that 
made the earthquake so devastating. Their 
policies also incapacitated the Haitian state 
making it unable to develop the country or respond to the emergency.

After Haiti's victorious slave revolution in 
1804, France imposed $21 billion in reparations 
on the country in return of recognition in 1825, 
structurally adjusting the country at its birth.

After several occupations in the 19th and 20th 
century, the U.S. backed the kleptocratic 
dictatorship of the Papa Doc and Baby Doc 
Duvalier from 1957 to 1986 as a Cold War ally 
against Russia and Cuba. The Duvalier 
dictatorships defended the interest of Haiti's 
elite with brute force, murdering as many as 
50,000 peasants, workers and political activists during their reign.

In the 1980s, the U.S., World Bank, and 
International Monetary Fund pushed Baby Doc to 
implement a neoliberal development plan that 
wrecked Haitian society. The plan opened Haiti to 
U.S. subsidized grain, especially rice, 
destroying the livelihoods of the peasant majority.

U.S. multinationals established sweatshops in 
Port-au-Prince to employ the peasants fleeing the 
countryside. But these factories could only 
employ at most 100,000, leaving hundreds of 
thousands in the slums of Port-au-Prince, 
struggling in the informal economy. Finally, they 
got Baby Doc to build swank beach resorts for yuppie tourists.

Outraged, the impoverished masses built a 
movement, Lavalas, that drove Baby Doc from power 
in 1986. In 1990, the movement's leader, 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, ran for the presidency in 
the first free and fair democratic election in 
the country's history, winning 67 percent of the 
vote and trouncing the U.S.-backed candidate Marc 
Bazin. Aristide attempted to implement a program 
of social reform to improve conditions for the 
Haitian masses that ran into conflict with the 
Haitian ruling class and U.S. imperialism.

The U.S. gave support to two coups against 
Aristide, one in 1991 and another in 2004. In the 
run-up to the second coup, Presidents Bill 
Clinton and then George Bush Jr. imposed an aid 
embargo to stop social reform and starve the 
country. The U.S. blocked an Inter-American 
Development Bank loan of $54 million slated to 
improve water treatment for Artibonite Valley, 
the very area where people first contracted cholera.

Since the second coup, the U.S. has ruled Haiti 
as a neo-colony. It first installed Gerard 
Latortue as a puppet president. In 2006, it 
organized an election that was won by Aristide's 
former ally René Préval. But as recently 
published cables from WikiLeaks demonstrate, the 
U.S. was confident that Preval was a toady who 
could be counted on to pursue a neoliberal agenda 
in Haiti. One cable calls him "a neoliberal, 
particularly in that he has embraced free markets and foreign investment."

By undermining Lavalas and Aristide, the U.S. was 
able to further impose neoliberalism on the 
Haitian state and economy, privatizing state 
industry and social services, and opening the country to U.S. multinationals.

The U.S. funneled the bulk of its aid away from 
the Haitian state and toward NGOs. Numbering over 
10,000, the NGOs in Haiti now provide 80 percent 
of services, the highest percentage in the 
Western Hemisphere. Most are not registered with 
the Haitian government and don't even pay taxes.

Haitians now call their country a "The Republic 
of NGOs." But "republic" is a misnomer, since the 
NGOs are not accountable to the Haitian people, 
but to international donors--and most 
importantly, to the U.S. and other major powers. 
This incoherent jumble of NGOs failed to provide 
uniform services to the population even before 
the earthquake--and failed the Haitian people even more afterward.

To ensure its unchallenged dominance, the U.S. 
turned to the UN's MINUSTAH soldiers to repress 
what remained of Lavalas and its political 
leaders. MINUSTAH and the Haitian police have 
killed 1,000 people from 2004 to 2006. The U.S. 
also made sure to stop Lavalas from running in 
elections--and to prevent Aristide from returning 
from his involuntary exile in South Africa.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

SO U.S. imperialism and neoliberalism are thus 
responsible for underdeveloping Haiti, crushing a 
mass political movement, overthrowing Aristide 
twice and incapacitating the Haitian state as a vehicle for social reform.

Since the quake, as Peter Hallward argues in 
Damming the Flood, the U.S.- and UN-led relief operation conformed:

to the three main counter-revolutionary 
strategies that have shaped the more general 
course of the island's recent history. (a) It 
would foreground questions of "security" and 
"stability," and try to answer them by military 
or quasi-military means. (b) It would sideline 
Haiti's own leaders and government, and ignore 
both the needs and the abilities of the majority 
of its people. (c) It would proceed in ways that 
directly reinforce and widen the immense gap 
between the privileged few and the impoverished millions they exploit.

The U.S. doubled the number of troops deployed in 
MINUSTAH to 13,000. The UN had already spent $500 
million a year on its occupation since 2004, and 
now, while Haitians are starved of aid and basic 
housing, the UN renewed that occupation for 
another year, at the cost of $850 million. These 
decisions drove fired OAS representative 
Seitenfus to compare MINUSTAH to a jailer that is 
"transforming the Haitians into prisoners on their own island."

The U.S. also set up the ICHR as the real 
government in Haiti, with Bill Clinton as 
co-chair to ensure its imperial control and the 
World Bank as the organization's treasurer. Last 
April, the U.S. strong-armed the Haitian 
parliament to surrender control over Haiti's 
finances and reconstruction to the ICHR.

Since then, the U.S. has even sidelined the 12 
ruling-class Haitians it accepted onto the ICHR. 
The Jamaica Observer reported that "Suze Percy 
Filippine from President René Préval's office 
spoke passionately on behalf of the 12 Haitian 
members of the IHRC. She said they felt like 
mannequins, also unappreciated and at times 
disrespected. She referred to their attendance at 
a meeting in September where there no seats provided for them at the table."

She and others penned a letter in protest, 
stating that "in reality, Haitian members of the 
board have one role: to endorse the decisions 
made by the Executive Director and Executive Committee."

The IHRC has dusted off a plan from before the 
quake authored by British academic Paul Collier 
along with Clinton as the model for 
reconstructing Haiti. It is the same old plan of 
sweatshops, plantations and tourist traps that 
dates back to the neoliberal schemes imposed under Baby Doc.

While it has failed to collect and disburse the 
bulk of the $10 billion pledged by governments 
for reconstruction projects, ICHR has distributed 
what funds it has not to the Haitian state, but 
to U.S., French and Canadian multinationals and 
NGOs. It used the same corrupt system that the 
U.S. notoriously used in Iraq--the no-bid contract.

These disaster capitalists have launched all 
sorts of pet projects. Thus, Paul Vallas, who led 
the privatizing of New Orleans public schools, 
launched a project to channel public funds into 
the Haiti's private schools; Korean companies are 
in the process of setting up sweatshops; and Coca 
Cola is planning to establish mango plantations.

Former OAS representative Seitenfus rightly 
judges that "it is unacceptable to from a moral 
standpoint to treat Haiti as a laboratory. The 
reconstruction of Haiti and the shimmering 
promise of $11 billions inspire lust. It seems 
that a lot of people come to Haiti, not for 
Haiti, but to do business. For me, as a Latin 
American, it is a disgrace, an affront to our conscience."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE U.S. and other powers, along with the UN, 
have been desperate to maintain a democratic 
cover for their neocolonial project. With 
Préval's term as president set to expire, these 
forces collaborated with him to spend $30 million 
to stage an election on November 28. The election 
was a sham from the beginning and only 
precipitated an even more extreme crisis.

Préval's handpicked Provisional Election 
Commission (CEP) attempted to rig the outcome. It 
banned 14 political parties from running, 
including the country's most popular political 
party, Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas. Preval did 
everything he could to position his anointed 
successor Jude Celestin to win the election.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters joined 45 other lawmakers 
to protest the election. In a letter to Secretary 
of State Hilary Clinton, they wrote:

Haiti's next government will be called upon to 
make difficult decisions in the reconstruction 
process that will have a lasting impact on 
Haitian society, such as land reform and 
allocation of reconstruction projects among urban 
and rural areas. Conferring these decisions on a 
government perceived as illegitimate is a recipe for disaster.

President Obama and Clinton ignored this plea and 
forged ahead with their plans, even as the 
cholera epidemic sparked a wave of anti-MINUSTAH 
protests. They bullied the OAS and CARICOM into 
endorsing the election. Writing in the Los 
Angeles Times, Dan Beeton exposed the hypocrisy 
of Obama, who had just denounced a sham election 
in Burma. As Beeton wrote, "Much closer to home, 
the process is about to be repeated, and this 
time, the Obama Administration seems all too 
happy to go along with the charade."

Haitians, by contrast, listened to Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas, which called for a 
boycott. In the event, only 23 percent of the 
electorate voted--the vast majority sat it out.

The election itself was a carnival of corruption. 
According to the Toronto Star, it was 
characterized by "stuffed ballot boxes. Polling 
stations with no ballots. Dead people on the 
voters list. Living people left off it. People 
voting more than once. The weekend election in 
Haiti had ample evidence of fraud or incompetence, or both."

Nevertheless, the U.S., its allies, the UN, the 
OAS and CARICOM gave qualified approval to the 
election. The CEP reported that Mirlande Manigat 
won 31.37 percent of the vote, ahead of Préval's 
Celestin with 22.38 percent, who nudged out Kompa 
musician Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly with 
21.84 percent. That forced a runoff scheduled for 
January, between Manigat and Celestin. Outraged, 
Manigat, Martelly and 12 other presidential 
candidates protested the vote, mobilized their 
paid supporters into demonstrations, and threatened the Préval government.

Faced with a collapse of their electoral charade, 
the U.S. got the OAS to review the CEP tabulation 
of the vote. According to the Associated Press, a 
draft copy of the OAS report "said the disputed 
November 28th election should neither be thrown 
out or recounted, but that enough fraudulent or 
improper ballots should be invalidated to drop 
ruling-party candidate Jude Celestin into third 
place and out of the second-round runoff."

The OAS is pressuring Préval to call the run-off 
election at the end of February between Manigat 
and Martelly. Manigat is the widow of 
neo-Duvalierist Leslie Manigat, who the military 
selected in a fraudulent vote in 1988. Martelly 
has long had connections with the coup leaders 
who toppled Aristide in 1991 and 2004.

Most Haitians will not turn out to vote for 
either, guaranteeing that the U.S. will have 
selected a puppet government with no democratic 
mandate to impose its neoliberal plans on the country.

In an act of supreme callousness, Vermont Sen. 
Patrick Leahy has threatened to push for a 
suspension of aid to Haiti if the election crisis 
is not resolved. In reality, the U.S. forced this 
election on Haiti, and the Haitian people should 
not be threatened with the cutoff of what little help is reaching the country.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE U.S., the UN and their NGO accomplices have 
proven themselves completely unable to help 
Haitians rebuild from the crisis--in fact, they 
are one of the principal causes of the unending 
crises that has wracked the country.

As Seitenfus declared:

I had hoped that with the plight of January 12, 
the world would understand that it had got it 
wrong with Haiti. Unfortunately, it has 
reinforced the same policy. Instead of taking 
stock, we sent more soldiers. We must build 
roads, erect dams and participate in the 
organization of the state, the judicial system. 
The UN says it has no mandate for that. Its 
mandate in Haiti is to keep the peace of the cemetery.

The hope lies with the resistance that has 
emerged across Haiti against MINUSTAH. It lies 
with the repeated demonstration to demand 
Aristide's right to return to Haiti. It lies with 
regular protests by people trapped in the refugee 
camps, demanding their democratic right to be 
involved in decisions about aid and the reconstruction of their country.

One protester, Aliodor Pierre, revealed the 
radical consciousness developing among a section 
of Haitian population. As an Associated Press 
reporter described what he had to say:

"I blame this on the United States, because the 
United States is the world power,: he says. "Why 
would you accept for us to be living in poverty? 
If Dessalines [the leader of the 1804 revolution] 
were alive today," Aliodor says, "he would lead 
the people in a revolution against the 
government, foreign soldiers and other foreigners 
who aren't helping." He hopes the spirits of the 
ancestors will come back and teach Haitians to be independent again.

The combination of protests and public exposure 
by outraged officials like Seitenfus can 
delegitimize the occupation in the eyes of people 
around the world. In particular, the left inside 
Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina must 
pressure their governments to withdraw troops 
from MINUSTAH. In the U.S. and Canada, the 
Haitian diaspora and its allies have the 
potential to agitate for Obama to end the occupation.

Such an international movement can build, over 
time, a movement for Haitian sovereignty and aid 
to the people, without strings attached. Only 
then will the Haitians majority be able rebuild 
their society in their own interests.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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