[News] How Haiti was abandoned
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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