The real priority should be to facilitate meaningful Haitian self-determination as soon as possible.
The devastating earthquake in Haiti is on everyone’s mind, and union members are among the many who are stepping up to help relief efforts on-the-ground and with financial support. If you plan to make a financial contribution to support the recovery efforts in Haiti, consider donating to one of the organizations below. You can follow the links to learn more about how each group is contributing to the relief effort.
- The Solidarity Center’s Earthquake Relief for Haitian Workers’ Campaign. You can learn more about what they are doing to help Haitian workers and their families here.
- The TransAfrica Forum, a longtime ally of the labor movement, suggests donations to two organizations already providing aid on the ground in Haiti:
- The United Church of Christ, longtime ally of Jobs with Justice and the labor movement, is collecting donations for their mission partners in Haiti. Read about their work here.
Why is the massive international aid effort in Haiti being interfered with by thousands of US troops?
“These weapons they bring, they are instruments of death. We don’t want them. We don’t need them. We are a traumatized people. What we want from the international community is technical help—action, not words.” Haitian man
In fact the US and UN militarization has hampered aid efforts not helped them, according to a number of charities. Nor has the much talked about disorder and looting actually occurred, except in a handful of isolated cases – unless you count as looting starving people taking food from shattered houses and shops to feed themselves and the neighbours.
This malign neglect by the US government, the military and the United Nations big shots too, has cost thousands more lives and extending the terrible suffering of survivors. It proves that the first priority of the USA is not aid, but in fact the military occupation of Haiti.
As the international aid effort began, the US military quickly took control of Port-au-Prince’s sole airport. Several thousand heavily armed US troops patrol its perimeter, which one reporter, Sebastian Walker (Al Jazeera), describes as “more like the Green Zone in Baghdad than a centre for aid distribution”. Inside the airport are vital water and food supplies; Haitians are excluded from entry.
Permission to land is granted – or denied – by the USA, with priority given to US military aircraft, and many international aid planes diverted. Five Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) planes with surgical teams and equipment were diverted to Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic (DR), 252 km away. Another MSF plane equipped with an inflatable hospital was rerouted to Samana in the DR, creating a 24 hour delay in its arrival among Haitians. A French flight carrying a complete field hospital was refused landing permission. Two Mexican aircraft carrying life-saving equipment were also turned away. The list goes on. Meanwhile, US aircraft bringing in more soldiers are free to come and go.
Patrick Elie, activist and former minister in the Aristide government, which in 2004 was overthrown in a US-backed coup, stated “There is no war here. We don’t need soldiers as such… The choice of what lands and what doesn’t land… should be determined by the Haitians.”
Apart from the fact that it is subordinated to the US, the UN aid effort too doesn’t look very different. “Men in uniform, racing around in vehicles, carrying weapons” is how Sebastian Walker describes the UN presence in Port-au-Prince. The great majority of UN personnel are clearly not there to rescue or aid survivors, but to enforce the law. Yet many Haitians were left to dig through the rubble alone, often with their bare hands or the most basic equipment. Outside of the capital, people must mostly fend for themselves.
One BBC news report claimed that a village had to wait four days for aid to arrive because it the areas had to be secured first by the military.
Bill Quigley, a US based advocate of human rights in Haiti, accuses the media of looping footage of looting, exaggerating the problem, and giving the impression that Haitians are lawless and beyond help. This in turn ‘justifies’ the use of heavily armed troops, whereas, Quigley says: “Militarization hinders relief. The goals of humanitarian assistance are radically different from the goals of the military.”
In addition, racism is a factor, with the reaction of mostly white troops towards crowds of desperate black people different to how they would react to whites. Even the BBC – whose on-the -ground staff have started to talk of the incredible courage, dignity and community spirit of the Haitians – at first also talked of “mobs” and “gangs” and said security had to come before aid. The demonization of Haitians as ‘looters’ served the militarization agenda of the US/UN and was clearly meant to do so.
News anchors are still 2 weeks on constantly asking reporters in Port-au-Prince about the scale of the looting, a single minded obsession that the news has with “Black violence”, something that is a reminder of the way that New Orleans was reported in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
What is behind this US race to occupy the Haitian side of the Island? Haiti has a long history of US military intervention and occupation going back to the beginning of the 20th Century, which has contributed to the destruction of Haiti’s national economy and the impoverishment of Haitians. Interventions include the CIA-sponsored 1991 military coup, which overthrew of the democratically elected government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Only when the ruling military junta was faced with popular insurrection in 1994, were 20,000 US-sponsored ‘peace keeping’ troops sent to occupied Haiti. The primary aim was not to restore democracy, but to prevent popular forces taking power in a revolution.
Not only has the US and UN done so little themselves to relieve the suffering they have obstructed those from the 15 nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM), from landing aid at Port Au Prince airport. The prime minister of Jamaica, no radical, was forced to protest at his rude treatment by US military personnel when he arrived there. On the BBC World Service an American Jesuit doctor in Haiti reported that Catholic and other US medical aid organisations sending and rescue teams had been told not to go to Haiti. Many had ignored this advice and gone in via the Dominican Republic.
He also said he that he had seen none of the international and US army help whatsoever, nor had he seen any disorder from the Haitian population. Indeed he said they had organised help for themselves, including at his field hospital, forming orderly queues of the injured waiting for treatment and themselves selecting of the worst cases as priorities. He said he was ashamed of the US media reporting scare stories about rampaging mobs and gangs and voice broke with emotion as he said the Haitians were a “noble people”, behaving with incredible self-control.
Incredible too is Royal Caribbean Cruises’ decision to continue its stopovers in the resort of Labadee on Haiti’s northern coast, 129km from Port au Prince. The private resort, leased by Royal Caribbean from the Haitian government, was almost entirely unaffected by the earthquake. The docks, which take huge cruise liners, could have been used to unload relief supplies, whilst the capital’s port was out of action. But, says Royal Caribbean, US military advisers declared it “unsuitable.”
Some passengers refused to go ashore, one commenting they found it sickening: “I just can’t see myself sunning on the beach, playing in the water, eating a barbecue, and enjoying a cocktail while [in Port-au-Prince] there are tens of thousands of dead people being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water.”
The scale and composition of the US operation is also telling: 9 – 10,000 troops, including 2,000 marines, an aircraft carrier, an amphibious assault ship and assorted amphibious vehicles, dock landing ships, coastguard vessels and helicopters – and one hospital ship. Prior to the earthquake, the number of US military personnel in Haiti was reportedly just 60. Now, combined with UN forces, there will be around 20,000 foreign troops in Haiti – more per capita than currently occupy Afghanistan!
There can be no doubt that current events amount to a re-colonisation of the state. Hilary Clinton announced – “we will be here today, tomorrow and for the time ahead.” Seizing the ‘opportunity’ of the earthquake disaster, the current military operation was begun unilaterally by the US, with the excuse that government in Haiti had collapsed. The chief decision making is in the hands of the military Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), not civilian agencies.
SOUTHCOM has its HQ in Miami and controls US military installations throughout Latin America. Its unspoken mission is to ensure the maintenance of subservient national regimes committed to the neoliberal policy agenda. The presence of US in Haiti creates a base from which to pursue the USA’s strategic and geopolitical objectives in the Caribbean basin, largely directed against Cuba and Venezuela.
Rather than restore the government destroyed by the earthquake, the US is likely to continue the efforts it has made since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship (1986) – to obstruct the functioning of a democratic government, thus fostering Haiti’s subservience to US imperialism. Part of this effort will now be to restore United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), whose HQ was destroyed by the earthquake. As already seen, the US and UN military machines are entirely compatible.
A not unimportant motive is Haiti’s huge natural wealth. The former President of the Dominican Petroleum Refinery Leopoldo Espaillat Nanita, said shortly before the quake that Haiti has – besides major untapped petroleum resources and copper – important uranium, zirconium and iridium deposits. The latter are rare and valuable minerals used in high tech industrial processses). Typically Naninta opined that these could be used to pay Haitian foreign debt. Meanwhile Bill Clinton and George Soros have suggested that Haiti could become a site for garment factories seeking cheap labour – sweatshops – or some sort of historical theme park on slavery for US holiday makers. At such proposals satire itself stands disarmed.
Over 200 000 Haitians are dead after a devastating earthquake hit the country 2 weeks on.
Many are dieing because of lack of clean water, food, medical supplies and the spread of disease as bodies pile up in the streets. The earthquake was natural, but the scale of the damage and suffering that has followed is not. Haitians are dying because, in the system we live in, poor people are not a priority.
The US has pledged to give £68 million in aid and Britain £20 million.
Britain has given £1.5 trillion to the banks since 2008 and together the world’s ruling classes have handed over £9 trillion. When the US and Britain decide to go to war they can move and supply tens of thousands of troops and drop bombs in an instant. When they want to bail out parasitic banks they can hand over billions at the touch of a button. Yet it has taken weeks for even a trickle of aid to reach those left homeless and starving among the rubble in Haiti – and it’s still nowhere near enough.
Haiti’s debt of £546 million cripples the country and comes with harsh conditions that impoverish ordinary people and will hold back reconstruction. Such an amount is nothing to Western rulers, who could cancel the debt overnight. But they refuse to do it – and have even increased it. Rather than focusing on helping ordinary Haitians, the US has sent in troops. Instead of making sure that people get food and water, UN troops and Haiti’s police are “restoring order”.
They would prefer to see people starving in the streets than “looting” food.
Just like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the earthquake in Haiti has exposed the rottenness of this system. For ordinary people in Britain, the obvious thing to do is to send food, water, medical equipment and doctors to save lives in Haiti. There are the resources to do all of these things. But our rulers care more about money than poor people.
The earthquake in Haiti caused, and continues to cause, such terrible destruction and loss of life because the country is so poor. There are three main reasons for that.
Firstly, it is the only place where slavery was overthrown solely by slaves. But it meant a war that lasted 12 years, killed a third of the population, destroyed virtually every city and town, and gutted every plantation.
The second reason that Haiti is poor is that Haitian people paid a price for resisting “primitive accumulation”.
In Britain, across Europe and much of the rest of the world, peasants were driven off the land, and a rural and urban proletariat was created.
That didn’t begin to happen in Haiti until the 1970s, when aggressive neoliberal measures (backed up by local paramilitary pressure) forced many small farmers to abandon ship. Tariffs that allowed Haitian agriculture to compete with imports were removed, public spending slashed and publicly owned assets sold off.
Haitians call this the “American plan” – or the “death plan”.
It was designed to shift labour away from subsistence farming into more “profitable” industries like light assembly or garment manufacture.
Dispossessed farmers began to move en masse into increasingly crowded slums, like Cité Soleil, located next to the factory zone.
Unemployment ensured that wages remained the lowest in the hemisphere, at around $2 a day (roughly a quarter of the level paid in the neighbouring Dominican Republic). The army and paramilitary “Macoutes”, meanwhile, took steps to discourage people from forming trade unions or fighting back. But in the 1980s the army began to lose. Popular protest grew too powerful for the army to control, and in 1990 Haiti elected a president (Jean-Bertrand Aristide) who opposed the army and the American plan.
The backlash this resistance provoked is the third reason why Haiti remains poor – poorer now than it was 20 years ago.
Ever since 1990, the Haitian elite and its international backers have waged an unrelenting campaign to crush this popular movement and discredit its leaders. This struggle between the people on the one hand and the elite plus the army on the other has defined Haitian politics for the last 20 years – and it’s a struggle that’s still going on. Ever since 1990, Haiti’s little ruling class has been looking for ways to force the Haitian people to accept the neoliberal “development” plan, and to find new military means of protecting the “stability” of the status quo.
At first it seemed as if the popular movement might gain the upper hand. In the late 1980s it grew rapidly. It drew on the inspiration of liberation theology, and from the anti-imperialist tradition in Latin America. Aristide and others around him, in addition to pushing for social justice, talked openly about class and the disparity of wealth. They also talked about the need for popular self-defence against the army and the Macoutes – and members of the elite began to panic.
The first time Aristide was elected, with 67 percent of the vote, the army dealt with the popular threat in the usual way – with a violent coup. Thousands were killed when the army regained direct control, from 1991 to 1994. Aristide was obliged to remain in exile in the US until the relentless violence induced him to accept some of the neo-liberal measures he had opposed in his election campaign. The US and its local Haitian clients put a gun to Aristide’s head and said you have a choice – this will go on until the popular movement is decimated or you accept compromise versions of the policies we want you to adopt.
Aristide resisted for a long time before deciding he had no real alternative. Once he was satisfied that Aristide no longer posed a threat, Bill Clinton agreed to send US troops on a “humanitarian” mission to “restore democracy” in Haiti in September 1994. In fact, US troops remained in Haiti for six years, and tried to turn the country into a docile US protectorate. Aristide, however, managed to accomplish two important things. Once back in Haiti, he used the cover of the US army to disband Haiti’s own army. He thus eliminated the traditional bulwark of the ruling class. This was a huge step forward. At the same time, Aristide helped to create a more disciplined political organisation, one that can win and retain political power. It became known as Fanmi Lavalas. It emerged from the wreckage of the popular movement repressed during the first coup. Given the extreme levels of poverty in Haiti it was immediately beset by opportunists. It wasn’t a perfect organisation. But it was by far the most progressive experiment in parliamentary democracy in Haiti’s history.
In 2000 Aristide won the presidential election and Fanmi Lavalas won legislative elections by a huge majority – it had 90 percent of the seats in parliament. So you now had a popular leader, no army and the real prospect of social change. And at this point, as you might expect, the Haitian ruling class launched a campaign to discredit Aristide and overthrow his government. They tried to discredit the 2000 elections, the most credible legislative elections in Haiti’s history. They tried to bankrupt the government, by suspending all international aid.
The US even blocked loans from the Intra-American Development Bank that had already been agreed. The effect was to cut the budget in half, and GDP plummeted. The economy was absolutely hammered and that’s a big reason why the government remains so weak. Since 1990 it’s been impossible to have any meaningful investment in government institutions that would make it possible to regulate the economy – or intervene in a disaster.
Most of the aid that does get through to Haiti has gone overwhelmingly to NGOs – which have their own agendas. They’re not interested in building a strong Haitian state. A lot of them have reactionary religious agendas. There’s been a huge growth of evangelical churches that sprang up from virtually nowhere in late 1970s, largely to counteract liberation theology.
A lot of the NGO funding comes through them. Some may do useful things but on a very small scale and there’s no coordination.
A lot of people in Haiti think, with good reason, that these NGOs are parasitic. They’ve been there for a long time and had no real discernible impact on the levels of poverty or development. They feed on Haiti’s problems. Haiti needs massive national investment and mobilisation of its own people and resources. The pressure against Aristide that began in 2000 soon developed into a destabilisation campaign with clear international support. A paramilitary force joined the assault, and launched an insurgency.
On 28 February 2004 the US kidnapped Aristide in the middle of the night and flew him into exile.
The US managed to topple one of the most popular governments in Latin America in a manner that wasn’t widely criticised or even recognised as a coup at all. The democratic government was replaced by a US puppet, Gérard Latortue. US troops were quickly replaced by a massive UN “stabilisation” force. The UN’s main role was to pacify people – and to get them to accept the coup. This involved a low-level war against Aristide’s supporters, particularly in poor neighbourhoods. The popular movement has been criminalised. Supporters are essentially portrayed as criminals and gang members – people who threaten property, and law and order – and politics gets written out of the equation. You get media reports that Haiti is a violent place but that’s really not true. Crime levels are extremely low.
Haiti’s rulers tell us that the country faces a semi-permanent “security” crisis. This justifies decisions to delay elections – they say it’s too much of a security risk. They say that to restore “democracy” you first need security. It justifies UN occupation and US interference. Of course there are gangs in a city as poor as Port-au-Prince, and the UN has broken up some. But they haven’t dealt with the reasons why such gangs form in the first place.
And there are crimes that the UN itself is implicated including many cases of rape. The UN acted very aggressively to “pacify” neighbourhoods. In both 2005 and 2006 the UN went into Cité Soleil, a politicised neighbourhood that has strong Lavalas support. Hundreds of troops opened fire in a densely packed slum where buildings are made of tin or cardboard and bullets keep going until they hit something. Both times they killed around 20 to 25 people. The UN also presides over an electoral process which has blocked Lavalas from standing in the legislative elections originally planned for next month. This makes a mockery of the democratic process. The UN has had 9,000 troops and police in Haiti, around 1,000 to 1,500 civilian advisers and a budget of $600 million a year, the vast bulk of it spent on military activities.
They spend most of their time patrolling the city in armoured vehicles as if was “hostile territory”.
They’ve done virtually nothing to improve basic infrastructure, to provide running water, invest in hospitals, or do anything about sanitation or rubbish removal. In the aftermath of the earthquake they’ve guarded their headquarters and sat on their hands. The fact that they’ve failed to develop basic water infrastructure will now have a catastrophic effect. Of course, in the immediate aftermath of a disaster like this, any country would need all the help it can get. The US was supposed to offer unrivalled logistic resources. In fact, the relief effort quickly started to resemble a military invasion. When the US gained control of the airport, it repeatedly turned humanitarian flights aside in favour of military flights. It wanted to get its own soldiers in place first before they would conduct search and rescue operations or distribute water, food and medicines.
They’ve been building up a force of 10,000 troops, while untold numbers of people die in the rubble.
No doubt the US military is glad of this opportunity to rebrand the army as a sort of Florence Nightingale, after the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The massive US military presence will have a big impact on the reconstruction process. Naomi Klein is probably right to say that Haitians should watch out for the “disaster capitalists” who have exploited disasters in other parts of the world.
Imagine that privatisation will accelerate and that there will be a lot of ugly wrangling about land ownership. There’s already more emphasis on “security” and “stability”, and imagine we’ll soon start to see yet more pressure to re-establish a Haitian army.
Most credible journalists have emphasised the remarkable levels of calm and solidarity in the midst of this catastrophe, but the UN and the US emphasise the dangers of looting and rioting. They talk about the need to avoid another “Somalia”. Very soon this starts to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the more desperate things get, the more likely it is that the whole reconstruction effort will unfold as a military operation, with UN officials and American commanders – rather than the Haitian people – in charge. Imagine that as the reconstruction proceeds there’ll be more pressure for increased international supervision and a consolidation of power around the industrial zones.
Former US president Bill Clinton’s main job since he was appointed UN envoy has been to emphasise the need for further investment in the garment industry – basically more sweatshops.
The real priority should be to facilitate meaningful Haitian self-determination as soon as possible.