Our guarantee: You won’t hear this from Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer
In a cynical and dishonest editorial, the New York Times Thursday began, “Once again the world weeps with Haiti,” a country which it goes on to describe as characterized by “poverty, despair and dysfunction that would be a disaster anywhere else but in Haiti are the norm.” The editorial continues: “Look at Haiti and you will see what generations of misrule, poverty and political strife will do to a country.” In a background article on the Haitian disaster, the Times adds that the country “is known for its many man-made woes—its dire poverty, political infighting and proclivity for insurrection.”
BY BILL VAN AUKEN, WORLD SOCIALIST WEB SITE [print_link]
IN HIS STATEMENT ON THE HAITIAN EARTHQUAKE Wednesday, President Barack Obama referred to the “long history that binds us together.” Neither he nor the US media, however, have shown any inclination to probe the history of US-Haiti relations and its bearing on present catastrophe confronting the Haitian people.
Rather, the backwardness and poverty that have played a substantial role in driving the death toll into the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands are presented as a natural state of affairs, if not the fault of the Haitians themselves. The United States is portrayed as a selfless benefactor, ready to come to the aid of Haiti with donations, rescue teams, warships and Marines.
In a cynical and dishonest editorial, the New York Times Thursday began, “Once again the world weeps with Haiti,” a country which it goes on to describe as characterized by “poverty, despair and dysfunction that would be a disaster anywhere else but in Haiti are the norm.”
The editorial continues: “Look at Haiti and you will see what generations of misrule, poverty and political strife will do to a country.”
In a background article on the Haitian disaster, the Times adds that the country “is known for its many man-made woes—its dire poverty, political infighting and proclivity for insurrection.”
In a shorter and even more dismissive editorial, the Wall Street Journal celebrates the fact that the US military will play the leading role in Washington’s response to the earthquake as “a fresh reminder that the reach of America’s power coincides with the reach of its goodness.”
It goes on to draw an obscene comparison between the Haitian earthquake and the one that struck southern California in 1994, in which 72 people died. “The difference,” the Journal declares, “is a function of a wealth-generating and law-abiding society that can afford, among other things, the expense of proper building codes.”
The message is clear. The Haitians have only themselves to blame for the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, because they failed to create sufficient wealth and lacked respect for law and order.
What is deliberately obscured by this comparison is the real relationship, which has evolved over more than a century, between “wealth generation” in the United States and poverty in Haiti. It is a relationship built on the use of force to pursue US imperialism’s predatory interests in a historically oppressed country.
If the Obama administration and the Pentagon carry through with reported plans to deploy a Marine expeditionary force in Haiti, it will mark the fourth time in the past 95 years that the US armed forces have occupied the impoverished Caribbean nation. This time, as in the past, rather than aiding the Haitian people, the essential purpose of such a military action will be to defend US interests and guard against what the Times refers to as the “proclivity for insurrection.”
The roots of this relationship go back to the birth of Haiti as the first independent black republic in 1804, the product of a successful slave revolution led by Toussaint Louverture, and the subsequent defeat of a French army sent by Napoleon.
The ruling classes of the world never forgave Haiti for its revolutionary victory. It was subjected to a worldwide embargo that was led by the United States, which feared the Haitian example could inspire a similar revolt in the southern slave states. It was only with southern secession and the outbreak of the Civil War that the North recognized Haiti—nearly 60 years after its independence.
From the dawn of the 20th century, Haiti fell under the domination of Washington and the US banks, whose interests were defended by sending Marines to carry out an occupation that continued for nearly 20 years, maintained through the bloody suppression of Haitian resistance.
The Marines left only after carrying out the “Haitianization”—as the New York Times referred to it at the time—of the war against the Haitian people by building an army dedicated to internal repression.
Subsequently, Washington backed the 30-year dictatorship of the Duvaliers, which began with the coming to power of Papa Doc in 1957. While tens of thousands of Haitians died at the hands of the military and the dreaded Tontons Macoute, US imperialism saw the murderous dictatorship as a bulwark against communism and revolution in the Caribbean.
Since the mass upheavals that brought down the Duvaliers in 1986, successive US governments, Democratic and Republican alike, have sought to reconstruct a reliable client state capable of defending the markets and investments of US firms attracted by starvation wages, as well as the property and wealth of the Haitian ruling elite. This entails preventing any challenge to a socio-economic order that keeps 80 percent of the population in dire poverty.
This effort continues today under the tutelage of Bill and Hillary Clinton—respectively the UN’s special representative to Haiti and the US Secretary of State—who together have Haitian blood on their hands.
Washington has backed two coups and sent US troops back into Haiti twice in the past 20 years. Both coups were organized to overthrow Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first Haitian president to be elected by popular vote and without Washington’s approval. Together, the coups of 1991 and 2004 claimed the lives of at least 13,000 more Haitians. In the 2004 overthrow, Aristide was forcibly transported out of the country by US operatives.
Needing them in Iraq, the US withdrew its troops in 2004, contracting the job of repression out to a United Nations peacekeeping force of 9,000 under the leadership of the Brazilian army.
Despite Aristide’s capitulation to the demands of the International Monetary Fund and his willingness to compromise with Washington, the mass support he attracted with his anti-imperialist rhetoric made him anathema to the ruling elites in both Washington and Port-au-Prince. On the orders of the Obama administration, he is barred from returning to Haiti and his political party, Fanmi Lavalas, remains effectively outlawed.
This is the real and continuing history that, as Obama put it, binds Haiti to US imperialism, which bears overwhelming responsibility for the desperate conditions that have compounded the carnage inflicted by the earthquake.
There are, however, other ties that bind and are deeply felt, as the immensity of the tragedy in Haiti unfolds. There are over half a million Haitian Americans officially counted in the US and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands more who are undocumented. Their presence concretizes the class interests and solidarity that unite Haitian and American workers. Together, it is their task to sweep away the conditions of poverty and devastation in both countries, along with the capitalist profit system that has created them.
Bill Van Auken is a senior writer and political analyst with WSWS.
The Guardian (U.K.) 13 January 2010
Our role in Haiti’s plight
By Peter Hallward
Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti’s capital city on Tuesday afternoon, but it’s no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.
Haiti is routinely described as the “poorest country in the western hemisphere”. This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression.
The country has faced more than its fair share of catastrophes. Hundreds died in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake back in June 1770, and the huge earthquake of 7 May 1842 may have killed 10,000 in the northern city of Cap Haitien alone. Hurricanes batter the island on a regular basis, mostly recently in 2004 and again in 2008; the storms of September 2008 flooded the town of Gonaïves and swept away much of its flimsy infrastructure, killing more than a thousand people and destroying many thousands of homes. The full scale of the destruction resulting from this earthquake may not become clear for several weeks. Even minimal repairs will take years to complete, and the long-term impact is incalculable.
What is already all too clear, however, is the fact that this impact will be the result of an even longer-term history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment. Haiti is routinely described as the “poorest country in the western hemisphere”. This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression.
The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.
Aristide’s own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.
Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population “lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day”. Decades of neoliberal “adjustment” and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.
It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti’s agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more “natural” or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.
As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: “Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses.” Meanwhile the city’s basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government’s ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.
The international community has been effectively ruling Haiti since the 2004 coup. The same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission’s mandate beyond its immediate military purpose. Proposals to divert some of this “investment” towards poverty reduction or agrarian development have been blocked, in keeping with the long-term patterns that continue to shape the distribution of international “aid”.
The same storms that killed so many in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal “reform”, and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster. If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board. Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti’s people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop trying to control Haiti’s government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we’ve already done.