Haiti six months after the earthquake – the deadly realities of imperialist aid

(Esteban Felix/Associated Press)19 July 2010. A World to Win News Service. Following is an abridged version of an article that appeared in the issue dated 25 July 2010 o f Revolution, newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (revcom.org).

It has been six months since a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti in January. The city of Port-au-Prince is still literally buried in rubble, making transportation difficult and rebuilding nearly impossible. There is little recovery and rebuilding. Why?

First of all, this reflects the fact that Haiti is an impoverished country that has been economically and politically stunted because it has been dominated by imperialism, especially U.S. imperialism. Experts estimate that it would take 1,000 trucks three years to remove all the rubble. So far only 2 percent has been cleared. But the media reports that Haiti only has 300 trucks [working on clean-up].

And then there are the rules of capitalism – in which nothing gets done unless there is a profit to be made. So millions of trucks and other heavy equipment in the U.S., including tens of thousands of pick-ups and SUVs sitting unsold on car lots because of the depressed economy, are not used to help hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti who are suffering.

There are the huge roadblocks thrown up by capitalist relations of ownership and production in Haiti itself. There have been frequent reports in the media that plans to build better camps are stymied by the failure to get permission from large landowners who control possible sites. In fact, there are many reports of people being evicted from encampments set up after the earthquake because landlords thought they could put even rubble strewn land to more profitable use.

The following is from The New York Times: “[D]ebris… also has a potential monetary value if it is to be reused. ‘It’s not just the rubble, it’s the question of rubble ownership,’ Mr Scales [of the International Organization for Migration] said. Most [people on the land to be cleared] are renters, but the rubble technically belongs to the property owners. And sorting out who owns what land, and getting their permission to excavate has proved difficult.”

Think about what is being said here: “It’s not just the rubble, it’s the question of rubble ownership.” What is happening here speaks volumes to the utter insanity and brutality of the rules operating in the capitalist system – and the complete inability of this system to even address, much less meet, the basic needs of the people. Some 1.6 million people must live in the streets during hurricane season while the propertied classes determine who should gather profits from the ruins of their former homes!

Only 28,000 people have been placed in permanent or stable temporary shelter. Most people have not even received tents. By official figures, only 97,000 tents have been put up since the earthquake – one for every 16 homeless people – and most of these are now falling apart. Tens of thousands of people do not even have tarps. Most of those who lost their homes still remain in the roughly 1,200 camps around the earthquake zone. Only one fourth of these camps are even being run by organized agencies – which are more likely to provide latrines, lights and perhaps clean water. The rest are pulled together by the masses of people, usually led by a committee of residents, fending for themselves to get food, water and sanitation. Said Menmen Vilase, a nine-months pregnant woman: “I’d love to live under a plastic sheet, but I can’t afford it.”

The NYT (10 July 2010) described one of these camps built single file along the median strip of a busy highway. Dozens have been injured when cars crashed into their shanties. Latrines were finally built in March by the French group, Islamic Aid, but they are across the road, so many people who are sick with diarrhoea have to dart through traffic to get to bathrooms. A Revolution reporter visited this same shantytown in January – in all this time these latrines are the only substantial aid they have received.

Faced with all this, tens of thousands of people have moved back into homes badly damaged and unsafe, living daily with the terror of being buried alive if the unstable structures collapse, if another earthquake hits. Others have moved into cemeteries, a municipal dump, flooded sports fields. People live amidst rubble still containing human remains; one man said, “It is better to be here with the smell of the dead bodies than to be down at that camp where it stinks of pee.”

The NYT reported that UN officials “urge patience… They point to accomplishments in providing emergency food, water and shelter and averting starvation, exodus and violence.” Nigel Fisher, deputy special representative of the United Nations secretary general in Haiti told the Times that “What hasn’t happened is worth noting. We haven’t had a major outbreak of disease. We haven’t had a major breakdown in security.” (7/10/10)

Alexandre Meneghini, APNow, when people like this talk about “violence” and “breakdowns in security,” they are not talking about the security of the masses. They are not talking about the increasing levels of rape of women in the camps or the stealing and selling of children into the international sex trade, or attacks on “squatters” by machete-wielding thugs of large land-owners – all of which has been happening.

What they mean is that there has not, so far, been a major political uprising of the Haitian people against the U.S./UN occupation or against the failure of the imperialists and the subservient Haitian government to meet the most basic needs of the people. When they speak of “avoiding exodus”, they are bragging that they have prevented large numbers of Haitians from escaping the desperate conditions there and coming to the United States. To the U.S. and other imperialists (including the UN) millions living on the edge of death is quite fine as long as people are kept from the point of either rising up or flooding into the U.S. where they might be a source of social instability.

What about all those billions of dollars of aid pledged to Haiti?

There are three realities to look at here. The first reality is that when you read the fine print, the aid pledged to Haiti came with “conditions”, which were basically that Haiti officially give up its national sovereignty.

The “justification” for this outrageous imposition of foreign control is the history and present reality of widespread corruption and “incompetence” of the Haitian government. There is a racist and colonialist sub-text here – the imperialists imply that Haitian people are just too ignorant to handle their own affairs, so it is up to the great powers to “pick up the white man’s burden” (as the pro-imperialist British writer Rudyard Kipling once called it) of running their society for them. This “native” corruption and incompetence is a prime justification for imperialist intervention of all kinds, and a prime way of covering up the enormous failures of their system.

Now it has to be said that in the wake of Katrina, the Wall Street debacle, the housing collapse, and the capitalist oil catastrophe in the Gulf, the U.S. should shut up about other nations’ incompetence and corruption!

But more importantly, governmental corruption in Haiti (and elsewhere) is very real, but it is directly a product of U.S. domination.

To put it bluntly, the U.S. has been the primary force shaping – often violently – the Haitian state and social and economic structure. And very specifically, the U.S. worked to overthrow any regime that was not thoroughly “corrupt”. Why? Because the people the U.S. wants as local power structure in Haiti are those willing to sell out the interests of the people and nation of Haiti to the U.S., in return for prestigious titles, connections and a fat salary.

Yet even so, Haiti now confronts a second reality – that the vast majority of aid that was promised hasn’t come through.

The third reality here is that the U.S. plan for Haiti – should it ever actually materialize – is to rebuild it to better serve the needs of U.S. imperialism, and not to help the Haitian people.

According to Ansel Herz writing on HaitiAnalysis.com, “[Hilary] Clinton, along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, are touting a plan devised by Oxford economist Paul Collier to expand tariff-free export zones around Haiti. Their plan calls for Haiti to lift urban slum-dwellers out of poverty through jobs in textile factories, like the Inter-American Garment Factory…”

In July demonstrations of thousands took to the streets in Port-au-Prince and other Haitian cities. While there were many diverse forces and demands, the unifying theme was to demand the resignation of the government of President Rene Preval. Annessy Vixama, a leader of Tet Kole, one of the major peasant organizations in Haiti, has raised the just demand that “the state has to change from attending to international businesses that are acting against the majority of the people and start attending to the peasants.”

The state, in Haiti or anywhere else, is never “neutral”; it does not represent “the people” or “the nation” in general – it arises on the basis of, reflects and serves the underlying economic and political system in a given country. In Haiti the basic system is exploitation and domination by the imperialists (mainly the U.S.) and by the imperialists’ allies within Haiti amongst the large landowning and capitalist classes. This is the system, these are the class forces, that the state was built to serve and which it can only serve. And in fact, if the Haitian state is weak, that is mainly because the imperialists have repeatedly opted to rule directly, through coups, invasions and occupations; in fact, Haiti has been under U.S./UN occupation since President Aristide was kidnapped and taken out of the country in 2004, and most aid and investment bypasses the government and is funnelled through NGOs (generally pro-imperialist “non-governmental organizations”).

The mounting struggle against this government and demands that it meet the needs of the people are completely just and should be supported by people everywhere. And such struggle has the potential to strengthen and push forward a movement for revolution that is aimed at the fundamental problem of U.S. imperialism and its stranglehold domination of Haiti.

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