We are now into the sixth day after the devastating earthquake in Haiti which struck at 4.30pm on Tuesday 12th January. Knowing fully that an urgently timely response would be essential yet humanitarian aid is only just beginning to reach small numbers of people. Aid and the aid agencies continue to sit on the tarmac of Port-au-Prince airport now controlled by the US military. Parallels with Katrina cannot be ignored as well as racist attitudes towards Black people with comments of people hungry for food being described as “scavenging” and “looting” [used by the US secretary of defense] and much of the media using similar derogatory language to describe the suffering of the Haitian people who are presented as victims. A perception that contradicts the reality of Haitians helping each other such as a friend of mine who has turned her home into a hospital treating the wounded with whatever she and others can find to hand. People all over the city are working together to help each other in whatever way they can – waiting and waiting for so many huge promises.
From the very beginning it was clear that the tragedy of the earthquake would be used as an opportunity for the US to further militarise the country and control the political process. The silence of the puppet President, RenÃ© PrÃ©val and the resulting absence of any leadership could also be seen as part of the justification for US intervention and involvement. It is not extreme to question whether the US had any influence in maintaining his silence. And then President Obama’s shameful act of calling President Bush and Clinton to oversee the military process – described by the London Daily Mail as the “American Invasion” .
On Wednesday evening, the day after the earthquake, The Foundry [the blog of the right wing neo-con think tank] published the following headline warning us that disaster capitalism was ready to roll.
“Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S “ and called for the “reshaping” of Haiti. A few hours later it had removed the headline and changed it to: “Things to do while helping Haiti”. They also removed the direct reference to “reshaping” the country but the message remained clear with reference to military involvement and the inclusion of President Bush in the “long-term recovery and reform” – meaning occupation and control. Many of the comments left are highly critical of the post and further speak to the revulsion felt by many with the Foundry’s position.
“The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.”
Various blog posts since then have echoed much of the analysis in the mainstream media in the US and UK in which historical facts are distorted and ignored regarding the role of the US and France in particular in the underdevelopment and down right exploitation of Haiti. Even the naming of this as a “natural disaster” is flawed and putting the blame on poverty and lack of infrastructure without any explanation as to why this is so.
The disaster is years of crippling debt including the equivalent to $21 billion in today’s money paid to France [following independence], continued support by the US of the Duvalier dictatorships and US occupation -[1915-1934] and de facto occupation since 2004. When democracy was finally attained with the election of President Aristide, the US did everything it could to undermine the government and when that failed they backed the 2004 coup which led to the exile of President Aristide.
To return to the response of the media and non-profits. We are constantly being bombarded with “news” on how much money has been donated and by whom with every commercial outfit jumping on the donor bandwagon from Apple Mac to T-Mobile. Yes, it’s wonderful that businesses such as these are helping to facilitate donations, but let there be no doubt and name it for what it is – disaster capitalism. In addition to constant updates on the huge and generous sums of money being donated to the mega NGO industry [non-profits] such as the Oxfam, Christian Aid [a large percentage which goes towards often exorbitant operating and administrative costs and the hourly reports on how much aid is being flown in to Port-au-Prince gives the impression that a great deal is happening when in reality very little of this aid has yet to reach the people who need it. But again there is much more to this story. The New York Times recently reported on the US military preventing planes from landing with urgent food and medical supplies further delaying the start of the distribution process and a a report in today’s AlertNet states that Western Union offices are still closed.
French, Brazilian and other officials had earlier complained about the U.S.-run airport’s refusal to allow their supply planes to land. A World Food Program official told The New York Times that the Americans’ priorities were out of sync, allowing too many U.S. military flights and too few aid deliveries…..The Geneva-based aid group Doctors Without Borders put it bluntly: ”There is little sign of significant aid distribution.”..The ”major difficulty,” it said, was the bottleneck at the airport, under U.S. military control. It said a flight carrying its own inflatable hospital was denied landing clearance and was being trucked overland from Santo Domingo, almost 200 miles away in the Dominican Republic, delaying its arrival by 24 hours.
Michel Chossudovsky has written an excellent report on the US military and political operations in Haiti questioning whether this is a “humanitarian operation or an an Invasion?”. H e provides a detailed list of “US military assets” being deployed with decision making on the “humanitarian operation” being led by the “US Southern Command.”
The main actors in America’s “humanitarian operation” are the Department of Defense, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (See USAID Speeches: On-The-Record Briefing on the Situation in Haiti, 01/13/10). USAID has also been entrusted in channelling food aid to Haiti, which is distributed by the World Food Program. (See USAID Press Release: USAID to Provide Emergency Food Aid for Haiti Earthquake Victims, January 13, 2010)
A massive deployment of military hardware and personnel is contemplated. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has confirmed that the US will be sending nine to ten thousand troops to Haiti, including 2000 marines. (American Forces Press Service, January 14, 2010)………………Aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson and its complement of supporting ships has already arrived in Port au Prince. (January 15, 2010). The 2,000-member Marine Amphibious Unit as well as and soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division “are trained in a wide variety of missions including security and riot-control in addition to humanitarian tasks.”…………………In contrast to rescue and relief teams dispatched by various civilian teams and organizations, the humanitarian mandate of the US military is not clearly defined:
“Marines are definitely warriors first, and that is what the world knows the Marines for,… [but] we’re equally as compassionate when we need to be, and this is a role that we’d like to show — that compassionate warrior, reaching out with a helping hand for those who need it. We are very excited about this.” (Marines’ Spokesman, Marines Embark on Haiti Response Mission, Army Forces Press Services, January 14, 2010)
These numbers are in addition to the UN MINUSTAH force of 9,065 plus civilian staff whose record of death and destruction is well documented in the film “We Must Kill the Bandits” by Kevin Pina and here on Haiti Action. The support of President Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas party remains strong and vocal in Haiti despite their being prevented from participating in 2006 elections and banned from taking part in the next elections. The militarisation of the earthquake in Haiti is a continuation of the US’s determination not to enable the rightful return of elected President Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas and to ensure that the main focus is on security and keeping the Haitian elite in power – telling comments from one of Haiti’s few elite
“A palace built atop a mountain by the man who runs one of Haiti’s biggest lottery games is still standing. New-car dealers, the big importers, the families that control the port — they all drove through town with their drivers and security men this past weekend. Only a few homes here were destroyed.
“All the nation is feeling this earthquake — the poor, the middle class and the richest ones,” said Erwin Berthold, owner of the Big Star Market in Petionville. “But we did okay here. We have everything cleaned up inside. We are ready to open. We just need some security. So send in the Marines, okay?”