Peter Hallward, author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment,comments on the factors which have exacerbated the impact of the earthquake on the people of Haiti.
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 ‘natural disaster’ to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly man-made outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.
The country has certainly had more than its fair share of catastrophes to contend with. Hundreds of people 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 GonaÃ¯ves 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 yesterday’s earthquake won’t become clear for several weeks. Even the most 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 almost invariably 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 post-colonial 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 aims to offset. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in ex-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, falling victim to an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country ever since……Continue Reading