Haiti’s Pain

January 13, 2010

Haiti's National Palace in ruins

Haiti’s pain seems to know no bounds. As everyone will know, the struggling Caribbean nation has been hit by a massive earthquake, leaving untold thousands dead. Even the presidential palace was demolished by the quake, which follows severe flooding, hurricanes, a foreign sponsored political coup, years of “structural adjustment” which left the nation’s agriculture reeling and the disgusting Duvalier dictatorship imposed by the U.S. during the cold war.

As the nation’s president, Rene Preval, puts it, “Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them. All of the hospitals are packed with people. It is a catastrophe.”

The sprawling capital, Port au Prince, bore the brunt of the quake, which originated some ten miles to the south-west. Its shallow nature apparently made it all the more deadly, ripping apart shoddily built homes with ease. In one incident, the UN’s headquarters in Haiti was destroyed, with hundreds dead.

All that I can do is urge anyone who reads this to give generously to relief efforts. Save the Children has set up a donation system, as has the Disasters Emergency Committee and Oxfam.

But don’t have any illusions. Don’t allow this terrible disaster to airbrush the many, many atrocities that have been inflicted upon Haiti by the “international community” and which, as Peter Hallward explains, have undoubtedly accentuated the scale of this tragedy.

The growth of slums around Port au Prince has been fuelled by trade policies which have seen U.S. agricultural goods dumped on Haiti, decimating local production. Added to that, the U.S. played an active role in dismantling the Haitian government by abetting the 2004 coup which removed elected president Jean Betrand Aristide.

None of that has helped to improve the housing of Haiti’s poor. Still, even the best housing policies could not have saved hundreds of lives in Haiti today.

That probably matters very little to Pat Robertson however. The vile American tele-vangelist has made an astonishing comment on the Haiti earthquake, telling a host on the “Christian” Broadcasting Network that:

“They [the Haitians] were under the heel of the French … and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story….And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal. .. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.”

Haiti had been gearing up for elections, due to be held in February, but which will almost certainly be postponed. Unfortunate as that is, it may be a blessing in disguise for Haitian democracy. Under pressure, it seems, from the U.S., Preval had banned some fifteen parties from the contests, including Lavalas – the party of ousted president Aristide and by far the nation’s largest political force.

As the U.S. ambassador to Haiti told PBS this week, approving the move, “The election periods in Haiti have often been turbulent periods. If we have serious problems with election results that give to, say, potential investors the problem — the perception that Haiti is perhaps entering another period of instability, that will cost Haitians dearly, I`m afraid.”

The UN Secretary General, who is now shedding tears for Haiti, was just last week promising that his staff would enforce the suppression of Haitian democracy. As Ban Ki Moon told reporters, “We cannot physically be present everywhere all the time, but we will try to be as present as possible with the personnel we have at our disposal to create an environment in which the people can go to vote freely and make their choice” adding that “the deployed personnel will be authorized to intervene every time anybody tries to disrupt the electoral process.”

With the largest party banned from the process, that could have meant that anyone trying to vote for Lavalas would have been arrested.

Of course, the knowledge that Haitian democracy was about to receive another slap to the face does not make the task of earthquake relief any less pressing. It just reminds us that the “international community” is not a neutral bunch of good samaritans. Far from it, in fact. At its core, and this is very far away from the work of firemen, doctors and other volunteers working in Port au Prince, the system is truly rotten.

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