The nation of Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake, 7.0 in magnitude on January 12th, 2010 at roughly five o'clock in the afternoon, Eastern Standard Time. Due to the depths of infrastructural decay known by the world’s first independent black republic, as many as a quarter of a million people have lost their lives in the rubble of sub-standard dwellings. Media reports from numerous international sources as well as many eyewitnesses have documented that the streets of Port -Au-Prince, the country’s capital, are overflowing with the bodies of tens of thousands of people. The governments of Cuba and Venezuela responded within hours with medical brigades, firefighters, fuel and supplies, and there has been massive sympathy, generosity and volunteerism from workers around the world. What a difference compared to the response from the the United States. The U.S. government has pledged assistance in the way of one hundred million dollars – less than is spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in just two days. In a clear indication of U.S. imperialism's true intentions, President Barack Obama has also dispatched close to 10,000 troops to “aid and assist” the shattered Haitian government of President René Préval “maintain public order.”
What many observers of this deep tragedy have noted is that the same set of priorities that upset relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina are currently holding sway in Haiti. There have been reports that United States military authorities have taken over the country’s functioning airport, and have actually forced incoming flights with needed medical equipment and food support to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, which as a neighboring nation shares the island with Haiti. Pacifica’s Democracy Now and the English language Al Jazeera have interviewed Haitians on the ground who have expressed dismay with the current “rescue” effort as overseen by the United States. According to western sources, there have been some rioting and looting incidents in isolated areas, but given the severity of the situation and the delay of needed resource, this is far from a mysterious development. At present, much mainstream media commentary has displayed the usual indifference to the long historical context of abuse that Haiti has suffered from her more powerful neighbor to the north. In the last two decades alone, the United States, under three different presidents, has supported a classic coup led by creole military officers which resulted in the elected head of state, the former radical priest and leader of the peasant organization Lavalas, Jean Bertrand Aristide, being removed from power.
They ruined the country's agricultural sector by flooding it with cheap rice and other staples and imposed a sweatshop economy which has been a nightmare for the home economy of Haiti, a development which has benefited corporations such as the massive U.S. athletic supply corporation Spalding to the tune of several billion dollars; and they conducted an actual second removal of Aristide from power, one in which Aristide was bodily removed from the country by U.S. forces and taken to Central Africa. So, from where those of us who are acquainted with Haitian history and culture are standing, the current U.S. government concern for the welfare of Haiti is nothing more than crocodile tears. And (it must be said), the decision by President Barack Obama to appoint the sweatshop baron and NAFTA idea man, Former President Bill Clinton, as well as Former President George W. Bush (accessory to the Aristide kidnapping and overseer of the Katrina disaster) is nothing more but the same old swill on a different day. The United States and other western governments (most notably the French) have been attempting to reshape the destinies of the Haitian people since this world’s most successful slave rebellion led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jacques Dessalines defeated the Napoleonic military machine in 1804. Haiti has been forced to live with prohibitive international debt payments, embargoes, and numerous invasions, occupations, and U.S. sponsored military dictatorships for the simple crime of displacing one of the planet’s most intrusive empires over 200 years ago.
Recent reports indicate that the country has suffered a round of aftershocks that may further impede progress in the recovery effort. It is now of the first order that Marxists be “up” on this long U.S. torment of a resourceful and dynamic people. If the current media blather from U.S. ruling class authorities is any indicator of what is to come, the United States is getting ready to take this deep human tragedy, and try again to fix Haiti in spite of itself. Be very sure that the watchwords for this effort will be the old imperial maxim, “If it ain’t broke, fix it till it is”. It is very true to say that the generous donations of U.S. workers are of immense help to the Haitian people when such donations actually reach them, but that’s a very different kettle of fish than what the old imperial order of the U.S. will offer them. The only real solution to Haiti’s problem is the revolutionary overthrow of the rotten capitalist system, led by the working class of Haiti and of the entire region, beginning with the Dominican Republic, and it will not be long until they are heard from. The International Marxist Tendency will present an in depth analysis of the current Haitian crisis and the Haitian question throughout history in the coming days.
There is a manmade element to the catastrophe now confronting the Haitians. The country doesn’t just happen to be poor; it has been made poor and kept poor. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with the worst infrastructure and a people most vulnerable to disaster and disease, because of the machinations of imperialism. Although the earthquake could not be avoided, the scale of death and destruction clearly could have been. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the scenes of horror from Haiti. But we also need take this opportunity to think, and consider how we can prevent catastrophes having such a disastrous effect upon the lives of human beings now and in the future. We are told over and over again that the earthquake was a natural disaster, an ‘act of god’. Of course in one sense it was. We are told that the ‘international community’ is doing its best. And we know that good, brave people from many countries are working to the absolute limit and putting their lives at risk to save lives and bring solace to the survivors. We know that the would-be rescuers can’t just rush around Haiti bringing emergency relief supplies to those that need it. Apart from the earthquake damage, the infrastructure in Haiti was already hopelessly inadequate. The airport couldn’t cope. The roads are impassable.
Countless thousands are already dead. Thousands more face starvation, thirst and disease. Desperation could cause looting. Isn’t this all just a terrible natural tragedy? Haiti is indeed a country stalked by earthquakes and hurricanes. The infrastructure before the earthquake had already been shredded by a series of hurricanes. But Cuba next door is prey to the same natural hazards. As a result of the wave of recent disasters just 4 people have died there. Cuba is not a hapless victim of world capitalism. The Cubans make plans to preserve the lives of their citizens against natural disasters. There is a manmade element to the catastrophe confronting Haitians. The country doesn’t just happen to be poor; it has been made poor and kept poor. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with the worst infrastructure and a people most vulnerable to disaster and disease, because of the machinations of imperialism. Haiti hasn’t always been seen as poor. In the eighteenth century it was perceived as a source of immense wealth. As a French colony it produced 60% of all the coffee and 40% of the sugar consumed in Europe. It produced more wealth than all the British-owned West Indian islands. It was the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’. This wealth came from slavery. The black slaves rose up during the French Revolution. Under the leadership of Toussaint-l’Ouverture they waged the only successful slave rebellion in the world. They expelled all the colonial armies and proclaimed independence in 1804.
Like Cuba more than 150 years later, the Haitians were confronted with a total embargo. In order to break out of the enforced isolation, the Haitian government was forced to promise reparations of 150m gold francs to the French. They were compensating the French for the ‘crime’ of rising up as slaves and thus depriving them of their human property! Repayment of reparations lasted from 1825 to 1947. By 1900 80% of government revenue was going straight out of the country as interest payments. No wonder there was no money left to build up the infrastructure. What the Haitian government had done in effect was to replace slavery with debt bondage imposed on the whole nation. That is the situation that remains to the present day. A series of compliant rulers administered the country on behalf of imperialism, and helped themselves to a portion of the country’s wealth in return. When they were not subservient enough, imperialism intervened directly. The USA occupied the whole country from 1915-34. There have been movements against imperialism. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected on a populist programme in 1990. There was a coup against him the following year. He was elected again in 2000, and doubled the minimum wage to $2 a day. In 2004 he was kidnapped in another coup, backed by the USA and France. This is a remarkably similar sequence of events to those imposed on the left-wing leader Mel Zelaya. Honduras has suffered an identikit coup to the one imposed on Haiti.
Aristide remains in exile. The United Nations Stabilisation Mission has been in the country ever since. They have a monopoly of effective armed force. There is no Haitian army. When somebody asks you ‘Why doesn’t the Haitian government do something?’ remember, the UN, is the real government. Everybody knows that Haiti is in an earthquake zone. So when you ask: why is Haiti in such a mess? Why aren’t the buildings constructed to earthquake-proof standards? Why has nobody improved the infrastructure? Why were there no effective emergency plans? These questions should be referred to the UN as the representative of world imperialism in Haiti. These are legitimate questions. The answer to them is that, until the grip of imperialism is relinquished, for the common people of Haiti suffering will remain a way of life. The people of Haiti need real aid. They need to be part of a movement to kick out imperialism and join hands with a socialist federation of the Caribbean as part of a socialist Americas. It's about time we kicked the rotten state of capitalism out of the door, whilst favouring a fair, egalitarian, and in essence democratic system. We must ensure our fellow humans are not left behind in times of crisis, like the devastating events of Haiti.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.