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Haiti: Capitalist Plunder and Empty Promises

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by Ama Biney

Disaster capitalism operates in the raw in Haiti, where foreign governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations conspire with a venal local elite to mass poverty and brazen resource theft. “It is highly debatable as to whether the lives of most Haitians have markedly improved, if at all, since these NGOs arrived.”

 

Haiti: Capitalist Plunder and Empty Promises

by Ama Biney

This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News.

Long-term socio-economic reconstruction has yet to seriously begin.”

What has become of Haiti and the Haitian people since the earthquake of 12 January 2010? It is three years since the catastrophic earthquake that killed over 300,000 Haitian people in 35 seconds; followed by the devastating loss of more than 7,800 people who have died of cholera due to UN Nepalese troops stationed in northern Haiti since October 2010. More than 93,000 people have become ill and some 7,500 have died from the disease. [1] The tail end of hurricane Sandy in the winter of 2012 took a further 54 lives. The last two tragedies failed to get massive Western media attention as the earthquake did in January 2010. Has the world forgotten Haiti? Is the world immune to the suffering of the Haitian people?

Africa cannot forget this island that is intrinsically part of Pan-Africa, nor its courageous people who established the world’s first black republic in 1804 under Jacque Dessalines; defiantly abolished slavery and as a consequence the United States refused to recognise this sovereign nation until 58 years later; paid a financial indemnity to its former French overlords of 150 million francs as compensation for France’s losses in slaves. Haiti continues to suffer and pay for the crime of defying its former colonial masters and its new imperial masters in the form of the US, Canada and the UN. Haiti’s suffering remains on an incalculable human level.

UN Denies Responsibility for Cholera Outbreak

Since the earthquake and the subsequent flood of NGOs to the island, it appears Haiti competes with Kenya for the title of “Republic of NGOs.” Yet it is highly debatable as to whether the lives of most Haitians have markedly improved, if at all, since these NGOs arrived. Filmmaker, Michele Mitchell’s documentary Haiti: Where Did the Money Go? is a trenchant and excellent critique raising many questions about the role of NGOs such as the American Red Cross in Haiti.

Charities donated £2 billion and government and multilateral institutions pledged £5.6 billion. Much of that money continues to reside in bank accounts. Many ordinary Haitians – up to 358,000 – have yet to see the slogan “build back better,” that was bandied around in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, translate meaningfully in improvements in their own lives as they continue to live in tent camps. Long-term socio-economic reconstruction has yet to seriously begin.

Even before the earthquake Haiti was awash with NGOs around 1995. In addition to the NGOS was the presence of IFIs (international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank); USAID, the US National Endowment for Democracy that bypassed the elected government. As Jane Regan eloquently states, their motive was to “impose a neo-liberal economic agenda to undermine grassroots participatory democracy, to create political stability conducive to a good business climate, and to bring Haiti into the new world order appendaged to the US as a source for markets and cheap labor. As in other countries, this democracy promotion industry will support those projects and people willing to go along with the agenda and will mould them into a centre. In the crude old days, grassroots organizers unwilling to be co-opted would have been tortured or killed. Now, they will simply be marginalized by poverty and lack of political clout.” [2]

Is the world immune to the suffering of the Haitian people?”

Then in October 2010, as if things could not get much worse, they did. For over a hundred years Haiti had not experienced cholera until UN Nepalese troops dumped human waste into the tributary of the country’s main water supply, the Artibonite River. Despite studies published by the New England Journal of Medicine and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the UN refuses to accept culpability for the outbreak that can be traced to the arrival of the UN troops. Even the Secretary-General of the United Nations formed an Independent Panel of four international experts with a mandate to “investigate and seek to determine the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti.” The experts proclaimed in their conclusions that “Their results uniformly indicate that: 1) the outbreak strains in Haiti are genetically identical, indicating a single source for the Haiti outbreak; and, 2) the bacteria is very similar, but not identical, to the South Asian strains of cholera currently circulating in Asia, confirming that the Haitian cholera bacteria did not originate from the native environs of Haiti.” [3] What kind of international organization is it that cannot take responsibility for its own harmful actions and implement reparative social justice for the victims?

Opposition to UN Mounts

According to BBC journalist Mark Doyle, “Lawyers representing thousands of cholera victims in Haiti have threatened to take the United Nations to court in the United States, unless the international body responds to a petition for financial compensation… The UN is being asked to pay $100,000 (£65,000) to the families of those who died and $50,000 (£32,500) to each of the people who fell sick but recovered.” [4] Needless to say, if the cases were to be heard, compensation claims could amount to billions and set a dangerous precedent for the UN. Preceding the cholera scandal have been two allegations of rape – an 18-year-old boy by a UN Uruguayan soldier and a 14-year-old boy by a UN Pakistani police officer in 2011 which mobilized considerable popular opposition to the MINUSTAH (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilization en Haiti – or Stabilisation Mission) established in the country in the spring of 2004. Around 300 protesters marched on the presidential palace in September 2011 after hearing of the rape allegations and demanded the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping troops. They were tear-gassed by the Haitian police.

Many Haitians have come to see the UN presence in the country as an occupying force. They did not invite the UN, rather it was the “international community” (read the US, Canada and France) that did. Life in occupied Haiti has been no better than life in occupied Gaza and since the rape scandals of August 2011 there have been demonstrations against UN presence. It is clear that the majority of Haitians do not welcome the UN troops and want them to leave.

Life in occupied Haiti has been no better than life in occupied Gaza.”

During the year of the earthquake, Haiti's nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), headed by Gaillot Dorsinvil, continued its exclusion of Haiti's largest party, the Fanmi Lavalas of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This prompted weekly and sometimes large demonstrations calling for the removal of the council and President René Préval who hand-picked it. Fanmi Lavalas in Haitian Kreyol means the “flood” or “avalanche.” Indeed on 16 December 1990 over 80 per cent of the Haitian people turned out in a flood to vote in the country’s first genuine democratic elections in which Aristide won an overwhelming 67 per cent of the vote and in 2004 received 75 per cent of the ballot. It was this electoral victory that the US, France and Canada did not wish to see repeated in the presidential and parliamentary elections of November 2010.

Return of Duvalier and Aristide to Haiti

In March 2011, after seven long years of exile imposed by the US, France and Canada, the country’s twice democratically elected former president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, returned to Haiti. In his absence, the popular strata of Haitian society, that is, young people, street hawkers, beggars, the unemployed, and farmers had never forgotten him and rallies were held over the years calling for his return. Preceding the return of Aristide was the return of the notorious Jean Claude Duvalier, more popularly referred to as “Baby Doc,” in January after more than 25 years in exile. The brutal kleptocracy of the Duvalier who ruled Haiti for more than three decades and siphoned off its wealth also killed and “disappeared” many thousands of Haitian dissidents.

Astonishingly, in January 2012, Judge Carvés Jean recommended that the former dictator be prosecuted for corruption and not the more heinous charges of human rights abuses. The judge ruled that torture and murder committed during Duvalier's 1971-86 rule fell outside Haiti's statute of limitations and that there was insufficient evidence to charge him on human rights abuses. It seems such a decision was driven by politics, for on 12 January 2012 Duvalier shared a public platform with former American President Bill Clinton at an official ceremony. It was also driven by pronouncements from Martelly that he might pardon Duvalier – which he soon retracted in the face of criticism from Haitian human rights groups and lawyers.

In an interview with the Associated Press on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in late January 2012, when asked about the former dictator and the pending decision, the president suggested he had little appetite for a trial. He spoke of the need for political reconciliation in Haiti and that reconciliation was more important than punishing Duvalier. However, as some have pointed out, for genuine reconciliation to occur, the wronged need to acquire a sense of redress and the abuser to confront culpability in a credible legal system or process of establishing truth. Only then can reconciliation be forged.

Vultures are Perched for Rich Pickings in Haiti

Very few people are aware of how neo-colonial vultures and American and Canadian neo-liberal capitalist interests are seeking to exploit the shock doctrine environment that has been created by the earthquake in post-coup Haiti. Multinational corporations are seeking to benefit from this neoliberal environment that has been nurtured since the anointing of neo-Duvalierst Michel Martelly. The BBC acknowledged that the former musician was inaugurated in May 2011 “after coming out of nowhere to win 68 percent of votes in the run-off of a hotly-contested presidential election in March.” [5] The origins of his nickname “Sweet Micky” stem from his musical days when he was a beloved star to the Haitian ruling elite. He continues to be a beloved star to neoliberal multinational interests, for it is widely unknown that immense mineral wealth lies beneath the soil of Haiti in the north. The Canadian mining company Eurasian, along with the Haitian subsidiary Majescor and US based mining titan Newmont have quietly been buying licenses and conventions. “Eurasian controls exploration and exploitation rights to over one third of Haiti’s north.” [6]

Neo-colonial vultures and American and Canadian neo-liberal capitalist interests are seeking to exploit the shock doctrine environment that has been created by the earthquake in post-coup Haiti.”

According to Tierramerica, “Altogether about 15 per cent of Haiti’s territory is under license to North American mining firms and their partners.” As Majescor Haitian subsidiary said in a recent corporate presentation: Haiti is the sleeping giant of the Caribbean. The giant was “asleep” because Haiti’s minerals have previously been too expensive to extract thanks to the tumult of the past three decades, characterized by brutal coup d’état, and due to local resistance to the mining company’. [7] Consequently with the neo-colonial Martelly government in power and the continued presence of UN troops (despite local opposition) security of profits – estimated at over 20 billion US dollars in gold – is guaranteed for outside interests and the tiny Haitian elite. Hence, the gold that Christopher Columbus was enamored by when he arrived in 1492 today belies the country’s image as the “poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.” The poverty of Haiti lies in its entrapment in neo-colonial relations between its minority ruling class who constitute 1 per cent of the population yet own over 80 per cent of the wealth of the country, together with Northern governments who have vested interests in maintaining the impoverishment of the country. Is it this wealth that MINUSTAH is seeking to stabilise for the Haitian elite and its Western backers in a continued “stealth imperialism”? [8]

A New Army Divides Haitians

Since coming into office, Martelly has been keen to re-establish the Haitian army that former President Jean Bertrand Aristide dismantled in April 1995 (with much opposition from the US and the traditional Haitian political elite). He claims that Haiti needs an army to protect its borders, fight narcotics and maintain law and order. However, the issue of Haiti’s army is embroiled in a historical legacy of brutal repression in the years of Papa and Baby Doc’s Tonton Macoutes, coups and counter-coups and various other shadowy paramilitary forces such the CIA funded Front Révolutionaire Pour l’Avancement et le Progrés Haitien) FRAPH that emerged in the summer of 1993. It attacked and killed progressive members of Haiti’s Fanmi Lavalas party in late 1993 and early 1994. Such paramilitary forces have been used to contain Haiti’s radical dissent and are long associated with human rights abuses. Consequently talk of reviving the army is a highly controversial issue. Is the creation of an army more pressing than housing, providing jobs for the thousands of unemployed, sanitation, decent roads, health care and combating rising costs of living for the Haitian majority?

Popular anger has mounted at the slow pace of reconstruction.”

In mid-October 2012 hundreds of Haitians marched against the government of Martelly in the capital, Port-au-Prince, calling for his resignation. [9] They also accused him of corruption and that he had failed to deliver on his promises to improve the cost of living since he was elected. In short, popular anger has mounted at the slow pace of reconstruction efforts in the wake of the earthquake.

Coming in the wake of these protests Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean as it did the USA. Whilst Haiti was not directly in the hurricane’s path, it triggered heavy rains and severe flooding in the west and south of the country. Rivers flooded as a result and washed away topsoil and livestock. Plantations of vegetables, corn, rice, beans, bananas, tuber, peanuts, sorghum and pigeon peas were entirely destroyed or badly damaged by wind and water. Hurricane Tomas (of 29 October to 7 November 2010) had killed in total 71 people, of whom 14 hailed from St. Lucia and other Caribbean nations. In the wake of hurricane Sandy the Martelly government declared a state of emergency on 30 October 2012. The ramifications for ordinary Haitians continue to be dreadful as the combined effects of the earthquake, tornado Tomas, hurricane Sandy and Isaac (the latter hurricane occurred in August 2012) has decreased employment opportunities, led to price increases in food stuffs. Overall, predictions of malnutrition and a hunger crisis among sections of the population are very much feared.

Containing the Democratic Tide of Lavalas

Hence, after three years, there continues to be a “development porn” around how Haiti is depicted in the Western media – with rare coverage, if any at all, of what ordinary Haitian progressive and community groups are concretely doing to improve the lives of ordinary people. Alongside the neo-colonial and neo-imperialist attempts to contain the democratic experiment with the ousting of Aristide in 1991 and 2004 is a fear of the radical mobilization of the people that Aristide and his commitment to liberation theology represents. The contempt the Haitian elite and their foreign backers have for the Haitian people who audaciously chose a radical priest for president in two free and fair democratic elections, is the same contempt that the Haitian elite and their foreign backers once held for a people who dared rise and overthrow enslavement in a protracted war of liberation for freedom.

In voting for Aristide, the Haitian people indicated that their party, Fanmi Lavalas, was in favor of socio-economic and political transformation. The mobilization of the OPs (organisations populaires) and TKL (Ti Kommunaté Legliz) that make up Fanmi Lavalas see the poor as fundamental actors in transforming their own reality and forging their own history. It is enshrined in the humanist principle “tout moun se moun” – everyone counts; every person is entitled to a dignified life. The emergence of Fanmi Lavalas in the history of Haiti marks the heightening of Haitian consciousness; a sense that a people can change reality for the better. As Peter Hallward argues, “From 1990, the Haitian people could no longer be excluded from the political scene.” [10]

The emergence of Fanmi Lavalas in the history of Haiti marks the heightening of Haitian consciousness.”

Undoubtedly, profound setbacks have been set in place with the coups of 1991 and 2004 as well as subsequent developments that are seeing a restoration of the old traditional political elite behind Martelly’s government. However, one of Aristide’s many strengths as a leader and catalyst for mass mobilization is his ability to articulate the thoughts of the Haitian people in a metaphorical language they understand. He once said: “The rich of my country, a tiny percentage of our population, sit at a vast table covered in white damask and overflowing with good food, while the rest of my countrymen and countrywomen are crowded under that table, hunched over in the dirt and starving. It is a violent situation, and one day the people under that table will rise up in righteousness, and knock the table of privilege over, and take what rightfully belongs to them. It is our mission to help them stand up and live as human beings.” [11] The ruling minority elite have every reason to fear this, for the “table of privilege” in Haiti (as around the world) must be knocked down by the people under that table and a new table is to be reconstructed around which all must be seated in order to equitably eat.

Dr. Ama Biney is a scholar-activist and Acting Editor-in-Chief of Pambazuka News.

 

END NOTES

1. See ‘Scientists Trace Origin of Recent Cholera Epidemic in Haiti’ in HHMI Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Research News, December 09, 2010. http://www.hhmi.org/news/waldor20101209.html accessed 8/01/2013. See also ‘Haiti seeks $2bn for cholera epidemic ‘introduced by UN peacekeepers’ by Jonathan Watts, Guardian 29 November 2012.

2. Cited in Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment’, 2007, p. 60.

3. ‘Final Report of the Independent panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak in Haiti’ http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/haiti/UN-cholera-report-final.pdf accessed 8/01/2013

4. See ‘Haiti’s Cholera row rumbles on with UN’ by Mark Doyle http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16180250 accessed 8/01/201

5. ‘Haiti Profile’31 October 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19548812 accessed 8/01/2013 accessed 8/01/2013

6. See ‘A Very Canadian Coup d’Etat in Haiti’ by Richard Sanders, 14 June 2010 http://www.globalresearch.ca/a-very-canadian-coup-d-etat-in-haiti/19716 accessed 8/01/2013; see also ‘Haiti’s Gold Rush Promises El Dorado: But For Whom?’ by Tierramerica July 9 2012 http://www.globalresearch.ca/haiti-s-gold-rush-promises-el-dorado-but-for-whom/31835 accessed 8/01/2013

7. : ‘Haiti’s Gold Rush Promises El Dorado: But For Whom?’ by Tierramerica July 9 2012 http://www.globalresearch.ca/haiti-s-gold-rush-promises-el-dorado-but-for-whom/31835 accessed 8/01/2013

8. See Blowback by Chalmers Johnson, 2000, p. 67

9. ‘Haitians protest against Martelly’ BBC article 15 October 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-19943222 accessed 8/01/2013

10. See ‘Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment’, 2007, p. 30

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