I received the following information in an email from the ANSWER coalition:
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive stated today that as many as 100,000 Haitians may be dead. International media is reporting bodies being piled along streets surrounded by the rubble from thousands of collapsed buildings. Estimates of the economic damage are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Haiti’s large shantytown population was particularly hard hit by the tragedy.
As CNN, ABC and every other major corporate media outlet will be quick to point out, Haiti is the poorest country in the entire Western hemisphere. But not a single word is uttered as to why Haiti is poor. Poverty, unlike earthquakes, is no natural disaster.
The answer lies in more than two centuries of U.S. hostility to the island nation, whose hard-won independence from the French was only the beginning of its struggle for liberation.
In 1804, what had begun as a slave uprising more than a decade earlier culminated in freedom from the grips of French colonialism, making Haiti the first Latin American colony to win its independence and the world’s first Black republic. Prior to the victory of the Haitian people, George Washington and then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson had supported France out of fear that Haiti would inspire uprisings among the U.S. slave population. The U.S. slave-owning aristocracy was horrified at Haiti’s newly earned freedom.
U.S. interference became an integral part of Haitian history, culminating in a direct military occupation from 1915 to 1934. Through economic and military intervention, Haiti was subjugated as U.S. capital developed a railroad and acquired plantations. In a gesture of colonial arrogance, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the assistant secretary of the Navy at the time, drafted a constitution for Haiti which, among other things, allowed foreigners to own land. U.S. officials would later find an accommodation with the dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and then his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, as Haiti suffered under their brutal repressive policies.
In the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. policy toward Haiti sought the reorganization of the Haitian economy to better serve the interests of foreign capital. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was instrumental in shifting Haitian agriculture away from grain production, paving the way for dependence on food imports. Ruined Haitian farmers flocked to the cities in search of a livelihood, resulting in the swelling of the precarious shantytowns found in Port-au-Prince and other urban centers.
Who has benefited from these policies? U.S. food producers profited from increased exports to Haitian markets. Foreign corporations that had set up shop in Haitian cities benefitted from the super-exploitation of cheap labor flowing from the countryside. But for the people of Haiti, there was only greater misery and destitution.
Washington orchestrated the overthrow of the democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide—not once, but twice, in 1991 and 2004. Haiti has been under a U.S.-backed U.N. occupation for nearly six years. Aristide did not earn the animosity of U.S. leaders for his moderate reforms; he earned it when he garnered support among Haiti’s poor, which crystallized into a mass popular movement. Two hundred years on, U.S. officials are still horrified by the prospect of a truly independent Haiti.
The unstable, makeshift dwellings imposed upon Haitians by Washington’s neoliberal policies have now, for many, been turned into graves. Those same policies are to blame for the lack of hospitals, ambulances, fire trucks, rescue equipment, food and medicine. The blow dealt by such a natural disaster to an economy made so fragile from decades of plundering will greatly magnify the suffering of the Haitian people.
Natural disasters are inevitable, but resource allocation and planning can play a decisive role in mitigating their impact and dealing with the aftermath. Haiti and neighboring Cuba, who are no strangers to violent tropical storms, were both hit hard in 2008 by a series of hurricanes—which, unlike earthquakes, are predictable. While more than 800 lives were lost in Haiti, less than 10 people died in Cuba. Unlike Haiti, Cuba had a coordinated evacuation plan and post-hurricane rescue efforts that were centrally planned by the Cuban government. This was only possible because Cuban society is not organized according to the needs of foreign capital, but rather according to the needs of the Cuban people.
In a televised speech earlier today, President Obama has announced that USAID and the Departments of State and Defense will be working to support the rescue and relief efforts in Haiti in the coming days. Ironically, these are the same government entities responsible for the implementation of the economic and military policies that reduced Haiti to ruins even before the earthquake hit.
On March 20, thousands of people will march in Los Angeles to to oppose the wars and occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. Tens of thousands more will march in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco at the same time. We will also demand an end the foreign occupation of Haiti and reparations to Haiti for the vast wealth that has been looted from the country by foreign imperialist countries.