The US Air Force, commandeering Port au Prince airport, has scandalised the whole world by its behaviour, preventing planes bearing rescue equipment and other vital humanitarian aid from landing while it got its military priorities sorted, and giving priority instead to ‘VIPs’ like Edward G Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, who was able to jump the queue with an eye-catching stunt promising to spirit Haitian orphans back to the USA.
Whilst the USAF was flexing its muscles in this fashion, thereby delaying international assistance, the death toll needlessly crawled ever higher as the wounded languished untreated and the buried waited in vain beneath the rubble. The consequence of this brutal cynicism: yet more orphans over whom the West can weep crocodile tears.
So obstructive was the American attitude that French aid minister Alain Joyandet was moved to remonstrate: “This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.” (International Herald Tribune, 23/24 January 2010)
In fact, a cursory study of history would remind the French minister that Haiti’s entire history has been one of occupation and resistance against occupation, beginning with the successful black slave revolt against French colonial rule that first established the nation.
Later on, all through the 1960s and 1970s, the French colonial power backed the murderous anti-communist tyranny exercised by the Duvaliers, an arrangement which also suited Washington’s anti-Soviet agenda.
When, in 1990, Haitians, wearied by poverty and exploitation, voted Jean-Bertrand Aristide into power on a platform of price controls on food, a minimum wage, and taxes on the rich, Washington responded with alacrity, backing the 1991 coup to overthrow his government. The chaos that came with the ensuing period of military dictatorship resulted in such dangerous levels of social upheaval that Washington, fearing revolution, agreed to restore Aristide in 1994, in the anticipation that he would now dance to the imperialist tune.
Whilst tempering some of the reforms, however, the government of Aristide (and from 1996 of his colleague Jean Preval) proved to be enough of a thorn in the imperialist side that in 2004 Uncle Sam backed yet another coup, kidnapping Aristide and forcing him into exile. Since that time, Washington has left it to UN troops to police the country, whilst western funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) increasingly behaved like a shadow government, bypassing the official government with scant regard for Haiti’s sovereignty.
Like everything the US does, this latest military occupation is driven by one consideration only: what best serves the interests of imperialism. Washington cares as little about the orphans of Haiti as it does about the orphans of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Palestine. What it does care about very much is its ability to continue looting the world’s resources (it has a weather eye on Haiti’s offshore oil) and exploiting the world’s labour unimpeded.
Indeed, there have been accusations from Venezuela, reported in Press TV, that the quake itself was actually caused by a US weapons test. President Chavez has alleged that the US navy was testing an earthquake weapon it plans to use against Iran, and the test went wrong, leading to the catastrophic Caribbean quake. The Venezuelan leader was echoing a report by the Russian Northern Fleets, which, although not confirmed by Russian official sources, was reported in Russia Today and on Fox News. (See ‘Report: US weapon test aimed at Iran caused Haiti quake’, presstv.ir, 23 January 2010)
Whilst posing as the friend of development in Haiti, imperialism has engineered the ruination of the country’s agricultural sector, bankrupting small peasant farmers by dumping cheap US food products on the market. As late as the 1980s, Haiti was self-sufficient in rice production; now it is a major importer. At the same time, it has concentrated industrial investment into cheap-wage export-led assembly plants that do nothing either to develop Haiti’s home industry or to bring into employment the two thirds of the labour force without formal jobs.
Imperialism keeps Haiti on the rack to squeeze out the interest payments on her $1.8bn national debt and imposes neo-liberal strings on every dollar of ‘assistance’. The resultant poverty (with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line) and lack of decent housing and infrastructure have helped to magnify the scale of the natural disaster beyond all measure.
The only part of the economy that can expect a boom right now is the services sector consisting of hotels, restaurants and brothels catering for the needs of a corrupted soldiery. Now the marines are back in town, Port au Prince can expect to be transformed into a latter-day Saigon.
Imperialism insults the Haitian people by painting them as helpless victims, incapable of governing or feeding themselves, objects of pity at best and more often contempt. Yet history tells a different story: the story of a nation that was founded in the only successful slave revolt in history; a nation whose rebellious spirit remains such that even the most brutal tyrannies have proved incapable of rendering it ductile.
It is a nation whose support to an Aristide could one day ripen into mobilisation behind “a revolution that will prise open imperialism’s stranglehold and build an independent Haitian economy, where local people are producing not for the international market but in order to satisfy their own needs for food, clothing, shelter as well as their spiritual needs.” (Lalkar, May 2004)
Imperialism feared Aristide when he turned to socialist Cuba for assistance, because it fears the shining example which that country represents to the oppressed everywhere. Right now, whilst the US ‘philanthropists’ use the tragedy of the earthquake as a pretext for a new occupation, Cuba is without fanfare getting on with the job of practical solidarity. Cuba already had 350 medical personnel in Haiti who sprang into action as soon as the catastrophe struck, and these were shortly joined by 70 more.
At the last count, Cuban medics had treated 25,000 quake victims. Joining them in this work have also been many Haitian doctors, who themselves have received training in Cuban medical schools, and are now eager to serve their own people. And whilst French and American politicians squabble on the tarmac at Port au Prince, Cuba offers the world a lesson in genuine human solidarity, letting the US use Cuban airspace to evacuate the wounded.
No less magnanimity has been shown by socialist China. Despite the Haiti government having been pressurised by America into ‘recognising’ the Chinese province of Taiwan as ‘independent’ (ie, a dependency of imperialism), China has been unstinting in its solidarity with the Haitian people.
Eight Chinese peacekeepers lost their lives in the quake itself. Beijing has pledged $3.6m in emergency aid, in addition to $4.4m in disaster relief materials. The first round of relief supplies arrived as early as 17 January, despite the enormous logistical challenge of shifting 90 tons of medicine, tents, emergency lights, water purification devices, food, drinking water and clothes halfway around the globe.
Remarkably, given the relative distances involved, Chinese rescue workers were able to arrive on the scene a full two hours before their US counterparts.
And, following this admirable socialist lead, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has declared: “Haiti has no debt to Venezuela (any longer). On the contrary, it is Venezuela that is historically indebted to that nation.” In line with this sentiment, ALBA countries have allocated $120m in aid to their stricken neighbour.
Let the world’s people look at the solidarity rendered by countries of socialism and by those who follow their example and ask themselves: who best represents the future of human civilisation?
End the US occupation of Haiti!
Cancel Haiti’s debt!