The 12th of January 2011 marked the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti, killing some 300,000 people, injuring a further 300,000 and leaving more than 1.5 million homeless.
One year on from the earthquake
This sombre anniversary provided a time for reflection, revealing the prolonged human suffering and complete abandonment by the international powers. Twelve months on, the masses are subjected to appalling conditions, barbaric acts of repression and inadequate handouts from the occupying forces and subservient non-governmental organisations (NGOs) still running the country.
According to an action alert issued by School of the Americas Watch, “In spite of an initial massive outpouring of international solidarity, over a million Haitians remain in temporary shelters and over 90 percent of promised aid has not arrived.
“However, one organisation in Haiti is receiving over $1m dollars a day for its operations. That organisation is MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti, created in 2004 shortly after the coup that toppled President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Currently, there are over 9,000 military and 3,000 police in Haiti, from over a dozen countries, including the US, Canada, France, Japan, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, [south] Korea, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay.” (‘Haiti one year later’, soaw.org, 11 January 2011)
With the incompetent and, more accurately, reluctant international community failing to meet the most basic demands of the people, it is clear that Haiti may bear the scar of natural disaster but its enduring wound is the presence of imperialism.
Imperialist meddling in Haiti
Haitian independence, achieved back in 1804 after a successful slave-led rebellion, did not sever imperialist subjugation. Despite the chief of the indigenous army declaring that the country’s people would “forever renounce France; to die rather than to live under its domination; and to fight for independence with their last breath”, a crippling independence debt was imposed on Haiti, limiting its strides towards full emancipation and development.
The young nation continued to repel French attempts to recapture the island, and also provided critical assistance to the latin-american revolutionary Simon Bolivar. However, widespread looting by French, US, German and British imperial forces continued, until the United States ousted its European competitors, acquiring complete control of Haiti in 1915.
Having reinstated slave-like conditions for Haiti’s people, and murdered thousands of its citizens, the US has, since then, never really left. Nor have the French given up their interest in the island, and French/US rivalry in Haiti has been a major factor in the installation of successive repressive regimes and juntas there.
US imperialism safeguarded the tyrant Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, and his personal militia, the Tonton Macoute, which embarked on campaigns of widespread terror against the populace and, in particular, against progressive elements, in order to counter the spread of communist revolution that had liberated neighbouring Cuba.
Duvalier was succeeded by his teenage son, Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’, who continued his imperialist-sponsored repression and accrued staggering debts that the Haitian people continue to pay back today. To illustrate: in 1970, Haiti’s debts stood at $70m; by the time the Duvalier regime ended, this sum had reached $844m. (‘Break the chains of Haiti’s debt’ by Mark Schuller, jubileeusa.org)
The French/US rivalry was evident when the US helped force Baby Doc from office – but he was allowed to live in exile in France, despite being wanted for embezzlement and corruption in Haiti.
Meanwhile, the popular Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who the Clinton administration initially looked on quite favourably as being anti-French, and who came to power briefly after presidential elections were finally held in 1991, was quickly jettisoned when he turned out to have a far more pro-people agenda than they were able to accept.
The CIA was heavily implicated in the coup that ousted Aristide just seven months after he took office, and US multinationals continued to do business with the military regime that took over, despite the official presence of an international trade embargo.
Aristide returned to office in 2001, but alienated both French and US interests to the extent that they joined hands in having him overthrown and shipped out of the country in 2004.
Complicit with the tyrannical rule of various despots and juntas in Haiti, the agents of international capitalism – the IMF and the World Bank – pursued an aggressive neo-liberal assault on Haiti with the imposition of structural adjustment policies which, under the façade of aid, in reality demanded the absolute surrender of Haiti’s land, labour and resources for foreign capital.
The Haitian brand of this neo-colonial robbery took an agrarian form, with the privatisation of agriculture and enforced removal of the peasantry from the land. As farmers were unable to compete with heavily subsidised US competitors, the state became impotent and destitute, witnessing helplessly the mass displacement of the peasantry into swelling urban slums.
These urban settlements, a direct and strategically planned result of neo-liberalism, which viewed its poverty-stricken inhabitants as ready-made pockets of cheap labour, produced the conditions that would ultimately exacerbate the human tragedy of the 2010 earthquake, ripe as they were for the spread of the infectious diseases such as cholera that struck soon afterwards.
This inhumane system, and deliberate state of underdevelopment, has been maintained through a sophisticated manipulation of reality. Internationally, Haiti’s problems are always depicted as consequences of successive corrupt administrations that have been dependent on US ‘aid’. Internally, progressive advances have been violently repressed.
Whenever the Haitian population has elected a government that threatened to be truly representative, US and/or French imperialists have, in true form, sponsored an answering coup d’état. The latest of these, in 2004, saw US-trained Dominican mercenaries overthrow, kidnap and remove the popular president Aristide and subsequently murder thousands of Haitian civilians. The briefest suggestion of independent development, it seems, proved intolerable to the money-grubbers of the IMF and World Bank, the Bourse and Wall Street.
Even today, the US is leaning on the Haitian government to prevent the return of Aristide from his South African exile, despite the fact that he has promised to refrain from political activity.
After the earthquake
In this context, it is unsurprising that the Pentagon assumed control of the earthquake relief effort; deploying military personnel and hardware in partnership with the ideologically aligned and criminally complicit UN forces, which are positioned to control the population.
The imperialist media’s passing announcements that the stumbling renovation efforts in Haiti are down to ‘chaotic conditions’ on the ground are deceitful: the primary goal of the occupying forces is not to improve the living standards of the masses but to ensure their inability to organise independent movements that may disrupt the pre-existing economic and social conditions favourable to international ‘investment’ (ie, looting).
The relationship between crisis and neo-liberalism, with the former as a vehicle of economic and political restructuring, is nothing new. As Haitian families, widows and orphans were deciding whether to locate their crumbling makeshift tents in the countryside, where landowners have been hiring armed thugs to beat, shoot and displace them, or in the cities, where they are forced to share the rubble with the remains of their dead compatriots, international capitalists were holding banquets to entice exploitative global investors to the country.
Haiti’s traumatised survivors have been marketed as the perfect source of cheap labour and, enticed by the prospect of cheaper labour rates than south and southeast Asia, the likes of Gap, Levi Strauss and other such multinational corporations have indeed been investigating the potential for garment production in Haiti.
In order to give a legitime facade to this dastardly pillaging, the US and UN have sought to manipulate pseudo-democratic elections, just as they have done in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. Accordingly, authoritative bodies have disqualified popular movements such as Lavalas, the party of the illegally deposed Aristide, from standing.
However, this smokescreen has failed to fool the masses, who in their droves avoided the sham elections. Further complications occurred when the US’s favoured candidate, Michel Martells, a former pop singer and admirer of the Duvalier regime, could not secure second place to participate in a forthcoming run-off.
As a result, the usual rent-a-crowds associated with election results that are not to the liking of US imperialism went on the rampage for several days in a row, claiming electoral fraud and creating havoc. Their hooliganism was backed up by the usual stream of articles in the bourgeois press around the world asserting that the election was ‘flawed’ and that the ‘popular’ (!) candidate had been ‘unfairly’ knocked out. When offered a recount, the ‘popular candidate’ rejected it, claiming it was ‘a trap’.
These democratic deficits have prompted the masses of Haiti to call for the abandonment of the election.
The images of human suffering in Haiti sicken the people of the world, whilst the imperialist media’s disingenuous reporting is designed to confuse the masses. It is critical that progressive people challenge and dispel such imperialist rhetoric, which, with striking racist colonial undertones, portrays the people of Haiti as incapable, backward and consequently reliant on the ‘good will’ of the ‘international community’, spearheaded (naturally) by the United States.
This absurdity is a creation of international monopoly capitalism and employed as a tool to validate the historical, current and future exploitation of Haiti. The neo-liberal project, which encourages the deepening of exploitation in times of crisis, is in marked contrast to the internationalism of neighbouring Cuba, whose doctors, nurses and engineers remain in Haiti, motivated not by profit but by solidarity and the desire to relieve human suffering.
Undoubtedly, the suffering in Haiti is not due to an anonymous tragedy. Nor can it be blamed on the people themselves, as the reactionaries insist. Rather, it is one more crime that must be charged to the economic, political and moral bankruptcy of imperialism, which has terrorised the developing world for centuries.
Hands off Haiti!