JANUARY 20 – Suddenly the earth began shaking. In less than a minute Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas lay in ruins, virtually destroyed in one of the worst geological calamities of modern history. Even a week later, the number of those who perished is uncertain: surely well over 100,000 dead, perhaps anywhere from 200,000 to half a million. An estimated 1.5 million people are now homeless. Agencies calculate that some three million people, a third of the country’s population, require emergency aid. And unlike the Asian tsunami of 2004, whose trail of destruction spread over a vast ocean expanse, the deadly force of the January 12 quake was concentrated in a few hundred square kilometers of this beleaguered Caribbean island nation. A land that was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere was laid waste.
Now the human suffering has been enormously compounded by to the militarization of the relief effort and reoccupation of Haiti by the United States. More than a dozen flights by aid groups, carrying rescue squads, tons of medical supplies and entire field hospitals, were refused permission to land at the Port-au-Prince airport by U.S. military air controllers who are now in charge. Currently some 12,000 U.S. Special Forces and Marines are landing in Haiti, supposedly to provide “security.” And the number of troops in United Nations “peacekeeping” mission, which has occupied the country on behalf of the U.S. since 2004, is being increased from 9,000 to 12,500. This huge military occupation is not intended to deliver aid, but to put down unrest by the poor and working people of Haiti.
For while President Barack Obama cynically talks of helping the Haitian people and the press and TV are filled with calls for donations, the reality is that the U.S./U.N. forces have been actively blocking aid efforts
, just as they did after the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans under President George W. Bush.
Behind this propaganda is barely disguised racism. Some reactionaries openly spew out this filth. Christian fundamentalist TV preacher Pat Robertson blames the earthquake on the Haitian people, whom he accuses of making a “pact with the devil” by throwing off French colonial rule more than two centuries ago. The mainstream bourgeois media are barely more subtle, portraying Haiti today as a basket case, incapable of providing for itself or doing anything at all in the face of this disaster. They whip up hysteria about “looting,” and roaming gangs of “armed thugs,” when in fact instances of violence have been remarkably few and “looters” are arrested for having a sack of powdered milk. There were already large stocks of food in warehouses in Haiti, but the U.S./U.N. military and aid agencies refused to distribute it for fear of “riots.”
And while groups of Haitian young men were desperately digging with their bare hands to try to pull out survivors from destroyed schools, what heavy equipment was available was focused on rescuing foreigners and U.N. officials in elite hotels.
U.S. soldier from 82nd Airborne as he clears Haitians out of Port-au-Prince General Hospital, January 19.
(Photo: Ariana Cubillos/AP)
The media blitz amounts to a propaganda war to embellish the image of U.S. imperialism.
While Obama escalates the war on Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan, killing scores of Afghan children, Haiti would show that Washington “cares.” This hypocritical theme is bolstered by selective reporting. As medical professionals who rushed to Haiti complained there were no supplies available, there was hardly a mention of the more than 400 Cuban doctors already in Haiti, along with several hundred Haitian doctors trained in Cuban medical schools, who had three field hospitals up and running within a day. But the broader point is that the colossal hypocrisy, journalistic distortion and phony humanitarianism are being used to disguise a new U.S. occupation of Haiti.
Clearly the needs of the Haitian masses are so overwhelming that they would accept aid from any source. Moreover, the Haitian government of puppet president René Préval, barely functional in normal times, has all but disappeared. Yet there is huge concern over what the U.S. forces are up to. When elements of the 82nd Airborne Division marched to the General Hospital skeptical crowds looked on, and as soon as the troops arrived they began forcing Haitians out. Washington is gearing up to declare Haiti a “failed state,” like Somalia, and to call for some sort of international protectorate, perhaps under United Nations auspices. The U.N. “peacekeeping” mission for the “stabilization” of Haiti (MINUSTAH), set up after U.S., French and Canadian forces ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, was already a U.S. occupation using Brazilian and other Latin American troops as mercenaries. Now Obama has apparently decided to assume more direct control.
Amid the media madness, it is necessary to sharply denounce the imperialist occupation of Haiti
and demand all U.S./U.N. forces get out!
To those who worry that this would mean cutting off aid to the suffering Haitian people, it should be pointed out that the U.S. military is not there to deliver humanitarian aid. You don’t need Navy guided missile destroyers and combat troops recycled from Iraq to provide medical supplies or food. And in fact, for more than a week the U.S. government provided no assistance whatsoever. All
the rescue teams, doctors, medicines, water and food were provided either by American and international volunteer groups and agencies or by other countries, where they weren’t directly blocked by the U.S. Yet every day 25,000 people were dying due to lack of medical attention, according to a spokesman for Boston-based Partners in Health, which has been providing medical services in Haiti for years.
In the United States, various reformists are calling for one or another version of “aid not occupation,” much as in the “peace” movement they call for “jobs not war.” They want to change the government’s priorities
, not attack the imperialist system. Certainly it is vital to oppose the occupation, and the Haitian masses desperately need aid. But to call on the U.S. government
, either implicitly (as does the social-democratic International Socialist Organization) or explicitly (in the case of the Mao-Stalinist Revolutionary Communist Party) to provide such aid feeds dangerous illusions. The RCP writes that “The U.S. government must immediately focus its resources on getting aid directly to the Haitian people” (statement, January 13). It is not only U.S. military forces who are involved in imposing imperialist tutelage. U.S./U.N./IMF, etc. financial “aid,” whether in the form of loans or grants, always comes with numerous strings attached. By placing distribution of vitally needed supplies in the hands of outside agencies, they prevent the Haitian population from organizing a capability to respond.
We demand that the U.S., U.N., Red Cross and other imperialist agencies stop blocking aid from reaching the Haitian people.
While Obama has announced that Haitians already in the United States will be eligible for Temporary Protected Status, the U.S. is still threatening to return any Haitian caught in a boat headed for the U.S. It won’t even let many earthquake victims needing intensive medical into the country for treatment. Thus we demand that the U.S. stop blocking the entry of Haitian refugees
at the same time as we fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
In addition to demanding that all U.S. forces get out, we oppose all measures subjugating Haiti to imperialist economic domination
, such as the infamous Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the World Bank and USAID that have led to the destruction of Haitian agriculture and wholesale privatization of government owned utilities. We also emphasize that the military deployment is a threat to Cuba, just 45 miles away, where the U.S. maintains a torture prison. We defend Cuba
, a (bureaucratically deformed) workers state, against imperialism and counterrevolution, and demand that the U.S. return the Guantánamo naval base.
“Looter” arrested for possession of a bag of powdered milk, Port-au-Prince, January 15.
(Photo: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Haiti has a special place in world history, as the only successful slave revolution in history. The Haitian Revolution of 1792-1804 inspired slave revolts in the United States, from Denmark Vesey to Nat Turner, and served as a beacon of liberation to oppressed blacks throughout the Caribbean and South America. Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture at the head of an army of former slaves was able to defeat three colonial powers: the French, Spanish and British. This struck terror in the hearts of the capitalists, who quarantined the black republic for decades. The United States militarily occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, and sent in the Marines in 1994 (under Bill Clinton, to put in Aristide as Washington’s man in Port-au-Prince) and again in 2004 (under Bush, to oust Aristide). Obama’s dispatch of thousands of U.S. troops amounts to yet another U.S. invasion of Haiti, using the cover of “humanitarian” aid.
To symbolize it, he invited the two former presidents to the White House to announce an obscenely named “Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.”
The earthquake was a natural disaster, but the horrendous death toll and monumental destruction were caused by capitalism
. As class war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal noted from Pennsylvania’s death row, the media incessantly refer to Haiti as the poorest country in the Hemisphere but they never tell you how it got that way. One reason why there was such massive destruction is that some 2 million Haitians live in shantytowns around the capital where their flimsy dwellings can hardly withstand hurricanes, much less a 7.0 earthquake. Many of these urban poor were former peasants forced off the land by the collapse of agricultural prices as a result of U.S.-engineered “free trade” policies. In the 19th century, the former French colonial masters demanded that Haiti pay a ransom amounting to $21 billion in today’s currency as the price of its independence. Since then, whenever the U.S. wasn’t directly occupying Haiti, it employed puppet governments such as the notorious Duvalier dynasty (“Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc”), who ruled from 1957 to 1986. Even former Liberation Theology priest Aristide dutifully carried out Washington’s dictates.
Reactionary imperialist forces such as the Heritage Foundation see the earthquake as an “opportunity” to impose new constraints on Haiti. For those fighting against imperialism, the popular mobilization to rescue earthquake victims, organize tent camps of the survivors and distribute aid can offer the basis for the only real solution to Haiti’s woes: international socialist revolution.
In Mexico following the 1985 earthquake, tens of thousands of Mexico City working people who were left homeless organized independently of and against the government whose soldiers prevented them from rescuing their neighbors and relatives. But leadership was key, and various self-proclaimed socialist groups who took charge of the organizations of those affected by the quake turned them into agencies for channeling government welfare funds.
IG at demo called by Haiti Emergency Committee outside U.S. Mission to United Nations, January 22, demanding U.S./U.N. forces stop blocking aid, no to occupation.
Although Haiti is indeed a desperately poor country, in addition to slum dwellers and peasants it has a working class, much of it employed in factories producing directly for the U.S. market. These workers last summer waged a bitter battle seeking to raise the minimum wage to a mere $5 a day (see “Haiti: Battle Over Starvation Wages and Neocolonial Occupation
,” in The Internationalist No. 30
, November-December 2009). This small but militant proletariat can place itself at the head of the impoverished urban and rural masses seeking to organize their own power, particularly at present where the machinery of the capitalist state is largely reduced to rubble and a few marauding bands of police, many of them former members of death squads. The key is to forge the nucleus of a revolutionary workers party
that can wage an internationalist struggle against imperialism and its local capitalist flunkeys, to form a workers and peasants government to expropriate the bourgeoisie, call for a voluntary socialist federation of the Caribbean and extend the revolution to the imperialist heartland of North America. ■