A year ago today, Haiti -- already being described as a "failed state," where tens of thousands of children were living permanently and unprotected in the street -- was hit with a devastating earthquake. All over the world, people shook their heads in disbelief at Haiti's new "misfortune." A hundred thousand people died. At least a million who formerly had a stable and decent life suddenly had nothing. And those who had nothing to begin with found themselves in even greater misery.
Last night, I watched The Battle for Haiti, the PBS Frontline special on the 5000 prisoners who escaped en mass from the main prison in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. I hadn't heard anything about this previously, though I am more knowledgeable than most in the U.S. about Haiti, in general. And I did, in fact, already know that the criminal justice system in Haiti is beyond broken. As the Frontline special reports, men and even young boys who are accused of something as small as stealing a chicken can sit in literally hellish conditions for five or six years waiting to go to trial, if they don't have the money to navigate through the corruption.
Nevertheless, even the ones who weren't criminals when they were locked up were, I'm sure, "different" when they unexpectedly escaped their horrible bonds. And now they live -- and operate -- in the tent cities with all the other folks who are waiting for something besides more military forces to show up.
Ninety percent of the foreign aid promised to rebuild the infrastructural collapse, if not the broken hearts of Haiti, has never arrived. Additionally, those interviewed for the Frontline special talked only about "rule of law." Over and over. As if brute force had ever made a dent in this anguished culture before. If "x-amount" of brute force doesn't solve the problems, goes the conventional wisdom, then surely "xx-amount" will. So, much of the aid that is reaching Haiti is going directly to international military "peacekeeping" units. Unfortunately for the Haitians, however, this million dollars per day, at least part of which could be -- and desperately needs to be -- utilized in other ways, winds up gushing through the streets like an overflowing toilet that befowls and further complicates the situation it is supposedly intended to correct.
Yesterday, I got an email alert from the folks at School of Americas Watch. It stated, in part:
"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, Korea, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay.
"The original mandate of MINUSTAH [the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti]...was to 'establish a secure and stable environment, which would encourage the development of a healthy political process, strengthen government institutions and assist in restoring and maintaining the rule of law and promote and protect human rights.' MINUSTAH itself felt first hand the tragedy of the quake, losing its chief officer, his deputy and the acting police commissioner. However, six years after the arrival of the 'blue helmets,' Haitians are calling for an end to what they consider to be a military occupation of their country by MINUSTAH. Among the concerns expressed by Haitians and international human rights organizations are numerous citations of human rights abuses, including responsibility for the killings of slum dwellers, political activists and even a mourner at the funeral of human rights activist-priest Father Jean Juste. Currently, the Brazilian contingent of MINUSTAH is being tried at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the death of another Haitian activist.
"In addition to concerns for the human rights abuses, the presence of thousands of UN troops in Haiti violates the right to self-determination and sovereignty of a nation under the guise of humanitarian aid after the earthquake. MINUSTAH is the only significant UN military mission in a country with no peace agreement between parties of conflict. Exiled President Jean Bertrand Aristide calls MINUSTAH the 'neo-colonial occupation of Haiti.' In a country where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day, MINUSTAH costs the UN more than 1 million dollars a day, and is requesting to more than double the funds, to $850,000,000 when its renewal is up for approval next October...
"On the eve of [the anniversay] of this tragic earthquake, the School of the Americas Watch movement expresses its solidarity with the people of Haiti, and calls upon member nations of the U.N to immediately halt the MINSUTAH foreign military occupation and redirect funds from guns and ammunition to houses, schools and food. We also join people throughout the Americas who are honoring the victims of Haiti's quake by calling for a complete withdrawal of MINUSTAH from Haiti. Click here to add your voice by sending a fax to Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations."
What bothers me most about all this, as a sociologist and as a person who's been paying attention to what happens in Haiti for a long time now, is that U.S. capitalist interests, such as Disney, for one example, gutted Haiti's economy in the first place by exploiting the desperation of Haitian workers. And apparently, it was ill-advised drilling by foreign interests over a thirty year period that caused last year's "natural disaster," as well. These capitalist interests -- which are not nationalistic, but cross national boundaries as if they did not exist -- have many members of the mass public (at least in the U.S.) convinced that what is important in any given situation in the world is whatever spin the capitalistically-controlled media puts on it.
So what is worthy of note about the recent Wikileaks scandal is not the damning nature of the information itself but rather who leaked it. And all the vitriol about immigrants willing to risk their lives and well-beings to come to the U.S. invariably fails to mention how the North American Free Trade Agreement created a scenario so exploitative in Mexico (for one) that workers literally have to risk all so their children don't starve. And the nightmarish conditions of Haiti at the moment are painted with a very lavish brush to blatantly ignore the reality that many of those conditions are either the direct result or have been grossly exacerbated by U.S. government intervention for more than a century. One example of this was the forced removal of democratically elected President Bernard Aristide in 2004 at least partly because he intended to establish a minimum wage so workers could meet their basic needs. I'll leave it to you to recognize how profit-motives connect the dots in each of these cases to the others.
On last night's Frontline special, one man who appeared to be both powerful and clueless said when interviewed that Haiti is committing suicide. I don't call it suicide when outside forces starve a people physically, psychologically, and emotionally, and then hand them a loaded gun. I call it murder. Haiti is not dead yet. But if we do not stop acting like they're doing it to themselves, Haiti will be just the first of a long line of groups --outside and eventually inside the U.S. -- that will be led or driven, if necessary, to the slaughter.
NOTE: After posting this yesterday, I received from Truthout this article by Jordan Flaherty listing a whole series of specific examples of corporations that made a killing this year pretending to "help" Haiti. They should go straight to jail without passing "Go," without collecting another. red. cent.