The “international community” and Haiti

Updated below. Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh have had their moment in the limelight, and our media celebrities have brought their special brand of cluelessness to Haiti, but from now I’m doing my best to  ignore these distractions.

We are pretty helpless here, but there are ways to contribute financially.  I think it would also be a good idea  to put  pressure on Congress and the President to grant temporary protected status to Haitians,  something our government seems determined to avoid doing.

And we might want to stop acting like this disaster came out of the blue. Haiti has had a  long and tragic history, but the magnitude of the human toll of this earthquake was amplified massively by the fact that there are  2 million people in Port au Prince, and that a vast number of them are there because they were driven off the land intentionally by neoliberal meddling from the north. I’m not an expert on the subject, but “Our role in Haiti’s plight,” published yesterday in the Guardian, looks to be a good introduction to the policies that got us to this point:

The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

…. Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population “lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day”. Decades of neoliberal “adjustment” and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.

It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti’s agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more “natural” or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.

As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: “Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses.” Meanwhile the city’s basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government’s ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.

It looks like Haiti is the first country to have been completely broken by colonialism and neoliberalism. It won’t be the last.


Update: I said I’d ignore the gasbags but this one is almost up to the very high bar set by Rev. Robertson. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa):

Illegal immigrants from Haiti have no reason to fear deportation but if they are deported, Haiti is in great need of relief workers and many of them could be a big help to their fellow Haitians.

… which led Wonkette to say:

Bwahaha, they have nothing to fear! Haiti’s in great shape, don’t they read the NEWS? And whatever problems there are… well they’ll starve after a few days so whatever. They yearn to be deported, is the point!

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