The kidnapping of Haiti

The Kidnapping of Haiti by John Pilger (www.johnpilger.com)

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article24519.htm

The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured “formal approval” from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti , and to “secure” roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in an American naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince , is now an American military base and relief flights have been re-routed to the Dominican Republic . All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US Air Force dropped bottled water to people suffering thirst and dehydration.

The first TV reports played a critical role, giving the impression of widespread criminal mayhem. Matt Frei, the BBC reporter dispatched from Washington , seemed on the point of hyperventilation as he brayed about the “violence” and need for “security”. In spite of the demonstrable dignity of the earthquake victims, and evidence of citizens’ groups toiling unaided to rescue people, and even an American general’s assessment that the violence in Haiti was considerably less than before the earthquake, Frei claimed that “looting is the only industry” and “the dignity of Haiti’s past is long forgotten.” Thus, a history of unerring US violence and exploitation in Haiti was consigned to the victims. “There’s no doubt,” reported Frei in the aftermath of America ’s bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, “that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East … is now increasingly tied up with military power.”

In a sense, he was right. Never before in so-called peacetime have human relations been as militarised by rapacious power. Never before has an American president subordinated his government to the military establishment of his discredited predecessor, as Barack Obama has done. In pursuing George W. Bush’s policy of war and domination, Obama has sought from Congress an unprecedented military budget in excess of $700 billion. He has become, in effect, the spokesman for a military coup

For the people of Haiti the implications are clear, if grotesque. With US troops in control of their country, Obama has appointed George W. Bush to the “relief effort”: a parody surely lifted from Graham Greene’s The Comedians, set in Papa Doc’s Haiti . As president, Bush’s relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amounted to an ethnic cleansing of many of New Orleans ’ black population. In 2004, he ordered the kidnapping of the democratically-elected prime minister of Haiti , Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and exiled him in Africa . The popular Aristide had had the temerity to legislate modest reforms, such as a minimum wage for those who toil in Haiti ’s sweatshops.

When I was last in Haiti , I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing, binding machines at the Port-au-Prince Superior Baseball Plant. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti ’s sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the cities and towns and jerry-built housing. Year after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their specialty from the Philippines to Afghanistan .
 
Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN’s man in Haiti . Once fawned upon by the BBC as “Mr. Nice Guy … bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land”, Clinton is Haiti ’s most notorious privateer, demanding de-regulation of the economy for the benefit of the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed “tourist playground”.

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth biggest embassy in Port-au-Prince . Oil was found in Haiti ’s waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington ’s “rollback” plans for Latin America . The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela , Bolivia and Ecuador , control of Venezuela ’s abundant oil reserves and sabotage of the growing regional cooperation that has given millions their first taste of an economic and social justice long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against President Jose Manuel Zelaya in Honduras who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama’s secret support for the illegal regime carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia , long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the US seven military bases to, according to US air force documents, “combat anti-US governments in the region”.

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama’s next war. On 14 December, researchers at the University of West England published first findings of a ten-year study of the BBC’s reporting of Venezuela . Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of the Chavez government, while the majority denigrated Chavez’s extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler.

Such distortion and its attendant servitude to western power are rife across the Anglo-American corporate media. People who struggle for a better life, or for life itself, from Venezuela to Honduras to Haiti , deserve our support.’

An Open Letter to David Brooks on Haiti

An Open Letter to David Brooks on Haiti 

Dear Mr. Brooks, 

In your January 15, 2010 opinion piece in The New York Times, “The Underlying Tragedy,” you present what you seem to believe is a bold assessment of the situation in Haiti and what you certainly know is a provocative recommendation for Haiti’s future. You also offer some advice to President Obama. In order to successfully keep his promise to the people of Haiti that they “will not be forsaken” nor “forgotten” the President, you say, has to “acknowledge a few difficult truths.” What follows, however, is so shockingly ignorant of Haitian history and culture and so saturated with the language and ideology of cultural imperialism that no valuable “truths” remain. Please allow us, therefore, to present you with some more accurate truths.

First, Haiti is not a clear-cut case of the failure of international aid to achieve poverty reduction. For almost its entire existence Haiti has been shouldered with a load of immense international debt. The Haitian people had the audacity to break their chains and declare independence in 1804 but were later forced by France to re-purchase their freedom for 150 million Francs, a burden that the country has had to carry throughout the twentieth century.

What’s more, the “aid” Haiti has received from its powerful neighbor to the North has never been the sort that would help the country reduce poverty or achieve meaningful development. In the early-twentieth century the principle “aid” Haiti received from the United States came in the form of a brutal military occupation that lasted from 1915 to 1934. After “Papa Doc” Duvalier ascended to power “aid” meant assistance to a ruthless (but conveniently anti-communist) dictator. The U.S. gave Duvalier $40.4 million in his first four years in power, briefly suspended military and economic assistance to the dictator in 1963, but resumed shortly thereafter, restoring full military and economic aid to Duvalier by 1969. In the early 1970s and 1980s when “Baby Doc” Duvalier was at the helm, the “aid” the United States and other international agencies contributed failed to reduce poverty but did enrich foreign investors in the newly constructed assembly industry. Economic policies that the U.S. forced upon Haiti decimated its agriculture for the benefit of American farming while driving Haiti’s peasants into Port-au-Prince and other cities where they found few jobs and scarce housing. Four years after Baby Doc’s departure the Haitian people decided to help themselves by democratically electing a new leader, but the United States aided Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s domestic opponents in the coup of 1991 and did so again in 2004. It is no wonder then that that such “aid” from the United States has failed to lift Haiti out of poverty.

Equally unconvincing is your argument about “progress-resistant cultural influences,” which brings us to important truth number two: Haitian culture is not “progress-resistant” as anyone familiar with the examples you yourself provide can attest to. If Vodou or “the voodoo religion” as you put it, “spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile,” how do the majority of Haitians manage to survive on scant resources and less than two dollars-a-day? How do so many Haitians manage to travel abroad, find and maintain difficult jobs, and send money back home if not through careful planning and a fierce defense of precious life? How do the nationwide customers of Fonkoze, the Haitian banking operation that teaches literacy and business practices to curbside marketers to whom it makes small loans, achieve such strong records of loan repayment? In fact, it might be Haitian culture itself (and even Vodou) which allows Haitians to persist. After all, the Vodou spirit Ogou (St. Jacques) is honored as a clever planner and master of skills. So was the champion of Haiti’s war of independence, General Toussaint L’Ouverture, a onetime slave who entered history as a military and diplomatic genius.

The third important truth we have to offer (and we hope President Obama is listening as well) is the opposite of your call for “intrusive paternalism” as the solution to Haiti’s woes: Haiti does not need nor does it want the paternalism of the United States. Haiti is literally dying of cultural imperialism.

Whenever America’s leaders and pundits speak of subordinate peoples, the ideology of imperialism shines through. As it does in your words, Mr. Brooks, so it has done for far too many earlier Americans. President William McKinley, for example, facing the difficult question of how he was to govern the newly-conquered Filipinos worried that left “to themselves they are unfit for self-government-and they would soon have anarchy and misrule . . . [So] there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them.”

Closer to home, those who worried about an earlier form of “progress-resistant cultural influences” decided it was better to remove the children of Native American families than to let them absorb the backwardness of their pagan and uncivilized parents and community. A common refrain by these “reformers” was “kill the Indian, save the man.” And now, Mr. Brooks, you propose to save the Haitians from themselves by replacing Haitian cultural values and institutions with “middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.” Imperialism, whether economic or military, is the primary reason for the conditions that so worsened the impact of the earthquake on January 12. Haitians need less imperialism, not more.

During the Vietnam War an American officer famously stated that “it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.” Today Haiti is virtually destroyed. The earthquake having done the hard part, Mr. Brooks, you think “intrusive paternalism” will save it. Lacking a foundational understanding of Haitian history and culture, and bearing the familiar colors of American imperialism you and your ilk will do vastly more harm than good.

Tom F. Driver
Paul Tillich Professor Emeritus of Theology and Culture
Union Theological Seminary

Carl Lindskoog
Doctoral Candidate, Dept. of History
The Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

To see the list of signatories please click here, http://bit.ly/6H39HA