AID to Haiti! Not armed intervention!

Leaflet of the Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee, January 25, 2010. It was reprinted in
Communist Voice #45, November 2010 with the following introduction:

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    Since this leaflet, the tragedy in Haiti has continued. Yes, a certain amount of immediate aid did eventually get through, despite the  obstruction during the early days by the militarization of aid carried out by the US. But news reports showed that the bulk of aid pledged by imperialist countries still hadn’t arrived six months later, while money donated by concerned people around the world often never got to the Haitian masses. Some went to various agencies, who held it up on one pretext or another. Even when aid supplies arrived, they weren’t necessarily distributed. In July CNN posted a video entitled “Food piled high as kids starve nearby”, but it has since taken it off the internet.

    Moreover, the Haitian government, installed after the US backed a coup in 2004, opposed having extensive food aid on the pretext that this would destroy the domestic agricultural market.  (CBS Evening News, April 21, Haiti Wants Food Aid to Stop? The same American and Haitian neo-liberals who insisted that Haitian rice production should be subject to the competition of US-subsidized rice imports, suddenly became protectionists when it was a matter of food aid from outside being distributed to hungry people.

    And now there’s the cholera epidemic that broke out in October. It has already killed over a thousand people, with perhaps 20,000 hospitalized. The disease has now reached the capital Port-au-Prince, where there is the danger it might spread like wildfire. This threat looms because 1.3 million earthquake victims there still live in miserable tent cities. It’s a direct result of the heartless way the Haitian earthquake victims have been treated. It’s the lack of clean water supplies and  adequate sanitation that makes cholera a major danger. Thus the miserable imperialist response to the earthquake tragedy, with relief from the major capitalist countries concerned more with forcing yet more neo-liberal economic restructuring on Haiti than helping the Haitian people, threatens yet another major disaster for Haiti.

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The text of the leaflet follows:

Upon seeing the heart-breaking pictures and reports of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, there was a great outpouring of support from ordinary people around world. They immediately gave millions of dollars for aid, while doctors, nurses, and many others laid everything aside in order to go to Haiti, where they’ve now heroically worked many days. We are greatly moved by this outpouring of support by ordinary people for the poor of Haiti, and know that it will continue.

Meanwhile, what needed to be done was clear within hours. Large quantities of medical supplies, water, food, and other essentials needed to be gathered, shipped and disbursed as quickly as possible. As many staffed field hospitals as possible needed to be set up. And all efforts should have been focused on rescuing buried people, and distributing the life-saving necessities that were arriving.But the U.S. government did none of this!  With all of its great means, it failed to mobilize them in order to save lives, and repeatedly sabotaged the rescue and relief efforts. The result is that more than a week after the catastrophic quake there are still hundreds of thousands of Haitians in desperate need of water and food, while Partners in Health reports that 20,000 people a day are dying because of lack of access to medical treatment.

Just like Bush’s handling of the Katrina disaster, Obama’s handling of the disaster in Haiti is a disaster in itself, but this time with the human casualties multiplied by many thousands. The combination of an imperialist and racist mindset with defense of capitalist-imperialist material interests has led to refusal to save many thousands of dying people who could have been saved. It’s murder.

Obama’s phony concern

President Obama’s miserly pledge of $100 million in U.S. aid immediately showed how little the U.S. ruling class cares about the nine million Haitians. In contrast, they gave $100 billion to AIG. And a total of the profits made by U.S. corporations exploiting sweatshop labor in Haiti, plus the interest collected on U.S. loans would also dwarf this amount.

Blocking aid deliveries

The U.S. military took control of the small Port Au-Prince airport, where it has repeatedly turned away planeloads of lifesaving supplies and personnel in favor of evacuating U.S. nationals, or to land hoards of U.S. dignitaries, media teams, troops and military equipment.

Obama himself ordered the former when he blurted out that: “We have no higher priority than the safety of American citizens…. And you should know that we will not rest until we account for our fellow Americans in harm’s way.” The French and Canadian governments, however, had the same national-chauvinist priority of evacuating their nationals, and publicly protested. But instead of evacuating foreign nationals, the outbound planes should have been used to ferry thousands of critically injured Haitians to hospitals in the U.S. and other nearby countries. (The foreign nationals could be camped out and given rations.) This was not done, and it’s still not being done.

Refusing to use airdrops

Three days after the initial catastrophe, when confronted with demands that life-saving supplies be airdropped, Secretary of Defense Gates ruled them out on the pretext that “An airdrop is simply going to lead to riots as people try and go after that stuff.” But “riots” were a figment of his imagination (days later General Keen commented, “The level of violence we see now is below pre-earthquake levels.”), and if Gates had been truly concerned about people injuring each other desperately getting to supplies then the solution was to spread them from the air quickly and abundantly! But no, Gates was interested in building a “structure for distribution,” and “security.” (Part of this “security” is to prevent black and destitute Haitians from taking to the seas headed for Florida. So rather than landing crucially-needed supplies on beaches, six U.S. Coast Guard cutters are now patrolling the seas looking for “escapees.”)

Only on January 18 (after 12,000 U.S. troops had arrived) were helicopters finally used to drop aid in any quantities at all.

Refusing to distribute aid

Tons and tons of aid have now been landed despite the U.S. military’s sabotage of deliveries, but after a week most of it remained on the tarmac under armed guard. The UN and U.S. military vehicles running everywhere couldn’t be used to distribute life-saving supplies; oh no, they were too busy with more important matters like “security.” But security against what? For example, for eight days the main Port Au-Prince hospital had been operating with no problems ... other than a crying need for basic supplies and doctors and nurses. Further, thousands of people had peacefully camped on its grounds waiting for help. But when U.S. troops arrived, the hospital was one of the first institutions that they “secured,” while ordering around Haitians in a foreign language.

Meanwhile, vehicles being used by news teams couldn’t be used for aid distribution because it was so much more important for reporters to frantically drive around looking for nearly mythical “riots” and “looting” to sensationalize.

Bound up with the hysteria about security is racist fear of the poor, which has been turned into a killing fear when UN and U.S. military officers have told medical teams not to go to certain areas, or to leave others areas where they were working.

Demonizing the Haitian people as an excuse for occupation

In the midst of horror, the Haitian people have shown great solidarity in rescuing both loved ones and strangers, and doing everything they can to help one another. And just as the people of New Orleans did in 2005, the Haitian people have patiently waited for promised help to arrive. However, this hasn’t stopped the corporate news media from slandering people who are trying to survive as “looters,” just as was done during the Katrina disaster. How terrible it is that people actually take food and water! Don’t they know that capitalist private property laws must be respected at all costs ... even if it means death?

But the media has only been operating in lockstep with the U.S. government and military, which from Obama on down has championed enforcement of “order” above all else. Thus, when speaking at the Port Au-Prince airport, Secretary of State Clinton made references to “shooting” and “gangs,” and demanded that the Haitian government decree martial law, which would be enforced by U.S. troops: “The decree would give the government an enormous amount of authority, which in practice they would delegate to us,” she said. Further, there’s been no time limit placed on how long the expected 16,000 U.S. troops to be in or around Haiti are going to be there, nor on the additional UN troops being sent.

Disaster imperialism

Rather than worry over rescuing buried Haitians, within 24 hours of ruin, the conservative Heritage Foundation had posted an article enthusing over the “opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the image of the United States in the region.”

In fact, U.S. business interests have long “shaped” Haiti’s government and economy. They view Haiti as theirs -- a low-wage sweatshop for American corporations. Thus, the 1915-34 U.S. military invasion and occupation of Haiti to protect the investments of New York bankers, the U.S. government support for the brutal dictatorships of the Duvaliers that lasted 29 years, and now three U.S. military interventions in Haiti within the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, echoing the Heritage Foundation, liberal “Sweatshop Bill” Clinton was immediately calling for redoubling efforts to implement “the development plans the world was already pursuing.” But in his long-winded comments he failed to mention how Haiti has become so poor to begin with. For example, among other things, for 123 years it was forced to pay huge sums of money to compensate French slave owners for “property” lost when Haitian slaves rebelled and overthrew slavery. It is now strapped by nearly a billion dollars in debt owed to imperialist creditors.

Indeed, for the past few decades the development plans that U.S. business interests support in Haiti are the neo-liberal austerity plans of the IMF and World Bank. For example, in order to get IMF loans, the Haitian government has been forced to do such things as open it’s markets to U.S. agribusiness, which has ruined hundreds of thousands of Haitian farmers. But when the U.S. government has been mad at the Haitian government it has also led efforts to freeze already-approved loans and potential loans for improving education, public health and roads until it got its way. More, it has forced the Haitian government to downsize, with government functions like healthcare, disaster response, and even police being replaced by private contractors.

Now, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake, the IMF first patted itself on the back for giving new “aid” to Haiti -- another loan, and one that demanded freezing wages of government employees, and raising electricity rates. But when faced with an international outcry it retreated, and changed this to a $100 million interest-free loan with no conditions. Nevertheless, like the U.S. government, the IMF hides that it too has Haitian blood on its hands. An earthquake is a natural phenomenon, but the fact that so many people have died from this one has been caused by IMF policies that have forced hundreds of thousands of farmers to migrate to cities, where they have no choice but to erect unsafe dwellings on hillsides ... while government services essential to save people in a disaster have been pared to the bone.

Dictating Haitian politics

Since January 12, despised President René Préval has spent most of his time holed up at the U.S.-controlled Port Au-Prince airport, “missing in action.” There have been calls for the return of President Aristide, who was overthrown in a 2004 U.S. backed military coup. The U.S. government has so far refused this demand, but at some point it may decide that it’s useful to change course because Aristide is not the revolutionary that he’s often portrayed as. While he was once immensely popular because he preached against the miserable conditions of the workers and poor, denounced the U.S. role in oppressing Haiti, and called for social reform, this changed. By 2004 he had sacrificed most of his promised reforms to the neo-liberal economic policy demanded by the IMF and other imperialist institutions, while also seeking to work in conjunction with part of the viciously repressive Haitian elite. And rather than championing the mass struggles of the working poor against their domestic and foreign exploiters, president Aristide sought to reconcile the exploited with their exploiters, and eventually came into conflict with organizations of the working poor who were seeking to improve their conditions.

But Aristide is not U.S. imperialism’s main concern. It is sending up to 16,000 troops to Haiti because it greatly fears the overwhelmingly poor Haitian masses getting more organized to advance their interests. They’re a heroic people that have risen in many battles against their exploiters and oppressors, with the idea of revolution never far beneath the surface. With barely any government, after the January 12 catastrophe they showed great solidarity and initiative in physically taking care of each other, while do-nothing foreign soldiers drove by on armored personnel carriers. If this same solidarity is now translated into political organizing and action, then the days of imperialist exploitation of Haiti will be numbered.


With perhaps 200,000 people now dead, we join with ordinary people everywhere in crying for Haiti. And behind our tears is also rage at the system that has compounded this immense tragedy. It’s a system whose economics impoverish the masses and prepare conditions for the terrible number of casualties that have occurred in Port Au-Prince and elsewhere. It’s a system that makes no serious preparations for natural or other disasters, and must depend on its killing machine, the military, when they happen. It’s a racist system that slanders the victims of a disaster when they’re black, and coldly refuses to let them enter the United States for life-saving medical treatment. It’s a system whose leaders, like Obama, have just knowingly, and with premeditation left many tens of thousands of people to die while they got on with their business of establishing imperialist control.

The people of Haiti are not going to forget this, aid workers from all over the world aren’t going to forget it, and neither will we. Let us turn our tears, and feelings of helplessness and rage into organizing work aimed at laying the criminal imperialist system in its grave.

Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee, January 25, 2010 []

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