Sunday, March 14, 2010

i call you 'sun' because you shine like one...

The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them"... ~Benjamin Jowett

I have had the privilege to cross paths with some of the most brillant and influential individuals in the art, education, and business community in New York, the United States and in Europe. Most encounters have been merely passing conversations at events, openings, or galleries, while some have blossomed into mentorships and lasting friendships. However, on one's own personal road to becoming someone of a certain intellectual and social standing I have learned one thing: you must often defer to those who are in higher positions, and in many instances, you will not receive the same amount of accolades or acknowledgement during joint ventures/projects. It is to be expected. Every cause needs a leader, a figurehead, a spokesperson/persons that represent the group.

I view this situation in this regard. For the privilege to stand so close to the overwhelming glow of the sun, the stars exist largely hidden from view here on Earth for the greater part of the day. They are always there, they never quite "disappear" but rather their shine is washed out by the brillant presence of the sun. Not only must stars abdicate their own brillance in the presence of the sun, but often their own light is millions of (light) years in the making. What we actually witness on Earth is light that has been travelling thousand or even millions of years throughout the galaxy. Rays of light that began their journey long before humanity as we know it even existed on this Earth. Light that emminates from solar sources that may have been extinguished long ago but whose radiance is still travelling throughout the universe.

Too often I have witnessed collaborate efforts fail because people involved in the projects were more concerned with the "I" rather than the "we". Many people do not realize that involvement in any grassroots effort that is built up and executed successfully is a reflection of the collective brillance of the group AND of the individual. Too often, ego gets in the way and people will rather bring the whole project down, they become stars that implode into black holes that prevent the light of anyone involved with the venture from shining and destroying the entire endeavor in the process. I can only imagine how many brillant projects humanity never had the privilege of witnessing because of the self-destructive tendencies of man. If you have talent, drive, and work ethic your time will come, even if it is not at this moment, this generation or this lifetime. As an artist I am more concerned with creating objects d'art that are timeless and will remain relevant for future generations. Plenty of individuals have received postmortem accolades and that has not made their contributions to their craft and to the greater canon of the creativity of man. Don't allow your "star" to collapse within itself before it has the opportunity to shine its brillance upon the world. Genius is eternal and cannot be denied. 

¡Pa'lante Siempre!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

picking up the pieces (re: haiti)...

The big news at the moment is the devastating earthquake in Haiti and reports on casualties vary widely. Certain news outlets estimate upwards of 500,000 deaths, while more conservative number put the figure at nearly 100,000. Whatever the number, it’s a huge loss for a country of nearly 10 million individuals. However, the great loss of life and devastation witnessed in Haiti, however has been seen by some NGOs and multinational organizations as a means to rebuild Haiti anew from the rubble.

In fact, there is great opportunity in catastrophe, or so some would have you believe. Out of every tragedy comes a silver lining. But opportunity for who, one might ask. And while the main focus at the moment is on the catastrophic earthquake that has devastated Haiti, the one glimmer of optimism to be gleaned from this disaster is the possibility that Haiti might one day emerge from the rubble as a state reborn.

Even before the earthquake struck, Haiti was in dire straits. Haiti has remained since its inception one of the world’s poorest and most underdeveloped countries, even though it is located in close proximity to the world’s richest, the United States (trickle down economics, huh?).

Haiti has made considerable strides towards economic recovery and political stability since democratic elections were held in 2006 (and both Bush Presidents stopped overthrowing Haitian President Jean-Baptiste Aristide).  In 2008, the rise in food and oil prices hit the Haitian population disproportionately and led to social unrest and political crisis. Subsequently, the  country was hard hit by a succession of hurricanes and storms that left a trail of devastation,  destroying livelihoods and infrastructure with damages estimated at 15 percent of GDP. Now, the global recession poses further threats to the country’s stability through declining export  earnings and remittances.

Does I see the preferential U.S.-Haiti trade treaties HOPE I or II as purely altruistic gift for the creation of menial, low-skill, low-wage jobs for Haiti?

One is justified in wondering, 22 years after the overthrow of the Duvalier dictatorship, how it is that the current government's economic policy is that of Jean-Claude Duvalier? Here's what the Duvalierist newspaper "Le Nouveau Monde" wrote in 1984: "All the conditions are right for the country to become a platform for exports to the American market. Haiti has a workforce that is disciplined and accustomed to hard work since independence, a young and intelligent force, which provides labor at a cost well below its productivity".

This policy of the United States, called two decades ago the "American Plan" for Haiti, was in reality emptying the countryside of its people by flooding the Haiti market with subsidized American foodstuffs (refer to the Documentary Life and Debtfor further information on the causes and effects of such migration) who then migrate to the capital to form a low-skill sub-proletariat, ready to be exploited by the subcontracting bourgeoisie, thus destroying native agricultural production and threatening the ability of a nation to sustain itself. Indeed, even the few jobs created remains very precarious because they
depend totally on demand in the United States, which, as it so happens, is in the midst of recession.

As Haiti begins digging out from under 60 million cubic meters of earthquake wreckage, U.S. firms have begun jockeying for a bonanza of cleanup work. In the town of Leogane, about 30 miles outside Port-au-Prince, shows the massive destruction of buildings. At least two politically connected U.S. firms have enlisted powerful local allies in Haiti to help compete for the high-stakes business. It's unclear at this point who will be awarding the cleanup contracts, but there is big money to be made in the rubble of some 225,000 collapsed homes and at least 25,000 government and office buildings. We used to have vulgar colonialism, now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it reconstruction. It can be assured that the firms will not be Haitian-owned and these foreign companies are more than likely to repatriate to proceeds to their respective countries.

Randal Perkins, the head of Pompano Beach-based AshBritt, has already met with President René Préval to tout his firm's skills. To press his case, Perkins, a big U.S. political donor with a stable of powerful lobbyists, has lined up a wealthy and influential Haitian businessman, Gilbert Bigio, as a partner. Perkins isn't the only hard-charging contender for cleanup work. Another is Bob Isakson, managing director of Mobile, Ala.-based DRC Group, a disaster recovery firm whose résumé includes hurricanes, wars, ice storms and floods. He's also met with Préval since the earthquake.

How the work is delegated and who ends up awarding the contracts remains to be seen, but Préval is expected to play a pivotal role in setting priorities, even if others hold the purse strings. The United Nations designated former President Bill Clinton to coordinate Haitian relief efforts, and an international forum to coordinate plans is expected to be held this spring.

In his Jan. 28 meeting with Préval, which was attended by a Miami Herald reporter who was chronicling a day in the president's life, Perkins made a hard sell, boasting of AshBritt's $900 million U.S. government contract to clean up after Hurricane Katrina and promising his firm would create 20,000 local jobs. "It does no good if you bring in predominantly U.S. labor and when it's done, they leave. This is an opportunity to train thousands of Haitian people in skills and professions,'' Perkins, a 45-year-old Sweetwater native, told The Miami Herald. "If you don't create jobs for Haitians, your recovery is going to be a failure.''

AshBritt, Perkins said, also has clinched a coveted contract to handle future disaster cleanup work for the U.S. government in California and several other states.

"First and foremost, we have the experience,'' Perkins said.

That experience has come with controversy.

After Katrina, some questioned whether AshBritt's political donations or lobbyists paved the way for its huge federal contracts. The lobbyists have included: Barbour Griffith & Rogers, a firm founded by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; Mike Parker, a former Mississippi Republican congressman who also was a senior official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Ron Book, a South Florida power broker.

Congressional hearings after Katrina aired objections that local contractors were passed over in favor of AshBritt. A 2006 congressional report examining federal contract waste and abuse noted AshBritt used multiple layers of subcontractors, each of whom got paid while passing on the actual work to others. Even now, AshBritt is under scrutiny by the Broward school district after an internal audit found the company allegedly overbilled by $765,000 for work after Hurricane Wilma in October 2005.

Haiti should be helped, not pitied. For decades much has been done to weaken the Haitian state, and it should be no surprise that the State has been unable to response to its own needs. The question now should be: how to develop Haiti's self-sufficiency as well as the nation at the same time. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region, notes The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, DC-based think tank that formulates and promotes conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense (re: a completely Republican-based ideology).

Immediately following the Haitian earthquake The Heritage Foundation outlined some "Things to Remember While Helping Haiti," itemized briefly below:

-- be bold and decisive;

-- mobilize US civilian and military capabilities "for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform";

-- US military forces should play an active role interdicting "cocaine to Haiti and Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola"; (Whatever that means)...

-- US Coast Guard vessels should stop Haitians from trying "to enter the US illegally";

-- Congress should authorize "assistance, trade and reconstruction efforts;" and

-- US diplomacy should "counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp (to) demonstrate that the US's involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe".

Such rhetoric from powerful and influential lobbying groups such as The Heritage Foundation serve as an example of psuedo-imperial policy thinking that advocates predation, exploitation, and redevelopment for profit, not for desperate people to repair their lives. It disdains democratic freedoms, social justice, and envisions a global economy "where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish" solely for the privileged, the chosen few, not the disadvantaged or greater majority.

It's for free market plunder, regulatory freedom, tax cuts for the rich, exploiting the majority, corporate handouts, and militarized control for enforcement. For the moment the focus is Haiti, and now Chile, ripe for plunder, like the second tsunami that hit coastal Sri Lankans. The one that occurred on December 26, 2004 took 250,000 lives and left 2.5 million homeless throughout the region. After the disaster, Sri Lanka's east coast that was showcased to developers, hoteliers, and other business interests to exploit, a blank slate for what the tourist industry long wanted - "a pristine beach (on prime real estate), scrubbed clean of all the messy signs of people working, a vacation Eden. It was the same up and down the coast once rubble was cleared....paradise" given the profit potential.

New rules forbade coastal homes, so a buffer zone was imposed to insure it. Beaches were off-limits. Displaced Sri Lankans were shoved into grim barracks, and "menacing, machine-gun-wielding soldiers" patrolled to keep them there. Tourist operators, however, were welcomed and encouraged to build on oceanfront land - to transform the former fishing village into a "high-end boutique tourism destination (with) five-star resorts, luxury chalets, (a) floatplane pier and helipad".

It was to be a model for transforming around 30 similar zones into a South Asian Riviera to let Sri Lanka reenter the world economy as one of the last remaining uncolonized places globalization had not touched. High-end tourism was the ticket - to provide a luxury destination for the rich once a few deprivatization changes were made. Government land was opened to private buyers, labor laws were relaxed or eliminated. Modern infrastructure would be built, and public opposition suppressed to let plans proceed unimpeded.

The same scheme followed Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 when Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua were hardest hit. In Sri Lanka, Washington took the Mitch model to the next level, beyond individuals, to corporate control over reconstruction. Business ran everything, while affected people were shut out. Powerful business interests constructed a blueprint from housing to hotels to highways and other needed infrastructure. Disaster relief went for development. Victims got nothing and were consigned to permanent shantytowns like the kinds in most Global South cities and Global North inner ones. Aceh and other affected areas adopted the same model.

A year after the tsunami, the NGO Action Aid surveyed the results in five Asian countries and found the same pattern, residents barred from rebuilding and living in militarized camps, while developers were given generous incentives. The same scheme played out in New Orleans with unfettered capitalism given free reign. Prevailing wage rates for federally funded or assisted construction projects were suspended. So were environmental regulations in an already polluted area, enough to be designated a superfund site or toxic waste dump. Instead, redevelopment was planned. As a result, the inevitable happened, affecting the city's least advantaged, the majority black population, targeted for removal. The storm wiped out public housing and erased communities, letting developers build upscale condos and other high-profit projects on choice city land.

It was right out of the Chicago School's play book, what economist Milton Friedman articulated in his 1962 book, "Capitalism and Freedom". His thesis:

"only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change. When a crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around...our basic function (is) to develop alternatives to existing policies (and be ready to roll them out when the) impossible becomes the politically inevitable".

Friedman believed that government's sole function is "to protect our freedom from (outside) enemies (and) our fellow-citizens. (It is to) preserve law and order (as well as) enforce private contracts, (safeguard private property and) foster competitive markets".

Everything else in public hands is socialism, an ideology he called blasphemous. He said markets work best unfettered of rules, regulations, onerous taxes, trade barriers, "entrenched interests" and human interference, and the best government is practically none because, in his view, anything government does business does let it. Ideas about democracy, social justice, and a caring society were verboten because they interfere with free-wheeling capitalism.

He said public wealth should be in private hands, profit accumulation unrestrained, corporate taxes abolished, and social services curtailed or ended. He believed "economic freedom is an end to itself (and) an indispensable means toward (achieving) political freedom". He opposed the minimum wage, unions, market interference, an egalitarian society, and called Social Security "the biggest Ponzi scheme on earth". He supported a flat tax favoring the rich, and believed everyone should have to rely on their own resources to get by financially.

In a word, Friedman preached unrestrained market fundamentalism. "Free to choose," he said with no regard for human needs and rights. For him and his followers, economic freedom is the be-all-and-end-all under limited government, the marketplace being the master. Applied to New Orleans, it meant permanent changes, including removing public housing, developing upscale properties in its place, privatizing schools, and destroying a way of life for thousands of disadvantaged blacks expelled, and then priced out, from their communities.

For affected people, it was economic and social disaster under Friedman's prescription for mass-privatizations, deregulation, unrestricted free market predation, deep social spending cuts, and harsh crackdowns against resisters. It's disaster capitalism, business is booming.

Since the 19th century, America dominated Haiti. Before the quake, a proxy paramilitary UN force occupied the country, dispatched not for peacekeeping but for control. Worse still, it was the first time ever that UN forces supported a coup d'etat government, the one Washington installed after US Marines kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, forcibly exiled him to the Central African Republic, and ended the political, economic and social reforms he instituted in areas of health, education, justice and human rights. Ever since, conditions for Haitians have been nightmarish, and now the quake and further misery ahead from the Pentagon's iron fist and greater-than-ever exploitation.

Obama's top priority is control, underway immediately after the Pentagon took over the Port-au-Prince airport, reopened it after its brief closure, and set up a temporary air traffic control center. Military personnel now decide what gets in or out, what's delivered and how fast. As a result, trapped Haitians perished, whereas a concentrated, sustained airlift, including heavy earthmoving and other equipment, might have saved hundreds or thousands more lives.

On January 15, Reuters reported that the Port-au-Prince 9,000-foot runway escaped serious damage and could handle big cargo planes easily. Immediately, food, water, medicine, rescue crews, and other specialists began arriving from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, China, and elsewhere, but very little from America, including vitally needed heavy equipment.

Instead, the Pentagon sent in thousands of Marines and 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers (a 15,000+ force contingent once in place), armed soldiers, not humanitarian personnel and regular supplies to sustain them. Larger numbers may follow, to be supplemented by UN Blue Helmets and Haitian National Police under Pentagon command. A long-term commitment for militarized control is planned, not humanitarian relief, reminiscent of the 20-year 1915-1934 period when US Marines occupied Haiti.

Throughout the country, the lives of thirteen million people are at stake. Of immediate concern, are the three million in Port-au-Prince and surroundings, devastated by the quake and unable to sustain themselves without substantial outside help. The government is inoperative. Port-au-Prince is in shambles. People are struggling to survive, 100,000 or more likely dead, a toll sure to rise as disease and depravation claim more. Those in poor communities are on their own. On January 15, Al Jazeera reported that aid agencies are struggling under difficult conditions and inadequate supplies, let alone how to distribute them throughout the capital. As a result, frustration is growing with little help, no shelter, decaying bodies still unburied, the threat of disease, and the stench of death everywhere with no power, phones, clean water, food, and everything millions need.

Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera's Port-au-Prince correspondent said:

"A lot of people have simply grown tired of waiting for those emergency workers to get to them. Thousands of people are streaming out of the city towards the provinces to try to find supplies of food and water, supplies that are running out in the city".

On January 16, Al Jazeera headlined "Haiti: UP to 200,000 feared dead". About 50,000 bodies have been collected, according to Haiti's interior minister, Paul Antoine Bien-Aime, and he anticipates "between 100,000 and 200,000 dead in total, although we will never know the exact number," nor how many more will expire in the weeks and months ahead, unnoticed and unreported.

On January 17, Al Jazeera headlined, "Aid teams struggle to help Haitians....amid difficulties in distributing relief supplies to those who need it most".

Sebastian Walker said delivering supplies stacking up at the airport has been extremely problematic:

"This comes down to the complex issue of who is in charge here. The US military has a great deal of control over the number of flights that are landing here. We heard that a UN flight carrying aid equipment had to be diverted because the US was landing its own aircraft there. The question of just who makes the decision over how to distribute the aid seems to be what is holding up the supplies."

The Pentagon decides, of course, and that's the problem. Obama also urges "patience," saying "many difficult days (are) ahead," without explaining his obstructionist uncaring role.

The result is reports like this:

-- from Canada's CBC "As It Happens" broadcast interview with an ICRC spokesperson saying he spent the morning of January 15 touring one of the hardest hit areas, and "In three hours, I didn't see a single rescue team;"

-- a same day BBC interview with an American Red Cross spokesperson complained about aid delivery - that arriving planes carried people, not supplies, and amounts at the airport weren't being delivered;

- the Canada Haiti Action Network calls Port-au-Prince a city largely without aid because areas most in need aren't getting it; further, in nicer neighborhoods, dogs and extraction units arrived, but 90% of them are just sitting around, perhaps because of no earthmoving equipment to reach victims;

-- another report said a French plane carrying a field hospital was turned away, then later allowed in; and

-- various reports say US forces are preventing flights from landing; prioritized are landing US troops, repatriating American nationals, and perhaps starving poor Haitians to death; dozens of French citizens and dual Haitian-French nationals couldn't leave when their scheduled flight to Guadeloupe couldn't land; an angry French Secretary of State for Cooperation, Alain Joyandet, told reporters that he "made an official complaint to the Americans through the US embassy."

Major health concerns include untreated trauma wounds, infections, infectious diseases, diarrhea, lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, and Haitians with pre-existing condition like HIV/AIDS, diabetes and cancer aren't being treated. Up to a million people need immediate shelter and non-food aid, including clean water, blankets, kitchen and hygiene kits, plastic sheeting and tents.

One nation delivering help is Cuba, but little about it is reported. Despite its own constraints, it's operated in Haiti for years, and now has over 400 doctors and healthcare experts delivering free services. They work every day in 227 of the country's 337 communes. In addition, Cuban medical schools trained over 400 Haitian doctors, now working to save lives during the country's gravest crisis. It's no small achievement that Cuba, blockaded and constrained, is responsible for nearly 1,000 doctors and healthcare providers, all of whom work tirelessly to save lives and rehabilitate the injured.

According to China's Xinhua News Agency:

"Cuban aid workers have taken charge of (Haiti's) De la Paz Hospital, since its doctors have not appeared after the quake", perhaps because many perished, are wounded, or are trapped beneath or behind rubble themselves.

Cubans are working despite a lack of everything needed to provide care except for what its government managed to deliver. Dr. Carlos Alberto Garcia, coordinator of its medical brigade, said Cuban doctors, nurses and other health personnel are working non-stop, day and night. Operating rooms are open 18 hours a day. Independent reports now say Washington is trying to block Cuban and Venezuelan aid workers by refusing them landing permission in Port-au-Prince. The Caribbean Community's emergency aid mission is also blocked. On January 15, the US State Department confirmed that it signed two Memoranda of Understanding with the remnants of Haiti's government putting Washington in charge of all inbound and outbound flights and aid offloading in the country.

Above all, Haiti needs democratic governance freed from US control, military occupation, and the kind of oppression it's endured for centuries so its people can breathe free. It doesn't need two past and a current US president allied with Haiti's elites, ignoring economic justice, exploiting Haitian labor, ignoring overwhelming human desperation, militarizing the country, crushing resistance if it arises, and implementing a disaster capitalism agenda at the expense of essential human needs, rights and freedoms.

The only good news is that the Obama administration granted undocumented Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months. They can now work legally and send remittances to family members. It affects 30,000 ordered deported and all non-US citizens. During the Bush administration and throughout Obama's first year in office, repeated calls for it were refused. Now after 80 representatives and 18 senators, Republicans and Democrats, and the conference of Roman Catholic bishops sent appeals, Obama relented for Haitians in America as of January 12. New arrivals will be deported unlike Cubans under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (as amended), a "wet foot/dry foot" policy under which those interdicted at sea are returned home, but others reaching shore are inspected for entry, then nearly always allowed to stay. TPS aside, Haiti faces crushing burdens- deep poverty, vast unemployment, overwhelming human needs, severe repression, poor governance, Washington dominance, a burdensome debt, and much more before the January 12 quake. It has been Haiti's plight for generations, the poorest hemispheric nation in the area most under Washington's iron grip and paying dearly for the privilege. far from God, and so close to the United States (apologies to Porfirio Diaz).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

open letter to the world bank (re: haiti)...

"In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint-Dominigue only the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep"... 
~Toussaint L'Ouverture

How to completely kill a country with an annual GDP of roughly $300 million...

First you establish an economic embargo against a country. You prevent international financial institutions from providing loans to a legitimately and democratically elected government. (For the time being, ignore the fact that development loans and monies were ok'ed during dictatorships and military rule in said country). For example: When the American representative to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) writes a letter to the President of the Bank urging non-disbursement of an approved $500 million dollar loan, while forcing Haiti to servicing the interest and debt related to funds never received (2002).

Furthermore, though the United States claims to have provided Haiti with over $850 million dollars in aid over the last decade, there is a fundamental difference between bilateral aid that goes directly to a given foreign government and the funding of non-governmental organizations. Over the course of that decade (the 1990s) no funds were given directly to the Haitian government.

Additionally, a U.S. imposed economic embargo, upheld by the European Union and Canada, meant that financial bodies such as The World Bank, The International Monetary Fund, and the Inter-American Development Bank were essentially banned from providing grant or developmental loans to the Haitian Republic. Without such aid you do not have money for the infrastructure, no money for police forces, fire, no money for improving water systems. So while former President Aristide and others has been blamed for the dire poverty witnessed in Haiti that preceeded the recent Earthquake, the state was essentially strangled financially.

Worse, Haiti's foreign exchange reserves were depleted as the Haitian State was forced to service its debt to international institutions, leading to a collapse in the currency exchange rates as the base upholding the value of the Haitian Gourde (gold reserves and American dollar reserves) eroded, inflation rates rose and the value of the Haitian Gourde collapses (apples that cost 100 $HG yesterday costs 150 $HG today while the daily pay of the average Haitian fails to rise in a similar manner); needless to say, the economy will eventually fail. And in the case of Haiti, it has. From the year 2000 to February 29, 2004, the Haiti government received no foreign assistance. None. Without such ban, including a ban on the sale of police equipment to the Haitian state, a group of 200 armed rebels supplied with American-made M-16's would not have been able to overthrow the Haitian government in 2004.

Immediately after its struggle for independence, Haiti went back to being an invisible nation- until the next bloodbath, the next dictatorship, the next disaster. Since its revolution, Haiti has been capable only of mounting tragedies. Once a happy and prosperous colony, it is now the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Revolutions, the desire of Haiti to free itself from bondage, certain specialists have concluded, lead straight to the abyss; others have suggested, if not stated outright, that the Haitian tendency to fratricide derives from its savage African heredity. Pat Robertson, the influential American Christian televangelist stated as much after the recent Haitian earthquake:

"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince'. True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it's a deal'. And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another".

The rule of the ancestors. The black curse that engenders crime and chaos. Of the white curse, nothing was said. The drive for insatiable profits in raw materials and goods that developed the economic centers of Western Europe for hundreds of years.

The French revolution in the metropole had abolished slavery, but Napoleon revived it.

"Which regime was most prosperous for the colonies?", he asked.

"The previous one".

"Then reinstate it".

To reinstate slavery in Haiti, France sent more than fifty shiploads of soldiers. The country's blacks rose up and defeated France and won national independence and freedom for the slaves. In 1804, they inherited a land that had been razed to grow sugarcane and a land consumed by the conflagrations of a fierce civil war. And they inherited "the French debt." France made Haiti pay dearly for the humiliation it inflicted on Napoleon Bonaparte. The newly born nation had to commit to pay a gigantic indemnification for the damage it had caused in winning its freedom for their former colonizers. This expiation of the sin of freedom would cost Haiti 150 million gold francs.

The new country was born with a rope wrapped tightly around its neck: the equivalent of $21.7 billion in today's dollars, or forty-four times Haiti's current yearly (2008) budget.

In exchange for this fortune, France officially recognized the new nation. No other countries did so, not even Simon Bolivar. Bolivar received a supply of weapons and ammunition and was granted permission by the Haitian Government to enlist Haitian volunteers who wanted to join in the struggle against Spanish rule in South America. The only condition President Petion requested in providing assistance was for Bolivar to free the slaves in all the countries that he would set free from Spanish domination.

Not even Simon Bolivar recognized Haiti, though he owed it everything.

Haiti was born condemned to solitude...

In 1816, it was Haiti that furnished Bolivar with boats, arms, and soldiers when he showed up on the island defeated asking for shelter and help against the Spanish. Haiti gave him everything with only one condition: that he free the slaves- an idea that had not occurred to him until then. The great man triumphed in his war of independence and showed his gratitude by sending a sword as a gift to Port-au-Prince. Of recognition he made no mention.

Over the years, international economic experts have proved far more destructive than invading troops. Placed under strict orders from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Haiti obeyed every instruction, without wavering. The government paid what it was told to even if it meant there would be neither bread nor salt. Its credit was frozen despite the fact that the state had been dismantled and the subsidies and tariffs that had protected national production had been eliminated. Today Haiti imports its rice from the United States, where international experts, who are rather distracted people, forgot to prohibit tariffs and subsidies to protect national production within the country. Rice farmers, once the majority, soon became beggars or boat people. Many have ended in the depths of the Caribbean, and more are following them to the bottom, only these shipwreck victims are not Cuban, their plight never makes the papers.

To put it simply, debt kills. Rather than invest in education, the environment, or health care, Haiti’s people are forced to repay a debt they did not ask for or benefit from. Debt undermines democracy and national sovereignty, forcing democratically-elected leaders and citizens to follow debt repayment or specific economic policies imposed by international organizations. Debt structures the relationship with foreign powers, keeping Haiti under foreign control, even if there weren’t a multinational force.

Haiti’s people have more than paid for the debt, in terms of actual payments and in terms of Haiti’s extreme underdevelopment. But despite promises made to annul billions of dollars of debt for 18 low income countries at the 2005 G8 summit in Gleneagles, canceling Haiti’s debt was not even considered. Now, following the destruction wrought by the recent earthquake in Haiti, canceling the debt of Haiti should be one of the first measures taken by the international community to assist in allowing the Haitian state to rebuild itself rather than relying on the "charitable" donations of first-world nations.

On the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, there is a large sign that reads: Road to Ruin. Haiti is a country that has been thrown away, as an eternal punishment of its struggle for dignity. There it lies, like scrap metal. It awaits the hands of its people.

Monday, February 01, 2010

water (re: haiti)...

“Water is life's mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.”
- Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, 1937 Nobel Prize Winner for Medicine

Many factors contributed to the inability of the Haitian state to respond effectively to the immediate needs of its citizens following the devastating earthquake that occurred on January 12, 2010, outside the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Years of accumulated debt and the systematic destruction of the Haitian state apparatus by the Papa Doc/Baby Doc Duvalier dictatorship left Haiti in a precarious economic and political position for much of the post-Cold War era. The Duvalier family, it is estimated, misappropriated more than $900 million USD in multinational and bilateral loans supplied by such agencies as the World Bank and The International Monetary Fund, leaving the Haitian state responsible for debt obligations while the actual funds were largely invested in the regime’s totalitarian “tonton macoute” death squads and funneled into Swiss bank accounts of the bourgeoisie class. In addition, the period of post-Duvalier Haiti (1986 to the present) has bore witness to the overthrow of four democratically elected Haitian Presidents, including Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice, and the gradual deterioration in the ability of the Haitian state to respond to natural disasters such as Hurricane Jeanne (2004) and Hurricane Hanna (2008) as ever-increasingly portions of its treasury funds have gone into servicing its debt obligations rather than infrastructure development that may provide sustained economic growth.

By the time the 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince this January, Haiti had the unfortunate distinction of being the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, with a per capita income of approximately $400 USD per citizen. But then again, mere poverty, political instability, and economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have never been the best variables to predict the likelihood of an effective responsive to a natural disaster by any given government (e.g. the U.S., Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans; the annual GDP in 2008 of the USA was $14.2 trillion, Haiti in 2008 had a GDP of $7.01 billion). Despite the myriad of resource shortages faced by the Haitian Republic, perhaps most dire and immediate to the needs of its citizens is access to an adequate supply of clean water.

Water is involved in all bodily functions: digestion, assimilation, elimination, respiration, maintaining temperature (homeostasis) integrity and the strength of all bodily structures. A number of scenarios have been developed based on the most recent United Nations population projections (2008) and the future for many parts of the world looks bleak. The most alarming projection suggests that nearly 7 billion people in 60 countries will suffer from water scarcity by 2050. Even according to conservative projections, just under 2 billion people in 48 countries will struggle against water scarcity in 2050. Currently, nearly half of all Haitians lack satisfactory access to clean drinking water, and more than two-thirds live without adequate sanitation. Water poverty has been noted as one of the main reasons for Haiti’s abnormally high levels of preventable illness and early mortality rates. The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) reported in 2006 that more than half of all deaths (at any age) in Haiti were due to water-borne gastro-intestinal diseases.

The immediate need of clean water in Haiti had been known by Western governments as early as 1990, when The US Army Corps of Engineers observed that epidemics in Port-au-Prince such as malaria, typhoid, chronic diarrhea, and intestinal infections are caused by water contaminated by rubbish and fecal matter. Haiti's coverage levels in urban and rural areas are the lowest in the hemisphere for both clean water supply and sanitation, and these facts reflect a pre-earthquake reality. Within the country, contaminated water is the leading cause of infant mortality and illness in children. Sewer systems and wastewater treatment outside of the capital and Cap-Haïtien, the second-largest city in Haiti, are largely nonexistent. During the period of 1990 and 2006, Haiti experienced a 34% decrease in the number of sanitation facilities (which include piped sewer systems, septic tanks, pit latrines) adversely affecting an estimated 162,000 Haitians. With an estimate of 19% of the Haitian population having access to adequate sanitation facilities, the majority of citizens (81%) utilize sanitation facilities and methods that did not ensure hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. Undoubtedly, a majority of these individuals reside in urban centers such as Port-au-Prince and with the current state of sanitation infrastructure and water-delivery systems in the Haitian capital, it is certain that this problem has only gotten worse following the recent earthquake.

Source: UNICEF, 2008

The absence of ample sanitation facilities is further complicated by World Health Organization (2006) statistics that suggest 67% of Haitian households did not treat their water before consumption and 30% of those who do, utilized bleach or chlorine as a treatment method; only 1 percent use a water filter. Prior to the earthquake, only 52% of the urban population in Haiti had any consistent access to clean water in the general sense, with only 24% having access directly from their residences. The numbers fared a little better for those in rural communities with 56% having access to water but only 3% having direct access from their homes. When inadequate sanitation systems are coupled with untreated water, one can only imagine the health ailments resulting from the lack of access to clean water.

The time taken to collect water (travel to the source, stand in line, fill water containers and return home) is critical in determining whether a household can obtain enough water for drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene. Studies have found that if the time spent collecting drinking water is between 5 and 30 minutes, the amount collected is fairly constant and suitable to meet basic needs. However, if the total time taken per round trip exceeds 30 minutes, people tend to collect less water, thus compromising their basic drinking water needs. Women are more than twice as likely as men to go and fetch drinking water; children more likely than men. The daily struggle for basic sustenance exacerbates the grind of persistent poverty by consuming time that could be spent more productively on activities such as schooling, homework, or tasks that may supplement household income, such as growing crop or selling goods in the market.

Before the earthquake, the René Préval administration was working to expand its already modestly successful water initiatives in rural areas, including the local management of simple well pumps. This form of local water management both inside and outside the cities is a necessary condition for rebuilding all of Haiti. The objective of any effort to provide water filtration equipment is to increase access to and use of a clean water supply and sanitation services in participating rural communities. The specific objectives are: increase the sustained and effective use of safe drinking water in participating communities; to improve use of effective sanitation and hygiene practices in participating communities; strengthen the capacity of the implementing agency, local water committees, and professional operators in cooperation with local communities and municipal governments.

In rebuilding Haiti’s water systems, it is imperative to focus on simple and affordable local projects that communities can assume their own agency and take responsibility for themselves in the event of subsequent collapses of the state. The Haitian government has been nearly paralyzed by the earthquake, which destroyed its infrastructure, including the Presidential Palace, and caused the death of many governmental officials. The Haitian Parliament collapsed. The tax office collapsed. Schools and universities collapsed. Penitentiaries were destroyed. Hospitals broken. So far the Haitian government has concentrated its efforts on appealing for foreign aid and holding dozens of meetings with potential outside contractors to discuss debris removal, sanitation and other long-term needs. However, it still has not produced detailed emergency response and immediate recovery plans. Efforts have focused upon moving people from areas around the capital prone to more aftershocks and landslides, into tent cities that have sanitation and security, but these resettlement camps have yet to be built.


While efforts made by the international community have been admirable, the basic need for clean water is a persistent and immediate need for more than 3 million people within the Haitian capital and its surrounding suburbs. Walking through Mexico City this past week I was amazed at Mexican Government’s efforts to turn their city’s largest plaza into a drop-off center for supplies destined for Haiti. Piles of clothing, medical supplies, and water, positioned behind barricades and guarded by Mexican federal police in the Plaza de la Constitución, even the “third-world” was offering help, a wonderful sight to behold. But what good was all this water and assorted supplies sitting in a plaza in Mexico City? Such efforts by other governments for the people of Haiti is certainly admirable and should be acknowledged and commended, but eventually the tragedy in Haiti will fade from the consciousness of nations well before Haiti’s need for assistance will end. The citizens of Haiti would benefit immensely, in both short and long-term need, from tools and equipment that will provide a consistent and sustainable supply of this indispensible resource.

Mexico City- Haiti Relief Collection Point, January 25, 2010

Water is essential to life and civilization yet one in five people worldwide lack access to at least one gallon of safe water to drink per day. Additionally, two in five do not have access to the mere 13 gallons needed for basic sanitation and hygiene, mainly due to the deficit of existing infrastructure and competent, institutional governance within their respective countries. Water is an essential resource in the promotion of human life, engendering prolonged community building and development. Historically, water has served as both uniter and divider, a barrier and a conveyance, but always a great transformer of civilization, vital in nearly every aspect of human society. The manner in which each member of the world community acts in response to the crisis in Haiti, is not just a matter of economic and political history, but also a judgment on our own humanity and the ultimate fate of human civilization. After all we are, as living organisms, predominantly water. Every drop counts.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

truth be told: the haitian earthquake in retrospect...

In the latter decade of the 18th Century, the British attempted to wrest control from the French of the richest colony in the Americas, Hispanola. The French Revolution, this epic transformation of feudal, aristocratic, and religious privileges, was considered a window of opportunity by the British. The Revolution and the British incursion combined to destabilize Saint Domingue (the French half of the island), creating the conditions necessary for the only successful slave revolt in modern times, and the only successful slave-led revolution in history, the Haitian Revolution.

Haiti was only the second independent nation in the Americas (after the United States) and the first independent modern African state. Both the French maritime bourgeoisie (re: Napoleon) and the plantation-based colonial bourgeoisie had powerful vested interests in the institution of slavery, the former in the actual slave trade and the latter in the profit margin they sweat out of free labor. Loyalists of the French monarchy in the colony formed an alliance of convenience first with free blacks and mulattos, and finally with rebel slaves, for added strength to resist the rebellious bourgeoisie.

It should not surprise anyone who understands history that the revolutionaries of France and America fought for their economic emancipation from feudal monarchs at the same time the clung ferociously to the institution of slavery on which they had built the very fortunes and power they needed to overthrow feudalism. For example, in August, 1862 Lincoln wrote a letter to Horace Greeley, an editor of the New York Tribune, who published an open letter insisting President Lincoln free the slaves immediately. In Lincoln's reply he wrote "If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also so that". Lincoln objective was to save the Union, not to either save or abolish slavery.

The terrifying example, from the point of view of slave holders from the United States to Brazil, of a slave revolution, and the dismemberment of slavery’s supporting ideology by this dazzling display of African brilliance in the systematic defeat of three powerful white Western European nations, led slave-dependent Britain, France, and the United States to economically isolate Haiti. This further stifled Haiti’s economic development, and rendered Haiti vulnerable to a variety of forms of economic blackmail that continually drained her treasury. This was the first in a series of external factors contributing to backward development in Haiti.

The former slaves who fought for their freedom in St. Domingue were not historical materialists, and the question of whether capitalism was progress over feudalism did not enter their thinking. Consequently, when Jean-Jacques Dessalines lashed the revolution forward to independence, he declared a kingdom, and a semi-feudal economic system was adopted. Toussaint L'Ouverture and Dessalines quickly realized that the key to Haitian development throughout colonial rule had been the plantation system, and for many, post-Indepedent life in Haiti remained much the same.

Haiti’s post-revolutionary economic system placed a vast number of peasants on land owned by gentry. Landowners collected a share of the land’s produce in exchange for tenancy-a sharecropping system. In many respects, it was a system like that in the Southern United States. To understand political forces in Haiti today, it will be helpful to draw some further comparisons to the history of the Southern United States. Former slaves in the South who adopted sharecropping were beholden to a land-holding class in a relationship that was feudal in the sense of the tenant proffering a share. Wage labor was not employed in the production process. The instruments of production were simple, and the rate of accumulation remained slow to stagnant.

As industrial production was more rapidly introduced into the South, a conflict developed between the up-and-coming industrial bourgeoisie and the planter class over access to labor. There was a period of rapprochement in which planters were ceded black labor on tenant farms and poor whites were the province of industrial capital. But industrial capital is restless. Like a shark, if it stops it expires, and eventually industrial capital needed to reach into a new pool of black labor. The government, led by George Washington, advanced the French planters $726,000, sold them arms and ammunition, American merchants sold them food, and some Americans even fought against the rebels. But “the official government aid, however, came to an end in 1793 when the planter regime in the colony collapsed and the blacks established control over most of the island.” And in 1798, at Toussaint’s request, the Congress even authorized President John Adams to reopen trade with Haiti, a provision embraced by the Federalists, even southerners, and opposed by Republicans. All of that began to change when Thomas Jefferson became president.

Jefferson was terrified that the creation, and flourishing, of a black republic in the New World would serve as a model for the rebellion of America’s own slaves; and that, at all costs, would be unacceptable. “When news of the slave revolt reached the United States,” Hickey writes, “the first impulse of the Federalist administration was to aid the white planters”. As early as 1793, Jefferson wrote to James Monroe that “Never was so deep a tragedy presented to the feelings of man...I become daily more and more convinced that all the West India Island will remain in the hands of the people of colour, and a total expulsion of the whites sooner or later take place. It is high time we should foresee the bloody scenes which our children certainly, and possibly ourselves (south of the Potomac), have to wade through and try to avert them”. Two years later, in a letter to Aaron Burr, Jefferson compared the Haitians to assassins and referred to them as “Cannibals of the terrible republic”.

Slaveowner himself, Thomas Jefferson feared that a successful Haitian revolution would threaten the stability of slavery: “If something is not done, and done soon, we shall be the murderers of our own children”. By 1802, Jefferson’s worst fears had come true: the “course of things in the neighboring islands of the West Indies,” he wrote to Rufus King in July, “appears to have given considerable impulse to the minds of the slaves...a great disposition to insurgency has manifested itself among them”.

By 1804, Jefferson told John Quincy Adams that he was determined to end trade with Haiti. Having helped the Haitians gain their freedom, he then sought to strangle the new-born nation. He sought to quarantine the island and opposed official trade because that would mean recognizing its independence. And that could inspire slave insurrections throughout the American South. The embargo on Haiti remained in force until the spring of 1810; trade fell from $6.7 million in 1806 to $1.5 million in 1808. Non-recognition of the republic remained official American policy until 1862. What happened in the 1804-1820 period set the tone for Haiti's future and is directly responsible for much of her misery. The former slaves ran away from the lowlands, the plantations, away from the cruel rulers who would have effectively enslaved them again. They ran to the mountains where they would be safe from the soldiers and police of the realm. And here they have in large measure remained. This pattern of relocation has defined several aspects of Haitian life which undermine the development of a healthy economy. Today, only a mere 5% of the population control an estimated 80% of the Haiti's wealth.

To make matters worse, in 1825 France, which was being encouraged by former plantation owners to invade Haiti and re-enslave the Blacks, issued the Royal Ordinance of 1825, which called for the massive indemnity payments. In addition to the 150 million franc payment, France decreed that French ships and commercial goods entering and leaving Haiti would be discounted at 50 percent, thereby further weakening Haiti's ability to pay. The abolishment of tariffs and special treatment of goods from certain countries is a technique still utilized by World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural readjustment plans to devastating effect. According to French officials at the time, the terms of the edict were non-negotiable and to impress the seriousness of the situation upon the Haitians, France delivered the demands by 12 warships armed with 500-plus cannon.

The 150-million-franc indemnity figure was based upon profits earned by the colonists, according to a memorandum prepared by their lawyers. In 1789, Saint Domingue (all of Haiti and Santo Domingo) exported 150 million francs worth of products to France. In 1823 Haitian exports to France totaled 8.5 million francs, exports to England totaled 8.4 million francs, and exports to the United States totaled 13.1 million francs, for a total of 30 million francs.The lawyers then claimed that one half of the 30 million francs went toward the costs of production, leaving 15 million francs as profit. The 15 million franc balance was multiplied by 10 (10 years of lost revenues for the French colonists due to the war for liberation), which coincidentally totals 150 million francs, the value of exports in 1789.

To make matters worse for Haiti, the French anticipated and planned for Haiti to secure a loan to pay the first installment on the indemnity. Haiti was forced to borrow the 30 million francs from a French bank that then deducted the management fees from the face value of the loan and charged interest rates so exorbitant that after payment was completed, Haiti was still 6 million francs short. The 150-million-franc indemnity also happened to represent France's annual budget and 10 years of revenue for Haiti. One study estimates the indemnity was 55 million more francs than was needed to restore the 793 sugar plantations, 3,117 coffee estates and 3,906 indigo, cotton and other crop plantations destroyed during the Haitian struggle for independence.

By contrast, when it became clear France would no longer be in a position to capitalize on further westward expansion in the Western hemisphere, they agreed to sell the Louisiana Territory, an area 74 times the surface area of Haiti, to the United States for just 60 million francs, less than half the Haitian indemnity. Even though France later lowered the Haitian indemnity payment to 90 million francs, the cycle of forcing Haiti to borrow from French banks to make the payments chained the nascent Black nation to perpetual poverty. In fact, Haiti did not finish paying the indemnity owed to  until 1947.

According to the Haitian government's reparations booklet, the immediate consequence of the debt payment on the Haitian population was greater misery. The first thing President Jean-Pierre Boyer did to help pay the debt was to increase from 12 to 16 percent all tariffs on imports to offset the French discount. The next step Boyer took was to declare the indemnity to be a national debt to be paid by all the citizens of Haiti. Then he immediately brought into being the Rural Code. The dreaded Rural Code laid the basis for the legal apartheid between rural and urban society in Haiti. With the Rural Code, the economically dominant class of merchants, government officials and military officers who lived in the cities legally established themselves as Haiti's ruling class.

Under the Rural Code agricultural workers were chained to the land and allowed little or no opportunity to migrate within the country. Socializing was made illegal after midnight, and the Haitian farmer who did not own property was obligated to sign a three-, six- or nine-year labor contract with large property owners. The code also banned small-scale commerce, so that agricultural workers would produce crops strictly for export, similar to the post-Civil War sharecropping methods of production in the American South. The Haitian Rural Code was all embracing, governing the lives not only of farmers but of children as well. The Rural Code was specifically designed to regulate rural life in order to more efficiently produce export crops with which to pay the indemnity. The taxes levied on production were also used predominantly to pay down the debt owed France rather than school construction or providing social services to the Haitian populace.

The imposition of French language within the country is an immediate cause of Haiti's misery. French is the official language of the country. All state business is carried on in French, the schools educate mainly in French. Social prestige and mobility is related to the ability to speak French. Yet only about 10% of the people can even get along in French, with less than 5% knowing the language fluently. Creole is the language of the masses, with nearly 100% of the Haitians speaking and understanding it as their mother tongue. The road to social, economic and intellectual development is reserved to the speakers of French, while the masses are kept in their misery because their language is not recognized nor allowed as an official language. Creole is not a patois or dialect of French. It is a recognized language in its own right, with its own syntax which is significantly different from French. The Creole grammar is rooted in Central African languages, though most of its vocabulary is influenced by French.

The Haiti state following Duvalier included a nation trying to deal with repression on a scale most never know. The Duvalier dictatorship was allowed to expropriate approximately $900 million USD over the 29 years of their reign. After their departure former tonton macoutes agents fought over control over the vacuum of power that occurred. Haiti, following Duvalier’s exile, was placed into a state of chaos, something it had been used to in the years leading up to Aristide’s election. In 1971, the US restored its aid program to Haiti to ease suffering, but outbreaks of disease and the epidemic of AIDS only unleashed a furthering of the decay to a fragile society. Duvalier had used the treasury as his own and left Haiti poor, a remnant that Haitians are still trying to deal with to this day.

Tens of thousands imprisoned, tortured, wrongfully accused – and seething. This has a snowball effect into education, literacy (only around 25%), job creation and growth and stability of the family and culture norms. This created the military-industrial-complex of sorts on Haiti following Duvalier’s collapse. The military was intimately tied with the ruling aristocracy and became, for some, a way out of the slums. This was the Haiti that ratified its constitution in 1987, setting up a fairly predictable representative government based around a bicameral government with a president and prime minister. Haiti, following the dictatorships, was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. As mentioned above, the elite from which “Papa Doc” Duvalier came from, constituted 5% of the Haitian population and controlled most of its wealth (an epidemic which still exists today- recent clashes occurring as late as April of 2008). The business deals and natural resources were secured for the elite at the expense of the civilian population, it would not be too much to call them “the poor”.

This money, to the tune of $550 million in 10 years, was used to fund trips, homes, yachts, and parties (85% of the population of 7 million [in 1992] lives in poverty). Haiti had long been exploited, by foreign powers, neighbors and its own rulers. France not only milked Haiti for coffee and sugar production but also extracted an indemnity from it: the young nation had to pay a burdensome sum to its former colonizer in order to achieve France’s diplomatic recognition. This was the setting for a country that waded through an equally autocratic and unstable series of interim governments in preparations for elections in 1990. This was the country that elected, with 67% of the vote, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, who would become the country’s first democratically elected president, ever. Leading Haitian activists in the U.S. claim that between 1804 and 1990, when President Aristide was first elected, a grand total of 32 high schools were built in Haiti, all within urban settings. Since then, more than 200 have been built, they say, most in the countryside. To this day, the discrimination between rural and urban areas takes the form of color discrimination by light-skinned Blacks toward darker-skinned Blacks, and it remains entrenched.

In the end I am left to ponder what role did the world’s super powers play in burying Haiti before the Earthquake, and what sort of role will we now play in digging her and our own collective human soul out of the rubble? The use of the military and intelligent sources in order to keep authority. Truth be told, The United States does not believe in popular democracy that challenges the economic authority of the United States. Pentagon official says there are some 11,500 U.S. military personal in Haiti or offshore and 16,000 are expected by week’s end. What you have in Haiti is a well-funded and armed elite that controls the major industries of Haiti. Industries such as sweatshop manufacturing where laborers are paid approximately 50 cents USD a day; industries that thrive upon political instability and weak infrastructure that prevent effective tax collection and financial distribution. Aristide representing a threat to the hegemonic global economic status quo that would threaten U.S. economic interests.

A shift from abject misery to dignified poverty- The Promise of Jean-Baptiste Aristide

Haiti was supposed to turn 200 years old in 2004 with pomp and celebration as the first black republic in the history of the world. In addition to trying to raise the daily minimum wage in Haiti, former President Aristide attempted to secure reparations from France, in the amount $21,685,135,571.48, at 5 percent annual interest. In this era of multibillion-dollar bailouts of private banking institutions, $22 billion should scarcely raise a Western European eyebrow. But to Haiti, the sum would be a godsend. In 2004, at the time of the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence, the Haitian government put together a legal brief in support of a formal demand for "restitution" from France. The sum sought was nearly $22 billion, a number arrived at by calculations that included a notionally equitable annual interest rate.

Yet things turned out differently, and the 200th anniversary of Haiti holds the same overtones as Haiti in 1804, as Saint-Domigue in 1680. It began with unrest in the cities in the Fall of 2003- some could see it as a response to prices or food or, as the people of Haiti should be, just fed up with the system. But this unrest broke out into violence in the days leading up to January 1- the date that Haiti became an independent nation. In accords, as if on schedule, CARICOM members (members of the Caribbean community) all abstained from the celebration- boycotting the events in response to the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Former president Mbeki of South Africa, one of the major CARICOM members who attended, compared Aristide to Nelson Mandela to much criticism. Haitian artists including Franketienne, Gary Victor, Lannec Hurbon, Dany Laferriere, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot boycotted as well, stating:

In the face of this slide toward totalitarianism, we, artists, writers, intellectuals, and educators, declare: that we refuse to associate ourselves with official celebrations through which the government seeks in vain to legitimize itself. This refusal to associate ourselves with the government is not an opposition to Haitian unity, but on the contrary a defense of it.

On February 5, 2004, the city of Gonaives was taken over by a gang known as the “Cannibal Army” (now National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti) in retaliation for its believed involvement of Aristide in the death of their leader Amiot Metayer. From this takeover came support, as Dominican Republic convoys rode into Gonaives and other cities to offer assistance, something it is believed the rebels did not predict. On February 22, the rebels took over Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city. They were closing in on Port-au-Prince.

A crisis was declared. CARICOM tried to mediate this conflict with the US, Britain, France, and Canada. On February 29, President Aristide resigned the presidency, was flown to the Central African Republic on a U.S. military aircraft, and has been in South Africa ever since late 2004. He told viewers in Haiti that his leaving was “a modern way to have a modern kidnapping.” He told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!: “No, I didn’t resign. What some people call ‘resignation’ is a ‘new coup d’état,’ or ‘modern kidnapping.” According to Peter Hallward, who immensely cites evidence in his book Damning the Flood, the events in Haiti were indeed a modern coup backed by the US government.

In a sense, despite the leftist intentions and solidarity with the poor and the international sanctions – these past 5 years have only risen Aristide’s standing within Haiti. President Aristide demanded land reform, alienating the weakening but still powerful grandons, and he demanded that corporations pay their back taxes and raise the minimum wage from $5 a week approximately to $5 a day, thereby igniting the wrath of the bourgeoisie. He paraphrases Toussaint L’Ouverture:

I declare in overthrowing me they have uprooted the trunk of the tree of peace, 
but it will grow back because the roots are Louverturian.
(the original: “In overthrowing me, they have uprooted in Saint-Domingue only the trunk of the tree of the liberty of the blacks; it will grow back because its roots are deep and numerous.”)

That being said, there is enough blame to go around. Both internal and external forces within Haiti have led to the current sociopolitical and economic status of Haiti relative to the rest of the Western hemisphere and the world. In this one superpower age, it’s important to identify those struggles which have the most capacity for effective resistance. Haiti is one of those places. Not only because it is the home of the world’s first successful slave-led revolution, but because today the Haitian people have been able to maintain the will to resist on every level, politically, culturally, and economically. Through a combination of both high-intensity and low-intensity warfare, the will to resist has been diffused for the time being throughout most of the Americas. Earthquakes alone do not create disasters of the scale now experienced in Haiti. The wealthy nations have for too long exploited Haiti, denying it the right to develop in a secure, sovereign, sustainable way. The global outpouring of support for Haitians must be matched by long-term, unrestricted grants of aid, and immediate forgiveness of all that country’s debt. Given their role in Haiti’s plight, the United States, France and other industrialized nations should be the ones seeking forgiveness.