Thursday, February 18, 2010
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 Debt, for 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 better...so 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. Haiti...so far from God, and so close to the United States (apologies to Porfirio Diaz).
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
"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"...
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 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.
THE CITIZENS OF HAITI DO NOT HAVE THE LUXURY OF TIME
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.
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