Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Profiting From Haiti’s crisis

Benjamin Dangl on disaster capitalism in Washington's backyard

January 24, 2010
9 min read

In the aftermath of the earthquake, people begin to gather in front of the ruins of the National Palace. US corporations, private mercenaries, Washington and the International Monetary fund are using the crisis in Haiti to make a profit, and promoting unpopular neoliberal policies and extending military and economic control over the Haitian people.

With much of the infrastructure and government services destroyed, Haitians have relied on each other for the relief efforts, working together to pull their neighbours, friends and loved ones from the rubble. One report from IPS News, in Haiti, explained, ‘In the day following the quake, there was no widespread violence. Guns, knives and theft weren’t seen on the streets, lined only with family after family carrying their belongings. They voiced their anger and frustration with sad songs that echoed throughout the night, not their fists.’

Bob Moliere, an organiser within the popular political party Fanmi Lavalas was killed in the earthquake. His wife, Marianne Moliere, told IPS News after burying her husband, ‘There is no life for me because Bob was everything to me. I lost everything. Everything is destroyed,’ she said. ‘I’m sleeping in the street now because I’m homeless. But when I get some water, I share with others. Or if someone gives some spaghetti, I share with my family and others.’

Occupying Haiti undercover

It is not this type of solidarity that has emerged in the wake of the crisis – and the delayed and muddled response from the international community – that most corporate media in the US have focused on. Instead, echoing the coverage and calls for militarisation of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, major media outlets talk about the looting, and the need for security to protect private property.

One request from Erwin Berthold, the owner of Big Star Market in Petionville, Haiti, reflects this concern for profit over people. Berthold told the Washington Post about his supermarket, ‘We have everything cleaned up inside. We are ready to open. We just need some security. So send in the Marines, okay?’

That militarisation is already underway. This week the US is sending thousands of troops and soldiers to the country. The Haitian government has signed over control of its capital airport to the US. Brazil and France have already lodged complaints that US military planes are now being given priority over other flights at the international airport.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez responding to the US troop deployment said ‘I read that 3,000 soldiers are arriving, marines armed as if they were going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that’s what the United States should send … They are occupying Haiti undercover.’ The Venezuelan president pledged to send any necessary amount of gasoline needed to the country to aid with electricity and transport.

A heroic history in Washington’s backyard

There is also little mention in the major news outlets’ coverage of how the US government and corporations helped impoverish Haiti in the first place; creating the economic poverty that makes disasters like this so extensive. Nor is there mention of the country’s heroic struggle against imperialism and slavery. Fidel Castro pointed out recently that ‘Haiti was the first country in which 400,000 Africans, enslaved and trafficked by Europeans, rose up against 30,000 white slave masters on the sugar and coffee plantations, thus undertaking the first great social revolution in our hemisphere … Napoleon’s most eminent general was defeated there. Haiti is the net product of colonialism and imperialism, of more than one century of the employment of its human resources in the toughest forms of work, of military interventions and the extraction of its natural resources.’

University professor Peter Hallward, writing in the Guardian Unlimited, criticised Washington for its responsibility in creating the suffering it is now pledging to alleviate in Haiti. ‘Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies. Aristide’s own government (elected by some 75 per cent of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smoldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.’

Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti told Hallward of the root causes for the overpopulation of neighborhoods in the city of Port-au-Prince that were hit so hard by the earthquake. ‘Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses.’

Disaster capitalism comes to Haiti

As Naomi Klein thoroughly proved in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, throughout history, ‘while people were reeling from natural disasters, wars and economic upheavals, savvy politicians and industry leaders nefariously implemented policies that would never have passed during less muddled times.’ This push to apply unpopular neoliberal policies began almost immediately after the earthquake in Haiti.

In a talk recorded by Democracy Now!, Klein explained that the disaster in Haiti is created on the one hand by nature, and on the other hand ‘is worsened by the poverty that our governments have been so complicit in deepening. Crises-natural disasters are so much worse in countries like Haiti, because you have soil erosion because the poverty [this] means people are building in very, very precarious ways, so houses just slide down because they are built in places where they shouldn’t be built. All of this is interconnected. But we have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy, which is part natural, part unnatural, must under no circumstances be used to further indebt Haiti, and to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interests of our corporations.’

Following the disaster in Haiti, Klein pointed out that the Heritage Foundation, ‘one of the leading advocates of exploiting disasters to push through their unpopular pro-corporate policies’, issued a statement on its website: ‘In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the US 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.’

The mercenary trade group International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) immediately offered their services to provide ‘security’ in Haiti to its member companies, according to Jeremy Scahill. Within hours of the earthquake, Scahill wrote, the IPOA website announced, ‘In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.’

Kathy Robison, a Fortune 500 executive, formerly with Goldman Sachs Companies, wrote of the earthquake disaster in Haiti. ‘The business leaders I have been meeting with have seen enough disappointment and suffering,’ she wrote. ‘What Haiti needs is economic development and the building of a true middle class … There is much we are planning as far as creating new and innovative ways of using international aid and government support to promote private investment.’

On 14 January, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a $100 million loan to Haiti to help with relief efforts. However, Richard Kim at The Nation wrote that this loan was added onto $165 million in a debt made up of loans with conditions, ‘including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low.’ This new $100 million loan has the same conditions. Kim writes, ‘in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms.’

Doctor not soldiers, grants not loans

The last thing Haiti needs at this point is more debt – what it needs is grants. As Kim wrote, according to a report from The Center for International Policy in 2003, ‘Haiti spent $57.4 million to service its debt, while total foreign assistance for education, health care and other services was a mere $39.21 million.’

In the midst of the suffering and anguish, many Haitians came together to console and help each other. Journalist David Wilson, in Haiti during the time of the earthquake, wrote of the singing that followed the disaster. ‘Several hundred people had gathered to sing, clap, and pray in an intersection here by nine o’clock last night, a little more than four hours after an earthquake had devastated much of the Haitian capital.’ A young Haitian American commented to Wilson on the singing, ‘Haitians are different,’ he said. ‘People in other countries wouldn’t do this. It’s a sense of community.’

If these elements of the ‘relief’ efforts continue in this exploitative vein, it is this community that will likely be crushed even further by disaster capitalism and imperialism.

While international leaders and institutions are speaking about how many soldiers and dollars they are committing to Haiti, it is important to note that what Haiti needs is doctors not soldiers, grants not loans, a stronger public sector rather than a wholesale privatisation, and critical solidarity with grassroots organisations and people to support the self-determination of the country.

‘We don’t need soldiers’, Patrick Elie, the former Defense Minister under the Aristide government told Al Jazeera. ‘There is no war here.’ In addition to critiquing the presence of the soldiers, he commented on the US-control of the main airport. ‘The choice of what lands and what doesn’t land, the priorities of the flight[s], should be determined by the Haitians. Otherwise, it’s a takeover and what might happen is that the needs of Haitians are not taken into account, but only either the way a foreign country defines the need of Haiti, or try to push its own agenda.’

Benjamin Dangl is the author of the forthcoming book, Dancing With Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, (AK Press, 2010). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email Bendangl[at]gmail.com

Originally published on TowardFreedom.com

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones