One year after the earthquake, Haitians need real self-determination
On Tuesday 12th January 2010, an earthquake of epic proportions hit the Caribbean island of Haiti. Despite international outcry and millions of pounds being poured into the country, we are now one year on, and over a million people are living in tents.
Disasters have become a business for international NGOs, and Haiti was next on the list of “honourable causes”. Barack Obama pledged his “full support” to the people of Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, and political leaders across the world were falling over each other to express their condolences.
However, the media didn’t take long to slot into it’s usual role, portraying the victims of the earthquake as “rioters” and “looters”, barbarically fighting over the food and clothing the kind Western aid organisations were bringing for them. Or as Matt Frei concluded in his reporting for the BBC, “The dignity of Haiti’s past is long forgotten.”
I think Haitians may have a bone to pick with Mr. Frei over such a statement. Haitians are proud of their history, and they always have been. They are proud to know that Haiti was the first American country to achieve independence, and the first black-led republic in the world after a successful slave rebellion in 1804. They are proud of the fact that after the rebellion succeeded, Haitians took the ships they had seized from their former colonial rulers; Britain, Spain and France, and went to liberate slaves being shipped over from west Africa to America, disposing of the slave ships’ crews in the process. They are proud of their revolution.
What Haitians might have more of an issue with is the role of foreign powers in their internal political affairs. The role of the United States in Haiti has not always been as “humanitarian” as the “vows” of their current government might have suggested. After being elected President of Haiti in December 1990 with over two-thirds of the vote, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a coup just a few months later. A campaign of terror followed against Aristide’s supporters followed, led by Emmanuel Constant, later outed as a paid informant of… guess who? The C.I.A.
In 1994, the Clinton Administration negotiated the departure of Haiti’s military leaders and the return of Aristide in the somewhat ironically-named “Operation Uphold Democracy”. Of course, he had to accept a US military force in his country, as well as the economic restructuring policies courtesy of the IMF and World Bank, but we don’t need to mention any of that.
In fact, not everyone agrees that the economic restructuring is such a bad thing after all. As Nicholas Kristoff reported for the New York Times, “[T]he best strategy for Haiti: building garment factories. The idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to Americans. But it’s a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh…”
After being re-elected in 2000, Aristide was again overthrown in a coup in 2004. This time, the American government didn’t even feel the need to be discreet about their role, with Aristide himself saying that he was “kidnapped” by US forces.
Behind the facade of pity and support from the current US administration, there is something far more sinister going on. As reported in The Washington Post, “of the more than 1,500 U.S. contracts doled out worth $267 million, only 20, worth $4.3 million, have gone to Haitian firms. The rest have gone to U.S. firms, which almost exclusively use U.S. suppliers. Although these foreign contractors employ Haitians, mostly on a cash-for-work basis, the bulk of the money and profits are reinvested in the United States.”
Haitians are tired of foreign aid companies driving in white vans, and to many, the UN forces are seen as an army of occupation. The cholera epidemic brought over by Nepalese UN forces, which the UN initially refused to recognise any responsibility for, is only the latest in a long list of thorns in Haiti’s side. Haitians want real independence, and the right to determine their own future.Tagged in: Haiti
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