U.S. interests secured, Haiti's pain endures
It has been one year since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, claiming an estimated 250,000 lives, some 2 percent of the population.
In the immediate aftermath, the Obama administration sent a 12,000-strong military force to occupy the country under the banner of humanitarian assistance. At that time, this author commented in an interview with the Eastern Echo the presence of the U.S. military in Haiti had nothing to do with helping the Haitian people. Rather, it symbolized Washington’s desire to protect its interests in the event of unrest, as well as ensure no other country would take the opportunity to gain a foothold in its backyard.
The U.S. military’s interference with the immediate relief effort is well-documented. Once their real objective was accomplished, the last major U.S. military unit left June 1 – the official beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season – leaving 1.5 million Haitians living in tents and millions more in makeshift shelters.
In late March, a donors’ conference in New York City netted $5.3 billion in pledges for a UN-sponsored rebuilding effort. For its part, the U.S. pledged $1.15 billion, none of which has been delivered. The Interim Haitian Recovery Commission, co-chaired by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and current Haiti Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, was tasked with distributing the aid.
According to Bellerive, only 20 percent of the promised aid has been delivered.
The real purpose of the commission is to open Haiti to foreign investment – something Clinton has repeatedly stressed. A voting seat on the commission’s board was given to every donor who pledged at least $100 million or forgave Haiti of $200 million or more in debt.
Thus, while the Haitian people have received only a fraction of the aid promised, foreign interests have been essentially given control of the country. The level of disenfranchisement led Bellerive to complain in a recent interview with BBC his government has little influence over the reconstruction effort because aid is channeled through outside agencies.
A report by Oxfam provides an embarrassing record of the commission’s work so far: “As Haitians prepare for the first anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million people are reportedly still displaced. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed.”
In October, a cholera epidemic broke out that has claimed 3,400 lives. However, neither these deaths nor the incredible toll of the quake are the result of “natural” disasters. Just as modern building techniques can prevent buildings from collapsing during a seismic event, simple sanitation has eradicated the threat of cholera more than a century ago.
It is the conditions of abject poverty created and reinforced by more than a century of intrigue, occupation and U.S.-sponsored military dictatorship that have left the Haitian people vulnerable to tragedies that should be relegated to the pages of history books.
On the anniversary of the earthquake, the world looks again on Haiti as an unanswerable indictment of the capitalist system that has proven to have absolutely nothing to offer the suffering population.
The salvation for the Haitian people resides in an alliance with the American working class for the overthrow of American imperialism and the smashing of its military machine, freeing resources to rebuild the societies it has shattered around the world.