Can Capitalism Save Haiti ?
by Shamus Cooke
Absolute horror continues in Haiti . The
inhuman - response by the international community the U.S. especially
- has been directly responsible for thousands of deaths, whether
it be those who were buried alive under rubble, or who died by
infection or other untreated injuries.
The U.S. military's domination of the
Port-au-Prince airport prevented international medical teams from
landing for days, while Partners of Health estimated that up to
20,000 people a day likely died from infections. Starvation and
fighting over very scarce food are the persisting deadly threats
faced by most Haitians.
What is the solution?
President Obama would have you believe
that thousands of U.S. troops and 100 million dollars of aid have
done the trick. But Haitians are right not to have one iota of
faith in the U.S. government, which for decades supported dictatorships
in the country while forcibly removing a popular president, twice.
Now, the U.S. military encircles the island
to prevent starving people from fleeing a living nightmare, a
policy that is the logical extension of Obama's general anti-immigrant
As the situation continues to deteriorate,
a slew of U.S. professional pundits are weighing in to give advice
to the struggling Haitians. Nearly all of them ignore the U.S.
's past and present actions towards Haiti . Instead, they paint
the U.S. as a saintly intervener into the affairs of the backward
Even worse, these lecturers ignore the
still unfolding humanitarian disaster in Haiti and are brainstorming
instead for down-the-road solutions. This saves them from having
to denounce the U.S. "effort" to save Haitian lives
so as to fantasize about a more perfect, futuristic Haiti .
A popular long-term solution that many
are advocating is - free market "reforms" that will
supposedly lift the country out of poverty. These ideas are shared
by both wings of the corporate U.S. political establishment. One
such example was outlined in The New York Times editorial titled,
Thinking About a New Haiti. In the view of New York Times, the
"new Haiti " should be one that puts markets ahead of
people: a strategy that will "promote self sufficiency"
(never mind that no small island nation can become self sufficient,
due to size and lack of resources).
The New York Times answers the prayers
of dying Haitians by preaching classic free-market dogma. This
tired scripture teaches that Haitians can pull themselves up by
their bootstraps by making use of their natural market advantages:
" Haiti has considerable economic advantages, like low labor
costs" ( January 31, 2010 ).
In reality, "low labor costs"
means that Haitians make literally slave wages - the lowest in
the western hemisphere that is full of very poor countries. The
implication here is that Haitians should welcome U.S. corporations
to come set up shop and hire Haitians for a dollar a day to make
super profits for foreign companies.
The New York Times specifically mentions
"garment-making" as a type of industry that Haitians
might excel at and not by accident. In nearby Honduras , U.S.
garment-making corporations - Nike, GAP, Adidas, etc. - would
love to off-shore work to Haiti , since the Honduran class has
become unruly in demanding higher wages.
Another way that The New York Times suggests
that Haitians strive for "self sufficiency" is by "rebuilding
and modernizing agriculture to grow staples and export products
like coffee and mangoes" So, in a country where rice and
beans is a luxury, Haitians should focus on growing cash crops
for foreign consumption. Again, it is the slave-wages of Haitians
that will make these crops better able to compete on the world
market. It is a lie, however, to say that such a strategy will
improve the lives of Haitians. The history of the hemisphere proves
An historic pillar of U.S. foreign policy
in Latin America is to keep countries underdeveloped by forcing
them to limit their economies to producing cheap food products
for the U.S. market. Perpetual poverty is produced instead of
wealth, with profits going to the U.S. corporations who own these
giant cash crop plantations. The few Haitians who would benefit
from such a policy would then be able to afford the luxury goods
produced in the U.S. , while the vast majority of Haitians would
continue to suffer in poverty.
So-called Banana Republics do not create
self-sufficiency, quite the opposite. Haiti would be utterly dependent
on the constantly fluctuating prices of these few cash crops on
the world market or they would be reliant on the whims of the
U.S. corporations who decided to exploit the slave-wages of Haitian
workers. In essence Haiti would be a colony of the U.S.
And this is the real goal of the strategy.
It is the historic goal of U.S. foreign policy that underdeveloped
nations become dependent on the U.S. consumer market or supply
cheap labor for U.S. corporations. These countries become economic
satellites that transfer their native wealth to U.S. shareholder
pockets, a never-ending game of poor nations chasing a fake carrot
of economic development.
Real development would mean that Haiti
would use its resources for the people of its country or trade
these resources with another country to benefit ALL Haitians.
This was part of the political program of Jean Baptiste Aristide,
the popular Haitian President that the U.S. twice overthrew. Aristide
wanted to use Haiti 's natural resources to be nationalized so
they could benefit all Haitians. This violated a sacred principle
of capitalism, prompting the U.S. to intervene.
If Aristide were allowed to return to
Haiti , he would likely join the fair-trade bloc ALBA, which uses
state-owned industries in various Latin America countries to promote
development between nations. This would again make Aristide a
natural enemy of the U.S. government, which is dominated by corporations
motivated only by the profit principle.
For Haiti to become self sufficient it
must be allowed to determine its own destiny. U.S. troops must
leave Haiti , and Aristide must be allowed to return. Without
these two conditions being met, any solution to Haiti 's problems
becomes a distraction and reinforces U.S. interventionism.
HANDS OFF HAITI!
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker,
trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org