More Pain for Devastated Haiti:
Under the Pretense of Disaster Relief, U.S. Running a Military
by Arun Gupta
Official denials aside, the United States
has embarked on a new military occupation of Haiti thinly cloaked
as disaster relief. While both the Pentagon and the United Nations
claimed more troops were needed to provide "security and
stability" to bring in aid, according to nearly all independent
observers in the field, violence was never an issue.
Instead, there appears to be cruder motives
for the military response. With Haiti's government "all but
invisible" and its repressive security forces collapsed,
popular organizations were starting to fill the void. But the
Western powers rushing in envision sweatshops and tourism as the
foundation of a rebuilt Haiti. This is opposed by the popular
organizations, which draw their strength from Haiti's overwhelmingly
poor majority. Thus, if a neoliberal plan is going to be imposed
on a devastated Haiti it will be done at gunpoint.
The rapid mobilization of thousands of
U.S troops was not for humanitarian reasons; in fact it crowded
out much of the arriving aid into the Port-au-Prince airport,
forcing lengthy delays. Doctors Without Borders said five of its
cargo flights carrying 85 tons of medical and relief supplies
were turned away during the first week while flights from the
World Food Program were delayed up to two days. One WFP official
said of the 200 flights going in and out of Haiti daily "most
are for the U.S. military." Nineteen days into the crisis,
only 32 percent of Haitians in need had received any food (even
if just a single meal), three-quarters were without clean water,
the government had received only two percent of the tents it had
requested and hospitals in the capital reported they were running
"dangerously low" on basic medical supplies like antibiotics
and painkillers. On Feb. 9, the Washington Post reported that
food aid was little more than rice, and "Every day, tens
of thousands of Haitians face a grueling quest to find food, any
food. A nutritious diet is out of the question."
At the same time, the United States had
assumed control of Haiti's airspace, landed 6,500 soldiers on
the ground, with another 15,000 troops offshore at one point,
dispatched an armada of naval vessels and nine coast guard cutters
to patrol the waters, and the U.S. embassy was issuing orders
on behalf of the Haitian government. In a telling account, the
New York Times described a press conference in Haiti at which
"the American ambassador and the American general in charge
of the United States troops deployed here" were "seated
at center stage," while Haitian President René Préval
stood in the back "half-listening" and eventually "wandered
away without a word."
In the first week, the U.S. commander,
Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, said the presence of the Haitian police was
"limited" because they had been "devastated"
by the earthquake. The real powers in Haiti right now are Keen,
U.S. ambassador Louis Lucke, Bill Clinton (who has been tapped
by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to lead recovery efforts)
and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When asked at the press
conference how long U.S. forces were planning to stay, Keen said,
"I'm not going to put a time frame on it" while Lucke
added, "We're not really planning in terms of weeks or months
or years. We're planning basically to see this job through to
While much of the corporate media fixated
on "looters," virtually every independent observer in
Haiti after the earthquake noted the lack of violence. Even Lt.
Gen. Keen described the security situation as "relatively
calm." One aid worker in Haiti, Leisa Faulkner, said, "There
is no security threat from the Haitian people. Aid workers do
not need to fear them. I would really like for the guys with the
rifles to put them down and pick up shovels to help find people
still buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings and homes. It
just makes me furious to see multiple truckloads of fellows with
Veteran Haiti reporter Kim Ives concurred,
explaining to "Democracy Now!": "Security is not
the issue. We see throughout Haiti the population themselves organizing
themselves into popular committees to clean up, to pull out the
bodies from the rubble, to build refugee camps, to set up their
security for the refugee camps. This is a population which is
self-sufficient, and it has been self-sufficient for all these
In one instance, Ives continued, a truckload
of food showed up in a neighborhood in the middle of the night
unannounced. "It could have been a melee. The local popular
organizationwas contacted. They immediately mobilized their members.
They came out. They set up a perimeter. They set up a cordon.
They lined up about 600 people who were staying on the soccer
field behind the house, which is also a hospital, and they distributed
the food in an orderly, equitable fashion. They didn't need Marines.
They didn't need the UN."
Traveling with an armored UN convoy on
the streets of the capital, Al Jazeera reported that the soldiers
"aren't here to help pull people out of the rubble. They're
here, they say, to enforce the law." One Haitian told the
news outlet, "These weapons they bring, they are instruments
of death. We don't want them. We don't need them. We are a traumatized
people. What we want from the international community is technical
help. Action, not words."
A New Invasion
That help, however, is coming in the form
of neoliberal shock. With the collapse of the Haitian government,
popular organizations of the poor, precisely the ones that propelled
Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency twice on a platform of
social and economic justice, know that the detailed U.S. and UN
plans in the works for "recovery" - sweatshops, land
grabs and privatization - are part of the same system of economic
slavery they've been fighting against for more than 200 years.
A new occupation of Haiti -- the third
in the last 16 years -- fits within the U.S. doctrine of rollback
in Latin America: support for the coup in Honduras, seven new
military bases in Colombia, hostility toward Bolivia and Venezuela.
Related to that, the United States wants to ensure that Haiti
not pose the "threat of a good example" by pursuing
an independent path, as it tried to under President Aristide --
which is why he was toppled twice, in 1991 and 2004, in U.S.-backed
With the government and its repressive
security forces now in shambles, neoliberal reconstruction will
happen at the barrel of the gun. In this light, the impetus of
a new occupation may be to reconstitute the Haitian Army (or similar
entity) as a force "to fight the people."
This is the crux of the situation. Despite
all the terror inflicted on Haiti by the United States, particularly
in the last 20 years -- two coups followed each time by the slaughter
of thousands of activists and innocents by U.S.-armed death squads
-- the strongest social and political force in Haiti today is
probably the organisations populaires (OPs) that are the backbone
of the Fanmi Lavalas party of deposed President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. Twice last year, after legislative elections were scheduled
that banned Fanmi Lavalas, boycotts were organized by the party.
In the April and June polls the abstention rate each time was
reported to be at least 89 percent.
It is the OPs, while devastated and destitute,
that are filling the void and remain the strongest voice against
economic colonization. Thus, all the concern about "security
and stability." With no functioning government, calm prevailing,
and people self-organizing, "security" does not mean
safeguarding the population; it means securing the country against
the population. "Stability" does not mean social harmony;
it means stability for capital: low wages, no unions, no environmental
laws, and the ability to repatriate profits easily.
In a March 2009 New York Times op-ed,
Ban Ki-moon outlined his development plan for Haiti, involving
lower port fees, "dramatically expanding the country's export
zones," and emphasizing "the garment industry and agriculture."
Ban's neoliberal plan was drawn up Oxford University economist
Paul Collier. (Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff admitted, in
promoting Collier's plan, that those garment factories are "sweatshops.")
Collier is blunt, writing (PDF), "Due
to its poverty and relatively unregulated labor market, Haiti
has labor costs that are fully competitive with China." His
scheme calls for agricultural exports, such as mangoes, that involve
pushing farmers off the land so they can be employed in garment
manufacturing in export processing zones. To facilitate these
zones Collier calls on Haiti and donors to provide them with private
ports and electricity, "clear and rapid rights to land,"
outsourced customs, "roads, water and sewage," and the
involvement of the Clinton Global Initiative to bring in garment
Revealing the connection between neoliberalism
and military occupation in Haiti, Collier credits the Brazilian-led
United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) with
establishing "credible security," but laments that its
remaining mandate is "too short for investor confidence."
In fact, MINUSTAH has been involved in
numerous massacres in Port-au-Prince slums that are strongholds
for Lavalas and Aristide. But that is probably what Collier means
by "credible security." He also notes MINUSTAH will
cost some $5 billion overall; compare that to the $379 million
the U.S. government has designated for spending on Haiti in response
to the earthquake. It's worth noting that one-third of the U.S.
funding is for "military aid" and another 42 percent
is for disaster assistance, such as $23.5 million for "search
and rescue" operations that prioritized combing through luxury
hotels for survivors.
As for the "U.N. Special Envoy to
Haiti," speaking at an October 2009 investors' conference
in Port-au-Prince that attracted do-gooders like Gap, Levi Strauss
and Citibank, Bill Clinton claimed a revitalized garment industry
could create 100,000 jobs. The reason some 200 companies, half
of them garment manufacturers, attended the conference was because
"Haiti's extremely low labor costs, comparable to those in
Bangladesh, make it so appealing," the New York Times reported.
Those costs are often less than the official daily minimum wage
of $1.75. (The Haitian Parliament approved an increase last May
4 to about $5 an hour, but it was opposed by the business elite
and President René Préval refused to sign the bill,
effectively killing it. The refusal to increase the minimum wage
sparked numerous student protests starting last June, which were
repressed by Haitian police and MINUSTAH.)
Roots of Repression
Some historical perspective is in order.
In his work Haiti State Against Nation: The Origins & Legacy
of Duvalierism, Michel-Rolph Trouillot writes, "Haiti's first
army saw itself as the offspring of the struggle against slavery
and colonialism." That changed during the U.S. occupation
of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Under the tutelage of the U.S. Marines,
"the Haitian Garde was specifically created to fight against
other Haitians. It received its baptism of fire in combat against
its countrymen." Its brutal legacy led Aristide to disband
the army in 1995.
Yet prior to the army's disbandment, in
the wake of the U.S. invasion that returned a politically handcuffed
Aristide to the presidency in 1994, "CIA agents accompanying
U.S. troops began a new recruitment drive for the agency"
that included leaders of the death squad known as FRAPH, according
to Peter Hallward, author of Damning the Flood: Haiti, Aristide
and the Politics of Containment.
It's worth recalling how the Clinton administration
played a double game under the cover of humanitarian intervention.
Investigative reporter Allan Nairn revealed that in 1993 "five
to ten thousand" small arms were shipped from Florida, past
the U.S. naval blockade, to the coup leaders. These weapons enabled
FRAPH to multiply and terrorize the popular movements. Then, pointing
to intensifying FRAPH violence in 1994, the Clinton administration
pressured Aristide into acquiescing to a U.S. invasion because
FRAPH was becoming "the only game in town."
After 20,000 U.S. troops landed in Haiti,
they set about protecting FRAPH members, freeing them from jail,
and refusing to disarm them or seize their weapons caches. FRAPH
leader Emmanual Constant told Nairn that after the invasion the
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was using FRAPH to counter
"subversive activities." Meanwhile, the State Department
and CIA went about stacking the Haitian National Police with former
army soldiers, many of whom were on the U.S. payroll. By 1996,
according to one report, Haitian Army and "FRAPH forces remain
armed and present in virtually every community across the country,"
and paramilitaries were "inciting street violence in an effort
to undermine social order."
During the early 1990s, a separate group
of Haitian soldiers, including Guy Philippe who led the 2004 coup
against Aristide, were spirited away to Ecuador where they allegedly
trained at a "U.S. military facility." Hallward describes
the second coup as beginning in 2001 as a "Contra war"
in the Dominican Republic with Philippe and former FRAPH commander
Jodel Chamblain as leaders. A "Democracy Now!" report
from April 7, 2004 claimed that the U.S.-government funded International
Republican Institute provided arms and technical training to the
anti-Aristide force in the Dominican Republic, while "200
members of the special forces of the United States were there
in the area training these so-called rebels."
A key component of the campaign against
Aristide after he was inaugurated in 2001 was economic destabilization
that cut off much of the funding for "road construction,
AIDs programs, water works and health care." A likely factor
in the coup was Aristide's highly public campaign demanding that
France repay the money it extorted from Haiti in 1825 for the
former slave colony to buy its freedom, estimated in 2003 at $21
billion, or that Aristide was working with Venezuela, Bolivia
and Cuba to create alternatives to U.S. economic domination of
When Aristide was finally ousted in February
2004, another round of slaughter ensued, with 800 bodies dumped
in just one week in March. A 2006 study by the British medical
journal Lancet (PDF) determined that 8,000 people were murdered
in the capital region during the first 22 months of the U.S.-backed
coup government and 35,000 women and girls raped or sexually assaulted.
The OPs and Lavalas militants were decimated, in part by a UN
war against the main Lavalas strongholds in Port-au-Prince's neighborhoods
of Bel Air and Cite Soleil, the latter a densely packed slum of
some 300,000. (Hallward claims U.S. Marines were involved in a
number of massacres in areas such as Bel Air in 2004.)
'More Free Trade'
Less than four months after the 2004 coup,
reporter Jane Regan described a draft economic plan, the "Interim
Cooperation Framework," that "calls for more free trade
zones (FTZs), stresses tourism and export agriculture, and hints
at the eventual privatization of the country's state enterprises."
Regan wrote that the plan was "drawn up by people nobody
elected," mainly "foreign technicians" and "institutions
like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and
the World Bank."
Much of this plan was implemented under
Préval, who announced in 2007 plans to privatize the public
telephone company, Téléco, and is being promoted
by Bill Clinton and Ban Ki-moon as Haiti's path out of poverty.
The Wall Street Journal touted such achievements as "10,000
new garment industry jobs," in 2009 a "luxury hotel
complex" in the upper-crust neighborhood of Pétionville,
and a $55 million investment by Royal Caribbean International
at its "private Haitian beach paradise," surrounded
by "a ten-foot-high iron wall, watched by armed guards,"
just north of the capital. (That "investment," according
to the cruise line operator, included "a new 800-foot pier,
a Barefoot Beach Club with private cabanas, an alpine roller coaster
with individual controls for each car, new dining facilities and
a new, larger Artisan's Market.")
Haiti, of course, has been here before
when the U.S. Agency for International Development spoke of turning
it into the "Taiwan of the Caribbean." In the 1980s,
under Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, it shifted one
third of cultivated land to export crops while "there were
some 240 multinational corporations, employing between 40,000
and 60,000 predominantly female workers," sewing garments,
baseballs for Major League Baseball and Disney merchandise, according
to scholar Yasmine Shamsie. Those jobs, paying as little as 11
cents an hour, coincided with a decline in per capita income and
living standards. (Ban Ki-moon wants Haiti to emulate Bangladesh,
where sweatshops pay as little as 6 cents an hour.) At such low
pay, workers had little left after purchasing food and transportation
to and from the factories. These self-contained export-processing
zones, often funded by USAID and the World Bank, also add little
to the national economy, importing tax free virtually all the
materials used. The elite use the tax-free import structure to
smuggle in luxury goods. In response, the government taxed consumption-based
items more, hitting the poor the hardest.
U.S.-promoted agricultural policies, such
as forcing Haitian rice farmers to compete against U.S.-subsidized
agribusiness, cost an estimated 830,000 rural jobs according to
Oxfam, while exacerbating malnourishment. This and the decimation
of the invaluable Creole pig (because of fears of an outbreak
of African swine fever), led to displacement of the peasantry
into urban areas, along with the promise of urban jobs, fueled
rural migration into flimsy shantytowns. It's hard not to conclude
that these development schemes played a major role in the horrific
death toll in Port-au-Prince.
The latest scheme, on hold for now because
of the earthquake, is a $50 million "industrial park that
would house roughly 40 manufacturing facilities and warehouses,"
bankrolled by the Soros Economic Development Fund (yes, that Soros).
The planned location is Cite Soleil. James Dobbins, former special
envoy to Haiti under President Bill Clinton, outlined other measures
in a New York Times op-ed: "This disaster is an opportunity
to accelerate oft-delayed reforms" including "breaking
up or at least reorganizing the government-controlled telephone
monopoly. The same goes with the Education Ministry, the electric
company, the Health Ministry and the courts."
It's clear that the Shock Doctrine is
alive and well in Haiti. But given the strength of the organisations
populaires and weakness of the government, it will have to be
imposed through force.
For those who wonder why the United States
is so obsessed with controlling a country so impoverished, devastated
and seemingly inconsequential as Haiti, Noam Chomsky sums it up
best. "Why was the U.S. so intent on destroying northern
Laos, so poor that peasants hardly even knew they were in Laos?
Or Indochina? Or Guatemala? Or Maurice Bishop in Grenada, the
nutmeg capital of the world? The reasons are about the same, and
are explained in the internal record. These are 'viruses' that
might 'infect others' with the dangerous idea of pursuing similar
paths to independent development. The smaller and weaker they
are, the more dangerous they tend to be. If they can do it, why
can't we? Does the Godfather allow a small storekeeper to get
away with not paying protection money?"_
Arun Gupta is a founding editor of The
Indypendent newspaper. He is writing a book on the politics of
food for Haymarket Books.