Writer Peter Hallward spoke to Sadie Robinson about how the West has used last year’s earthquake as an opportunity to impose more control. Photographs by Leah Gordon
One year on from the devastating earthquake, much of Haiti remains in ruins. Life for ordinary Haitians has got worse not better, even after all the promises of aid, the visits from legions of politicians and celebrities, and thousands of US soldiers and United Nations (UN) forces.
This is the latest example of foreign intervention leading to disaster for ordinary Haitians. There is deep anger and bitterness among the population.
Peter Hallward, a writer and expert on Haiti, told Socialist Worker, “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that much of the population has been repeatedly traumatised. It’s hard to imagine how people can still manage to endure it.”
More than a million homeless people are stuck in tents in the capital
Port-au-Prince. Rubble from the earthquake still dominates the streets. “Very little rubble has been removed—estimates hover around 5 percent,” says Peter.
Hundreds of thousands of people are malnourished. A new UN report says that nearly one third of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.
The estimated 12,000 non-governmental organisations in Haiti have done shockingly little to deal with the cholera epidemic. More than 120,000 people have been infected and at least 3,300 have died, although the real number is likely to be much higher.
“Bodies are regularly tipped into mass graves at a notorious dumping ground at Titanyen, outside Port-au-Prince,” says Peter. “A friend of mine there says at least 20 new bodies show up every day.
“These are mostly people who haven’t been going through the hospitals, and it’s been happening for weeks. She talks to the people dumping bodies and thinks that thousands of bodies have not been counted, particularly in the countryside.”
On top of this, Haitians endured an election on 28 November so corrupt that most of the candidates called for it to be annulled. “The absurdity of these sham elections is beyond scandalous,” says Peter.
The most popular party, the left wing Fanmi Lavalas, was barred altogether. Lavalas has won every election it has stood in.
“I think the overwhelming purpose, this time, was finally to destroy the main problem that the great powers have had with Haiti—the resilience of its grassroots political movement, and the party most closely associated with it, Fanmi Lavalas,” says Peter.
Defenders of the election say Haitians had a choice of 19 people for the presidency. But it wasn’t a real choice—the only candidates were those accepted by France and the US.
The call by the exiled popular leader of Lavalas, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, for people to boycott the election struck a chord. The turn-out of just 23 percent is dramatically low by Haitian standards.
Many voting centres shut early, citing “unrest”. Others never opened. Some Haitians found that they couldn’t vote because their name wasn’t on the list.
Despite all this, there will now be a run-off between the top two (or perhaps three) candidates. “The top three are just figures of the status quo,” says Peter. “Mirlande Manigat represents the old Duvalierists—the old pre-Aristide order and the army upon which it was based.
“Michel Martelly represents much the same people, with more of a populist touch. But it’s clear that he was tight with the Duvalier people and he supported the disastrous coups against Aristide.
“And Jude Celestin is an extension of [current president] René Préval. He’s a functionary who has no distinctive political agenda, and no obvious credentials to stand as leader of the Haitian people.”
But those with vested interests in Haiti have other motives for pushing the elections. “The run-off will give the international community the opportunity to say that Haiti has a so-called democratically elected leader,” says Peter.
“They want to move on to conducting the real business at hand, which is doling out money to businesses for reconstruction. Big international investors like AshBritt, Halliburton and the others who want to cash in have been waiting to see how best to avoid being saddled with some of the more unprofitable work.
“But it’s also because those in power want to be able to counter accusations that the international community is imposing its own reconstruction agenda—and for that, they need a willing partner in Haiti.
“They need a Haitian ’yes man‘. Préval’s gone a long way down that road, but arguably not far enough as far as his international minders are concerned. He’s mainly done what he’s told—accepted a subservient role in the reconstruction effort, privatised the phone company, sidelined and divided Fanmi Lavalas and limited wage increases to a woeful $3 a day.
“But he was once a Lavalas activist himself, and he still occasionally asks awkward questions. I think they need a figleaf to try and show there aren’t political problems, which scare away investors.”
UN troops occupy Haiti. Their role is described as “stabilising”—but what this really means is using brutal repression to keep popular movements in check and US-approved leaders in government.
“The UN continues to play the same role it has played for the last six years, which is keeping a lid on social discontent by military-style policing,” says Peter. “It has invested virtually all its money—more than $600 million a year—in an extremely well-armed, expensive occupation force.
“One report last spring showed that the UN didn’t pull anyone out of the rubble in the first three days of the earthquake.
“It’s incredible. They had 8,000 young, well-trained men, and couldn’t rescue a single person.
“It is beyond shocking that this foreign occupation is being presented as a positive ‘peace-keeping’ mission. Its only function has been to impose an unpopular coup on a very resentful population and to prevent them from taking significant political steps to counter or reverse it.”
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And I'll also include an excerpt from Jordan Flaherty's "One Year After Haiti Earthquake, Corporations Profit While People Suffer" at Dissident Voice:
One year after an earthquake devastated Haiti, much of the promised relief and reconstruction aid has not reached those most in need. In fact, the nation’s tragedy has served as an opportunity to further enrich corporate interests.
The details of a recent lawsuit, as reported by Business Week, highlights the ways in which contractors – including some of the same players who profited from Hurricane Katrina-related reconstruction – have continued to use their political connections to gain profits from others’ suffering, receiving contacts worth tens of millions of dollars while the Haitian people receive pennies at best. It also demonstrates ways in which charity and development efforts have mirrored and contributed to corporate abuses.
Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development (US AID) was named US special coordinator for relief and reconstruction after the earthquake. He worked this job for a few months, then immediately moved to the private sector, where he could sell his contacts and connections to the highest bidder. He quickly got a $30,000-a-month (plus bonuses) contract with the Haiti Recovery Group (HRG).
HRG had been founded by Ashbritt, Inc., a Florida-based contractor who had received acres of bad press for their post-Katrina contracting. Ashbritt’s partner in HRG is Gilbert Bigio, a wealthy Haitian businessman with close ties to the Israeli military. Bigio made a fortune during the corrupt Duvalier regime, and was a supporter of the right wing coup against Haitian president Aristide.Hey, don't you think it's funny that it's me and not Amy Goodman talking about Haiti now? Few grandstanded on the topic the way she did. I remember her heavily promoting Wyclef Jean . . . until someone told her Jean and his family were part of the right-wing coup against Aristide. You may remember C.I. telling you that back when Goody was WHORING for Wyclef. Now C.I.'s far from the only voice of truth. This is from New American Media last August:
so enter Wyclef Jean. Jean comes from a prominent Haitian family that has virulently opposed Lavalas since the 1990 elections. His uncle is Raymond Joseph – also a rumored presidential candidate – who became Haitian ambassador to the United States under the coup government and remains so today. Kevin Pina writes in “It’s not all about that! Wyclef Jean is fronting in Haiti,” Joseph is “the co-publisher of Haiti Observateur, a right-wing rag that has been an apologist for the killers in the Haitian military going back as far as the brutal coup against Aristide in 1991.
“On Oct. 26  Haitian police entered the pro-Aristide slum of Fort Nationale and summarily executed 13 young men. Wyclef Jean said nothing. On Oct. 28 the Haitian police executed five young men, babies really, in the pro-Aristide slum of Bel Air. Wyclef said nothing. If Wyclef really wants to be part of Haiti’s political dialogue, he would acknowledge these facts. Unfortunately, Wyclef is fronting.”
As if to prove it, the Miami Herald reported on Feb. 28, 2010, “Secret polling by foreign powers in search of a new face to lead Haiti’s reconstruction …” might favor Jean’s candidacy, as someone with sufficient name recognition who could draw enough votes to overcome another Lavalas electoral boycott.
Wyclef Jean supported the 2004 coup. When gun-running former army and death squad members trained by the CIA were overrunning Haiti’s north on Feb. 25, 2004, MTV’s Gideon Yago wrote, “Wyclef Jean voiced his support for Haitian rebels on Wednesday, calling on embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down and telling his fans in Haiti to ‘keep their head up’ as the country braces itself for possible civil war.”
You can click here for Goody's whoring for Wcylef. Remember, ain't no whore like a Goody Whore. And didn't she prove it this week? Beating her tribal drums and chest over Phoenix as she spent nearly every moment telling you how this was the right-wing, the right-wing. Yeah, it is politicizing a tragedy.
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"