“We also know that our longer-term effort will not be measured in days and weeks, it will be measure in months and even years” – President Obama, speech announcing the establishment of the ClintonBush Haiti Fund, January 16th 2010
Okay, so it’s almost two years now. Let’s take a look at the long-term effort.
If anyone was in any doubt that the Haitian earthquake was going to be a goldmine for the disaster capitalists, a recent article at Counterpunch – which accounts for where the money raised for disaster relief and reconstruction ‘did and did not go’ – makes for a sobering, and frankly depressing read.
‘Two years later, over half a million people remain homeless in hundreds of informal camps, most of the tons of debris from destroyed buildings still lays where it fell, and cholera, a preventable disease, was introduced into the country and is now an epidemic killing thousands and sickening hundreds of thousands more. Haiti today looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years.’
Here are some of the starker facts figures about where the money went and who was consulted about it:
33% of every dollar of US aid went to the US military
only 1% of the $3.6 billion raised by donors went to the Haitian Government
less than 1% of the $412 million in US funds allocated for infrastructure reconstruction in Haiti has been spent by USAID and the US State Department
international aid coordination meetings were not translated into Kreyol
the Haiti Neighborhood Return and Housing Reconstruction Framework drafted by the Interim Haiti Redevelopment Commission (IHRC) which was supposed to guide reconstruction, was not published in draft form in Kreyol so local people could review it
of the 1490 contracts awarded by the US government only 23 contracts went to Haitian companies
at a meeting of governments in Montreal in January 2011 the international community decided it was not going to allow the Haiti government to direct the relief and recovery funds
an official report into the operations of the IHRC revealed that it failed to direct funding to projects prioritized by Haitians
Haiti Liberte was one of the first news sources to report the disaster relief ‘goldrush’ after secret cables by U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten were released by wikileaks in February last year.
Here is an example of the promotional material for one of the companies that won out in the scramble for contracts after the earthquake, United for a Sustainable America:
The horror. Renzo Martens eat your heart out.
The Haiti Liberte article also reported the story of Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) who was named US special coordinator for relief and reconstruction after the earthquake. After a few months on the job he 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).
‘But in December 2010, Lucke sued AshBritt and its Haitian partner, GB Group (belonging to Haiti’s richest man, Gilbert Bigio) for almost $500,000. He claimed the companies “did not pay him enough for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy,” according to the Associated Press. Lucke had signed a lucrative $30,000 per month agreement with AshBritt and GB Group within eight weeks of stepping down, helping them secure $20 million in construction contracts.’
According to an article written one year after the earthquake by Jordan Flaherty Gilbert Bigio made a fortune during the corrupt Duvalier regime and was a supporter of the right-wing coup against Haitian President Aristide. According to an article on Haiti Action Net, in 2007, after having doubled his fortunes since the ousting of Aristide, Bigio began building factories secured by armed guards and UN patrols in one of the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince, Cité Soleil.
A photograph from the GB website is uncannily similar to those bought by the plantation owner in Renzo Martens’ challenging exposé of the ethical paradoxes of global aid, photojournalism and contemporary art in the moral labyrinth of humanitarian aid work in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Enjoy Poverty III.
‘What can we do?’…use the ‘R’ word
The Counterpunch article ends its dismal inventory of aid relief and reconstruction failures for post-earthquake Haiti with a less than inspiring proposal of what can be done.
‘The UN Special Envoy to Haiti suggests the generous instincts of people around the world must be channelled by international actors and institutions in a way that assists in the creation of a “robust public sector and a healthy private sector.” Instead of giving the money to intermediaries, funds should be directed as much as possible to Haitian public and private institutions. A “Haiti First” policy could strengthen public systems, promote accountability, and create jobs and build skills among the Haitian people.’
Most of these proposals were made by many – including the author of the current article – immediately after the earthquake. Why would they be headed any more now than then? It’s also very worrying to see the ‘R’ word used in this context. It does not bode well.
Interestingly most of these uses occurred in 2011. A few, notably with reference to Gordon Brown’s ‘robust bullying’ and ‘robust survey of deaths in Iraq’ occurred a year or so earlier.
Isn’t ‘robust’ a meaningless, jargonistic, contemporary political euphemism for pretending to be doing something significant when actually you haven’t got a clue what to do? Or is there something more sinister at work here?
I can’t help being reminded of President Obama’s first statement following the Haitian earthquake: “I have directed my administration to act with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort, to save lives”. Aggressive effort to save lives?
I will be discussing alternative approaches to what can be done about the situation at two events taking place at Occupy LSX next weekend. The first is an event taking place at the Bank of Ideas on Saturday January 14th about The Corporate Occupation of the Arts where I will be discussing protest pedagogy and the second an event organised by the London Occupy Economics Working Group called ‘Beyond Capitalism?’ on Sunday January 15th.
In the recent Gasworks meeting at which we established the Haiti-London Konbit list-server it was agreed that a brief history of the current situation would be useful to help coordinate solidarity. This is my first attempt to do so.
I will be presenting a powerpoint presentation of this story at a Free School event on Saturday 13th Feb between 2 and 4pm in the temporary shop space where Andrew Cooper is showing “The Rabbles Furious Struggle Against Inequality” (Shop 76, 5th Avenue, Brixton Market off Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Road. Near Brixton tube, Victoria line). Please come along and invite any interested parties.
Our Debt to Haiti
“Haiti has no debt with Venezuela – on the contrary, it is Venezuela that has a historic debt with Haiti,” – President Hugo Chavez the announcement of the cancellation of Haiti’s monetary debt to Venezuela, January 2010
In his recent speech accepting responsibility for the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund established by Barak Obama, Bill Clinton made the following telling comment:
“I believe that before this earthquake Haiti had the best chance to escape its history, a history that Hilary and I have shared a tiny part of”
This was not the first time Clinton had given his ‘escape’ speech after a ‘natural disaster’ in Haiti. The first was at the UN headquarters in New York prior to his departure for Haiti in July 2009 on acceptance of his role as UN Special Envoy to the country: “Haiti, notwithstanding the total devastation wreaked by the four storms last year” he said “has the best chance to escape the darker aspects of its history in the 35 years that I have been going there.” Clinton continued, “[Haiti is safer today] because of the work of the United Nations peacekeeping and police forces. No effort like that is without controversy and incident, but they have basically done a good job. I was there in the streets of Cite Soleil. I saw the children walking without fear.” The ‘controversy and incident’ referred to by Clinton stems from accusations of UN involvement in human rights abuses committed by the Haitian police who performed summary executions and widespread false arrests following Aristide’s ousting in 2004.
There are two histories that Clinton, Obama and Bush, along with the dominant mainstream media channels, would like us to forget, and the Haitian people to ‘escape’. The first is Haiti’s history as the first independent Black republic in the modern world and the price it has had to pay for its’ independence ever since, and the second is the terrible role the US and dominant international powers have played, and continue to play, in maintaining the poverty and political disempowerment of the Haitian people.
Here’s a brief sketch of those two stories and the ‘dark history’ that Clinton would like Haiti to ‘escape’.
Background to the Haitian Revolution
Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which was populated by Taíno people at the time of Columbus’ arrival there in 1492. The Taíno population decreased rapidly during the colonization that followed Columbus’ ‘discovery’ due to harsh treatment by the colonial overlords. The genocide of the Taínos by Columbus and his men has been described as one of the most brutal and complete in history.
In 1501 the Spanish colony began importing African slaves to replace the lost Taíno ‘workforce’ it was using to extract gold from the island.
During the 17th century French colonists took over the western part of the island and named it St. Domingo. It was to become the richest colony in the New World, a wealth based on the cultivation and manufacture of indigo, coffee and sugar. The production process was built upon one of the cruelest and most inhuman slavery regimes the world had ever known.
The Taínos and Africans that managed to escape slavery formed maroon communities in the mountains. One of the most famous maroons was Francois Macandal who led a series of successful raids against the colonial plantation owners in the years before the revolutionary slave-uprising there in 1791.
Inspired by the French revolution of 1789 and the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – which supposedly underpinned it – the slaves organised a massive revolutionary movement against their masters.
In August 1791 a Jamaican-born, former slave and houngan (Vodou priest) called Dutty Boukman organized a gathering of rebel leaders in the woods of Bois Caïman and, in ritual ceremony, swore a blood oath to overthrow the plantation system. (This is the historical source of recent allegations that Haiti is cursed due to a pact made with the devil).
Here is the accepted historical account of Boukman’s prayer at Bois Caïman:
“The god who created the sun which gives us light, who rouses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all.” (cited in CLR James’ The Black Jacobins)
There is some academic controversy regarding the details and veracity of the story of Bois Caïman. An overview of the debates can be found here.
Revolution and Independence
From the revolutionary struggle that followed the Bois Caïman ceremony Toussaint Louverture, a free black, former coachman and slave driver, emerged as the military commander of the slave armies and became the first black governor of the first nation in the world to fully and constitutionally abolish slavery. Following a 13 year war of liberation the Nation of Haiti was established in 1804, named after one of the Taíno names for the mountainous island. It was the first country in the world to actually abolish slavery and to implement universal human rights and equality to all citizens regardless of colour, property ownership, religion or gender. The great historical, political and social significance of this event has been receiving a great deal of attention in academic circles recently, since the publication of Susan Buck-Morss’ Hegel, Haiti and Universal History and Nick Nesbitt’s Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment. Slavoj Zizek’s attention to these works, as mentioned in the ‘First Post‘ of this blog, has further added to this popular academic interest.
Haiti’s Debt to the World Banking System
No sooner had Haiti won its independence from France than it was faced with a crippling trade embargo imposed by the French. This would not be the last such blockade.
In 1804 US President Thomas Jefferson refused to recognise the new state and instead offered military support to the French to help regain the island. Fearing slave-uprisings in the southern states, the US also placed a trade embargo on Haiti. This embargo was in place until 1862 when the US finally recognized Haiti as a sovereign nation. Abolition of Slavery in the US did not happen until 1865 at the end of the Civil War.
In 1825, in return for recognizing Haitian independence, France demanded an indemnity of 150 million gold francs, five times the country’s annual export revenue. The terms were non-negotiable and the fledgling nation acceded, since it had little practical economic choice in the matter. The country took out loans from US, German and French banks at extortionate rates. By 1900 80% of the national budget was being swallowed up by debt repayments. Haiti was paying for this debt until 1947.
In 2003 President Jean Bertrand Aristide petitioned the French government to repay Haiti for this reparation plus the interest the money would have accrued in that time (a total of $ 21 billion). The French Government refused and one year later, after secret meeting in Montreal between government representatives of France, Canada, the US and Latin America discussing ‘regime change’ in Haiti, President Aristide was ousted in a military coup. The coup coincided with the 200th year anniversary of the declaration of Haitian independence.
The First US Occupation of Haiti
At the outbreak of the first world war the US government was anxious about a small German population (approximately 200 people) in Haiti controlling 80% of the nations wealth. A consortium of US investors bought the National bank of Haiti, the nations only commercial bank and government treasury. In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson sent 300 troops to ‘protect US interests’ in Haiti. Fears that Haiti would renege on loans from US and France under the potential presidency of Rosalvo Bobo prompted a full-blown invasion.
In 1918 the US drafted a new constitution for Haiti which allowed foreigners to buy land, something prohibited in Haiti since the presidency of Jean Jacques Dessalines (1804-6). The US occupation was enforced by US marines until 1934 during which time the US imposed a forced labour regime for the building of public works and blacks were banned from colonial hotels and restaurants. The guerrilla chief, Charlemagne Peralte, was exhibited in the public square, crucified on a door to teach the people a counter-insurgency lesson. Haiti’s social and economic development was effectively halted by this unlawful military occupation.
In a precursor to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (winner of the US medal of honour for his involvement in Haiti) wrote a condemnation of US military strategy at this time – War is a Racket– pointing to a variety of examples where industrialists, whose operations were subsidised by public funding, were able to generate substantial profits essentially from mass human suffering.
During the occupation the US also began a series of anti-superstition campaigns in an attempt to eradicate the practice of Vodou from the country. Contemporary US based Evangelical Christian missions in Haiti continue this campaign today. In a recent post from Leah Gordon to the Ghetto Biennale list she told how, one week after the earthquake, an evangelist van drove past the site of the Ghetto Biennale in Grand Rue with a huge sound system playing a song which roughly translated as – ‘Haiti has suffered but let us be glad that god has at least killed all the sinners’.
The Duvalier Era
Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier came to power in Haiti in 1956 on a popular black nationalist platform. In 1959 he created a rural militia, the Ton Ton Macoutes, notorious for their brutality, who terrorized the rural population. Hundreds of thousands of rural peasants migrated from the country to rural slums in Port-au-Prince looking for work in sweatshops.
During the Kennedy administration (1961-3) Duvalier renounced all economic aid from Washington and declared himself President for life in 1964. Shortly afterwards there was a shift in US foreign policy towards Haiti as it was seen as an important bulwark against Communism in the West Indies.
During this time US agricultural imports began to undermine the traditional agricultural economy of Haiti.
Francois’ son, Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier took over in 1971. In 1972 he was exposed for selling Haitian blood to private American hospitals for $3 a litre. In 1978 the indigenous Haitian pig was diagnosed as having the African Swine Fever and, under pressure from the US government, was almost entirely eradicated and replaced by an American pig that cost almost as much to feed as a Haitian human.
By mid 80’s fears about the AIDS epidemic destroyed what tourism there was left in Haiti. During this period there was a move on the part of the US States Agency for International Development to move the Haitian population out of the countryside and into the cities for multinational assembly industries in what has been called the Taiwanization of Haiti. Rice was imported from Miami at prices that undercut the Haitian farmers, furthering the tactical destruction of the Haitian rural economy and peasant self-determination.
During the Duvaliers’ combined 28 years in power, up to 60,000 Haitians were “disappeared” by the regime. The American government, via various agencies and banks, lent millions to both dictators. Despite knowledge of their 80% rate of aid embezzlement, no action was taken to remove them until 1986. The Duvaliers regularly signed up to new loans and gave lucrative contracts to American corporations. When Baby Doc fled the country he took an estimated $900m with him. 45% of Haiti’s current debt is interest on loans made for ‘development’ during the Duvalier period. Creditors include the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the IMF and the governments of the US and France (see ‘Haiti: the land where children eat mud’ – Alex Von Tunzelmann).
Aristide, the Lavalas Movement and the second US Occupation
In 1983 Pope Jean Paul 11 visited Haiti inspiring a popular movement for social change. In 1985 social uprisings began in Gonaïves with raids of food distribution warehouses. Baby Doc flown was out of Haiti in 1986 aided by the US military.
The Fanmi Lavalas (Avalanche Family) movement, led by the Roman Catholic Priest Jean Bertrand Aristide, won the parliamentary elections in 1991 on a platform of land reform, aid to peasants, reforestation, investment in infrastructure for the people, and increased wages and union rights for sweatshop workers.
A year later he was ousted in a CIA funded military coup after which a trade embargo was once again placed on Haiti. President George H.W. Bush granted exemptions from this embargo to many US companies, an exemption which Bill Clinton continued.
Aristide was returned to power by the Clinton administration ‘with a gun to his head’ in 1994, on the condition that he enforced the neo-liberal ‘development’ plan that Haitians call the ‘plan of death’. Washington demanded that Aristide sell-off all of Haiti’s state-owned services including the phone and electricity system, which he refused to do. This is the same plan that the US and International Financial institutions continue to impose on Haiti and the one that Clinton and Obama are still working towards. Which is why, in case anyone was wondering, the US now have over 10,000 armed military personnel in Haiti, ‘securing the disaster’.
In 1995 the IMF forced Haiti, once again, to cut its rice tariff from 35 percent to 3 percent, leading to a massive increase in rice-dumping, the vast majority of which came from the United States. Haiti is now the third-largest importer of US-produced rice, behind only Mexico and Japan.
Aristide’s return marked the second US occupation of Haiti, the Operation to Uphold Democracy, which continued until the 31st of March 1995.
In 2000 Aristide was re-elected by 92% of the votes.
Four years later the US collaborated with Haitian ruling elites and anti-Lavalas rebels to depose and kidnap Aristide. He was flown out of Haiti by US military and ‘security’ personnel. He is currently living in South Africa awaiting his return to Haiti.
Even before the present crisis, Haitians made it clear that they wanted Aristide back. In 2009, they boycotted elections which banned Aristide’s party Fanmi Lavalas from standing – only 3% of people voted.
In April 2004 MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1542 because the council deemed the situation in Haiti to be a threat to peace and security in the region. The mission, which is led by the Brazilian army and made up of approximately 9,000 troops from 40 different nations, is authorized to stay in Haiti till October 2010.
There first mission was to ‘secure’ the Cité Soleil area of Port-au-Prince to control inter-factional violence between pro-Aristide and anti-Aristide gangs.