Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiti on my Mind

"It's not culture or curse, but a difficult history of occupation 
and environmental degradation that explain the country's woes".
woman 'baking' mud cookies to still the sense of hunger...this practice has been happening for a long time already

Haiti is on my mind.....in so many ways it is a test for our civilization. Are we still able to 'put things back together?'
The history of colonial dominance shows itself now even in the approach to so-called assistance. Never looked assistance so much like an invasion with soldiers.... carrying the guns but unable to "deliver the gauze", as one  Haitian doctor said.
The desperate but non-violent Haitians are being thrown bread from helicopters. They feel humiliated once more. Many are going hungry now. No search and rescue equipment was delivered to the communities, let alone doctors, anesthesia and such. Bare hands are not enough to remove tons of concrete, bare hands are not enough to amputate limbs. The stench of death must be unbearable by now.

Once the dust of the concrete settles, which may take a long time, it will be time to take a hard look at Haiti's history, and try to understand how it became so vulnerable and so poor starting with the land itself: when you look up Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Google Earth, the first thing that strikes you is the border: On the West side, Haiti is brown mostly(=desertification) while the East of the island the Dominican republic is green (=trees). Why is this ?

Kim Ives, who writes for Haiti Liberte, sums up Haiti's history with brevety and insight:  

"We can say, first of all, there was the case of the two coups d’états held in the space of thirteen years, in ’91 and 2004, which were backed by the United States. They put in their own client regimes, which the Haitian people chased out of power. But these coups d’états and subsequent occupations, foreign military occupations, in a country whose constitution forbids that, were fundamentally destructive, not just to the national government and its national programs, but also to the local governments or the parliaments, the mayors’ offices and also the local assemblies, which would elect a permanent electoral council. That permanent electoral council has never been made—it’s a provisional—and hence Préval, and just before the earthquake, was running roughshod over popular democracy by putting his own electoral council in place, provisional, and they were bringing him and his party to domination of the political scene.
And Aristide, in both cases, was taken from Haiti, essentially by US forces, both times. The first time he ended up spending it in Washington, but now he’s presently in South Africa, where he’s been for these past six years.

But along with this political—these political earthquakes carried out by Washington were the economic earthquakes, the US policy that they wanted to see in place, because Aristide’s government had a fundamentally nationalist orientation, which was looking to build the national self-sufficiency of the country, but Washington would have none of it. They wanted the nine principal state publicly owned industries privatized, to be sold to US and foreign investors.

So, about twelve years ago under the first administration of René Préval, they privatized the Minoterie d’Haiti and Ciment d’Haiti, the flour mill, the state flour mill, and the state cement company. Now, for flour, obviously, you have a hungry, needy population. You can imagine if the state had a robust flour mill where it could distribute flour to the people so they could have bread. That was sold to a company of which Henry Kissinger was a board member. And very quickly, that flour mill was closed. Haiti now has no flour mill, not private or public." 

Closing the local flour mill...?? As a baker I am of course appalled....but...what a masterful capitalist move --truly worthy of Kissinger's international insight and statesmanship. Of course it forced the Haitians to buy flour from overseas (guess where & from whom?) and destroyed the local market for grains and farming. This story is happening all over the world now and it is leading to hunger and unbearable conditions. Then when globalization has taken foothold and infected the nation,  food-prices go up and the countries such as Haiti have become totally dependent and thus vulnerable to further disempowerment. Even leading to slavery conditions.

The empire behaves most despicable in the face of the powerless. I guess that is the worst consequence of a culture of torture, war and meaningless violence. A culture of torture and violent mind programming disables people (and possibly  whole new generations) to respond in an appropriate manner to emergencies. People call for bread --governments will deliver bullets --it is that dysfunctional.

Just as happens elsewhere, the Haitian peasant majority was the first casualty of globalization.

 The heart of the problem of course is a type of 'agricultural' shock doctrine (to apply Naomi Klein's thoughts): First one undermines the rural economy, by offering cheap imports of large quantities of staples. Then, as the local economy weakens, try to destroy local infrastructure and resources, such as mills, bakeries, storehouses, etc. Give emergency handouts of food aid, so that local farming looses incentive......etc. Such destruction of a vital agricultural community and economy, also leads to a movement of populations to the cities ("where the food is")  for work --of course leading to cheap labor conditions.
Now when you look at what Bill Moyers says the whole economic picture becomes clear:
Every president from Ronald Reagan forward has embraced the corporate search for cheap labor. That has meant rewards for Haiti's upper class while ordinary people were pushed further and further into squalor. Haitian contractors producing Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas pajamas for American companies under license with the Walt Disney Company paid their sweat shop workers as little as one dollar a day, while women sewing dresses for K-Mart earned eleven cents an hour. A report by the National Labor Committee found Haitian women who had worked 50 days straight, up to 70 hours a week, without a day off. If that doesn't impact the tradition of child rearing and lead to social distrust, I don't know what will.

This is what happened to Haiti. Plus the wrath of nature in the form of 4 mayor Hurricanes.
We need to stay involved with the fate of the Haitian people. This earthquake may provide new opportunities for corporate colonialism --we need to help our Haitian brothers and sisters to resist
The shock policies are  similar all over the world: corporatize food production, start increasing prices by introducing scarcity and privatize water. It is happening in your community too.

The kind of massing of  poor people in this case to Port-au-Prince, with disregard of their self sufficiency and food security, an urban/rural nexus imbalance, and a warehousing the Haitian people in shoddy concrete  (imported by now as well) construction,  have  sadly contributed to the enormous losses of live and tragic injuries. Many urban Haitians now are returning to a totally impoverished country side: even though there is hardly any food left there either, it is better there than trying to stick it out in the capital Port-au-Prince, where the most basic conditions for survival are now collapsing.

Even now people are dying from hunger or infections associated with gangrene, a poisoning of a patient through the lack antibiotic or surgical treatment of crushed bones. I hear that more than 7 thousand American Nurses have signed up to volunteer in Haiti, yet the National Nurses United, a national union, has not been able to get through to the White House in order to prioritize them and arrange (likely military) transportation. What is wrong with this picture ? (listen to Michael Moore) 

To all of you who are out there on the line trying to make a real difference in Haiti. 
History is about people like you and the people you are serving.

As usual the best quick current education on Haiti comes from Amy Goodman and Democracy Now. Here are some links

On the situation, militarization, realities and history of Haiti: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/20/journalist_kim_ives_on_how_decades

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