Corporate vultures circle occupied Haiti

January 30, 2010

"We have three priorities", United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told a January 21 media conference on Haiti with former US President Bill Clinton.

"First, continuing to provide the humanitarian assistance with effective mechanisms to deliver all these relief items to the people who need it. Second, provide security and stability for people.

"Thirdly, the reconstruction of the Haitian economy."

The failure of the UN and the US (which appointed itself as leader of the "international community's" so-called relief effort) to live up to Ban's first point is related to his second.

Using racist media reports, which cast the Haitian earthquake victims as marauding looters, as a smokescreen, the UN has added 3500 armed police and soldiers to the 9000 that were already occupying Haiti.

The US has sent in 20,000 troops.

US military control of the airport has blocked flights with humanitarian supplies. Much of the supplies remain at the airport, not to be distributed until "security" has been established.

Those international rescue teams that have been at work have concentrated their efforts on neighbourhoods where expatriates live. Haitians have mainly had to rely on their own efforts.

David Wilson, a New York-based activist in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake, told the January 27 US Socialist Worker: "The morning after the quake, people in our neighbourhood were already hard at work digging out.

"A few were clearly injured or in shock, but the rest were improvising stretchers to take the wounded to the few clinics that weren't damaged, covering the dead with sheets, cleaning up.

"Groups of young men were trying to find survivors in the rubble and dig them out with hand tools or their bare hands, sometimes at considerable risk to themselves … I left on the morning of January 17, five days after the quake, and where I was in the south of the city, I still hadn't seen any type of aid being distributed.

"I did see some rescue workers from Belgium, but I never saw anyone distributing water, food or shelter."

The January 26 Haiti Liberte described the reaction to the arrival of the "international community's" aid in Leogane, the town closest to the January 12 earthquake's epicentre, which took the form of bags of bread rolls thrown from a helicopter.

"'This is a complete outrage', said Alex Estime, a young man who had spent the last week organising his neighbourhood to dig out bodies from the rubble of the town where an estimated 80% of the buildings have been destroyed. 'This is pure humiliation. An earthquake is a misfortune which could befall any country. Would they treat other people like this? No. It is like they are throwing bones to dogs. We don't want their stinking bread.'

"With that he stamped on the bag. Other men around him also kicked it."

A local official, Max Mathurin, explained to Haiti Liberte: "Over the past week, I petitioned repeatedly for a backhoe that could have helped excavate people from under rubble and saved lives.

"I couldn't even get something as simple as that from our government or the UN.

"That was the injury. Now this helicopter is the insult."

Ban left it to Clinton, who is UN "special envoy" to Haiti, to explain his third priority — the reconstruction of the Haitian economy.

Clinton told the January 21 media conference he was in talks with investors. "These are by and large businesses that either are operating in Haiti, or are interested in operating in Haiti, some American, some European."

Entrusting economic reconstruction to foreign investors is a continuation of the policies responsible for Haiti's poverty.

Wilson told Socialist Worker: "People I talked to in the peasant movement felt these 'free trade' policies ruined small farmers by putting them in direct competition with giant US agribusiness firms.

"Thirty years ago, Haiti produced almost all of the rice it consumed; now it buys most of it from the US …

"As for Bill Clinton, his project is for more assembly plants. Over the summer, the Haitian government beat back a big movement to raise the minimum wage to $5 a day for these plants.

"They won't even pay $5 a day, and they claim this will lead to economic development?

"Sweatshops don't develop economies. They just increase profits for big corporations."

The International Monetary Fund has offered a US$100 million loan: conditional on Haiti implementing more "free trade" economic reforms.

In contrast, Venezuela has cancelled all debts from Haiti.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced at a January 25 meeting of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA): "Haiti has no debt with Venezuela, just the opposite: Venezuela has a historical debt with that nation, with that people for whom we feel not pity but rather admiration, and we share their faith, their hope."

ALBA, a "fair trade" bloc that brings together Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, announced an immediate donation of $20 million to Haiti's health sector. Chavez said ALBA would establish a fund for Haiti that would be $100 million "for starters".

Chavez said that "mobile service stations" distributing free fuel would be operating in Haiti within a few weeks.

The January 19 British Daily Telegraph reported that the US has established a huge Naval presence in Haitians waters aimed at preventing earthquake survivors fleeing to the US.

In contrast, ALBA has announced an immigration amnesty for Haitians. The BBC also reported on January 17 that Senegal has offered land to any Haitians wishing to migrate to the country from which so many Haitian's ancestors were enslaved.

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