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The continuing tragedy in Haiti

Haitians are no strangers to natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods but January's earthquake was much more terrible in its destructiveness. Yet why, after all the pious promises in the wake of the calamity, is desperately needed aid not reaching the people of Haiti?

All the many ordinary people who responded so generously to appeals from the Red Cross and other relief agencies are entitled to ask when the results of their donations and the massive sums pledged by governments will actually bear fruit?

Some construction has taken place, food aid and medical supplies arrived and were properly used. But the really big stuff, the re-building of all kinds that needs to be undertaken will, it seems, be an awfully long time arriving if governments are left to their own devious and self-interested devices.

Up to 230,000 people perished and one million were left homeless by the earthquake. Almost nine months later people are still dying in the rubble strewn streets from hunger and disease.

Then in February heavy rain triggered floods which caused further damage and claimed more lives, mainly in the southern city of Les Cayes. The sad irony is that the coastal region in and around Les Cayes had been unaffected by the earthquake and so had provided a haven for the many thousands of people fleeing Port au Prince and other earthquake-hit areas.

Reconstruction efforts have all but halted because of lack of funding. Less than 15% of the billions of dollars pledged by the United States and other states and agencies has reached the stricken nation. While trillions of dollars can be spent with ease and efficiency on the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, Haiti has still not received any of the $1.5 billion pledged by the US specifically for earthquake relief.

And of the over $8 billion promised by other countries and organisations, a mere $700 million has actually arrived due to a combination of bungling, bureaucracy, corruption and simple lack of will or sense of urgency. Haiti it seems simply doesn't matter.

However little Haiti actually matters, there is one area where it is of importance and that is as a provider of cheap labour, the attraction of which has drawn foreign corporations to its shores. Business parks have been constructed where workers labour for their $3 a day minimum wage while they continue to live in tarpaulin tents. Construction for profit not need one might say.

Another strand in the deepening crisis is the involvement of United Nations troops in incidents of violence there. Troops in MINUSTAH in particular (Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haiti) who have been deployed in a supposedly peace-keeping operation since 2004 are increasingly viewed as an unwelcome occupying force whose actions, which include killings, are leading to an increase in destabilisation. The impending arrival of troops from neighbouring Dominican Republic is certain to add to tensions.

If one believed in conspiracy theories one could credibly say that the deepening crisis in Haiti and the continuing dependence of Haitians on foreign aid with all sorts of strings attached, combined with the deliberate weakening of its governmental structures and undermining of its economy, was a deliberate plot. In a sense it is just that, but the methods are more diffuse and the many interests involved more varied and international than conspiracy theories generally allow.

This battered nation is also the poorest in the Western hemisphere and has, furthermore, been on the receiving end of the most callous and oppressive treatment, in particular by France and the US as well as suffering economic “treatment” by the International Monetary Fund. It has an heroic history of battling against oppression and slavery and should be seen as a beacon of freedom and a shining example to others. Instead, Haitians continue to be mercilessly punished for their past heroism and more recent resistance to foreign intervention as well as to the plundering of the small, wealthy, native elite.

Fiona Harrington
1 October 2010

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