Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti: The U.S. and its Priorities

The United States’ record in Haiti over the years is not one to brag about. Starting in 1804, when its southern leaders especially watched in horror as Haiti’s black population mounted the first and still the only successful revolution by black people in history (our own slaves might get ideas!), and through the years of American gunboat diplomacy and support for Haiti’s cruelest dictators, like Papa Doc Duvalier, the U.S. has treated Haiti more like a rambunctious and troublesome colony than a hemispheric neighbor. It has twice managed the ouster of Haiti’s most popular leader of recent years, Jean Bertrand Aristide, mainly it seems because his programs for the poor and disenfranchised conflicted with the neoliberal plans for third world countries. Those plans included the dumping of U.S. grain in Haiti, thus making it impossible for Haitian farmers to compete, and necessitating their move to the city, Port-Au-Prince, as paupers who would be willing to work for slave wages in the factories the U.S. and the World Bank promoted as Haiti’s economic salvation. Pauperized, most had to live in the hillside shacks of the bulging city, the very dwellings that have collapsed and killed untold numbers in the earthquake.

Now, with the earthquake catastrophe, the United States has made its usual claims about its herculean relief efforts, but the reality on the ground, now five full days after the earthquake, tells a different, more sordid tale. Here is what the New York Times reported January 17, quoting an officer for the World Food Program:

"The World Food Program finally was able to land flights of food, medicine and water on Saturday, after failing on Thursday and Friday, an official with the agency said. Those flights had been diverted so that the United States could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety.
“There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti,” said Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency’s Haiti effort. “But most of those flights are for the United States military.” He added: “Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.”

That seems to say it all. With 3.5 million people affected by the earthquake, with hundreds of thousands without food or water for 5 days, with dead bodies piling up in the streets and wounded victims everywhere, the United States, as if by reflex, chose to send in the marines—to take over the airport. It thereby blocked other relief agencies from landing desperately needed supplies of the most basic kind. America thus made clear its priorities: get our people out, get our people helped, get our military in there to “secure” the country, and then worry about the suffering of the natives. All the while, of course, mounting a public relations campaign showing the President making speeches and Hillary Clinton on the ground for a few minutes to display her compassion.

If this were still the regime of George W. Bush, one might be able to comprehend such skewed, utterly cynical priorities. But the Obama administration? It is enough to make one weep.

Lawrence DiStasi

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