Friday, January 15, 2010

Systemic Roots to Disasters in Haiti and New Orleans

The crisis in Haiti is systemic in its roots.

Disasters are acts of nature. But as we saw in New Orleans, systems of poverty and exploitation interact and intersect with natural events to create massive loss of life. This is why, when the same hurricanes hit Cuba and Haiti, hundreds die in Haiti while almost no one dies in Cuba. Cuba, a very poor nation suffering from decades of economic warfare from the US, has a better survival rate from hurricanes than Florida or the rest of the US. When Hurricane Georges hit Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, 100 died in Haiti, 200 in the Dominican Republic, and six in Cuba.

In New Orleans, we've seen literally tens of billions of dollars in aid pledged in the years since Katrina, but only a small fraction of that has made it to those most in need. More than 60,000 residential addresses - a third of our city - remain empty or abandoned. At least twelve thousand people in our city - nearly five percent of our population - faced these recent cold weeks with no roof over their heads.

In Haiti, mining and other corporate exploitation made the land more unsafe. Two hundred years of crippling debt imposed by France, the US and other colonial powers drained the country's financial resources. Military occupation and presidential coups coordinated and funded by the US have devastated the nation's government infrastructure.

Please remember the US role in this tragedy. As Haiti's democratically elected president is exiled in South Africa without a passport, remember that it was US forces that came in and removed him from power. As US Congressman Rangel told CNN at the time, "He was kidnapped [by US soldiers]. He and his wife had no idea where he was going. He was very apprehensive for his life."

Journalist and author Naomi Klein reported that within 24 hours of the earthquake, the influential right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation was already seeking to use the disaster as an attempt at further privatization of the country's economy.

Haitian poet and human rights lawyer Ezili Dantò has written, "Haiti's poverty began with a US/Euro trade embargo after its independence, continued with the Independence Debt to France and ecclesiastical and financial colonialism. Moreover, in more recent times, the uses of U.S. foreign aid, as administered through USAID in Haiti, basically serves to fuel conflicts and covertly promote U.S. corporate interests to the detriment of democracy and Haitian health, liberty, sovereignty, social justice and political freedoms. USAID projects have been at the frontlines of orchestrating undemocratic behavior, bringing underdevelopment, coup d'etat, impunity of the Haitian Oligarchy, indefinite incarceration of dissenters, and destroying Haiti's food sovereignty essentially promoting famine."

Please also remember that not all aid is equal. Tracy Kidder, of the Haiti-based organization Partners in Health, said it very well: "There are 10,000 aid organizations in Haiti, and Haiti is still one of the poorest countries in the world - then something‘s wrong with the way things are, the way aid is being administered." Major organizations like Red Cross spend most of their money on salaries for people who aren't from Haiti, and very little of your donation makes it to the people who need it the most. And because their mission is to focus only on emergencies, they will do nothing to address the systemic problems that caused this massive loss of life.

Yesterday, Bill Quigley discussed some of the political solutions to this problem. We have also posted links to some accountable organizations to donate to. And we encourage you to watch the Haiti coverage on the program Democracy Now, which has featured vital commentary from guests like Randall Robinson and Edwidge Danticat. The other lesson from New Orleans is this: Haiti will still be in crisis long after all of the news cameras have left. As concerned family and friends of Haiti, we need to make sure that we stay involved.

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