Haiti: another year of pain -16 Jan 2011

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One year after the 12 January 2010 earthquake that killed 230,000 people and left 1.3 million people homeless, approximately one million people still live under makeshift tents and tarpaulins, close to half of whom are children. Of 180,000 destroyed homes, just 2,074 have been repaired. Of an estimated 1,268 displacement camps at least 29% have been forcibly closed: people are evicted and then search for other camps. Rubble covers much of the capital, Port-au-Prince; less than 5% has been removed, heavy lifting equipment having been withdrawn last summer. Rebuilding the airport remains the only major effort undertaken. Disputes over land ownership and plus property speculation combined with an influx of international aid workers have pushed rents beyond the reach of Haitian people who consequently have no alternative other than to remain in camps. Studies show that 40% of displacement camps do not have access to water, 30% have no access to toilets of any kind, 44% of their inhabitants drank untreated water and over 50% of children in the camps go without any food whatsoever for at least one day a week. Rape is described as ‘endemic’ in the camps.

Haiti before and after the earthquake is an indictment of the entire international order we live under and is a warning for the future of the world.

Hurricane Tomas struck on 5 November 2010. It helped to spread the cholera bacillus. Some 3,500 Haitians have subsequently died from cholera. Cholera is a ‘disease of poverty’, spread through contaminated water, sewage and fecal particles. Corpses remained uncollected for want of sufficient ambulance drivers. The cholera outbreak has been traced by a French epidemiologist to Nepalese troops serving with the UN force in Haiti.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said that only a fifth of the $5.6 million pledged by government donors in March 2010 had been received. The World Bank is the sponsor of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti whose co-chair is former US President Bill Clinton. The representative of the Organisation of American States in Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus, said in December that Haiti had lived ‘a low intensity war’ since 1986, when the Duvalier regime was overthrown and, ‘We want to turn Haiti into a capitalist country, an export platform for the US market, it’s absurd.’ He was subsequently recalled from office. For over 200 years since the slaves rebelled against the French occupiers and declared an independent republic, French and then US capitalism have been determined that Haiti is feeble and dependent.

Haiti held presidential and legislative elections on 28 November 2010. Over 12 parties were prevented from running, including Fanmi Lavalas, the party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was ousted by a military coup in 2004, and other progressive parties. The US fears that a free election would result in a government aligned with Cuba and Venezuela. Just 22.3% of the electorate turned out to vote. In Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Delmas and Petionville, with 20% of Haiti’s electorate, turnout was an average of 12.4%. The electoral list was drawn up before the earthquake and included the names of 250,000 dead people. Many would-be voters were turned away because their names were not recognised on the lists. The head of the United Nation’s mission to Haiti said of the elections ‘everything is going fine’.  The front runner of the election results has just 6% of the eligible votes. There was no conclusive result and any run-off is unlikely before March, with only right wing candidates contending. Before the votes were declared barricades had been built, tyres burned and crowds gathered in protest at the electoral fraud. They were met by troops and police from the UN MINUSTAH (UN stabilisation mission) force, led by Brazil and including other Latin American soldiers from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru and Uruguay.

For many Haitians, MINUSTAH is seen as an occupation force. It is currently 13,000 strong, up by half since the earthquake. ‘Four days after the elections, the UN proposed a 2011 budget for MINUSTAH of $853 million, or $2.3 million a day. This amount nearly surpasses total aid distributed by Haiti’s top 30 donors and represents five times the budget the UN requested to combat cholera.’ (Beatrice Lindstrom, Counterpunch, 14 January 2011).

On 9 January 2011 The Observer ran a headline, ‘How an Irish telecoms tycoon became Haiti’s only hope of survival’, about the efforts of Denis O‘Brien, chief executive of Digicel, to help reopen a market in Port-au-Prince. Digicel supplies two-thirds of the mobile ‘phones used in Haiti. This is chauvinism. Two BBC World Service broadcasts by Edward Sturton on Haiti, surveying the country a year on from the earthquake, did not mention the Cuban effort, choosing instead to focus on US evangelical churches’ operations in the country.

With the exception of The Independent on Sunday (‘Cuban medics in Haiti put world to shame,’ Nina Lakhani 26 December 2010), the Cuban medical support for Haiti has hardly been mentioned. Lakhani states, ‘A medical brigade of 1,200 Cubans is operating all over earthquake-torn and cholera-inflicted Haiti...part of the international mission which has won the socialist state many friends, but little international recognition...Figures released last week show that Cuban medical personnel, working in 40 centres across Haiti, have treated more than 30,000 cholera patients since October. They are the largest foreign contingent, treating around 40% of cholera patients.’ Fidel Castro stated, ‘Our solidarity with the people of Haiti has a two-fold root: it is born from our ideas, but also from our history.’

The Haitian people have one way out of the hell in to which they have been thrown: to stand up, fight all those who would design their future for them, be they NGOs or governments, and join the anti-imperialist struggle, led in their hemisphere by Cuba and Venezuela – dawn is rising.

Trevor Rayne

 

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