On 12 January 2010, Haiti was rocked by an earthquake which killed 230,000 people. One year on, in the capital Port-au-Prince, between 1.3 and 1.7 million people continue to live in squalid tents with little hope of moving.
Despite the huge sums of money charities and aid organisations received in a show of international solidarity following the quake, less than 30,000 of those displaced have found permanent homes. A recent cholera outbreak killed more than 3,300 people; and of the 20 million cubic metres of rubble created by the disaster, less than 5 per cent has been cleared.
Already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere before the earthquake, Haiti has now fallen five points in the world’s poverty league — from 140 to 145 out of 182.
Out of $5.7 billion earmarked for Haiti by governments and aid organisations, only $473 million dollars has actually reached the country.
Moreover, the “international community” which jostled to send “humanitarian aid” to the country in the aftermath of the quake, is the same “international community” responsible for the squalor and suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” (in the words of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide) has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies. As the Guardian noted:
“Aristide’s … government … was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country... Proposals to divert some of this ‘investment’ towards poverty reduction or agrarian development [however] have been blocked…”
In fact Haiti’s tragedy has served as an opportunity to further enrich corporate interests.
Lewis Lucke, a 27-year veteran of the US Agency for International Development (US AID), was named US special coordinator for relief and reconstruction after the earthquake. He worked this job for a short period, then moved to the private sector, where he could sell his contacts and connections to the highest bidder.
Lucke subsequently landed a $30,000-a-month (plus bonuses) contract with the Haiti Recovery Group (HRG). HRG was founded by AshBritt, Inc., a Florida-based contractor which received substantial bad press for its post-Hurricane Katrina contracting. AshBritt’s partner in HRG is Gilbert Bigio, a wealthy Haitian businessman with close ties to the Israeli military. Bigio made a fortune during the Duvalier regime and was a supporter of the right-wing coup against Haitian president Aristide.
According to Naomi Klein, within 24 hours of the earthquake, the influential right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation was laying plans to use the disaster as a means to further privatise the Haitian economy.
But international aid is not the solution. Even the capitalist class acknowledge this fact. Regine Barjon, a member of the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce, based in Florida, called the billions of aid donated to Haiti “the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a cancer patient”.
Aside from the fact that Haiti itself is a deeply unequal society (Haiti’s richest 1% own nearly half of the country’s wealth), the stability of world-markets depends on countries like Haiti remaining poor. The commitment of the US government is not to building a sustainable road to development for Haitians but is geared toward subsidies for US farmers, which, by their very nature, undermine the ability of Haitian farmers to themselves sustain a living.
In Britain we wouldn’t allow our pets to live in the conditions endured by the Haitian people. It is in the interests of multinational companies, rather than people, whom the capitalist world has in mind first and foremost when it deals with poor countries such as Haiti — even in times of unimaginable disaster.
Indeed, in a chauvinistic and distorted capitalist world economy, countries like Haiti will necessarily languish in poverty and despair while begging for crumbs from the master’s table of the “international community”. We need to remember that and continue to make solidarity with the Haitian workers.