Profiting from Haiti's Crisis: Disaster Capitalism in Washington's Backyard

corporations, private mercenaries, Washington and the International
Monetary Fund are using the crisis in Haiti to make a profit, promote
unpopular neoliberal policies, and extend military and economic control
over the Haitian people.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, with much of the
infrastructure and government services destroyed, Haitians have relied
on each other for the relief efforts, working together to pull their
neighbors, friends and loved ones from the rubble. One report from IPS News
in Haiti explained, "In the day following the quake, there was no
widespread violence. Guns, knives and theft weren't seen on the
streets, lined only with family after family carrying their belongings.
They voiced their anger and frustration with sad songs that echoed
throughout the night, not their fists."

Moliere, an organizer within the popular political party Fanmi Lavalas
was killed in the earthquake. His wife, Marianne Moliere, told IPS News
after burying her husband, "There is no life for me because Bob was
everything to me. I lost everything. Everything is destroyed," she
said. "I'm sleeping in the street now because I'm homeless. But when I
get some water, I share with others. Or if someone gives some
spaghetti, I share with my family and others."

It is not this type of solidarity that has emerged in the wake of the crisis - and the delayed and muddled
response from the international community - that most corporate media
in the US have focused on. Instead, echoing the coverage and calls for
militarization of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, major media
outlets talk about the looting, and need for security to protect
private property.

One request from Erwin
Berthold, the owner of Big Star Market in Petionville, Haiti, reflects
this concern for profit over people. Berthold told the Washington Post
about his supermarket, "We have everything cleaned up inside. We are
ready to open. We just need some security. So send in the Marines,

That militarization is already
underway. This week the US is sending thousands of troops and soldiers
to the country. The Haitian government has signed over control of its
capital airport to the US. Brazil and France have already lodged complaints that US military planes are now being given priority over other flights at the international airport.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez responded to the US troop deployment.
"I read that 3,000 soldiers are arriving, Marines armed as if they were
going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors,
medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that's what the United States should
send," Chavez said. "They are occupying Haiti undercover." The
Venezuelan President pledged to send any necessary amount of gasoline
needed to the country to aid with electricity and transport.

A Heroic History in Washington's Backyard

is also little mention in the major news outlets' coverage of how the
US government and corporations helped impoverish Haiti in the first
place, creating the economic poverty that makes disasters like this so
extensive. Nor is there mention of the country's heroic struggle
against imperialism and slavery. Fidel Castro pointed out in a recent column,
"Haiti was the first country in which 400,000 Africans, enslaved and
trafficked by Europeans, rose up against 30,000 white slave masters on
the sugar and coffee plantations, thus undertaking the first great
social revolution in our hemisphere. ... Napoleon's most eminent general
was defeated there. Haiti is the net product of colonialism and
imperialism, of more than one century of the employment of its human
resources in the toughest forms of work, of military interventions and
the extraction of its natural resources."

University professor Peter Hallward, writing in the Guardian Unlimited,
criticized Washington for its responsibility in creating the suffering
it is now pledging to alleviate in Haiti. "Ever since the US invaded
and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to
allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide's phrase) 'from absolute misery to a dignified poverty' has
been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some
of its allies. Aristide's own government (elected by some 75% of the
electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was
overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed
several thousand people and left much of the population smoldering in
resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously
expensive stabilization and pacification force in the country."

Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
told Hallward of the root causes for the overpopulation of
neighborhoods in the city of Port-au-Prince that were hit so hard by
the earthquake. "Those people got there because they or their parents
were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade
policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore
exploitable labor force in the cities; by definition they are people
who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses."
Unnatural crises such as this made the earthquake much more

Disaster Capitalism Comes to Haiti

As Noami Klein thoroughly proved in her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,
throughout history, "while people were reeling from natural disasters,
wars and economic upheavals, savvy politicians and industry leaders
nefariously implemented policies that would never have passed during
less muddled times." This push to apply unpopular neoliberal policies
began almost immediately after the earthquake in Haiti.

In a talk recorded by Democracy Now!,
Klein explained that the disaster in Haiti is created on the one hand
by nature, and on the other hand "is worsened by the poverty that our
governments have been so complicit in deepening. Crises-natural
disasters are so much worse in countries like Haiti, because you have
soil erosion because the poverty means people are building in very,
very precarious ways, so houses just slide down because they are built
in places where they shouldn't be built. All of this is interconnected.
But we have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy, which is part
natural, part unnatural, must, under no circumstances, be used to, one,
further indebt Haiti, and, two, to push through unpopular corporatist
policies in the interests of our corporations."

Following the disaster in Haiti, Klein pointed out that the Heritage Foundation, "one of the leading advocates of exploiting disasters to push through their unpopular pro-corporate policies," issued a statement on its website
after the earthquake hit: "In addition to providing immediate
humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in
Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti's
long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the
public image of the United States in the region."

mercenary trade group International Peace Operations Association (IPOA)
immediately offered their services to provide "security" in
to its member companies, according to Jeremy Scahill. Within hours of the earthquake, Scahill wrote, the IPOA website
announced, "In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of
IPOA's member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide
variety of critical relief services to the earthquake's victims."

Kathy Robison, a Fortune 500 executive, formerly with Goldman Sachs Companies, wrote of the
earthquake disaster in Haiti. "The business leaders I have been meeting
with have seen enough disappointment and suffering," she wrote. "What
Haiti needs is economic development and the building of a true middle
class. ... There is much we are planning as far as creating new and
innovative ways of using international aid and government support to
promote private investment."

On January 14,
the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a $100 million loan to
Haiti to help with relief efforts. However, Richard Kim at The Nation
wrote that this loan was added onto $165 million in debt made up of
loans with conditions "including raising prices for electricity,
refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making
minimum wage and keeping inflation low." This new $100 million loan has
the same conditions. Kim writes, "in the face of this latest tragedy,
the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal

The last thing Haiti needs at this point is more debt; what it needs is grants. As Kim wrote, according to a report from the The Center for International Policy,
in 2003 "Haiti spent $57.4 million to service its debt, while total
foreign assistance for education, health care and other services was a
mere $39.21 million."

In the midst of the
suffering and anguish following the earthquake, many Haitians came
together to console and help each other. Journalist David Wilson, in
Haiti during the time of the earthquake, wrote of the singing
that followed the disaster. "Several hundred people had gathered to
sing, clap, and pray in an intersection here by 9 o'clock last night, a
little more than four hours after an earthquake had devastated much of
the Haitian capital." A young Haitian American commented to Wilson on
the singing, "Haitians are different," he said. "People in other
countries wouldn't do this. It's a sense of community."

these elements of the "relief" efforts continue in this exploitative
vein, it is this community that will likely be crushed even further by
disaster capitalism and imperialism.

international leaders and institutions are speaking about how many
soldiers and dollars they are committing to Haiti, it is important to
note that what Haiti needs is doctors not soldiers, grants not loans, a
stronger public sector rather than a wholesale privatization, and
critical solidarity with grassroots organizations and people to support
the self-determination of the country.

"We don't need soldiers," Patrick Elie, the former Defense Minister under the Aristide government told Al Jazeera.
"There is no war here." In addition to critiquing the presence of the
soldiers, he commented on the US-control of the main airport. "The
choice of what lands and what doesn't land, the priorities of the
flight[s], should be determined by the Haitians. Otherwise, it's a
takeover and what might happen is that the needs of Haitians are not
taken into account, but only either the way a foreign country defines
the need of Haiti, or try to push its own agenda."


For more information and suggestions on acting in solidarity with the Haitian people, read this article.

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