Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti: natural and human-made disasters combine

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, has been hit by devastating earthquake that has caused widespread destruction and killed as many as 100,000 people. Registering 7.0 on the Richter scale, it is the worst earthquake to hit the Caribbean half-island for more than 150 years.

Pat Robertson, US televangelist and leader of the US Christian right, offered the view on his TV show The 700 Club that this was due to the fact that Haitian revolutionaries, leading the world's first successful slave revolt and winning their independence from France in 1804, had made a pact with the devil.

Says Robertson: “They said, we will serve you, if you get us free …true story. And so the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal’.”

Presumably, African slaves could not possibly liberate themselves from a “civilised” (white) empire built on the miserable practice of enslaving human brings without the helping hand of the Prince of Darkness.

It has to be said, if Robertson is correct, then God is one hell of an arsehole and why anyone would want to follow such a psychopathic mass murderer is beyond me.

This earthquake, after all, follows the catastrophes unleashed on the Haitian people in terrible hurricanes in 2004 and 2008.

Robertson goes further, however, to blame the terrible poverty Haitian people have been condemned to on said deal with the devil.

But there is a much simpler explanation.

The terrible reality is the earthquake and its aftermath are a horrible combination of natural and human-made disasters. It is a natural disaster piled on top of a social disaster created by two centuries of brutal exploitation.

There are few countries in a worse position to cope with the consequences of such an earthquake.

In an opinion piece in the British Guardian, Peter Hallward wrote: “Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti's capital city on Tuesday afternoon, but it's no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone.

“Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.”

Hallward explains the sorry history of a nation subjected to “the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression”.

He points out: “The noble ‘international community’ which is currently scrambling to send its ‘humanitarian aid’ to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce.

“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.”

Read his full article, giving a useful overview of how Haiti got to where it is today.

Also, check out this timeline of US oppression in Haiti (1804-2005)

Also, check out this 2008 article from Green Left Weekly on the effects of trade and other economic policies enforced on Haiti: Haiti: Hunger made in the USA

You cal also read this 2008 Green Left review of Randall Robinson’s book An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President, (“the story of a great tragedy of recent times — the violent overthrow of Haiti’s elected president and government on February 29, 2004”).

Right now, Haiti needs immediate assistance. You can help by donating to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. Originally formed in 2004, it is a grassroots organisation working with people and organisations on the ground in Haiti and is helping coordinate badly needly relief at this terrible time.

Donations to such organisations are very badly needed, but as you donate, keep in mind Hallward’s conclusion:

“The same storms that killed so many [Haitians] in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal ‘reform’, and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster.

“If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board.

“Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti's people and public institutions.

“If we are serious about helping we need to stop ­trying to control Haiti’s government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy.

“And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.”