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Outside The Box
Haiti: Earthquakes, hurricanes, and colonialism
Bill Collins
January 18, 2010

One can see,
At just a glance;
That Haiti never,
Had a chance.

Our hearts go out to the Haitians. Earthquakes and hurricanes. Disaster after disaster. There’s no letup. We’ll send cash, food, meds, trucks, pumps, clothes, shovels, tarps, bulldozers, cement, computers, docs, water, clergy, plumbing, prayers, and everything else we can think of.

But what we won’t send is freedom. Despite all the shocking shortages one can observe in the street, freedom remains the nation’s paramount deficiency, along with the near total absence of a middle class. It’s a scandal. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the U.S., Canada and France helped overthrow Haiti’s popular liberal president, Jean Bertrand Aristede…twice, in 1991 and 2004. Nor can you tell simply from the devastation in the street that these three countries, and the World Bank/IMF/international banking community, have forced tariffs down to nothing, sold off the phone system to the Vietnamese Army, and plan to privatize the electric and water utilities. This neo-colonial scheme has drained off income and discouraged local investment, as well as opened a virtual free shooting gallery for multinational marketing companies. Etc…

What you can discern visually are U.N armored cars, “keeping the peace” for the benefit of the corrupt corporate-friendly government, while turning a blind eye to police brutality and repression. The U.N.’s own trigger-happy presence has spawned a strong public anti-occupation sentiment despite the modest improvement it has nurtured in general public safety. Many victims of U.N. forays were waiting vainly for medical attention and compensation even before the present apocalypse.

Less visible than the U.N. are the politics. As in all repressions, some dissidents have been killed and some detained for years without charge (a trick learned from nearby Guantanamo). Others have fled the country and the remainder fear for their jobs and safety. Despite this stifling of dissent, polling shows that a majority of all voters would favor a return to power of Aristede’s party. Consequently it is small wonder that the government recently banned that party from the upcoming election, much to the relief of the dominant neo-colonial Western powers.

The mind-boggling result of this brutal political and economic landscape is an unemployment rate of 70 percent…yes, Seven Zero percent! No wonder everyone seems to be selling mangoes in the market or pencils in the park. But this economic catastrophe, even before the earthquake, has lately brought a sparkle to the eyes of certain international investors. Their Special Envoy, Bill Clinton, recently visited the country touting Hope II. (Hope One didn’t amount to much). The plot is three-pronged: free entry of Haitian-manufactured free-zone goods into the U.S., a $3.00/day wage rate in Haitian sweatshops, and cooperative regulations from the government in Port-au-Prince.

The lure of this plan is to create a new China-like cheap labor center in our own hemisphere. Shipping costs would be a mere fraction of Asia’s, rock-bottom labor rates would also depress rates elsewhere in Latin America, and unlike China, we would control the government. This is called “Economic Development.”

For poverty voyeurs not much else would change. Since no one can live on $3/day, there would still be plenty of cheap pencils, mangoes and women on the street. But one problem is that in Haiti, unlike China, there is always the danger of democracy breaking out again, endangering investment. The Marines will naturally be ready to occupy once more as they did from 1915-34, but investors don’t relish that much stress.

Thus the exact shape of Haiti’s dismal future remains uncertain. But even if suspected oil, copper or sweatshop bonanzas should blossom once the country is back on its feet, you can be sure that foreign powers and domestic elites will see to it that none of the profits accrue to the people.


News 1031 2-1-10

Return to Haiti delegation.

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