Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti: getting the picture

So, if we can summarise. Haiti is a country which is subject to "progress-resistant cultural influences", such as:

the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

This (rather than this), says neoconservative David Brooks, explains why Haiti is so poor. The appropriate response is imperial disdain for Haitian culture, and paternalistic intervention. Such a culturalist reading of social institutions and political economies is not exclusive to neoconservatives, but it is their preferred variant of the liberal defence of murder. As you would expect ftom the savages described by Brooks, though, they have responded to the disaster of the quake by looting and building roadblocks from the dead. The security situation (a phrase worth unpacking) is... what, you tell me - 'deteriorating'? 'Testing'? 'Tricky'? 'Challenging'? What is the bromide of choice these days? At any rate, the state of affairs arising from said "progress-resistant cultural influences" is so baleful that it is compelling the US to use its military power to obstruct the delivery of aid, because delivering aid will - so Obama's defence secretary tells us - lead to riots.

Brooks is not alone in hoping that American power can be used to discipline the hapless natives. As Obama sends in the marines and the 82nd Airborne, precisely to deal with the above-mentioned "security situation", the American Enterprise Institute insists that such forces are used to "ensure that Haiti’s gangs—particularly those loyal to ousted President Jean‐Bertrand Aristide—are suppressed." The worry about the prospect of a return of the elected president, Aristide, which "can only create further mischief". The AEI, I would confidently wager, has no reason to fret over this particular exercise in humanitarian intervention. Obama is committed to maintaining the coup government, the sweatshop oligarchy and the phoney elections. The troops are there because the Haitian population is seen not merely as pathetic supplicants but as a threat. The very sophisticated networks of community and solidarity that have been developed in Haiti under dictatorship and terror, and which are best placed to deliver assistance to those in need of it, are precisely the problem as far as the US government is concerned. It is they, the 'gangs' who refuse to assimilate to America's benevolent programme of racial uplift, whom successive US governments have attempted to destroy, whether through the IMF or the Tonton Macoutes. It cannot be long before the marines find themselves gunning down some restless ingrates, and there is certainly no prospect that the Obama administration will allow Aristide to return to his country.

Just as well, then, that we have been apprised of all these horror stories about bodies doubling as road-blocks (as if people in need of aid would actually try to block the roads), machete wielding 'looters', security breakdowns, gang violence, etc. Otherwise we might have been inclined to misunderstand the situation, and wonder whether in sending trained killers into a disaster area the Obama administration isn't hijacking a catastrophe according to a premeditated plan, a pre-conceived set of priorities, and a prefabricated story.