Thursday, January 14, 2010
Haiti: opportunity knocks posted by Richard SeymourYou want to hear about chutzpah? You want to hear about sheer gravity-defying audacity? Well, ladies and gentlemen, comrades and friends, prepare to catch your lower jaw. Forget Limbaugh's racist anxieties. Forget about Pat Robertson drooling about Haiti's 'pact with the devil'. He's a senile old bigot, and his sick provocations are familiar by now. This is the Heritage Foundation on the Haiti earthquake, which is estimated to have killed 100,000 people:
Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.
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…
While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.
Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue.
While you're letting that sink in, let me lay this on you. It is, or ought to be, widely enough understood that the category of 'natural disaster' is increasingly redundant. Whether it's an earthquake, a storm, a flood or a crop failure, the truly shocking and baleful consequences of ecological events are generally caused by their interaction with existing political economies. Ashley Smith therefore asks the right questions:
Why were 60 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince shoddily constructed and unsafe in normal circumstances, according to the city's mayor? Why are there no building regulations in a city that sits on a fault line? Why has Port-au-Prince swelled from a small town of 50,000 in the 1950s to a population of 2 million desperately poor people today? Why was the state completely overwhelmed by the disaster?
Well, quite. The wretched subjugation of Haiti by the 'international community', particularly since the multilateral anti-Lavalas coup in 2004, is angrily and movingly described by Peter Hallward in today's Guardian, and there is more here (the Tomb's coverage of the coup is here). The coup was promoted to advance the process of neoliberal capital accumulation, break the left and the unions, and break Famni Lavalas and the civil society organisations sustaining resistance. For years, UN 'peacekeepers' have slaughtered thousands of Haitians, and the residents have been put through rigged election procedures. Lavalas members, priests, and activists have been subject to political imprisonment and murder, some of them characterised as 'gang' members. This is all for the aid of sweatshop bosses such as Andy Apaid, and the multinationals principally based in the US and Canada that benefit enormously from the exploitation of Haitian labour. This process of capital accumulation is what has driven Haitians out of a devastated rural economy and into impoverished slums with a tinpot infrastructure, and left them vulnerable to this extraordinary catastrophe. There are a tremendous number of NGOs operating in Haiti, but there is hardly a public service infrastructure capable of a response. What support systems were available have themselves suffered terribly in the quake.
Following from the above, such disasters are generally exploited by states and companies in the vicious and predatory way that Naomi Klein outlines in The Shock Doctrine. Perhaps a lesser known example of this is the way in which in the wake of the tsunami in late 2004, the Indonesian military took the opportunity to ramp up repression in Aceh. A more obvious example is the depraved way in which the Bush administration (and the local Democratic party) effectively ethnically cleansed New Orleans and turned it into a haven for developers and construction firms after Katrina. So, what depraved agenda is going to be more forcefully thrust on Haiti in the middle of this catastrophe? Obviously, there is no danger of Obama allowing any impoverished immigrants into the US on the back of some rickety boats. You might recall that after last year's hurricanes, his administration continued to deport people, even in the middle of urgent legal appeals. So what is the plan? Back to Ashley Smith, who writes:
In close collaboration with the new UN Special Envoy to Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, Obama has pushed for an economic program familiar to much of the rest of the Caribbean--tourism, textile sweatshops and weakening of state control of the economy through privatization and deregulation.
In particular, Clinton has orchestrated a plan for turning the north of Haiti into a tourist playground, as far away as possible from the teeming slums of Port-au-Prince. Clinton lured Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines into investing $55 million to build a pier along the coastline of Labadee, which it has leased until 2050.
From there, Haiti's tourist industry hopes to lead expeditions to the mountaintop fortress Citadelle and the Palace of Sans Souci, both built by Henri Christophe, one of the leaders of Haiti's slave revolution. According to the Miami Herald:
The $40 million plan involved transforming the now quaint town of Milot, home to the Citadelle and Palace of Sans Souci ruin, into a vibrant tourist village, with arts and crafts markets, restaurants and stoned streets. Guests would be ferried past a congested Cap-Haïtien to a bay, then transported by bus past peasant plantations. Once in Milot, they would either hike or horseback to the Citadelle...named a world heritage site in 1982...
Eco-tourism, archaeological exploration and voyeuristic visits to Vodou rituals are all being touted by Haiti's struggling boutique tourism industry, as Royal Caribbean plans to bring the world largest cruise ship here, sparking the need for excursions.
So while Pat Robertson denounces Haiti's great slave revolution as a pact with the devil, Clinton is helping to reduce it to a tourist trap.
At the same time, Clinton's plans for Haiti include an expansion of the sweatshop industry to take advantage of cheap labor available from the urban masses. The U.S. granted duty-free treatment for Haitian apparel exports to make it easy for sweatshops to return to Haiti.
Clinton celebrated the possibilities of sweatshop development during a whirlwind tour of a textile plant owned and operated by the infamous Cintas Corp. He announced that George Soros had offered $50 million for a new industrial park of sweatshops that could create 25,000 jobs in the garment industry. Clinton explained at a press conference that Haiti's government could create "more jobs by lowering the cost of doing business, including the cost of rent."
As TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson told Democracy Now! "That isn't the kind of investment that Haiti needs. It needs capital investment. It needs investment so that it can be self-sufficient. It needs investment so that it can feed itself."
One of the reasons why Clinton could be so unabashed in celebrating sweatshops is that the U.S.-backed coup repressed any and all resistance. It got rid of Aristide and his troublesome habit of raising the minimum wage. It banished him from the country, terrorized his remaining allies and barred his political party, Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular in the country, from running for office. The coup regime also attacked union organizers within the sweatshops themselves.
As a result, Clinton could state to business leaders: "Your political risk in Haiti is lower than it has ever been in my lifetime."
Would those who sycophantically defended Clinton, particularly over his Haiti policy, care to comment? Do the 'progressives for Obama' have anything to say at this point?