Listening to all the voices.

Jan 18 2010

News coverage of the hurricane was swift and varied. I will not do a news analysis, which is best left to others more versed in this. Two issues caught my attention, however. It was and still is disconcerting to see how much discussion of divine retribution has dominated some of the early coverage. This not only takes the energy away from the real needs of the people in this situation (and serves the political agenda of Pat Robertson, who started the whole thing). It also sets up the people and nation of Haiti to again have to deal with another layer ideological discrimination and a framework for further vilification.

Another track that is of concern is the swift rising of the Heritage Foundation call to capitalize on the disorientation, suffering and general breakdown of social processes in the Nation to finally develop Haiti into the place it should have been. The early version included this line that was subsequently edited out:

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.

See The Nation’s post on this: The Nation on Things to Remember, a warning against the Shock Doctrine. In a similar swift move the IMF has pledged $100 million to Haiti. The problem is that it comes with the same crippling conditions the IMF always imposes on developing countries. In Haiti’s case this is a disastrous proposal that follows on its 2003 overtures that already has Haiti in debt to the IMF, had taken people of their lands and pushed them into city slums and further impoverished large sectors of the population.

It is important to remember that natural disasters have vastly different outcomes depending on the kind of human interaction there is with the natural environment. Haiti’s many decades of international intervention left its people open to even more devastating consequences than they would have otherwise suffered. The IMF’s structural adjustment program caused a depopulation of rural/agricultural areas, which compounded the effects of the US dumping rice and sugar on the island. The internal migration produced, among other things: higher population density areas and degraded living structures without any substantial upgrading of the necessary infrastructures.  Conditions that made the recent earthquake have much more devastating effects.

Haiti’s history of economic development and its marginalization by the international community already made the infrastructure less than ideal. Just in the 20th century the country was crippled by the US-backed Duvalier regime, by the US withholding aid and by IMF’s measures. And this is on top of the huge amounts Haiti paid France in reparations for the freed slaves. This amount (estimated at $20 billion in today’s value) was financed by French and US banks and part of it was only paid off in the 1940′s.

So, rather than going on about Haiti being a poor country, crippled by a huge natural disaster, let’s be real and help the people of Haiti, fully remembering the history of degradation and marginalization that engendered both the poverty and the conditions for this immense natural disaster to be way more devastating than it would have been if Haiti had been treated with respect.

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