Saturday, 16 January 2010

"This is a catastrophe beyond our worst imagination"

"Unfortunately the team of State University of Haiti students found that of the list of some sixty neighborhood associations provided by the Haitian government (Minister of Social Affairs), only 2 still existed. Upon closer examination the researchers found that NGOs and donors created the local associations when they wanted to complete a project. The stated priorities in the neighborhood differed from the projects coming from the NGOs, that no fool would turn away if it spells resources for the neighborhood. Since the re-instatement of the constitutional, democratic order with Préval’s election in 2006, NGOs have started to come back to popular neighborhoods. The results are mixed. Good projects can be completed (and maybe maintained) like trash cleanup, water taps, recycling, etc. But the top-down, project logic (sa ou fè pou mwen? What are you doing for me?) may be replacing the collectivist konbit. New NGOs may be in conflict with more established youth leaders, popular organizations and churches.

"The bigger, more hidden, side-effect of the NGOization of Haiti’s society is that it can undermine the elected government’s ability to coordinate and plan. NGO salaries are on average three times that of their government counterparts – in a country with about one percent of people with a college degree. Commentators – particularly within the mainstream media and donor agencies – quickly point to the failures of Haiti’s state. With the priorities set abroad and funds not even passing through the state, too many NGOs have become fiefdoms, cut off from both the people and the elected government. In his book Haïti: l’Invasion des ONG (Haiti: the Invasion of NGOs), Sauveur Pierre Étienne said that NGOs have become the 'iron of the spear of foreign governments,' in effect tools of implementing foreign policy agendas. This is classic neoliberalism (known as Reaganomics in the U.S.) – belief that the state should step aside and let the free market take care of everything."

"Starfish and Seawalls: Responding to Haiti’s Earthquake, Now and Long-Term" by Mark Schuller, January 15, 2009

"But what has really left Haiti in such a state today, what makes the country a constant and heart-rending site of ­recurring catastrophe, is its history. In Haiti, the last five centuries have combined to produce a people so poor, an infrastructure so nonexistent and a state so hopelessly ineffectual that whatever natural disaster chooses to strike next, its impact on the population will be magnified many, many times over. Every single factor that international experts look for when trying to measure a nation's vulnerability to natural disasters is, in Haiti, at the very top of the scale. Countries, when it comes to dealing with disaster, do not get worse.

"'Haiti has had slavery, revolution, debt, deforestation, corruption, exploitation and violence,' says Alex von Tunzelmann, a historian and writer currently working on a book about the country and its near neighbours, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. 'Now it has poverty, illiteracy, overcrowding, no infrastructure, environmental disaster and large areas without the rule of law. And that was before the earthquake. It sounds a terrible cliche, but it really is a perfect storm. This is a catastrophe beyond our worst imagination.'

"It needn't, though, have been like this. In the 18th century, under French rule, Haiti – then called Saint-Domingue – was the Pearl of the Antilles, one of the richest islands in France's empire (though 800,000-odd African slaves who produced that wealth saw precious little of it). In the 1780s, Haiti exported 60% of all the coffee and 40% of all the sugar consumed in Europe: more than all of Britain's West Indian colonies combined. It subsequently became the first independent nation in Latin America, and remains the world's oldest black republic and the second-oldest republic in the western hemisphere after the United States. So what went wrong?"

"Haiti: a long descent to hell"
Jon Henley, Thursday 14 January 2010 19.00 GMT

"Just why is Haiti in such a dire situation, so much worse than any other country in the Americas, and as bad as anywhere on Earth? Some blame the United Nations. Some blame the Americans. Some have theories about the collision of global warming with global capitalism. All are careful to point out that the Haitian elite deserves its reputation for being greedy, negligent and kleptocratic. 'I think the Haitian people have been made to suffer by God,' Wilbert, a teacher, tells me, 'but the time will come soon when we will be rewarded with Heaven.'

"History tells a different story. The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

"For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day."

"Haiti: the land where children eat mud"
Alex von Tunzelmann
From The Sunday Times
May 17, 2009

"Justice. Verite. Independance."


June 4 - 10, 2008
Vol. 1, No. 46


Mike Davis is the author of several books; the best known deal with U.S. urban issues, particularly in Southern California where he grew up. They include Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the U.S. Working Class (1986), City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990), and Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (2000).

He is a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, and an editor of the New Left Review. Defining himself as an international socialist and "Marxist-Environmentalist," he is a frequent contributor to The Nation and the British publications New Statesman and Socialist Review, the organ of the Socialist Workers Party of Great Britain.

This interview, conducted by Haiti journalist and activist Ben Terrall in early February, was first published by the online publication Dissident Voice in March with the title "Toward a Better World: Interview with Mike Davis."


Ben Terrall: I wanted to get in a question about the United Nations in Haiti. In Planet of Slums you talk about the Pentagon's global approach to counter-insurgency being more focused on a kind of urban warfare. Having gone to Haiti and seeing what the UN is doing, I wonder if you see that as a new role for UN peacekeepers, as a kind of counterinsurgency proxy, in areas where politically, after Mogadishu troops in Somalia in the early 1990s -ed.], it's too risky for U.S. forces to be there.

Mike Davis: Well to be honest with you, I'm very disturbed that groups like the Friends and CARE, Save the Children and other NGOs have supported the establishment of this State Department Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and support the Haitian Stabilization Initiative.

This whole idea of having a "smart" foreign policy is what this stuff really is about. I think it was in the Spring of 2006 when the State Department issued this extraordinary report which found almost everything possible wrong with the U.S. occupation of Iraq and then argued for a new policy that avoided expensive reconstruction and in favor of a combination of imposing law and order and then small-scale economic progress.

It's very clear that's what's still going on Iraq with the surge represents the past, but Haiti is the future. And what the United States is looking for, or at least the State Department and almost certainly an Obama or Clinton administration, would be a form of intervention that can establish a minimum threshold of control and stability in the areas recognized as most potentially volatile or dangerous from the standpoint of U.S. interests.

It's done this in Haiti not only using the UN, including the first Chinese contingent, but it's part of this extraordinary, and I think much overlooked alliance between the Bush Administration and the Workers Party in power in Brazil, which includes consensus about "peacekeeping" in the Caribbean, but also the joint development of biofuels internationally.

What is also extraordinary about Haiti is that the object of intervention isn't just Haiti or Port-au-Prince, but it's specifically Port-au-Prince's largest slum and probably the poorest in all the Americas, Cite Soleil, with a combination of building police stations and paving roads, and setting up a few popular projects.

It's explicitly a strategy to take control from the so-called Chimere gangs to the new government of Haiti, in a context where the democratically elected President of Haiti is in exile, and has been deposed by a combination of French, American and Brazilian intervention. It's quite extraordinary, and I think the program, though relatively small scale, is more the template for the future than the occupation of Iraq.

In a world where a lot of governments have been reduced to a bare minimum after structural adjustment, where huge areas of the cities have been essentially abandoned by the state, how do you re-establish state control, how do you prevent groups of any kind from achieving dual power and sovereignty in the slums?

The experiment in Cite Soleil is supposed to provide a model for that, and a model for future U.S. interventions. In a sense it meets author] Max Boot's demand in a column last year that the United States should basically have a Department of Colonial Affairs - well, that's the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization.

BT: One things that's clear to me, from following what's going on in Haiti since the 2004 coup, which forced out Aristide and his democratically elected government, is the role that NGOs play in taking back democracy from the people. This has been the case since before the coup. I recently heard from a grassroots group that does work with the poor in Cite Soleil. Just to keep people alive they're ready to give over the group to these right-wing funded characters behind the coup.

MD: I think you're absolutely right, and I think the State Department has now made explicit - and indeed even the Bush Administration, by transferring the primary responsibility for stabilization, at least theoretically, from the Pentagon to the State Department - that throughout the world the United States is going to work with these NGOs, and these NGOs are kind of soft-power American intervention.

But what I find very disturbing is that groups like the Friends, who for so long have advocated for peace and nonintervention, would endorse a policy where basically the small-scale job schemes, and free clinics, are part and parcel of strengthening the police and dramatically repressive strategies. For them to buy into this line, I wonder if this is not what a Clinton or Obama administration would give us on an even larger scale. Of course, McCain is more apt to keep using a big stick.

I think people are so focused on the horror of what the American intervention in Iraq has brought that they're not paying attention - and, of course, nobody's being forced to debate - what's happening in Haiti, what's happening in the horn of Africa, U.S. interventions in West Africa. It's just all off the radar screen.

1 comment:

Andrea Todd said...

I'm sure you meant well, but I want to point out that one of the articles you linked to/quoted ("Haiti: the land where the children eat mud") goes through every single racist stereotype of Haiti: child slavery; a pitiful population stuck in the past; elevating charity from rich countries above Haitian self-reliance; the "unappreciated White savior" narrative and fear-mongering about Whites being under threat, etc. Yes, the author does mention that the rich countries have been sucking Haiti dry, but that doesn't excuse the stereotypes she uses. I don't think racist and skewed reporting like that should be circulated -- bigoted stories about Haiti do a lot of harm, no matter how allegedly charitable the intent of the article.

I'm not exactly thrilled about the tone of the "long descent into hell" article, either; the author of that one seems to want us to see the Haitians as objects of pity rather than relating to them. Also, this paragraph pisses me off:

"In the 18th century, under French rule, Haiti – then called Saint-Domingue – was the Pearl of the Antilles, one of the richest islands in France's empire (though 800,000-odd African slaves who produced that wealth saw precious little of it)."

He mentions the SLAVERY in Haiti as though it were an afterthought, a footnote. Ugh.

I don't have a problem with you personally, just those two articles. Given that the videos and articles aside from those two were pretty good, your heart seems to be in the right place.