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The Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation

How We Can Really Help Haiti

By Theresa Wolfwood   February, 2010

The first way to help is to understand the background of conditions in Haiti when the earthquake struck.
Canada has a murky role in creating the poverty and lack of democracy in Haiti; we need to seek out the facts before we respond and organize action. In 2004, Canada, as always helping USA do its dirty work, supported the overthrow of the elected President Aristide. Just as in Honduras last year, Canada made a few noises and with its complicity help to destroy democracy in both countries.
Yves Engler in his recent work The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy (see reviews on bbcf.ca) has written extensively on Canada’s participation in the destruction of democracy and the invasion of Haiti; he goes into depth on our inglorious action there. Poverty-stricken and weak Haiti may have been a dangerous example of democracy and resistance to neoliberalism that had to be crushed. ‘The attitude seems to have been, “if we can’t force our way in Haiti, where can we?”’
Popular President Aristide tried to resist the powers of international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank while he worked to improve life for Haitians. He founded the first medical school in Haiti which was closed and taken over by US Marines in 2004 who ousted Aristide while they terrorized and killed many of his supporters and officials of his elected government.  The ex- medical school then became the UN forces base. They also burnt down the new museum of Haitian culture, destroyed the children’s television station and obliterated many cultural and historic institutions. The Marines were replaced by foreign troops, paid by the United Nations, including France, Canada, the US and Brazil.

The USA has a long and nasty involvement in Haiti. When Haiti became independent from France, the French demanded that the Haitians pay France an amount equivalent to 90 per cent of the entire Haitian budget as compensation. City Bank offered the Haitians a ‘debt exchange”, paying off the French in exchange for a lower-interest, longer-term debt. Because of the debt the Americans invaded Haiti, seized the Treasury, exiled the president and supported the Duvaliers, ruthless dictators for decades, who drained Haiti of its resources while oppressing and impoverishing its people. After many years Haiti overthrew the Duvaliers who had turned over much of the land and wealth to the USA – hence the total deforestation of Haiti.

The terrible earthquake of January has revealed that Haiti had virtually no infrastructure – no public water utility, no emergency preparations and, with no building standards, buildings collapsed in the quake. And Port-au –Prince’s population had soared because peasants were driven off their land when they could not sell their crops because USA was dumping cheaper subsidized food.

The USA has taken over the airport and militarized aid ensuring that the needs of the majority of  Haitian people will not be respected and the poor will remain poor and powerless.

According to Canadian academic, Peter Hallward, author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment, (2007,  London: Verso Books, ISBN 1844671062) “Haiti is not only one of the poorest countries in the world, it is also one of the most polarised and unequal in its disparities in wealth and access to political power. A small clique of rich and well-connected families continues to dominate the country and its economy while more than half the population, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), survive on a household income of around 44 US cents per day…

Mass destitution has grown far more severe in recent decades. Starting in the 1970s, internationally imposed neoliberal “adjustments” and austerity measures finally succeeded in doing what no Haitian government had managed to do since winning independence in 1804: in order to set the country on the road towards “economic development”, they have driven large numbers of small farmers off their land and into densely crowded urban slums. A small minority of these internal refugees may be lucky enough to find sweatshop jobs that pay the lowest wages in the region. These wages currently average US$2 or $3 a day; in real terms they are worth less than a quarter of their 1980 value. Haiti’s tiny elite owes its privileges to exclusion, exploitation and violence, and it is only violence that allows it to retain them. For much of the last century, Haiti’s military and paramilitary forces (with substantial amounts of US support) were able to preserve these privileges on their own…

Over the course of the 1980s, however, it started to look as if local military repression might no longer be up to the job. A massive and courageous popular mobilisation (known as Lavalas) culminated in 1990 with the landslide election victory of the liberation theologian Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president of Haiti. Large numbers of ordinary people began to participate in the political system for the first time, and as political scientist Robert Fatton remembers, “Panic seized the dominant class. It dreaded living in close proximity to la populace and barricaded itself against Lavalas”.

…“Nine months later, the army dealt with this popular threat in the time-honoured way, with a coup d’état. Over the next three years, around 4000 Aristide supporters were killed. However, when the US eventually allowed Aristide to return in October 1994, he took a surprising and unprecedented step: he abolished the army that had deposed him. As human rights lawyer Brian Concannon (director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) observed a few years later, “it is impossible to overestimate the impact of this accomplishment. It has been called the greatest human rights development in Haiti since emancipation, and is wildly popular”. In 2000, the Haitian electorate gave Aristide a second overwhelming mandate when his party (Fanmi Lavalas) won more than 90% of the seats in parliament.”

…“As soon as Aristide was re-elected, a systematic international campaign to bankrupt and destabilise his second government set the stage for a paramilitary insurrection and a further coup d’état, and in 2004, thousands of US troops again invaded Haiti (just as they first did back in 1915) in order to “restore stability and security” to their “troubled island neighbour”.

An expensive and long-term UN “stabilisation mission” staffed by 9000 heavily armed troops soon took over the job of helping to pacify the population and criminalise the resistance. By the end of 2006, thousands more Aristide supporters had been killed. Over the course of 2009, a suitably stabilised Haitian government agreed to persevere with the privatisation of the country’s remaining public assets, veto a proposal to increase minimum wages to $5 a day and to bar Fanmi Lavalas (and several other political parties) from participating in the next round of legislative elections.”  {end of Hallward quotes.}

There has been much comment on the USA’s militarization of aid and the priority of the military at the airport over aid-bearing flights. Another way of confusing our response and humanitarian support is to play up the idea of insecurity and civil unrest – to hypothesise violence, almost seeming to provoke it. Yet many observers comment on the patience, fortitude and generosity of the suffering populace. But within hours of the earthquake the staff of the US embassy was evacuated and the Canadian T-shirt company, Gildan Activewear, said it would switch its production to other countries.

Hallward also writes; “This is the fourth time the US has invaded Haiti since 1915. Although each invasion has taken a different form and responded to a different pretext, all four have been expressly designed to restore “stability” and “security’” to the island. Earthquake-prone Haiti must now be the most thoroughly stabilised country in the world. Thousands more foreign security personnel are already on their way, to guard the teams of foreign reconstruction and privatisation consultants who in the coming months are likely to usurp what remains of Haitian sovereignty…the inexhaustible source of “instability” in Haiti – the ever-nagging threat of popular political participation and empowerment – may be securely buried in the rubble of its history.”

For more background on Canada’s role in Haiti see: Press for Conversion, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT), 541 McLeod St, Ottawa ON K1R 5R2.  tel:(613)231-3076   www. coat.ncf.ca/
and Engler, Yves. The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy. 2009. Fernwood Publishing & RED Publishing. Canada
What can Canadians do to help?  When we understand Haiti’s history right up to the present and our government’s role is assisting oppression, we can direct our action –

1.Cancellation of Haiti’s  Debt. There was an immediate outcry from Haiti and Haiti supporter for the cancellation of Haiti’s international debt.  World leaders actually said they would. It is up to us to make sure that happens and to see that no  crippling conditions are attached to this promised cancellation.

2.Write to every politician you can think of demanding that Canada will publicly supports truly democratic free elections in Haiti.

3.Support a trustworthy solidarity organization that has worked with social movements in Haiti long before the earthquake.  Contact Vancouver-based: haitisolidaritybc(at)yahoo(dot)ca.   Roger Annis, coordinator of this network, has been in the media raising the important underlying issues behind the earthquake response and is in direct contact with Haitian partners.
Annis was part of a human-rights delegation to Haiti in August 2007, his second trip to the Caribbean island nation.  He said in one interview, “Every country that has been culpable in the last 25 years for the undermining of Haiti’s economic and social infrastructure definitely shares some responsibility,” Annis added. “[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper’s new to the file. It was the Paul Martin [Liberal] government that sent troops into Haiti in 2004.”  But Harper continues the same policy.
Annis said Canada and other countries involved in the 2004 overthrow need to be judged on what they have achieved for Haiti since that time. “The real thing right now is look back on this first week of aid,” he said. “What kind of infrastructure did Haiti have to respond, and why didn’t it have one?”
4.. Be careful where you send your donations – check the policies, records and administrative expenses of aid agencies operating in Haiti.
One place to send aid is in support of the medical teams of Cuba which were already in Haiti and need funds to respond to the earthquake. Cuba has an unequalled record in helping people in crises such as the earthquake in Pakistan and natural disasters in many other countries.  In fact it has set up a special emergency unit, the Henry Reeve Medical Brigade, to respond to such disasters.  At the time of the earthquake in Haiti, 402 Cuban internationalists, 302 of them medical personnel, had already been helping Haitians.  These together with many of the 500 Haitian doctors who had been trained in Cuba free of charge formed the essential early group of lifesavers within hours after the earthquake. They have continued their work, boosted by an additional medical brigade which arrived promptly from Cuba.

Support Cuban medical workers by a donation to “The Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund,” indicating on your cheque’s memo line “Cuba for Haiti”.

 Mail toThe Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund & Friends of the Mac-Pap Battalion, Int’l Brigades, Attention: S. Skup  56 Riverwood Terrace Bolton, ON L7E 1S4

NOTE: Charitable receipts will be issued by the Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund (Charitable Org – Revenue Canada Reg, #88876 9197RR0001).  

The “Cuba for Haiti” contributions will go into a special account, ensuring that 100% of all donations are used for medical support and aid to Haiti.

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