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U.S. Policy Helped Keep Haiti in Chaos
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation on 13 January 2010
For the most part, Europe and the United States have ignored Haiti as it grew poorer and poorer. When I was there you could find the children just outside Cite Soleil, living in the garbage dump, waiting for the U.S. army trucks to dump the scraps left from the meals of American soldiers.
In the wake of the devastating earthquake, U.S. eyes are again turned toward Haiti–something that only seems to happen when yet another disaster strikes, and never during the daily chaos and misery that plague this poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Haiti, reporting first on the repression under the Duvaliers, then on the rise of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s popular movement, and then on the 1991 military coup that brought him down. I was there during the period of the 1994 military intervention that restored Aristede to power.
U.S. interest in the country seemed to wane with the departure of American troops, and in the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how U.S. policy helped to destabalize Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out, by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. Written shortly before the election won by current president Rene Preval, Walt Bogdanich and Jenny Nordberg titled their story “Mixed U.S. Signals Helped Tilt Haiti Toward Chaos.” After Aristede’s 2004 departure, they write:
While it can be counted on not to engage in these kinds of deadly shenanigans, the the Obama administration hasn’t taken much meaingful action on Haiti in the past year. It did pull back on some of the harshest deportation policies of the Bush years, which affected Haitians fleeing their country’s shores. But it has implemented few of the recommendations, for example, put out by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network after Obama’s inauguration, which included canceling debts and increasing trade.
For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. When I was there you could find the children just outside Cite Soleil, the giant slum, living in the garbage dump, waiting for the U.S. army trucks to dump the scraps left from the meals of American soldiers. There they stood, knee deep in garbage, fighting for bits of food. As for the old, they people every street, gathering at the Holiday Inn at Port au Prince in wheelchairs, waiting at the doorway in search of a coin or two. They have no social safety net. And nobody with any money–no bank, no insurance company, no hedge fund, no mutual fund–ever makes any serious investment in the country.
It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that, on any ordinary day, already resembles a disaster area. Today, compassionate Americans will wince at the photos, then pick their way among the foundations which offer alms to the Haitian poor. Here is one unlikely proposal to help Haiti, taken from Juan Cole’s email listserv this morning. It goes like this: “Memo to Obama on Haiti: It’s reported that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase combined have set aside $47 billion for bonuses,” says an NPR account, according to Cole. “Haiti’s annual gross domestic product in nominal terms is about $7 bn. a year. Seize the bonuses. Send them to Haiti.”
It’ll never happen, of course. But if there were any justice in the world, it would.
Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.
Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.
Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.
This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on January 13, 2010.
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