For those with short memories and a superficial knowledge of Haiti’s catastrophic history, American government aid to Haiti in the current calamity is a wonderful example of humanitarian generosity. But when it comes to foreign policy in Central and South America, American aid is almost invariably tinged with self-interest. It usually comes with a cynical indifference to basic human rights, and to the right to life itself.
The truth is that the recent earthquake was preceded by a series of man-made, political and economic earthquakes over many years—chiefly inflicted by the US—which have worsened the effects of the recent disaster and added considerably to the death toll.
American interference has helped make Haiti the poorest country in the western hemisphere. It now shares a reputation with Somalia as the most dysfunctional country on earth. Crime, disease and deprivation are endemic. Most Haitians live on $2 or less per day. At least 200,000 Haitian children have been forced into slavery.
The US has a long and shameful history in its dealing with Haiti. US Marines occupied the country from 1915 till 1934, keen to ensure that Haiti did not default on its massive debts to American banks. During that time they killed more than 3,200 native Haitians. Since then, decades of oppression by Haitian dictators, generously sponsored by the US, have severely marked the country and added immensely to the recent death toll.
From 1957 to 1986, the US government backed the military right-wing dictatorship of the Duvalier family with military and economic aid, sponsoring decades of misrule, corruption and murder. The family stripped Haiti of an estimated €640 million. Psychotic dictators François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, brutally repressed opponents during their rule, from 1957 till 1986. Rape and torture were common. International estimates of those killed by the family’s private militia and terrorist death squads (the notorious, murdering Tonton Macoutes) are as high as 60,000.
Former priest and liberation theologist Jean-Bertrand Aristide was Haiti’s first democratically elected president. Aristide’s election, on a platform of social justice and progress, so freaked out the US that it backed two coups against him. The first came just weeks after his election in 1991, shortly after he came to power, by a military group sponsored by America’s CIA. In 2004, having been reinstated with American help, he was ousted in a second coup—backed, yet again, by the Americans—and forced into exile for a second time. Aristide’s party remains the most popular in the country. The current government has already ruled that Aristide’s party will not be allowed to participate in the upcoming election.
For Haiti, capitalism is the new colonialism. Since Aristide was overthrown, the current Haitian government has been little more than a puppet administration of the American government. American capitalism has been disastrous for Haiti’s economy. Since Haiti’s government reluctantly opened its economy to free trade in the 1990s, under pressure from the IMF, tens of thousands of Haitian rice farmers have being priced out of the market. They can’t sell their produce since it’s twice as expensive as cheap, subsidised rice imports which America has flooded the market with. Eighty per cent of the rice sold in Haiti comes from the USA. The USA dominates the Haitian market, and Haiti can’t compete.
International pressure on Haiti in relation to repaying its billion-dollar debt and receiving foreign aid has forced the country to cut back spending to levels far below what the country needs just to function on a basic way. Wages, health and education services and overall infrastructure have suffered terribly.
Haiti’s population has doubled in the past 25 years Haiti produces little food, and so relies on American food imports. As much as 90% of the food sold in local markets comes from the United States and elsewhere. The more Haitians buy imports, the more they are impoverished, and the more they have to buy imports. Rocketing food prices have sparked the world’s worst food riots and pillaging by hungry mobs. Upward swings in food prices regularly lead to violence.
Disaster relief since the latest earthquake is only a temporary solution, and many Haitians say that such relief has become part of the problem. They have become part of a vicious circle where they cannot take control of their own lives while they are totally dependent on handouts. Getting help, paradoxically, has left Haitians helpless.
In the meantime, Haiti is left reeling from one emergency to the next.
The United Nations has said that Haiti’s medley of problems can only be tackled by massive, long-term investment over at least a decade. But that was before the earthquake struck and destroyed almost everything. Handouts of millions of euro every year can only begin to tackle the spiralling human tragedy that is Haiti.
Extreme poverty and a lack of infrastructure have made this natural disaster worse. Although an earthquake so powerful as that experienced by Haiti is severe, in a wealthier nation with proper building regulations the number of deaths would have been far fewer. Many of those who lost their lives were crushed or trapped underneath cheaply built concrete buildings. Many of those killed were rice farmers, forced to relocate to the city to find a new life.
The US, along with Canada and France, have destroyed Haiti’s economy. Their interference has led to the kind of overcrowding and poverty that has added to the death toll brought by the earthquake.
Sceptical observers of US foreign policy are now asking why Hilary Clinton is sending 10,000 troops to Haiti, and why America’s aid to the country is so overtly military in focus. The reason is simple. It is because Uncle Sam has long been terrified of what democracy may do to its political and economic interests in the country.