The elite and Haiti
Friday, January 22, 2010
It is during the aftermath of catastrophic events that you are really reminded that the rich and politicians are truly slimy bastards. With the earthquake in Haiti, these parasites have once again used the death of thousands of people for their own propaganda and self aggrandisement. The sight of emperor Obama spewing out rubbish about the US state caring for the people of Haiti in their time of need, has been particularly galling. Equally sickening has been the spectacle of Hollywood actors crying crocodile tears in Oscar-type performances for the victims. Indeed, actors from Meryl Streep to Mickey Rourke have assured anyone who would listen that they really do care. As part of this, they have lamented the suffering of the Haitians during the earthquake, while stoically defending their right to get pissed at lavish parties like the Golden Globe Awards. Through the Dom Perignon induced haze the message from the billionaire silver screen brigade was also that life must go on, just like after 911 – stiff upper lip and all that shit. How brave and caring the Hollywood celebrities and imperial politicians truly have been in their little frumpy designer outfits thousands of miles away from the carnage!
Of course, what the slimy bastards that make up today’s international political and economic elite did not talk about, was why Haiti was so badly hit by the earthquake in the first place. Likewise, not a word has come from them about the reasons why people in Haiti have been living and working in appallingly built and overcrowded buildings that collapsed so easily. No - that would mean that they would have to acknowledge the historical and current imperial plundering of Haiti. Not nice topics when you want to win votes and popularity with the plebs.
The imperial pillage of Haiti has been long and horrific, which the rich and political elite as a class have benefited from. It was the French state that really kicked off the plundering of the country as far back as the 1700s when it established massive coffee and sugar plantations. Each year, it imported 40 000 slaves to work these lands. Conditions for the slaves were so horrific that their life expectancy of a slave born in Haiti was little more than 20 years. While the slaves suffered and died, however, the French state and elite got filthy rich. By the 1780s, two-thirds of coffee and almost half of the sugar consumed in Europe were from Haiti.
It was under these circumstances that the slaves launched a revolution against their masters beginning in 1791. For thirteen years a bitter war of independence raged. During the war, the French were routinely guilty of massacres, mass rape and torture. Towards the end of the war, Napoleon sent 10 000 of France’s elite troops to try and crush the revolution. Along with sending this force, the Napoleonic state ordered these soldiers to kill all black Haitians over the age of 12. As part of this holocaust, as many as 100 000 people were gassed in the holds of French ships using sulphur dioxide. These atrocities were all committed in a desperate attempt to hold onto the most lucrative colony in the French empire, Haiti.
Even though the revolution was victorious in 1804, political independence did not bring an end to the suffering of the Haitian people nor did it break the hold that imperialism had over the country. In exchange for the French recognising an independent Haitian state, the local elite agreed to pay the ex-colonial power reparations of over 150 million Francs in gold. The end result was that the Haitian state spent the next 112 years making payments to the French state, only completing its final payment in 1947. To come up with the money, workers and the poor were ruthlessly exploited and huge loans were taken from German, French and American banks. The consequences of this was that Haiti found itself in a debt trap – by 1900 over 80% of the national budget was going to loan repayments to imperial powers and corporations. Along with this, the Haitian elite plundered the rest – which left the Haitian working class almost completely destitute.
By the 1900s, a new imperial power had arisen in the Western hemisphere to torment the Haitian people. In 1910 the US State Department in partnership with Citibank purchased Haiti’s only commercial bank along with National Treasury. Fearing that Haiti may default on its debt, and thereby undermine their investments, the US invaded the country in 1915. Under the US occupation slave type conditions were restored, US corporations were handed land and the country became a virtual US plantation. Over and above this, the US state pillaged the country by repatriating 40% of the gross domestic product back to the US to the benefit of corporations. It was only in 1934 that the US finally withdrew its troops, but only after it had secured its total economic dominance and control of Haiti.
With the end of the occupation, however, the US cemented its alliance with the Haitian elite. As part of this, the CIA installed one of the most brutal dictators ever seen in the America’s when they placed “Papa Doc” Duvalier at the head of the Haitian state in 1957. His role was to protect the interests of US corporations using any means necessary with the consequence that between 30 000 and 60 000 Haitians were murdered by state forces. When “Papa Doc” died in 1971 he was replaced by the CIA with his son, “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
It was during Baby Doc’s reign that neo-liberalism was adopted in earnest. Under this, import tariffs on US goods were practically scrapped, which saw US corporations dumping their heavily subsidised agricultural goods onto the country. The consequences for small-scale farmers were catastrophic. Rice production in the country collapsed and people simply abandoned their farms as they could not compete with the subsidised imports. Most were forced to move into the major urban centres, such as Port-au-Prince, in search of work. The result was that the urban centres like Port-au-Prince mushroomed: in 1950 the city had a population of only 50 000 while today it has 2 million inhabitants. It was in these overcrowded conditions that the earthquake wrought havoc.
Along with liberalising imports, Baby Doc’s regime – with the backing of the US – also promoted Export Processing Zones for the benefit of US corporations. Today, these EPZ’s are still firmly in place and companies like Disney benefit by paying workers in these EPZs as little as 28 cents an hour. Wonder if the plonkers in Hollywood will start a campaign to stop this? Probably not considering many of them have very lucrative contracts with Disney.
Of course, while the economy was being liberalised to the advantage of US corporations by Baby Doc and his successors, the local Haitian elite were also pillaging the few resources that the country still had left. It has been estimated that Baby Doc himself pinched as much as $ 800 million from the country’s Treasury. All the while, the US protected Baby Doc and allowed him to place this money in numerous Swiss bank accounts.
By 1986, however, Baby Doc was facing the real prospect of being overthrown by a popular uprising. In order to prevent this, the US whisked him away to safety in France and implemented a multi-party ‘democracy’ in 1990. This, however, did not last long. The reason was because the Haitian people elected the mildly reformist Aristide. Amongst other things, he promised EPZ workers that they would be allowed to join trade unions and horror of horror receive minimum wages. This was simply too much for the US. Aristide was swiftly removed from office and only re-instated in 1994 after he had promised the US that he would tone down his rhetoric and promote neo-liberalism. By 2004, however, Aristide had once again annoyed the US by suggesting that imperialist powers owed Haiti reparations for the destruction they subjected the country to. Once again, Aristide was removed from power and an occupying UN force was sent to Haiti. For the last five years the occupying force has committed numerous brutalities including mass rape and have held the 500 000 residents of the poorest neighbourhood in Port-au-Price, Cite Soley, virtual prisoners. Under this, people’s movements are restricted and checkpoints surround the neighbourhood. The UN occupation force has also been guilty of massacring civilians during raids into Cite Soley. Recently, declassified documents from the US embassy revealed the extent of such raids: during one incursion alone UN forces fired up to 22 000 bullets in Cite Soley. All of this has been done in the name of securing safety for ‘economic development’ – in other words protecting the investments of the local elite and multinational corporations.
The five century long, and ongoing, imperial and capitalist plunder of Haiti has left the country devastated. As a result the vast majority of people in Haiti live on less than $ 2 a day and 75% of people are unemployed. Even those people that find jobs are usually paid a pittance and work in sweatshops either owned by the local elite or foreign corporations. People who live under such conditions – due to imperialism and capitalism – don’t have money to build quake-proof housing, and it was this that killed over 100 000 people when the earthquake struck. Of course, the rich and politicians - like Obama and the Hollywood jetset - don’t want to acknowledge this, as it would mean that they would have to recognise that they as a collective class have the blood of thousands of people on their hands. Instead they cry crocodile tears, deliver soppy performances and wallow in self-adulation about how much they really do care – and in the process the bastards prove they are particularly slimy.