Thursday, January 14, 2010

Donate but also Learn About Our Role in Haiti's Plight

As you donate to support the survivors of the massive earthquake in Haiti, read this, a piece called "Our Role in Haiti's Plight."

It says, among other things:

Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti's capital city on Tuesday afternoon, but it's no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.


The noble "international community" which is currently scrambling to send its "humanitarian aid" to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

The piece is published on a British website and it primarily talks about the role of the United States, but it all applies to Canada too -- from its role in shipping and military interventions to maintain the slavery-based plantation economy in the Carribbean in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to its active complicity in the coup against the democratically elected president of Haiti in 2004, to its long-term enthusiastic promotion of neoliberalism on the world stage, the settler society in what is now called "Canada" and its ruling institutions have been actively involved in creating the social conditions that have made this natural disaster so much worse than it had to be.


Chanda @ Disordered Cosmos said...

There is a huge omission in this article that should not be ignored. While it's all well and good to point to the repeated US invasions starting in 1915, it's important to recognize that Haiti's poverty was enforced earlier by another colonial power: France. After a crippling 20 year embargo as retaliation for the slaves taking their freedom, in 1825 France demanded 150 million francs (equivalent to $21 billion today) as payment for lost profits. In other words, France made the former slaves pay for their freedom. Haiti was forced to sign the treaty with French and German gun boats sitting in their harbor.

Haiti could not make the first payment and so it was arranged that they would receive loans from French banks, at exorbitant interest rates. Haiti was paying this indemnity for 123 years! The last payment was in 1947. At various points they were spending more money on the interest rate payments than on social services for their own people. It was only after the 1915 invasions that the US became involved, when some of the loans were transferred to American banks. (although I haven't managed to source this last piece of information)

This is a particularly large omission since it is in a European newspaper. France must be held accountable too! And in fact, in 2003/4 Aristide demanded reparations from France, a repayment of all 21 billion. Not too long after, he was forcefully and anti-democratically removed from power and exiled from his homeland.

Scott said...

Yes, I had noticed the strangely late date at which the article begins its account of Haiti's impoverishment. Thanks so much for filling in some of that crucial stuff!!

Chanda @ Disordered Cosmos said...

I'm starting to get pissed off because EVERYONE is writing articles and talking about how it starts in 1910 with American occupation. Everyone is so obsessed with attacking US imperialism that they can't even be bothered to remember that the US is an imperialist invention of some other powers who were doing it for a long time before. Hatred for the US is allowing people to ignore the truth. The US capitalized on France's behavior.

Scott said...

Yeah...its kind of like the way that U.S. misdeeds so often get focused on by liberals and left nationalists in the Canadian context in ways that downplay or outright erase the horrid, oppressive history of our own state and corporations. Infuriating.

Chanda @ Disordered Cosmos said...

Amen! After living in Canada for 3.5 years, all I can think is:
a. Stop patting yourselves on the back for not being the US and start getting those homeless shelters in Toronto back open
b. And by the way, get the hell out of Afghanistan and Haiti
c. Stop sending US refuseniks back to the US to be in jail

I'm so tired of the faux-moral superiority that really means not addressing Canadian-problems.

Thanks for rockin it Scott.

thwap said...

Yeah, they left out France and Canada.

The Hamilton, Ontario local newspaper re-printed that very essay and never once anywhere else mentioned Canada's role in their latest coup.

It's all been rah-rah Canada, we're so kind and generous.

Scott said...

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