Haiti - Hit by an earthquake, but ravaged by imperialist looting

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
19 January 2010

The earthquake which hit Haiti a week ago on 12th January, has claimed tens of thousands of victims and the death toll is still mounting. Millions are homeless and without clean water or food, as entire districts in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, have been reduced to rubble.

Protests have been taking place in the capital, to get the thousands of corpses piled up along the streets to be buried, as a matter of urgency. There are also protests which have got violent around food distribution points because the distribution of emergency aid isn't happening. This didn't stop police shooting into the crowds. In the meantime a whole population is desperately trying to survive among the ruins.

Poverty born of exploitation

Footage released by the media gives an idea of the extreme poverty in which the Haitian people already lived before this earthquake. In fact, "poverty" is a weak word to describe the situation of a population whose overwhelming majority lives on less than £1.25 a day, has no access to clean water and has to resort to eating "mud pies" to stop hunger pangs.

Today's catastrophe has a lot more to do with this poverty than the media care to say. Port-au-Prince is known to be on a seismic fault, just like San Francisco, in the US. Warnings were issued about the increasing risk of a major earthquake. But unlike the US, Haiti could not afford earthquake resistant buildings. The earthquake which struck San Francisco in 1989, was of the exact same magnitude 7. It claimed just 63 dead. So far it is thought 200,000 are dead in Haiti!

This poverty does not come from nowhere, though. Haiti has become impoverished through centuries of exploitation by the rich countries. For a long time it was an instrument of enrichment for the French slave and sugar traders, until the Haitians rebelled and threw them out. Later, the US took over and Haiti became what it still is today - a subcontractor for US industry, supplying a low-cost workforce which is sweated to exhaustion to boost profits and dividends in Wall Street.

To maintain this state of affairs, US governments have sent troops again and again to Haiti, in support of "friendly" dictators, but, above all, to keep under control a population whose old fighting tradition against the exploiters never died.

The most recent intervention, in 2004, took the form of a so-called "peace force" sent under the cover of the UN, with over 7,000 soldiers and 2,000 police. Over the past 6 years, these troops could have helped to develop the country's infrastructure so that, at least, everyone could have access to clean water. But no, their only role was to protect the present corrupt regime of president Préval from the population!

Foreign aid - a hypocritical agenda

So Obama may well shed tears in front of the TV cameras over the Haitians' fate and provide $100m of aid to Haiti - a very modest amount compared to the $377m daily cost of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But his real agenda is elsewhere.

The fact that Obama appointed Bill Clinton (responsible for starving Iraq of basic supplies for a decade) and George Bush (responsible for destroying Iraq), to collect funds for Haiti's "reconstruction", speaks for itself. If any "reconstruction" at all takes place in Haiti, the contracts will go to US companies!

Today, what Haitians need most urgently is clean water and food; doctors, nurses, medicines and field hospitals for the injured; temporary shelter for the homeless; engineers to restore a supply of drinkable water and rebuild houses, etc.

Instead, Obama decided to send 10,000 marines - i.e. combat troops! And the first thing these marines did was to take over the capital's international airport and turn it into a US army base, as if they were occupying the country! But what do the Haitians need an occupation army for?

Of course, it is not just for "humanitarian" reasons that these troops have been sent. Obama wants to pre-empt another flood of Haitian boat-people landing on the US coast as happened in 2008, after hurricanes devastated Haiti.

Above all, Obama's worst fear is that the powder keg created in Haiti by its chronic poverty will explode, due to the anger caused by the failure of the pro-US puppet government to face up to this crisis. Such an explosion would inevitably turn against US companies and their Haitian stooges, attracting the sympathy of the US black poor. This is something that Obama and his big business backers will do everything possible to prevent.