Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 25, 2010

George W. Bush reacts to Haitian handshake

Filed under: Haiti,racism — louisproyect @ 1:58 pm

February 10, 2010

Two guest articles on Haiti

Filed under: Haiti — louisproyect @ 9:19 pm

(The author is a long-time Haiti solidarity activist and a member of the TWU in New York.)

Humanitarian aid for Haiti — Not troops and occupation!


After a 7.0 earthquake hit the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, U.S. President Barack Obama solemnly told the Haitian people two days later, “In this hour of need you will not be forsaken.” The quake was a catastrophe that may rival the deadly tsunami of 2004. At press time, the death toll is estimated at 200,000, and the number of affected or displaced persons is perhaps as high as 3 million to 3.5 million out of Haiti’s population of nine million.

Yet, for all the media hype, U.S. aid came with big strings: a U.S./United Nations military occupation and the prospect of more U.S.-led World Bank economic misery for the masses. In short, it’s a continuation of a 200-year war by U.S. imperialism against the world’s first successful slave revolution. The intention of Washington’s so-called relief effort is not the long-term welfare of the Haitian masses but their compliance with U.S. policy at the point of a gun. In response, socialists say, “Food In, Troops Out!” “U.S./UN Troops Out of Haiti!”

As Time magazine described it, “Haiti for all intents and purposes, became a 51st state at 4:53 p.m., Tuesday, in the wake of its deadly earthquake. If not a state, then at least a ward of the state.”

Thus far, the Obama administration has pledged $100 million in aid to Haiti. That amounts to slightly over $11 per person. In comparison, the U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion on wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan; 10,000 times as much as the U.S. pledge to Haiti. U.S. banks alone gave $150 billion to its top executives last year, 1500 times larger than Obama’s pledge.

As stated by U.S. officials, the first priority in Haiti was military “security,” but against whom or what was unclear. On Jan. 17 Navy Rear Admiral Michael Rogers said, “We have seen nothing to suggest to us widespread disorder.” Marine Major Gen. Cornell Wilson, in charge of Marine operations in Haiti, refused to outline the “rules of engagement,” as bursts of gunfire were being heard around the capital.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said, “There is no logic that U.S. troops landed in Haiti. Haiti seeks humanitarian aid, not troops. It would be madness [if] we all began to send troops to Haiti.” Former Cuban President Fidel Castro said in his denunciation of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, “We send doctors, not soldiers.”

Most reports on the ground revealed not only relative calm but widespread cooperation, as ordinary Haitians met the incredible challenges of saving lives with their bare hands.

New York City solidarity activist David Wilson, who was in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake, told Socialist Action, “At first everyone seemed to be in shock, but some people got to work quickly, taking care of the injured. The aftershocks kept coming, so the neighborhood residents slept outdoors in the street, and many of the people passed the night singing hymns or listening to what sounded like an evangelical preacher.

“By the morning most people were digging out, covering the dead with sheets, looking for family members. Young men with handtools were out systematically looking for survivors in the ruins of bigger buildings like schools, often at considerable risk to themselves. It was inspiring, actually.”

Wilson reported that in the immediate aftermath of the quake, Haitian police and UN troops were “basically invisible. I left early on Jan. 17, and up until then, the few police and soldiers I saw were mostly just riding around in trucks. I guess they were supposed to be looking for looters, but I never saw anyone looting—and no one else I knew did, either.”

The rhetoric of U.S. officials, reinforced by corporate media, honed in on the so-called threat of riots and looting over supplies, without much evidence. The endlessly repeated racist image of Haitian culture as somehow responsible for the poverty in Haiti—most live on less than $2 a day—ignores reality. Haiti is undergoing its fourth U.S. occupation in the last century. The capitalist media ignores decades of U.S. support for Haiti’s dictators and the imposition of U.S.-dominated World Bank policies based on slave-labor assembly sweatshops.

The U.S. puppet regime of Haitian President Rene Preval and the U.S. surrogate forces of the United Nations were exposed as incompetent and criminally negligent, despite having experienced four deadly hurricanes in 2008. Under U.S. pressure, Preval signed an agreement relinquishing control of Haiti’s badly managed airport to the United States. Once in charge, the U.S. quickly gave landing priority to military transport. Jarry Emanuel, the air logistics officer for the World Food Program, complained, “There are 200 flights going in and out every day. … But most of those flights are for the United States military. Their priorities are to secure the country.”

Obama has ordered some 16,000 U.S. troops to Haiti with de facto control of the entire “relief” effort. The despised occupation forces of the United Nation’s Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), which had taken over for U.S. imperialism when Washington needed more troops for its slaughter in Iraq, announced it was adding 3500 troops to its 9000 total, and 1500 more cops to its 2100 international force.

As Dan Beeton writes in NACLA, a left-of-center magazine on Latin America and the Caribbean, “The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which began its mission in June 2004, has been marred by scandals of killings, rape and other violence by its troops almost since it began.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Coast Guard cutters surround Haiti to intercept Haitians attempting to reach South Florida. The prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, originally scheduled by President Obama to close on Jan. 11 over human-rights abuses, was fitted with 1000 cots for Haitians captured at sea.

In a victory for immigrant-rights advocates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Jan. 15 that some 30,000 Haitians would receive Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for those in the U.S. who face deportation. TPS, which has been granted immigrants who face natural disasters at home, will give Haitians an 18-month reprieve on deportation, with the right to seek work permits. Napolitano warned Haitians that those caught seeking refuge in the U.S. after the Jan. 12 earthquake will immediately be sent back to Haiti.

“New Orleans all over again”?

And what of getting food, water and medical care to Haiti’s earthquake victims? Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Bush-era holdover in the Obama administration, said, “Without having any structure on the ground in terms of distribution … an airdrop is simply going to lead to riots.”

Six days after the quake, the Miami Herald reported, “Thousands of Haitians living in tent cities around the capital and awaiting medical aid outside hospitals show little sign of having received any international aid. An eight hour drive through the capital on Monday produced three sightings of water trucks but no widespread aid distribution.”

In a report filed on Jan. 21, the legal director of Doctors Without Borders, Francoise Saulnier, said a plane carrying over 12 tons of aid was turned back from Port-au-Prince airport three times that week. “Now everything has been mixed together, and the urgent and vital attention to the people have been delayed, while military logistic—which is useful, but not on day three, not on day four, but maybe on day eight—this military logistic has really jammed the airport and led to this mismanagement, real mismanagement of vital issues,” said Saulnier. Their plane was diverted to the Dominican Republic, delaying the medical aid three days. In addition, teams of Cuban, Nicaraguan, Venezuelan, Mexican, and French doctors and aid workers, and a delegation from the Caribbean member-nations of CARICOM were also turned back at the airport.

A searing opinion piece, authored by three surgeons at the Cornell Medical Center in New York City, appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 26, which highlighted the gun-crazy priorities of U.S. imperialism. The three assembled a medical team the day after the earthquake in cooperation with the U.S. State Department and the Boston-based Partners in Health.

“We wanted to reach the local hospitals in Haiti immediately—but were only allowed by the U.S. military controlling the local airport to land in Port au Prince Saturday night. We were among the first groups there.”

“This delay proved tragic. Upon our arrival at the Haiti Community hospital we found scores of patients with pus dripping out of open fractures and crush injuries. Some wounds were already infested with maggots. Approximately one-third of the victims were children.”

“Our operation received virtually no support from any branch of the U.S. government. … As we were leaving Haiti we were appalled to see warehouse-sized quantities of unused medicines, food and other supplies at the airport, surrounded by hundreds of U.S. and international soldiers. … For all the outcry about Katrina, our nation has fared no better in this latest disaster.”

CNN’s Karl Penhaul reported on Jan. 20 from Port-au-Prince General Hospital, where U.S. paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division had just taken up positions. Doctors there said that there was no security problem at the hospital—until troops arrived. Penhaul wondered aloud, “Will this be New Orleans all over again?”

The reporter interviewed a Haitian woman trying to visit her daughter who had been told that she couldn’t enter the hospital by a U.S. soldier. “What are you white people in here for? What are you white people coming in and occupying Haiti for?” she told the reporter.

Penhaul said he spoke with other Haitians who accepted the intervention but others who definitely did not. “They say the last thing we need right now is guys with guns; we need medicine, we need food, we need water, and fewer guys with guns.”

Already on the ground and without guns were some 400 Cuban doctors who are part of a permanent mission in Haiti. The Cubans reopened three hospitals in Port-au-Prince and set up field hospitals. Cuban-operated clinics, according to Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health and the present administrator of the General Hospital in the capital, have already served 40,000-50,000 quake victims. In addition, Cuba has trained 400 Haitian doctors at Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine. The young Haitian doctors are in Haiti responding to the crisis.

The Palestinians in occupied Gaza also showed their solidarity with Haiti by collecting funds. The Gazans themselves were victims of an Israeli bombing campaign that claimed the lives of 1400 civilians in December 2008. Said Jamal Al-Khudary of the Committee to Break the Siege, “We are here today supporting the victims of Haiti. … We feel for them the most because we were exposed to our own earthquake during Israel’s war on Gaza.”

The Three amigos: Obama-Bush-Clinton

President Obama selected former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush to work jointly to coordinate relief efforts for Haiti, symbolizing the continuity of imperialist policy toward Haiti.

The bitter irony for many Haitians was George Bush’s support for a brutal CIA-backed coup in 2004, which ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide from his second presidency with the aid of paramilitary thugs, often called “Tonton Macoutes,” as the death-squad backers of the former Duvalier family dictatorships (1957-1986) are known. Aristide and the Democratic Party’s Black Congressional Caucus begged for international help, that is intervention. Bush obligingly sent in the Marines, who exiled Aristide aboard a U.S. Air Force plane.

Aristide, now living in South Africa, says he wants to return to Haiti. Previously, the U.S. has cited security concerns over the still popular president’s return.

Today, Bill Clinton is defending the criminally slow pace of the U.S. relief effort.

In the past, President Clinton intensified George Bush I racist naval blockade around Haiti, designed to seize and return Haiti’s “Black boat people” back to a CIA-backed military regime (1991-1994). Clinton’s “interdiction” policy violated U.S. and international asylum law. As a candidate, Clinton had condemned as “racist” the same policy when campaigning against George Bush I.

In 1994, in exchange for agreeing to a U.S.-led U.S./UN military occupation that would restore Aristide to the presidency, Clinton persuaded Aristide to sign the Governor’s Island Accords, which included adherence to World Bank economic reforms in Haiti, including “free-trade zones” for the slave-wage international assembly industry and “reconciliation” with CIA-backed killers behind the 1991 coup.

Said Christian, a Haitian activist living in New York City, “One of the legacies of Aristide’s capitulation to imperialist interests is the legalization of the framework of ‘humanitarian intervention.’ It set a precedent for the use of UN and other multilateral efforts in contravention of existing laws. It justified the favorite means used by the imperialists to intervene in cases of ‘failed states.’”

At the heart of the Obama administration’s military intervention is the policy of securing Haiti for what author Naomi Klein has dubbed in the title of her book, “The Shock Doctrine”—that is, exploiting a political crisis or a natural disaster by massively restructuring the economy toward pro-U.S./World Bank objectives, often by the use of military force.

A key example was New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane of 2005. About 67% of New Orleans residents were African American, 28% of whom were living in poverty. Democratic and Republican politicians worked hand in glove with powerful capitalist investors to drastically change the economic and racial composition of that mostly African-American city. Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) said, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”

Following the Haiti earthquake, the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation posted on its website an entry entitled, “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.”

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance,” said the article, “the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake offers opportunities to reshape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.” This was quickly replaced by more diplomatic language, though the posting reflects the real thinking of ruling-class policy makers.

Similarly, Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., who also held the same post during the 2004 CIA-backed coup, told C-SPAN, “There is a silver lining. What was not politically possible was done by the earthquake. We will rebuild differently.”

At a large meeting of international donors and investors in Montreal after the quake, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive for talking about “decentralizing” the Haitian economy. Clinton continued, “As part of our multilateral efforts to assist Haiti, we should look at how we decentralize economic opportunity and work with the Haitian government and people to support resettlement, which they are doing on their own as people leave Port-au-Prince and return to the countryside from which most of them came.”

Referring to her husband Bill’s efforts as UN envoy to Haiti, “He had just had a conference with 500 businesspeople,” Clinton said. “They were signing contracts, they were making investments.”

* * * *

The World Bank’s role in Haiti


Beginning in the 1980s, the U.S.-led World Bank tightened its grip on Haitian economic policy. Essentially, it decided that the dysfunctional Haitian elite should encourage international investment in export-oriented assembly sweatshops. This was called a “structural adjustment program.” Haiti’s trade tariffs on foreign goods were to be removed, public utilities privatized, and all state subsidies removed—including on essential items like gasoline, subject to sharp price fluctuations that can greatly increase transportation costs for workers and street vendors.

Assembling the goods, of course, would be the super-exploited Haitian worker, considered by World Bank experts to be Haiti’s greatest asset. The ideal was to make Haiti “the Taiwan of the Caribbean.” Today, textile assembly plants produce 90% of exports.

There are about 20,000 assembly workers in Haiti. They make about 20 cents an hour, about 70 Haitian gourdes a day (40 gourdes equals around $1). A study by the Haitian government showed that a subsistence salary would be closer to 300-400g a day.

Despite heavy quake damage to assembly-plant buildings, Haitian workers in some plants have been ordered back to work. Said Laurance Merzy, 32, a worker at DKDR Haiti in Port au Prince, “The walls are still standing, but they are cracked. It is not safe in there.” The New York Times reports that the Palm Apparel T-shirt factory in Carrefour, a few miles outside of the capital and at the epicenter of the quake, collapsed, killing at least 500 people.

An essential player in maintaining the plantation system in Haiti is Obama asset Bill Clinton, who, in addition to promoting tourism and sweatshops in Haiti, successfully campaigned for passage of the Hope I and Hope II trade bills. Hope I and II require yearly certification that Caribbean countries are complying with guidelines that mirror World Bank policies—that is, super-low wages that attract foreign investors.

Last summer, a struggle erupted for passage of a minimum-wage increase from 70g to 400g a day. Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets in August, but a massive deployment of UN troops blocked their entry to the assembly sector. In the end, Preval bowed to pressure from Bill Clinton to increase the minimum daily wage to 125g ($3) in 2009, which would rise to 200g ($5) in 2012. Assembly workers are exempt from the new wage levels and will only receive the 200 gourdes in 2012.

In reality, the initial 125 gourdes is worth less than half of the minimum wage that existed in 1980 under the U.S.-backed dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Annual inflation in Haiti over the last decade was about 12-14%, although accurate figures are hard to come by.

Another key goal of the World Bank plan was to redirect food production away from satisfying the nutritional needs of Haitians to producing food for the export market.  A 1982 document of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a federal “aid” agency often linked to the CIA, proposed the “gradual but systematic removal” of domestic crops from 30% of all tilled land, whose products can then be exported.

The result was the massive migration of Haitian rural farmers and workers from the countryside, where most Haitians live, to already over-crowded urban centers like Port-au-Prince, where unemployment stood at 70-80% before the earthquake.

Rice, a staple of the Haitian diet, used to be produced in quantities that would satisfy domestic needs. However, World Bank economic policy meant dropping tariffs on imported goods. Within a few years, cheaper “Miami rice” flooded the Haitian market, resulting in the destruction of domestic rice farming.

In 2008, after a 45% jump in the price of Miami rice in two years, there were “food riots,” as thousands poured into the streets in the capital shouting, “We’re hungry. Feed us!” Some described their hunger pains as “swallowing Clorox.” UN troops killed about a dozen protesters throughout Haiti. The practice of eating mud laced with sugar is not uncommon in Haiti.

Keeping Haiti politically dependent on the World Bank and Western capital are loans from the World Bank and imperialist governments that come with political strings attached, as do the “structural adjustment” programs. Today, over 50% of the almost $1 billion Haitian budget originates from so-called foreign aid.

Foreign debt had multiplied 17.5 times between 1957 and 1986, the years of the Duvalier family dictatorship. In 2001, the yearly debt servicing alone was $321 million.

However, last June the WB, IMF, and Paris Club reduced the current debt by $1.2 billion out of $1.4 billion to make payments “bearable” as part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC), after years of delay. New loans will increase the debt again unless a genuine debt cancellation is enacted. In order to qualify for HIPC, however, Haiti had to be certified by imperialist institutions as being in compliance with World Bank/IMF policies of “structural adjustment,” the privatization of public utilities, the elimination of tariffs on foreign goods, and the elimination of all price subsidies, etc.

A government study of the public phone company found that its annual revenues amounted to approximately $600 million, but as a result of privatization, this amount was lost to the Haitian people for schools, roads, and medical care—as well as debt repayment.

Although in the wake of the crisis there has been an international call to cancel Haiti’s debt, much of it having originated with dictatorships, Haiti is still on the hook for about $764 million to U.S.-dominated lending institutions, which constitute about 80% of all Haitian debt.

Activists in the Jubilee USA network and author Naomi Klein launched a campaign that pressured the World Bank’s International Monetary Fund into restructuring a recent $100 million loan into a no-interest loan, with the possibility that the IMF might decide that it does not have to be repaid at all.

What is needed is a powerful workers’ movement in Haiti that will challenge the entire system of vulture capitalism and imperialism and reconstruct Haiti under the democratic control of Haiti’s working masses. It would enforce the cancellation of all foreign debts. That would require building a revolutionary party and working for a socialist revolution in Haiti, and building a powerful solidarity movement in the U.S.

As the early 20th-century revolutionary leader Rosa Luxemburg put it, the choice faced by humanity is a choice between “socialism and barbarism.”

January 24, 2010

Guest post on Haiti

Filed under: bard college,cruise missile left,Haiti — louisproyect @ 10:36 pm

Mark Danner

John Halle

Mark Danner’s Choice

By John Halle

(John Halle is a music professor at Bard College and the only leftist teaching there, now that Joel Kovel is gone. Mark Danner is a faculty member there as well, epitomizing the prevailing George Soros/New York Review of Books ideology.)

A long standing staple of Fox News discourse claims that liberalism in the academy holds sway as a kind of semi-official ideology.  This view is largely correct, though it should be kept in mind that it is the liberalism targeted in recent denunciations by Adolph Reed and Chris Hedges, not the “radical leftism” of teabaggers and other fantasists of the right.

A more or less paradigmatic example of the former can be found in Mark Danner’s recent NY Times Op-Ed “To Heal Haiti, Look to History” which would be quickly picked up at commondreams.org, Democracy Now! and grit.tv among other sites.

That the piece would be promoted by web organs of the authentic-as opposed to liberal- left was, at least superficially reasonable in that Danner’s (or for that matter anyone’s) minimally accurate thumb nail sketch of Haitian history could not fail but to deliver a stridently anti-imperialist message: Haiti has functioned as “a state built for predation and plunder”, starting with the complete eradication of its native population, to its establishment as the most brutal of slave states, to its functioning in the 20th century as a paradigmatic kleptocracy presided over by a string of vicious dictators serving themselves and the interests of foreign capital.

Danner’s bill of particulars, many of these laid on our doorstep, is of course regrettable, disturbing, and even damning and as such provides an opportunity for the displays of teeth gnashing and garment rending which liberals can be relied on to engage in.  Their doing so requires, however, that one condition is met: that these instances are all safely in the past.

Thus, what is predictably missing in Danner’s discussion is anything other than the vaguest allusion to the recent history of Haiti. And it is this history which is largely responsible for the almost inconceivable scale of the devastation caused by what would otherwise be a major, but by no means unprecedented disaster.

The relevant cause, as is described in the works of Robert Fatton, is demographic: for the past three decades the city of Port au Prince has grown from approximately 300,000 to over 2.5 million inhabitants.  Lacking the infrastructure required to support this population and the financial wherewithal to develop it, most residents of the capital lived in slums lacking the most basic sanitation facilities, with only sporadic access to safe drinking water and frequently subjected to protracted encounters with what NGO’s somewhat euphemistically refer to as “food insecurity”.  Moreover, it hardly needs to be mentioned, building codes were non existent.

It was eminently predictable from these initial conditions that a 7.0 Richter Scale seismic event would materialize as it did with countless thousands buried under rubble, those able to extract themselves doing so in a weakened condition sometimes literally dying of thirst or through opportunistic infections.

If we want to understand as opposed to merely wring our hands about this epic tragedy, we need to inquire into why these conditions obtained.  What accounted for the massive influx into Port au Prince from the rural, agricultural areas?  Danner indirectly alludes to the crucial in his proposal to “America (to) throw open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008.”

Danner has this exactly backward.  As Fatton and others have noted, it is not the failure of the U.S. to open its markets, but rather the converse which is directly implicated in the catastrophe- which is to say two decades of extortionate neo-liberal trade pacts which required Haiti to open its markets to U.S. goods.  Chief among these are heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products, most notably rice.  These were dumped on Haiti with similar results to that in much of the third world:  Farmers unable to compete with cheap imports were driven off their land, selling out to multinational agribusiness and developers, initiating an exodus to the cities offering the prospect of employment in manufacturing sector albeit at near starvation wages.

This is now an old story applying to much of the third world and told in numerous places, most comprehensively in Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums. And so it is reasonable to ask why does Danner fail to mention it?

The answer is necessarily a matter of speculation though it is probably not too cynical to assume that Danner is well aware that his reputation as a “serious” thinker on these and related matters in establishment circles requires that these obvious truths be passed over unacknowledged.

A parade examples of a fall from grace occasioned by failing to respect the boundaries of acceptable discourse is provided by former Times Middle East bureau chief Hedges whose rigorous, informed and brilliant recent works, or “rants”-as they are described when insiders even bother to recognize them, are now relegated to wilds of the internet.

Danner’s perches at the Council on Foreign Relation, the Century Foundation and the Pacific Council for World Affairs and his access to mainstream “print” media (not to mention the substantial fees which accompany these) will remain secure so long as he respects the limits which Hedges transgressed-as will his ultimate legacy as one more apologist for imperial plunder, albeit of the kinder and gentler neo-liberal variety.

If it is to be otherwise, he will need to join Hedges on “the dark side” as it were, by developing the capacity to name those individuals as well as the system (namely capitalism) which is responsible for the conditions which made widespread death and destruction, in Haiti and much of the rest of the third world, inevitable.

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