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Hell in Haiti as aid turns to occupation

This article is over 14 years, 5 months old
Charlie Kimber examines what has happened since the disaster
Issue 2186
A UN soldier on Port-au-Prince (Pic:» Jess Hurd/ )
A UN soldier on Port-au-Prince (Pic: » Jess Hurd/

For all the talk of aid, ordinary people in Haiti are still waiting for basic supplies – and many have had nothing. Geographer Kenneth Hewitt coined the term “classquake” when examining the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, because of the accuracy with which it hit the poor.

It cost the lives of 23,000 people. The classquake in Haiti today, in which at least 150,000 people have died, is even worse.

The earthquake was a natural event. Yet the scale of the suffering is about the way society is organised.

The US could use its vast resources to help people. Instead it is using the catastrophe to intensify its control in Haiti.

It is preparing a long-term occupation that will be justified as a “humanitarian mission”.

Haiti’s poverty, following generations of imperialist and capitalist oppression, is the backdrop to the overcrowded and fragile housing that has proved so disastrous.

And now poor people’s interests are coming second to those of the US and the Haitian elites.

IRIN, the official United Nations (UN) news agency, distributed a press release last Saturday headlined “Haiti: hungry and angry”.

It quoted one woman who said that two large camps hosting 30,000 homeless people had received no organised food aid since the earthquake on the 12 January.

Port-au-Prince resident Jean-Marc Duvert told IRIN, “We are hungry and tired of elected officials taking food intended for us”.

Aid is distributed in a way that keeps UN and US control – and takes power away from Haitians. Racist attitudes mean Haitians are treated like children.

Some 60,000 Haitians have set up a temporary shelter at the Pétionville golf club in Port-au-Prince. The US 82nd Airborne division polices every drop of water and morsel of food they receive.

It distributed 10,000 meals each day until Saturday, making this camp the US military’s largest distribution point in Port-au-Prince.

The military then decided that “the food attracted too many people to a volatile site” – and suspended it.


Lieutenant Brad Kerfoot said, “We told them we wouldn’t give any food away today, because of the way they behaved yesterday.

“My soldiers and I think they’re ungrateful”.

While hundreds of thousands starve and go thirsty, the US-controlled Port-au-Prince airport and neighbouring UN compound have ice-cold beers, internet access, food, blankets, generators and other aid relief from around the globe.

Journalist Caroline Graham wrote last weekend, “Never, in more than 20 years of covering disasters, has the void between the might and power of the Westernised world and the penniless and pitiful people they have been mobilised to ‘save’ been so glaringly obvious to me.”

This gulf is causing entirely justified resentment. On at least two occasions Haitians have marched on the UN compound demanding aid and jobs.

The UN’s answer is repression.

A Cuban television team filmed scenes of UN troops firing rubber bullets and tear gas grenades at crowds of Haitians.

The Haitian police are using the chaos after the earthquake to murder activists who oppose the present regime.

There are dozens of reports of bodies in the streets, hands tied behind their backs – the signature of state death squads.

There are constant media stories about “looters”. The reality is that desperate people are doing whatever is necessary to survive.

Journalist Rebecca Solnit writes, “After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don’t believe in looting.

“The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning.

“Someone who could be you, someone in desperate circumstances, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn’t even call that theft.”

While there are not enough flights to get aid and medical supplies into Haiti, the parasitical rich are still arriving for their photo-ops.

Princess Haya of Jordan flew in last week in her role as a UN goodwill ambassador. She met her country’s troops then flew back to the Dominican Republic – in a private 747.

US officials claim to be helping Haiti’s people. Yet they are making a huge effort to make sure that any Haitians who flee the island are driven back – or drowned.

“Operation Vigilant Security” backs up a small fleet of navy and coastguard vessels with aircraft.


“The goal is to interdict them at sea and repatriate them,” said the US Coast Guard Commander Christopher O’Neil, of the Haitians who may be driven to risk the 681-mile sea crossing to Miami.

Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to Washington, recorded a public information message in Creole warning his countrymen not to “rush on boats to leave the country”.

“If you think you will reach the US and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case,” he said.

Hundreds of immigration detainees have been moved from a South Florida detention centre to clear space for Haitians who do manage to reach the US.

In addition, a large tented city, initially capable of holding 1,000 people, has been readied at the infamous Guantanamo Bay to hold Haitian refugees.

People are needlessly dying in Haiti because those in positions to help are refusing to do so.

Just like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the Haitian earthquake is a condemnation of the world’s rulers.

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