Remember By Doing

Robbing Haiti Again

Posted in Uncategorized by rememberbydoing on January 16, 2010

The earthquake in Haiti has made public the depth of resilience and despair in that country. Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian immigrant author, has said “It seems like the abyss of a very long and painful history of natural and political disasters.”

The need is so immense.  And I’m wondering about the international aid that is rushing to the scene.  When need is immense, it seems like that one-sided relationship of charity/victim becomes so stark, and then once the need isn’t as immense, those “philanthropic”/”givers” can return to life as normal and forget about the causes of that need, and the direct connections of under/over-privilege.  Naomi Klein calls it “disaster capitalism:”  “crises are often used now as the pretext for pushing through policies that you cannot push through under times of stability. Countries in periods of extreme crisis are desperate for any kind of aid, any kind of money, and are not in a position to negotiate fairly the terms of that exchange.”.

I was recently asked how the prison-industrial complex affects my life, and while I don’t have any relatives/friends (friends of friends, yes) in prison, I went to middle and high school in Marin County, the opulent, beautiful, and wealthy home of San Quentin Prison.  I therefore have a visual reminder of how my over-privilege (excellent public schools funded by the tax dollars/other dollars of rich white folks, great housing, college education, organic foods, freedom from pollution, health care, etc) is connected to the imprisoned under-privilege (poor schooling, lack of opportunities for employment, lack of health care, etc) of the prisoners inside.  My community had money to invest in the things that make people healthy, cared for, and have ownership over their fates.  This money comes from profits/investments/a capitalist system that has to pay low wages and cut costs in order to make a profit and has a poor/working class structured in to it.  And those are disproportionately the folks who end up in prison.

Globally, we see this in Haiti, a nation of slaves that rebelled and took  their nation back from France, but were forced to pay for it ($21 billion in today’s currency).  They started out robbed, and continued to be forced to be reliant on the debt entrapment schemes of the rich through CAFTA and other “aid” schemes that Pierre Labossiere outlines here.  ” People fight for their freedom, the former enslaved people, enslaved Africans – they break the chains of slavery. Their land has been robbed of their natural resources. Yet we are the ones who still owe the people who made us work from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night.”

So what do we do now, in the face of this intense suffering?  While an earthquake is a deathly, random event that no one can be blamed for, the lack of healthcare, support, and relief available can be, as can our reactions.  Michelle Chen on Racewire: “This is the untenable choice Haiti may be faced with now: death or subjugation to a foreign power hostile to democracy on the island. Outside of the country, the Haitian community and their supporters do have choices. As the floodgates open to geopolitical opportunism, activists can step up their vigilance to ensure that politicians’ supposedly good intentions aren’t exploited to further dispossess the Global South.”   Obama is appointing George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, two poverty-mongers, to be the political face of the money-raising efforts, which shows that this relief effort will be business as usual.  If you’re going to give, give to someone who understands the historical context and isn’t there to take: HERF, Doctors without Borders, Partners in Health.  Naomi Klein also thinks we should do this:

One. Allow all Haitians in the US to work. The number one source of money for poor people in Haiti is the money sent from family and workers in the US back home. Haitians will continue to help themselves if given a chance. Haitians in the US will continue to help when the world community moves on to other problems.

Two. Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief – but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.

Three. Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.

Four. Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.

Five. President Obama can enact Temporary Protected Status for Haitians with the stroke of a pen. Do it. The US has already done it for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Somalia. President Obama should do it on Martin Luther King Day.

Six. Respect Human Rights from Day One. The UN has enacted Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People. Make them required reading for every official and non-governmental person and organization. Non governmental organizations like charities and international aid groups are extremely powerful in Haiti – they too must respect the human dignity and human rights of all people.

Seven. Apologize to the Haitian people everywhere for Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

Eight. Release all Haitians in US jails who are not accused of any crimes. Thirty thousand people are facing deportations. No one will be deported to Haiti for years to come. Release them on Martin Luther King day.

Nine. Require that all the non-governmental organizations which raise money in the US be transparent about what they raise, where the money goes, and insist that they be legally accountable to the people of Haiti.

Ten. Treat all Haitians as we ourselves would want to be treated.


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