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ALERT – Jan. 21: All Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American-Caribbean topics are now featured on my other blog: HAITI-CUBA-VENEZUELA ANALYSIS – http://hcvanalysis.wordpress.com

Honduras and related issues will continue to be covered on this blog, HONDURAS OYE! - https://hondurasoye.wordpress.com

HAITI AFTERSHOCK: 6.1 Earthquake Near Port-au-Prince

January 20, 2010

 

Haiti Aftershock: 6.1 Earthquake Near Port-au-Prince

PAUL HAVEN and MICHELLE FAUL | 01/20/10 09:07 AM | AP

Haiti Aftershock
Haiti Aftershock: A 6.0 earthquake has struck Haiti.
Photo of survivors from last week’s 7.0 earthquake
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The most powerful aftershock yet struck Haiti on Wednesday, shaking more rubble from damaged buildings and sending screaming people running into the streets eight days after the country’s capital was devastated by an apocalyptic quake.

The magnitude-6.1 temblor was the largest of more than 40 significant aftershocks that have followed the Jan. 12 quake. The extent of additional damage or injuries was not immediately clear.

Wails of terror rose from frightened survivors as the earth shuddered at 6:03 a.m. U.S. soldiers and tent city refugees alike raced for open ground, and clouds of dust rose in the capital.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday’s quake was centered about 35 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Port-au-Prince and 6.2 miles (9.9 kilometers) below the surface – a little further from the capital than last week’s epicenter was.

“It kind of felt like standing on a board on top of a ball,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Steven Payne. The 27-year-old from Jolo, West Virginia was preparing to hand out food to refugees in a tent camp of 25,000 quake victims when the aftershock hit.

Last week’s magnitude-7 quake killed an estimated 200,000 people in Haiti, left 250,000 injured and made 1.5 million homeless, according to the European Union Commission.

The strong aftershock prompted Anold Fleurigene, 28, to grab his wife and three children and head to the city bus station. His house was destroyed in the first quake and his sister and brother killed.

“I’ve seen the situation here, and I want to get out,” he said.

A massive international aid effort has been struggling with logistical problems, and many Haitians are still desperate for food and water.

Still, search-and-rescue teams have emerged from the ruins with some improbable success stories – including the rescue of 69-year-old ardent Roman Catholic who said she prayed constantly during her week under the rubble.

Ena Zizi had been at a church meeting at the residence of Haiti’s Roman Catholic archbishop when the Jan. 12 quake struck, trapping her in debris. On Tuesday, she was rescued by a Mexican disaster team.

Zizi said after the quake, she spoke back and forth with a vicar who also was trapped. But he fell silent after a few days, and she spent the rest of the time praying and waiting.

“I talked only to my boss, God,” she said. “I didn’t need any more humans.”

Doctors who examined Zizi on Tuesday said she was dehydrated and had a dislocated hip and a broken leg.

Elsewhere in the capital, two women were pulled from a destroyed university building. And near midnight Tuesday, a smiling and singing 26-year-old Lozama Hotteline was carried to safety from a collapsed store in the Petionville neighborhood by the French aid group Rescuers Without Borders.

Crews at the cathedral recovered the body of the archbishop, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, who was killed in the Jan. 12 quake.

Authorities said close to 100 people had been pulled from wrecked buildings by international search-and-rescue teams. Efforts continued, with dozens of teams hunting through Port-au-Prince’s crumbled homes and buildings for signs of life.

But the good news was overshadowed by the frustrating fact that the world still can’t get enough food and water to the hungry and thirsty.

“We need so much. Food, clothes, we need everything. I don’t know whose responsibility it is, but they need to give us something soon,” said Sophia Eltime, a 29-year-old mother of two who has been living under a bedsheet with seven members of her extended family.

The World Food Program said more than 250,000 ready-to-eat food rations had been distributed in Haiti by Tuesday, reaching only a fraction of the 3 million people thought to be in desperate need.

The WFP said it needs to deliver 100 million ready-to-eat rations in the next 30 days, but it only had 16 million meals in the pipeline.

Even as U.S. troops landed in Seahawk helicopters Tuesday on the manicured lawn of the ruined National Palace, the colossal efforts to help Haiti were proving inadequate because of the scale of the disaster. Expectations exceeded what money, will and military might have been able to achieve.

So far, international relief efforts have been unorganized, disjointed and insufficient to satisfy the great need. Doctors Without Borders says a plane carrying urgently needed surgical equipment and drugs has been turned away five times, even though the agency received advance authorization to land.

A statement from Partners in Health, co-founded by the deputy U.N. envoy to Haiti, Dr. Paul Farmer, said the group’s medical director estimated 20,000 people are dying each day who could be saved by surgery.

“TENS OF THOUSANDS OF EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS NEED EMERGENCY SURGICAL CARE NOW!!!!!” the group said in the statement. It did not describe the basis for that estimate.

The reasons are varied:

_ Both national and international authorities suffered great losses in the quake, taking out many of the leaders best suited to organize a response.

_ Woefully inadequate infrastructure and a near-complete failure in telephone and Internet communications have complicated efforts to reach millions of people forced from their homes.

_ Fears of looting and violence have kept aid groups and governments from moving as quickly as they would like.

_ Pre-existing poverty and malnutrition put some at risk even before the quake hit.

Governments have pledged nearly $1 billion in aid, and thousands of tons of food and medical supplies have been shipped. But much remains trapped in warehouses, or diverted to the neighboring Dominican Republic. Port-au-Prince’s nonfunctioning seaport and many impassable roads complicate efforts to get aid to the people.

Aid is being turned back from the single-runway airport, where the U.S. military has been criticized by some of poorly prioritizing flights. The U.S. Air Force said it had raised the facility’s daily capacity from 30 flights before the quake to 180 on Tuesday.

About 2,200 U.S. Marines established a beachhead west of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday to help speed aid delivery, in addition to 9,000 Army soldiers already on the ground. Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, a U.S. military spokesman, said helicopters were ferrying aid from the airport into Port-au-Prince and the nearby town of Jacmel as fast as they could.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the military will send a port-clearing ship with cranes aboard to Port-au-Prince to remove debris that is preventing many larger aid ships from docking.

The U.N. was sending in reinforcements as well: The Security Council voted Tuesday to add 2,000 peacekeepers to the 7,000 already in Haiti, and 1,500 more police to the 2,100-strong international force.

“The floodgates for aid are starting to open,” Matthews said at the airport. “In the first few days, you’re limited by manpower, but we’re starting to bring people in.”

The WFP’s Alain Jaffre said the U.N. agency hoped to help 100,000 people by Wednesday.

Hanging over the entire effort was an overwhelming fear among relief officials that Haitians’ desperation would boil over into violence.

“We’ve very concerned about the level of security we need around our people when we’re doing distributions,” said Graham Tardif, who heads disaster-relief efforts for the charity World Vision. The U.N., the U.S. government and other organizations have echoed such fears.

Occasionally, those fears have been borne out. Looters rampaged through part of downtown Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, just four blocks from where U.S. troops landed at the presidential palace. Hundreds of looters fought over bolts of cloth and other goods with broken bottles and clubs.

USGS geophysicist Bruce Pressgrave said nobody knows if a still-stronger aftershock is possible.

“Aftershocks sometimes die out very quickly,” he said. “In other cases they can go on for weeks, or if we’re really unlucky it could go on for months” as the earth adjusts to the new stresses caused by the initial quake.

___

Associated Press writers contributing include Paul Haven, Michael Melia, Jonathan M. Katz, Michelle Faul and Vivian Sequera in Port-au-Prince; medical writer Margie Mason in Hanoi, Vietnam; Charles J. Hanley in Mexico City; Lori Hinnant in New York; Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; and Seth Borenstein, Pauline Jelinek, Anne Flaherty and Jennifer Loven in Washington.

Venezuela Sends Needed Gasoline and Diesel to Haiti – Press Release

January 20, 2010

 

In English and Spanish 

Venezuela Sends Needed Gasoline and Diesel to Haiti
Shipment for Generation of Electricity and Vehicles Will Arrive ThursdayEmbassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Press and Communications Office/ Jannuary 19,  2010

In response to severe gasoline shortages that have plagued Haiti in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck the island nation on January 12, President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would provide Haiti with all the gasoline and diesel that it needs. He made the announcement on his weekly talk show, Alo Presidente, on Sunday, January 17.

A shipment of 225,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state owned oil company, will be received on Thursday by the Refineria Dominicana de Petroleo, S.A. (Refidomsa) refinery in the Dominican Republic for use in Haiti. The shipment will include gasoline and other oil products for the generation of electricity and for vehicles, including airplanes.

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti consumed 11,000 barrels of oil products per day.

Since the earthquake struck, Haiti has suffered gas shortages that have hampered search-and-rescue operations, the delivery of aid and basic reconstruction efforts.

On January 13 Venezuela sent a C-130 transport plane to Port-au-Prince with supplies, tools, food, doctors and a specialized humanitarian team. A second flight carried needed medicines, sanitation equipment, water and a variety of food products. Since the earthquake struck, Venezuela has sent over 5,000 metric tons of foodstuffs for use in Haiti.

A sixth shipment of humanitarian assistance took place on Monday, January 18, with two cargo ships bearing 125 soldiers and humanitarian workers, 616 tons of foodstuffs and 116 tons of machinery for reconstruction.

On Monday two additional shipments from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA, in Spanish) left the coastal state of Carabobo with 4,761 tons of foodstuffs.

Venezuela’s links to Haiti are historic. Venezuela’s first flag was created in 1806 by independence hero Francisco de Miranda while in Haiti. Additionally, one of Simon Bolivar’s most important expeditions for Venezuela’s independence in 1816 was support by Haiti’s then president, Alexandre Petion, who asked in return that Bolivar free slaves held in Venezuela.

Since 2007, Haiti has been part of Venezuela’s PetroCaribe initiative, through which it has received its oil at preferential financing rates and benefited from the direct commercialization of hydrocarbon products without intermediaries. 

***************************************************


 
Venezuela envía gasolina y diesel necesitado en Haití
El jueves llegará cargamento con combustible para la generación eléctrica y vehículos Unidad de Prensa y Comunicaciones de la Embajada de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela en EE UU/ 19 de enero de 2010

En respuesta a la carencia de combustible que ha afectado a Haití ante el devastador terremoto que  sacudió a esta nación el 12 de enero, el presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez anunció que Venezuela donará a Haití toda la gasolina y diesel que sea necesario. El anuncio lo hizo el jefe de Estado el domingo 17 de enero en su programa dominical, Aló Presidente.

Pdvsa, la compañía estatal petrolera venezolana reportó el envío de 225 mil barriles de diesel y gasolina, que serán recibidos en la Refinería Dominicana de Petróleo, S.A. (Refidomsa) a más tardar este jueves. El cargamento incluye combustibles para la generación  eléctrica y vehículos, incluyendo aviones.

En condiciones normales, Haití consume en promedio aproximadamente 11 mil barriles diarios de productos derivados del petróleo.

Desde el terremoto, Haití ha sufrido carencias de combustible que han afectado las operaciones de rescate, la distribución de ayuda y los esfuerzos iniciales de reconstrucción.

El 13 de enero, Venezuela envió un avión C-13 a Puerto Príncipe con alimentos, herramientas, doctores y expertos en operaciones de rescate. Un segundo avión llevó medicinas, equipos sanitarios, agua y variedad de productos alimenticios. Desde el terremoto Venezuela han enviado más de 5 mil toneladas de alimentos a Haití.

El sexto envío de asistencia humanitaria se realizó este lunes 19 de enero, a través de dos buques con 125 personas –entre profesionales y tropa profesional— y se trasladan un total de 616 toneladas de alimentos de diferentes rubros, además de 116 toneladas en maquinaria para la reconstrucción.

También este lunes, zarparon rumbo a Haití dos embarcaciones de la Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Alba) desde  el estado Carabobo, con 4 mil 761 toneladas de alimentos.

Los vínculos de Venezuela con Haití son históricos. La primera bandera venezolana fue creada en 1806 por el héroe de la independencia Francisco de Miranda, estando en Haití. Una de las más importante expediciones de Simón Bolívar en la lucha por la independencia venezolana (1816), se realizó con el apoyo del entonces presidente de Haití, Alexandre Petion, quién sólo solicitó a cambio que se le diera libertad a los esclavos.

Haití es parte desde 2007 de la iniciativa venezolana Petrocaribe,  a través de la cual recibe los beneficios de la comercialización directa de hidrocarburos sin intermediarios y las facilidades de financiamiento de su demanda de combustibles.

SCAHILL- HAITI: US Security Company Offers to Do “High Threat Terminations” and Confront “Worker Unrest”

January 19, 2010

US Security Company Offers to Perform “High Threat Terminations” and to Confront “Worker Unrest” in Haiti

Here we go: New Orleans 2.0

By Jeremy Scahill

We saw this type of Iraq-style disaster profiteering in New Orleans and you can expect to see a lot more of this in Haiti over the coming days, weeks and months. Private security companies are seeing big dollar signs in Haiti thanks in no small part to the media hype about “looters.” After Katrina, the number of private security companies registered (and unregistered) multiplied overnight. Banks, wealthy individuals, the US government all hired private security. I even encountered Israeli mercenaries operating an armed check-point outside of an elite gated community in New Orleans. They worked for a company called Instinctive Shooting International. (That is not a joke).

Now, it is kicking into full gear in Haiti. As we know, the member companies of the Orwellian-named mercenary trade association, the International Peace Operations Association, are offering their services in Haiti. But look for more stories like this one:

On January 15, a Florida based company called All Pro Legal Investigations registered the URL Haiti-Security.com. It is basically a copy of the company’s existing US website but is now targeted for business in Haiti, claiming the “purpose of this site is to act as a clearinghouse for information seekers on the state of security in Haiti.”

“All Protection and Security has made a commitment to the Haitian community and will provide professional security against any threat to prosperity in Haiti,” the site proclaims. “Job sites and supply convoys will be protected against looters and vandals. Workers will be protected against gang violence and intimidation. The people of Haiti will recover, with the help of the good people from the world over.”

The company boasts that it has run “Thousands of successful missions in Iraq & Afghanistan.” As for its personnel, “Each and every member of our team is a former Law Enforcement Officer or former Military service member,” the site claims. “If Operator experience, training and qualifications matter, choose All Protection & Security for your high-threat Haiti security needs.”

Among the services offered are: “High Threat terminations,” dealing with “worker unrest,” armed guards and “Armed Cargo Escorts.” Oh, and apparently they are currently hiring.

Upping the Ante: More US Soldiers, More “Peacekeepers,” and More Haitians Tell UN to Go to Hell on the “Looting” Thing

January 19, 2010

HOT INDIE NEWS

Last News Haiti earthquake
January 19, 2010

U.S. troops spread throughout the capital, U.N. Security Council votes to send more forces. The Paris Club asks creditors to forgive the nation’s debt.

U.S. forces fanned out in Haiti’s ruined capital today as part of a building global relief effort that still had yet to reach hundreds of thousands of needy residents a week after the devastating 7.0 earthquake.

In Port-au-Prince, aid workers, supplies and U.S. troops continued to flow in in increasing numbers. A number of U.S. military helicopters touched down on the grounds of the damaged presidential palace this morning, dropping off more than 100 U.S. troops, according to wire-service reports.

Meanwhile, the world’s relief effort included a call this morning by the Paris Club of international creditors for wealthy nations to cancel debts owed by Haiti so that it can rebuild. And in New York, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution to raise its own cap on the size of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, increasing the number of troops by 2,000 and police officers by 1,500.

In Haiti’s capital, U.S. troops, in full combat gear, unloaded boxes of water bottles and food rations and appeared to be setting up a base at the palace, Reuters reported.

Haitians crowded the fence of the compound to watch, and some cheered as soldiers arrived, news reports said.

Several thousand more soldiers and Marines began arriving on Monday as part of a U.S. mobilization that involved more than 10,000 troops. They will provide food and water and will work to repair the badly damaged seaport to permit the delivery of larger quantities of goods. Troops also were standing by to help provide security amid scattered reports of looting and gunfire in the capital.

U.S. forces already are running the city’s airport, which has been the main portal for thousands of tons of emergency supplies and rescuers.

Offshore, a growing flotilla of U.S. vessels serves as a floating military base and airport for aircraft delivering goods. Some injured Haitians also have been airlifted to the ships for emergency medical treatment.

The Paris Club, an informal grouping of creditor governments from industrialized countries that meets monthly in Paris, said members agreed in July to cancel debts that at the time totaled $214 million. Today, it called on other creditors to follow suit.

“Considering the financing needs that Haiti will face in reconstructing the country, Paris Club creditors call upon other bilateral creditors also to urgently provide full debt cancellation to Haiti,” the group said in a statement.

The group estimated that Haiti’s total public external debt stood at nearly $1.9 billion in September 2008.

The U.N.’s decision today to raise the cap on the size of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti brings the total U.N. force to 8,940 troops and 3,711 police officers on the ground to deal with the disaster. What is unclear is how soon the additional troops and officers will get there.

Radio Metropole, citing Haitian government officials, reported today that the bodies of 70,000 quake victims had been buried so far.

The Haitian government has mobilized as well as it could to remove the dead, clear debris and move survivors to the provinces to relieve pressure on the relief effort. On Monday, public buses traveled the road west out of Port-au-Prince filled with people and luggage heading out of town.

The government, weak in the best of circumstances, was trying to function from a yard outside a police station near the airport. Many government buildings in the center of the city — including the National Palace, Parliament, the health and foreign ministries and Port-au-Prince city hall — were destroyed.

Looters pilfered from a wholesale food market on the Grand Rue downtown Monday afternoon. U.N. and Haitian police tried to stop them, to no avail.

“The population was throwing stones at us to stop us from preventing the looting,” said Gabriel Diallo, a United Nations officer from Guinea. “They said we can’t stop them from looting the food because they were hungry.”

The looters then burned down the store, sending a black cloud into the air that added one more dystopian element to the scene.

As the police stood by a block away, two gunshots rang out from the main street.

On Monday, the 82nd Airborne carried out its first air drop of food and water in Port-au-Prince. A C-17 cargo plane dropped 40 pallets of water and packaged military meals at a secured drop zone in the city, said Maj. Brian Fickel, a spokesman for the division at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

The food and water were wrapped in canvas and attached to parachutes for the drop. The delivery had to be made away from crowds to avoid injuries, Fickel said. The pallets contained 14,000 gallons of bottled water and 15,000 meals.

The Navy stopped doing food drops from helicopters over the weekend because of the chaos it was creating with no security on the ground.

In the suburb of Carrefour on Monday, people gathered in a field where the Navy had done four food drops over the weekend. At 2 p.m., a helicopter circled and then left.

One man said the crowd mobbed the helicopters each time they landed, forcing the Navy crew to dump the boxes of bottled water and military rations from the air.

“People started fighting. They are pulling machetes on each other,” he said. “Some of them got some. Some didn’t.”

U.S. troops will not take on a policing role, and security will remain the primary responsibility of the U.N., Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters during a flight to India. But he added that U.S. forces distributing aid had the ability to defend themselves and others.

“Anywhere we deploy out troops, they have the authority and right to defend themselves,” Gates said. “They also have the right to defend innocent Haitians and other members of the international community if they see something happening.”

European Union bodies and member states have offered more than $400 million in relief and recovery aid. The Obama administration already has pledged $100 million in U.S. emergency aid.

In a sign that the relief effort was picking up steam, the U.N. World Food Program said Monday it would hand out 220 tons of ready-to-eat meals to 95,000 Haitians, an increase over the 67,000 people fed a day earlier.

The agency planned to hand out 10 million meals, plus rice and high-energy biscuits, during the next week, and estimated that it would need to provide 100 million meals during the next 30 days.

Witness for Peace Video: HONDURAS – “Shot in the Back”

January 19, 2010
 

 

HONDURAS – ‘SHOT IN THE BACK”

 

 Dear Supporter,I know your heart, like mine, breaks over and over as new reports come out of Haiti. While we continue to remember Haiti and support the rescue and rebuilding efforts, we cannot forget the other disasters ongoing in the hemisphere. Today I ask you to give some room in your heart to the tragedy in Honduras.Please take just ten short minutes to watch Shot in the Back. This newest Witness for Peace Productions video chronicles the ongoing violence facing Hondurans. Over a month after national elections that the U.S. administration claimed would restore democracy, community activists and local leaders continue to receive death threats and intimidation. We must continue to stand with human rights leaders seeking justice.

You can help keep U.S. military aid out of the hands of human rights abusers in Honduras. After you watch the video, please click here to send a message to President Obama today calling on him to continue to suspend all U.S. military aid to the brutal Honduran security forces.

Our partners are asking us to help them amplify their voices. Please take a few minutes to send this video out to anyone you know who cares about protecting human rights and democracy by forwarding this email, through Facebook, or both.

We cannot do this important work without you.

In solidarity,

Sharon Hostetler
Executive Director

P.S. See for yourself the tragic long-term effects of the coup portrayed in the new WFP video. Join us as we return to Honduras April 3-11, 2010, to stand in solidarity with courageous leaders who continue to put their lives at risk to create a new world for themselves and their communities.

 

 


Politics of the Earthquake: Respect the People of Haiti

January 19, 2010

  January 18, 2010

Politics of The Earthquake: Respect the People of Haiti

By Robert Roth
Haiti Action Committee

In June of 2004, I went to Haiti with two other members of the Haiti Action Committee. We were there to investigate the effects of the political earthquake in which the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been overthrown by a coup orchestrated by the United States, France and Canada.

What we saw still resonates. Hundreds of families who had had to flee their homes in the face of repression, thousands of grass roots activists in prison because of their association with Aristide’s Lavalas movement, literacy projects and schools destroyed, community-based activists forced into exile, Haiti returned to elite control in the name of “stability” and “security”.

We also saw the beginnings of the United Nations occupation, labeled “peacekeeping” by UN (Minustah) authorities, but clearly seen by the popular movement as the beginning of an international take-over of Haiti

The coup devastated Haiti. It shattered the promises of a truly democratic period in Haitian history. It interrupted a process of building schools (more schools were built under Lavalas governments than had been built in all of Haitian history), establishing health clinics and parks in the poorest communities, support for literacy efforts among women, respect for the indigenous religion of Vodou, and a commitment to the development of Haitian agriculture in the face of the flooding of Haitian markets by U.S. goods.

Six years later, here we are. Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular political party in Haiti, has been banned from participating in elections, with the full support of the United States. The Preval government has tailored its policies to what the United States demands, rather than to what the people need. There is a deep fissure between the people and the official government, a deep gap between the occupied and the occupiers.

Yes, the earthquake was a violent natural disaster, presenting overwhelming challenges to any government or any aid responders. Yet, it is clear that this natural disaster — just like that of Hurricane Katrina — is compounded by a political failure, the continuation of generations of assaults against Haiti, and — in particular — a brutal UN/US occupation that has brought to a grinding halt the promise of the Aristide years.

Now we watch the U.S. gear up for a massive military operation in Haiti, while people die due to lack of medicine, or starve while food supplies sit on the airport tarmac. We see the pictures of families digging their relatives out of the rubble, with no aid in sight. We read the usual racist slurs against Haitians, called “scavengers” or “looters” when, after many days with no assistance, they look for food and water in abandoned homes. We read that the problems of Haiti are rooted in “their culture and religious beliefs”, rather than in the harsh realities of colonialism and occupation. We hear CNN reports of a field hospital being ordered out of a community for “security reasons” by the United Nations, even in the face of wounded and dying people. And we read that Doctors Without Borders cargo planes were denied landing space in Port-au-Prince by U.S. military authorities.

This is a time to respect the resiliency and courage of the Haitian people. It is a time for aid, not charity, for solidarity not a U.S. military take-over. And it is a time to return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to his homeland.

HAITI’S CLASSQUAKE by Jeb Sprague

January 19, 2010

January 19, 2010
Haiti’s Classquake

By Jeb Sprague

Just five days prior to the 7.0 earthquake that shattered Port-au-Prince on January 12th, the Haitian government’s Council of Modernisation of Public Enterprises (CMEP) announced the planned 70% privatization of Teleco, Haiti’s public telephone company.

Today Port-au-Prince lies in ruins, with thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands dead, entire neighborhoods cut off, many buried alive.  Towns across the southern peninsula, such as Léogâne, are said to be in total ruin with an untold number of victims.   Haiti’s president, René Préval, and his administration remain largely inept, absent from Port-au-Prince and even the local radio.

At Pont Morin in the Bois Verna section of the capital, Teleco’s office building is badly damaged.  One twitter poster in Port-au-Prince on Monday warned local residents to evacuate “After the latest evaluations of the building, they’ve noticed that the main poles of the structure are damaged.”

With masses of people unable to get critical emergency medical care, water and basic supplies, the lack of local state infrastructure and personnel is plainly apparent.

Instead of investing in social programs and government infrastructure that could have helped care for the people of Port-au-Prince, especially following such a natural disaster, Haiti’s government has long been pressured by the United States and International Financial Institutions to sell off its infrastructure, to shut down government sponsored soup kitchens, to lower tariffs that might benefit the rural economy.

The demographic trend in Haiti over the last few decade’s showcases the impact of capitalist globalization: the movement of rural folks to slums in Port-au-Prince, often perched in large clumps precariously on hillsides.

“Slums begin with bad geology,” writer and historian Mike Davis explains. In his book Planet of Slums, Davis describes the explosion of slum communities in today’s era of global capitalism. Billions have no choice but to live in close proximity to environmental and geological disaster, Davis explains.

In mid-2007, Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre and I wrote a piece for IPS (Inter Press Service) that investigated the gutting of Haiti’s public telephone company. We interviewed public sector workers laid off in droves. The government’s plan was to reduce Teleco employees from 3,293 to less than one thousand. By 2010 Préval’s appointed heads of Teleco had terminated employment for two-thirds of the workers at the company. During his first term in office from 1996-2001, Préval had already sold off the government’s Minoterie flourmill and public cement company.

Préval now follows through with the Cadre de Coopération Intérimaire (CCI), a macro-economic adjustment program formulated by his unelected predecessor (the interim regime of Gerard Latortue), along with international donor institutions and local sub-grantee groups. Privatization has been one plank of neoliberalism in Haiti.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Haiti was pressured to lower tariffs on foreign rice, bringing down the few protections in place for its local economy. With a lack of opportunity in the countryside, migration to the nation’s capital intensified. Hundreds of thousands took up residence in poorly constructed shantytowns, many in hillside slums such as Carrefour.

Using the worn-out rhetoric of nationalism to draw attention away from the implementation of policies favorable to global capitalism, government functionaries in Haiti have worked closely with IFI, NGO and governmental advisors and experts from abroad.   For those Haitian politicians unwilling to go along with these plans, the brute force of coup d’états, economic embargo and reoccurring civil society training missions from abroad have reinforced the “right way” to govern.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the Haitian state evaporated. Police searched for their own loved-ones, as government ministries and UN bases lay in ruins, many top officials now dead under tons of fallen concrete.

 Widely criticized for failing in the days following the quake to visit or speak out on the radio to the neighborhoods of the capital in turmoil, Préval and other aloof Haitian government leaders have been encamped at a police station on the cities edge meeting with foreign leaders and journalists.  On Tuesday Préval went to Santo Domingo in the neighboring Dominican Republic to confer further with aid officials.

The Washington Post explained “The U.S. government views Préval, an agronomist by training, as a technocrat largely free of the sharp political ideologies that have divided Haiti for
decades. But at a time when tragedy is forcing the country essentially to begin again, Préval’s aversion to the public stage has left millions of Haitians wondering whether there is a government at all.”

 Hundreds of journalists have streamed into Port-au-Prince, while the U.S. military has set up base-camp at the damaged national airport with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the ground.  Giving priority to unloading heavy weaponry, U.S. forces have turned away a number of large planes carrying medical and rescue equipment, prompting protests from France, Venezuela and the Médecins sans frontières.

 International media outlets show images of Haitians digging with pieces of concrete at collapsed buildings. But over the days the cries of loved ones buried below have slowly fallen silent.

 Other media have begun to show images of poor people in the capital’s downtown searching for food, calling them “looters”, when in fact mass starvation occurs as shotgun-wielding security guards attempt to cordon off the rubble of some of the larger markets.

 Given the past decades of forced austerity measures imposed upon Haiti, it has been nearly impossible for the country to build up a larger government, one with more capacity to deal with emergencies, to support social investment projects, soup kitchens, or even improved slum housing. The overthrown Aristide government, 2001-2004, though severely crippled by aid embargoes and elite-backed death squads and opposition groups, had refused privatization, instituted a national program of soup kitchens and literacy centers, and even constructed a few blocks of improved slum housing in the capital (as covered at the time in an article by the former government newspaper L’Union).

Those small but welcome measures are a thing of the past.  The repression of attempts by the people to have a say through democratic means and the forced subjugation of the local economy to global capitalism parallels the assumption of power by elites disconnected from the people they govern.  These are the technocratic elites that Sociologist William I. Robinson in his book A Theory of Global Capitalim refers to as “transnationalised fractions of local dominant groups in the South…sometimes termed a ‘modernizing bourgeoisie’, who have overseen sweeping processes of social and economic restructuring and integration into the global economy and society.”  Out from the ashes, do not be surprised if the Haitian people refuse to accept this.

Geographer Kenneth Hewitt coined the term ‘classquake’ in examining the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala that cost the lives of 23,000 people, because of the accuracy with which it struck down the poor. The classquake in Haiti today is much worse, compounded by decades of capitalist globalization and U.S. intervention.

Jeb Sprague received a Project Censored Award in 2008 for an article he published with the Inter Press Service (IPS) from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Visit his university website:  http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~jhsprague/