Some thoughts on Haiti

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The events in Haiti have left me just like many others leaving feeling distraught and helpless. Short of donating money and, for those of us who can, leaving for Haiti to lend a helping hand, there doesn’t seem to be a lot more we can do.

I have been struggling for the last week to come up with words that reflect both the deep pain I feel at the suffering of those in Haiti as well as the deep joy I feel in seeing the world come together, as yet again, the worse sufferings is making the best shine out of the hearts of countless millions who are praying, donating  money and even risking their lives to help.

Yet at the same time, I can’t help but ask – in typical Sahar fashion, some of you might think – how we could have acted sooner to allay some of the suffering in Haiti. While we cannot control the movement of tectonic plates, we can ensure that those living in areas of great danger are housed in buildings that are not about the collapse even on a good day. I would be very interested to know how many lives could have been saved and how much suffering could have been alleviated if Haiti had been a industrialized nation rather than a developing country.

The other thing that has me deeply worried are signs that corporate greed might be tainting the selflessness of the abovementioned countless millions of people. I do not unfortunately as of yet have the know how to identify for myself such signs, but have been reading reports by such people as Naomi Klein (author of The Shock Doctrine) and wondering what can I do to help prevent such an injustice from happening again.

On Naomi Klein’s website we can find the following article, written on the 18th of January: US “Security” Companies Offer “Services” in Haiti, By Jeremy Scahill: “The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group, the International Peace Operations Association, didn’t waste much time in offering the “services” of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old fashioned humanitarian assistance disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special web page for prospective clients, saying: “In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.”

While some of the companies specialize in rapid housing construction, emergency relief shelters and transportation, others are private security companies that operate in Iraq and Afghanistan like Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater’s massive State Department contract in Iraq. For years, Blackwater played a major role in IPOA until it left the group following the 2007 Nisour Square massacre.

In 2005, while still a leading member of IPOA, Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince deployed his forces in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Far from some sort of generous gift to the suffering people of the US gulf, Blackwater raked in some $70 million in Homeland Security contracts that began with a massive no-bid contract to provide protective services for FEMA. Blackwater billed US taxpayers $950 per man per day.

The current US program under which armed security companies work for the State Department in Iraq—the Worldwide Personal Protection Program—has its roots in Haiti during the Clinton administration. In 1994, private US forces, such as DynCorp, became a staple of US operations in the country following the overthrow of Jean Bertrand Aristide by CIA-backed death squads. When President Bush invaded Iraq, his administration radically expanded that program and turned it into the privatized paramilitary force it is today. At the time of his overthrow in 2004, Aristide was being protected by a San Francisco-based private security firm, the Steele Foundation.

What is unfolding in Haiti seems to be part of what Naomi Klein has labeled the “Shock Doctrine.” Indeed, on the Heritage Foundation blog, opportunity was being found in the crisis with a post titled: “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.” “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region,” wrote Heritage fellow Jim Roberts in a post that was subsequently altered to tone down the shock doctrine language. The title was later changed to: “Things to Remember While Helping Haiti.”

Shocking, isn’t it.

And while I don’t have the answers, I do have faith that people, now more than ever, would be willing and ready to arise and stand in the name of justice in Haiti, so that the consequences from last week’s earthquake will be limited to the physical consequences of said quake and not become limitless as the economic suffering subsequent to the application of the shock doctrine to yet another helpless country in such a time of need.

I’m going to try getting in touch with Naomi Klein to see if there are any concrete actions that we can make. Until then, sharing this information would be the first step. The second step would for us to inform ourselves and to start a conversation within which hopefully we can soon discern the actions that we can take.

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2 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Haiti

  1. The answer to your first question is 63. This is the number of people that died in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. It was a 7.0 on the Richter scale, just like the one that shook Port-au-Prince.

    If Haiti were an developed nation with construction standards it is likely that most of the buildings could have survived the quake and the death toll would be smaller.

    The tragedy in Haiti is that the untold billions spent on aid have not raised the country out of its distressing situation. The question is then how best can this be achieved? Education, free trade, direct foreign investment?

    As for Naomi Klein, well, look at it this way. She has an axe to grind and she can spin things to “prove” her theory any which way she likes.

    Two questions seem important to ask in regards to this security firm you mention: (1) who is paying the bill? Since Haiti can’t afford it, than probably the services of this firm are ultimately born by the United States which will eventually foot the bills through State Department or through US aid funding; (2) are such firms providing much needed expertise and services during a time of dire need? If so, why is this morally wrong?

    Are the builders who are going to swoop into Haiti to clear the rumble and build earthquake proof structures taking advantage of the poor defenseless Haitians or are they providing much needed expertise and a necessary product and service?

    Something to think about.


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