Earthquakes Are Not Simple Events

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Hi. Bunny & I got back from Canada on Thursday night. It was a amazing trip for us. But of course it was also impossible to fully concentrate on our own programmatic stuff because the entire trip coincided with the devastating earthquake in Haiti. We arrived in Toronto on Tuesday, January 12, the same day of the earthquake. When not setting up our exhibition or having meetings or giving talks we were reading the Canadian newspapers about the extent of the damage and also what kind of difficulties are being encountered in trying to retrieve the dead and care for survivors.

Perhaps you have heard that a lot of countries have been criticizing the U.S. for making it more difficult to help the suffering people. And a lot of U.S. Americans have reacted with anger and bewilderment at this charge. If President Obama has pledged 100 million dollars to help Haiti, why is the U.S. now being blamed for something as 'un-political', 'unavoidable', and 'natural' as an earthquake? Well, as usual, the answer is much more complicated than what the U.S. mainstream media has been showing.

Below I put together a few excerpts from various sources that you can read in less than 10 minutes. They are linked to short essays that all together will take less than an hour to read. But they contain essential information and questions that will help people (especially U.S. Americans that probably never heard this stuff before) to rethink our connection to the people of Haiti, a connection that has existed since before the United States even became the United States. Most of this won’t ever appear in the mainstream media. Please read them.

From No hope for Haiti without justice (Mark LeVine, Al Jazeera)

The roots of this collapse are as deep as they are unknown - or unappreciated - by the majority of Americans - although it is widely discussed across the globe.
Haiti, then Saint Dominigue, was among the first islands "discovered" by Columbus, and became France's - and likely Europe's - most profitable colony. Its more than 800,000 slaves produced upwards of half the sugar and coffee consumed in Europe. The discourse of freedom and equality underlying the American and French revolutions had a profound impact on the island's African slave population, who led the first successful slave revolution in the Western hemisphere, creating the first free black republic in the wake of their successful independence struggle against Napoleon's army. Far from embracing the new republic - the second independent country in the Americas - the administration of President Thomas Jefferson, under pressure from southern slave-holding politicians, refused to recognise Haiti.
Just as Communist Cuba was deemed to constitute a grave threat to capitalist America a century and a half later, a revolutionary republic of free Africans set a very bad precedent for its huge neighbour to the Northeast, where slavery was still a major component of the economy. Rather than finding an ally in the still young US, Haiti was shackled with a crushing debt by France as the price of independence.
From democracy to dictatorship
After a century of alternating democratic and dictatorial rule, Haiti was invaded and occupied by US marines from 1915 to 1934, during which time the US overturned laws that restricted foreign ownership, allowing American corporations to gain a permanent foothold in the country's agriculturally dominated economy. The first two decades of post-occupation politics saw as many coups, until stability of a sort was attained with the election of Francois Duvalier, known as "Papa Doc", in 1957. But his rule quickly deteriorated into a brutal dictatorship, equaled in its corruption and violence only by that of his son, Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc"), who ruled from 1971 until 1986. Despite the intense brutality and corruption of the regime, the US supported Duvalier as a counterweight to neighbouring communist Cuba and because of his friendliness to US corporate interests… [edit]
Whitewashing history
Haiti's complex and, from an American point of view, largely unpleasant and unedifying history must be acknowledged if there is to be any hope that the country's internationally financed reconstruction will not merely lay the groundwork for more poverty and disasters. Sadly, Obama, who famously admitted in his 2009 Cairo speech that the US had in fact overthrown the elected government in Iran, has so far said nothing about the even more extensive US history of meddling in Haiti. Instead, writing in Newsweek, the president declared that "at long last, after decades of conflict and instability, Haiti was showing hopeful signs of political and economic progress". Needless to say, if there was any substantive progress, the state would not have utterly disappeared in the rubble of the temblor. Seemingly oblivious to the role of the US and UN in producing Haiti's current woes, Obama declared that: "The United States will be there with the Haitian government and the United Nations every step of the way." If the past is any guide, this does not augur well for the country's future. Indeed, Gerald Zarr, the former USAID Haiti director, was more honest in explaining that "Haiti's going to have to change" - which is code for being even more acquiescent to the kinds of reforms that helped produce the disastrous consequences of the earthquake in the first place… [edit]

From Haiti: An Unwelcome Katrina Redux (Cynthia McKinney, Global Research)

Haitians are not the only ones who know their importance to the struggle against hatred, imperialism, and European domination. This pesky, persistent, stubbornly non-Western, proudly African people of this piece of land that we call Haiti know their history and they know that they militarily defeated the ruling world empire of the day, Napoleon's France, and the global elite at that time who supported him. They know that they defeated the armies of England and Spain.
Haitians know that they used their status as a free state to help liberate Latin Americans from Spain, by funding and fighting alongside Simon Bolivar; their example inspired their still-enslaved African brothers and sisters on the American mainland; and before Haitians were even free, they fought against the British inside the U.S. during its war of independence and won a decisive battle in Savannah, Georgia, where I have visited the statue commemorating that victory.
Haitians know that France imposed reparations on them for being free, and Haiti paid them in full, but that President Aristide called for France to give that money back ($21 billion in 2003 dollars).
Haitians know that their "brother," then-Secretary of State Colin Powell lied to the world upon the kidnapping and second ouster of their President. (Sadly, it wouldn’t be the last time that Secretary of State Colin Powell would lie to the world.) Haitians know, all-too-well, that high-ranking blacks in the United States are capable of helping them and of betraying them.
Haitians know, too, that the United States has installed its political proxies and even its own soldiers onto Haitian soil when the U.S. felt it was necessary.  All in an effort to control the indomitable Haitian spirit that directs much-needed light to the rest of the oppressed world… [edit]
So, on this remembrance of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I note that it was the U.S. government's own illegal Operation Lantern Spike that snuffed out the promise and light of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Every plane of humanitarian assistance that is turned away by the U.S. military (so far from CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, Médecins Sans Frontieres, Brazil, France, Italy, and even the U.S. Red Cross)–as was done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina–and the expected arrival on this very day of up to 10,000 U.S. troops, are lasting reminders of the existential threat that now looms over the valiant, proud people and the Republic of Haiti.

From Seven Questions About Haiti (Toby O’Ryan, Revolution: Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA):

Question One: If you are so concerned about the catastrophe in Haiti, and feel so sympathetic to the terrible plight of the Haitian people, then why has President Obama promised a mere $100 million in aid, which is barely 1/10 of 1% of what this country spends on its military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq each year? Why has it taken so long for the most powerful country on earth, a mere few hundred miles from Haiti, to deliver the badly needed teams and technology which can remove people from rubble, the fresh water which people so desperately need, the food and medicine and medical personnel so urgently required? And why does the U.S. Coast Guard still insist on turning back any Haitian attempting to seek refuge in the U.S.?

I realize a blog is not the best place to have a serious conversation about the relationship between colonization, neoliberalism, and earthquakes. But the news coverage we've been reading and watching since coming back from Canada has been absolutely mindblowing in its lack of critical perspective or historical consciousness. If this blog entry has been useful in raising a few questions in your own mind about how maybe we can really help the people of Haiti beyond more guns, more containment, and more outside control exerted over of their political and economic futures, please send the links to these articles around to your friends. Thank you.

pinky