I cringe when I hear folks like Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon use the word “solidarity” in the same breath as “Haiti.” I’m all for solidarity with the Haitian people, but when it is expressed by the likes of Cannon, I gag.
The Haitian disaster relief program is a thinly disguised military operation to secure the country for corporate interests. Sure, some people are getting food and medical attention, but not nearly enough, given the resources and capabilities of the United States and Canada.
President Obama’s response to the tragedy in Haiti has been robust in military deployment and puny in what the Haitians need most: food; first responders and their specialized equipment; doctors and medical facilities and equipment; and engineers, heavy equipment, and heavy movers. Sadly, President Obama is dispatching Presidents Bush and Clinton, and thousands of Marines and U.S. soldiers. By contrast, Cuba has over 400 doctors on the ground and is sending in more; Cubans, Argentinians, Icelanders, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and many others are already on the ground working–saving lives and treating the injured.
Obama’s and Harper’s emphasis on a military response makes sense when you review the history of Canada and the U.S. in the region and factor in Haiti’s undeveloped petroleum reserves.
Haiti has been under a military occupation — ostensibly a U.N. program to stabilize the country — since 2004 when the U.S. Marines (with Canadian complicity) kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and spirited him out of the country. The lead-up to the coup included years of economic destabilization brought on by IMF-imposed “structural adjustments” and covert CIA support for Aristide’s opponents (who yearned for the good old days when the Tonton Macoutes would keep the masses in line).
Aristide remains popular among the poor majority in Haiti for the reforms he tried to implement. Who knows what could happen in the wake of an earthquake that not only killed hundreds of thousands but also totally destroyed state and international infrastructure and control? The resulting instability offers an opening for Aristide supporters that must cause unease in Washington, Ottawa and corporate boardrooms that benefit from keeping the Haitians down.
Haiti is popularly understood to be the poorest country the Americas, and one of the poorest in the world. More sophisticated measurements can be found here. The fact is, 80 per cent of the population is dirt poor, living on less than $1,000 a year and often, literally, eating dirt. (If you want to see Haitians eating dirt, watch Inside a Failed State – Haiti, a recent film by Journeyman Pictures.)
Haitians are poor, in large measure, because wages are low and labour standards are nonexistent. According to Canada-Haiti Action, the Canadian firm Gildan, with nearly 8000 employees in the textile sector, is the biggest employer in Haiti, after the Haitian government. The Montreal-based company has been accused of relying on sweatshop labour.
While Haitians are poor, the country is resource rich. For example, Majescor Resources Inc., a Canadian mining company, last year partnered with SIMACT, a group of Canadian financiers and Haitian-American developers, to explore for gold and copper in Haiti.
But I doubt that Obama is dispatching the Marines to safeguard the interests of Canadian T-shirt manufacturers and mining companies. More compelling are reports of sizable, undeveloped petroleum reserves. There is credible evidence that Haiti’s oil patch makes Venezuela’s look tiny by comparison. Read Ezili Danto’s superb discussion of this, entitled Oil in Haiti – Economic Reasons for the UN/US occupation, published last October, on OpenSalon.com.
There is a lot to know about Haiti that you won’t find in the mainstream media. Here are some alternative sources I highly recommend:
- Global Research: Crisis and Despair in Haiti
- Coalition Against the Arms Trade: A Very Canadian Coup d’état in Haiti
- Canada-Haiti Action (has recommendations for where to send your financial expressions of solidarity)
Canadians are responding generously and we need to redouble our efforts. However, our governments (Liberal and Conservative) continue to mislead us about the nature of their involvement with Haiti, prior to and following the quake. We can’t let them get away with this.
Haiti earthquake – U.S. aid mission under scrutiny
(Al Jazeera English, Jan. 19, 2009) Thousands of US troops have arrived on the island, trying to offer security and distribute what humanitarian aid there is.
And the UN Security Council is expected to approve the deployment of 3,500 extra UN troops.
But critics say before more security forces arrive, it is medical equipment, nurses and doctors that need to be allowed access to the country if aid efforts can really begin to reach those most in need.
Sebastian Walker reports from Port-au-Prince.