Haiti’s Disaster, Now a U.S. Made Catastrophe

Last week Haiti suffered a powerful earthquake, 7.0 in magnitude, in its capital and most densely populated regions. The impact of this earthquake on the poorest country in the Western hemisphere has been disastrous. Estimates put the number dead at more than 100,000. Tens of thousands need immediate medical attention. An estimated 3.5 million people are in need of food, water and shelter and only a few tens of thousands are receiving aid. Much of the country lies in ruins.

We have seen an outpouring of concern as people around the world became aware of the level of human misery and destruction. Working people and the rich and famous, have donated millions of dollars to organizations like Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders, that are providing needed services right now. Nurses and doctors around the world have volunteered their services. Cuba and Venezuela have sent medical and other aid.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has focused on sending in the military. They first took control of the airport at the capital, and are bringing in 10,000 troops. U.S. officials claim they are having difficulty getting aid and aid personnel into the region.

But organizations and governments trying to get aid in to assist the people report that the U.S. has created a bottleneck with its control of the airport and refusal to allow planes to land. Planes have to land in distant airports, some in the Dominican Republic on the other side of the mountainous island. Every hour lost means more people die unnecessarily.

We saw a similar response following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The government refused to provide humanitarian aid. What was more important, in New Orleans and now in Haiti, is getting military control in the area, shooting people going into stores to get food, medicines, drinks and clothing. It is true that in an increasingly desperate population, some people will end up committing individual acts of violence.

But the individual acts of violence that will be sensationalized are nothing compared to the long history of violence directed at the people of Haiti. Haiti is a country born out of violence – the violence of slavery. It was against this violence that the population of the island fought against the brutal slavery imposed by the French. In 1804 the revolt of the enslaved people of Haiti emerged as a victorious revolution, establishing the Republic of Haiti.

Since then, the French and the U.S. have used their power to punish the people of Haiti. First it was to set an example for enslaved people in the Caribbean and North and South America, that slave revolts would be met with brutal repression. Despite their efforts, the French were unable to overturn the revolution. So they turned to an economic attack, demanding enormous reparations for their loss in the slave trade, which impoverished Haiti for years.

This was followed by a U.S. invasion and brutal occupation of the island from 1915-1934. The U.S. occupation imposed and maintained dictatorships. This control allowed plantations to be set up, followed by the sweatshops of today. The majority of the population has been condemned to a grinding poverty. Forced off the land to live in shacks and poorly constructed buildings around the capital, which now collapsed with the earthquake, leaving people homeless and destitute. Meanwhile, the wealth of Haiti has been drained by U.S. corporations and banks with a share going to corrupt rulers who maintained imperialism’s order.

In 2004, the U.S. overthrew the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, kidnapping him and flying him to the Central African Republic. The corrupt government, in place today, disappeared after the earthquake providing no organization to help the people.

The earthquake that struck Haiti was a natural disaster. But the suffering, poverty, death and destruction is the legacy of the rule of French and U.S. imperialism.