Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. But why? It lies off the coast of the U.S. Why doesn't Haiti profit from being near what has historically been such a wealthy nation? Here's a good article that provides an overview.
France claimed to own Haiti as a colony, and took all its resources for years. Even after France was thrown out, other nations continued to invade, attack, stage coups, contribute to instability in that country. The U.S. has invaded and occupied Haiti many times over the years and worked directly or indirectly to overthrow goverments that we did not like.
In the early 1990s, the Haitians elected a man named Aristide who was a progressive. Among other things, he demanded that France pay reparations to Haiti for all the money they had stolen over the years. He was trying to help the people of his country. This type of populist government has never been tolerated by the U.S., which believes that all countries anywhere within its military grasp should obey the U.S., do as told, live under dictatorships when instructed, and remain available as a slave and resource colony for U.S. corporations. So Aristide was overthrown in a coup funded by the U.S., and removed from power.
The U.S. has, among other things, used Haiti as a dumping ground for U.S. subsidized exports to further destabilize their country, and to expand the control of the U.S. Monsanto-controlled agribusiness. For example, the U.S.-AID program began dumping rice into Haiti at prices far below what their own farmers charged. Through this process, the U.S. put most of the rice farmers in Haiti out of business, forced them off of their lands, and drove them to move into the urban areas, live in cardboard shacks, and be available for day labor for U.S. corporate interests.
Once the local rice farmers had been put out of business, the U.S. began raising the price it charged for rice, which led to widespread starvation throughout Haiti in recent years. There were documented reports that the people in Haiti were feeding their children dirt just to fill their stomachs with something. We saw no massive relief effort to help those poor people when they were starving due to U.S. Monsanto Agribusiness trade policies imposed on them against their will.
"Rice was once the country's leading export, until Haiti succumbed to International Monetary Fund pressures and opened its borders to foreign trade -- mostly U.S. -- in the mid-1980s, the heyday of the free-market "neoliberal" economic model, now under attack throughout the developing world."
"With the elimination of trade barriers, the country was flooded with subsidized U.S. rice, which spelled disaster for local producers."
"Domestic and foreign sales of Haitian rice dropped by 50 percent, pushing droves of almost famine-stricken peasants towards the capital's slums. In just over two decades, the population of Port-au-Prince doubled to an estimated four million people today."
"Some trees still grow in the region, and family farming remains a constant, with a small plot planted next to every house along the gravel roads that are rendered impassable by the yearly arrival of heavy rains and flooding. It seems that life in Haiti moves from one extreme to the other, and the only middle ground is the disturbing statistic bearing the number 50."
"Haiti produces only 50 percent of the food consumed there, the average life expectancy is around 50 years, 50 percent of the population is illiterate, and the same proportion is aged 21 or under. Just over 50 percent of Haitians have access to drinking water and sewage services, and roughly the same percentage suffers from malnutrition."
"In this Caribbean island nation, a child dies of hunger every hour, and in the northern regions, where there is little or no agricultural production, the figure rises to 29 deaths a day, out of a total population of slightly over a million."
"Infant mortality as a result of malnutrition and lack of sanitation is 69 per 1000 live births, according to Anne Poulsen, a Danish representative of the World Food Program (WFP) in Haiti."
"These statistics are quite understandable given that three out of every four Haitians depends in one way or another on agriculture, primarily subsistence farming." http://www.monitor.net/monitor/0506a/copyright/haitiriceslums.html
For years Haiti was ruled by a brutal and murderous dictator nicknamed Papa Doc Duvalier. He was succeeded by his son, nicknamed Babydoc Duvalier. Both were murderous tyrants, but since they did not oppose the U.S. policies, the U.S. left them free to murder their own people.
Now Haiti has suffered a terrible disaster, an earthquake officially measuring 7.0 on the richter scale, but which some scientists say was really more like a 9.0, because it was closer to the surface than earthquakes usually are, so the effects were more intense. Much of the infrastructure is gone. Homes, roads, hospitals, schools, government buildings. Estimates of the dead range from the thousands up to half a million. The country is so poor that many charitable organizations maintained permanent missions there, such as the U.N., Doctors Without Borders, and the Salvation Army. Their facilities have been devastated.
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela immediately offered assistance. I love that guy. I assume Cuba has also offered or sent help, because the Heritage Foundation is screaming about both countries, claiming they will just send illegal drugs.
We shall see whether this disaster gives rise to what Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, refers to as disaster capitalism. If it does, that would mean that major U.S. corporate and multinational interests would simply move all the Haitian people off the coast and back inland, take over the coastal properties and "privatize" them by selling a public asset off to private interests, develop them for U.S. tourists, and possibly business interests. We shall see whether the U.S. "assistance" comes with a large price tag to the desperate people of Haiti.
Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine (which Rachel Maddow calls the one book that every single person should read, no exceptions) describes how the corporate multinational elite have crafted a response to disasters which allows them to take complete control of a country when it is temporarily off-balance because of things like a coup or a natural disaster. Will Haiti be the next country to be taken over for multinational corporate benefits.
Here's a link to Naomi Klein's website and her brief comment on the situation: http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2010/01/haiti-disaster-capitalism-alert-stop-them-they-shock-again
She calls it disaster capitalism. Multinational corporate groups move into a country during a period of instability, take it over, and re-shape it for their own profit. For example, right after the tsunamis, the former Presidents Daddy [Papa Doc] Bush and Bill Clinton were put in charge of "coordinating" the international relief effort. The result is that the nations hardest hit by the tsunamis saw their entire coastal areas given over to multinational hotel and resort corporate interests, and the people of those nations were pushed inland and given essentially no relief at all. They lost their homes, their land, and the means by which they and their ancestors had earned a living by fishing off the coast. The coastal property was privatized and set aside only for the use and benefit of rich tourists who would come to stay in the lavish hotel resorts built after the tsunami.
The Heritage Foundation is an extreme right-wing group that promotes just this type of multinational corporate control of every country. Which, by the way, means that people and their elected governments have no say in the management of their own countries and lives because everyone everywhere is ruled by faceless nameless multinational corporations.
Guess what the Heritage Foundation came out and said yesterday? Essentially, that multinational corporations should take over Haiti and use it for their own benefit. And that the former President [PapaDoc or BabyDoc?] Bush and Bill Clinton should be put in charge of the effort. Unfortunately, President Obama, despite his sincere statements of concern for the people of Haiti, did exactly what the Heritage foundation wanted: he put BabyDoc Bush ("W") and Bill Clinton in charge.
Just watch. The people of Haiti will get nothing. The hundreds of millions of dollars pouring in for relief and assistance will be used to clear the entire city of Port au Prince, build a new airport, roads, fancy hotels, maybe some high-rise buildings and codos for the corporate interests who will move in and take control of the country. But the people of Haiti will get nothing. Well, maybe a bottle of water and a tent.
As I noted before, do not give money to the American Red Cross. The Heritage Foundation is encouraging people to give money to that group. I have a list of better organizations in a post yesterday.
Anyway, there is a history that is important. If Haiti wasn't so poor, if they had properly constructed infrastructure, if they had their own government instead of just a series of men who serve at the will of the U.S. government, if they had a real infrastructure they could maintain order and control of their own country.
What happens when a country is broke, and cannot maintain its own infrastructure? It is left entirely vulnerable to be taken over by others. Then the people of Haiti will have no benefit from their own country, and no say in how it is run. We shall see.
This is actually what the same groups are pushing for in the U.S.: bankrupt the people and the states so the multinational corporations take over everything. The end of democracy.