Tags: Bill Clinton, clintons, haiti, hillary clinton, imperialism, roger hollander, sae-a-korea, sean penn, U.S. imperialism, walmart
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Published on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
Re-imagining the “Taiwan of the Caribbean,” again
The Clintons are in Haiti to inaugurate the new $300 million industrial facility touted as “transformative” for the quake-ravaged country, but many wonder if this is simply the next round of imperialism in a country that has been plagued (literally) by outside intervention for too long.
The Clinton’s travel to Haiti to celebrate the opening of a new $300 million sweatshop. (Photo by Associated Press)
The Caracol Industrial Park, which is hailed as “the centerpiece of the U.S. effort to help the country recover from the 2010 earthquake,” according to Trenton Daniel for the Associated Press, is slated to be built on a remote 617-acre site of farmland, mangroves and coral reefs in the northern part of the country.
Critics of the project believe that the industrial park does little more than replicate failed efforts from the past and will benefit outsiders more than Haitians. Writing for Haiti Liberte, Mona Péralte notes, (translated) “this park is a direct illustration of the role of imperialism in the country namely for exploit [if it] come cheaply, if not restore slavery.”
Alex Dupuy, a Haiti-born sociologist at Wesleyan University, adds, “this is not a strategy that is meant to provide Haiti with any measure of sustainable development […] The only reason those industries come to Haiti is because the country has the lowest wages in the region.”
Workers are already protesting the wages offered by the park’s anchor tenant, the South Korean apparel company and Walmart supplier, Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd. Etant Dupain writing on the Let Haiti Live website, notes:
Before the official inauguration, several thousand employees have been working in the Caracol park for the last three months at a wage of 150 gourdes ($3.75 US) a day. Since October 1st, the new minimum wage law has gone into effect, with the government setting the minimum at 300 gourdes a day. Despite this, the managers of the factory operating at Caracol aren’t respecting the new official minimum wage.
Sae-A’s Haiti representative, Daniel Cho, told AP that the employees “will be paid almost $5 for eight hours of work.”
In an effort to attract other tenants to the park, the project’s architects are offering duty-free status and a 15-year tax holiday. Dupuy says that because of these tax breaks, “outside investors will have more to gain than Haitians,” from this project.
The Clintons and their celebrity supporters (Sean Penn, Ben Stiller, fashion designer Donna Karan and British business magnate Richard Branson were all in tow) were in Caracol on Monday to celebrate the opening. Government officials have been lauding the Caracol project as panacea for Haiti’s debilitating economic woes. “We had learned that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti meant more than providing aid,” Secretary Clinton told a roomful of investors. “So we shifted our assistance to investments to address some of the biggest challenges facing this country: creating jobs and sustainable economic growth.”
Backers of the complex estimate that the park has the potential to generate up to 65,000 total jobs; Sae-A Korea, who already employs 400 people, agreed to create 20,000 permanent jobs within six years and build 5,000 employee houses on site.
The project—which was in the works before the earthquake—became a top priority for the Obama administration after the disaster. Washington has since invested $124 million in the project, making it the U.S.’s biggest single investment in the aftermath of the quake. According to the Associated Press, “it is certain to shape the legacy of the Clintons.”
For many local Haitians, there are flashbacks to the baseball factories built in the 1970s and 1980s under the regime of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. AP writer Daniel notes:
Those jobs prompted thousands of farmers to leave their fields for the capital, and agricultural areas suffered from neglect. Shantytowns like Cite Soleil emerged to house the new workers. The factories got tax breaks but there was no income to offset Duvalier’s alleged plundering of state coffers. Haiti was supposed to become the “Taiwan of the Caribbean” but instead suffered through economic collapse brought on by political instability.
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Tags: ashbritt, beverly bell, caribbean, ch2m hill, chf, deepa panchang, haiti, haiti aid, haiti earthquake, michel martelly, roger hollander, tory field, triple canopy, U.S. imperialism, USAID
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As Americans were gearing up for last week’s Super Bowl championship, Haiti’s president Michel Martelly was on a plane to the World Economic Forum to recruit players interested in what one businessman dubbed “the Super Bowl of Disasters” – Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. The Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel footed his trip there, and hosted a regional business tour complete with a gala ball before his return to a country still reeling from crisis conditions in housing, jobs, and basic rights.
Haiti’s status as prime-time jostling space for prospective investors is not new. Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant has seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in disaster aid has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. Often the very same corporations have wrested financial and political gain from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries hit by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans after the ensuing flood of 2005, and lots of other places. The same deals have been cut over Haiti in the past, too, particularly during periods of political instability.
Textile workers producing for foreign clothing companies protesting last October for union rights and better working conditions. (photo: Ansel Herz)
The earthquake has provided a fresh wave of opportunity. In the first year after the earthquake, the US government awarded more than 1,500 contracts worth $267 million. All went to US firms except 20, worth $4.3 million, which went to Haitian businesses. Among the American corporations that received contracts, we’ve seen everything: many millions going to companies that had had previous contracts cancelled for bad practices, that had paid out as much as eight-figure settlements for violence happening under their watch, that had been investigated by Congress for gaming the system, or that had been the subject of federal reports accusing wastage of funds. We’ve seen corporate executives and members of Congress going through a revolving door and leveraging both sides for contracts. We’ve seen public funds given without any competition or transparency, quite a few to friends of the Clintons and other well-placed insiders.
Local labor and production, which are critical elements in economic recovery, have been trumped for American business profits. According to federal procurement data, among contracts which provide products (as opposed to services), 77% were for products manufactured in the US. They don’t list which, if any, of the remaining 23% involve any Haitian materials or labor.
Two months after the earthquake, companies gathered in a luxury hotel in Miami for a “Haiti Summit” to discuss post-earthquake contracting possibilities. The meeting was sponsored by the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), but these were no peaceniks. Their members are predominantly private mercenary companies that enforce ‘security’ in war and disaster zones for the US government because, unlike elected entities, they can completely avoid public scrutiny and accountability. They included such companies as Triple Canopy, which took over Blackwater’s contract in Iraq. One of the corporate representatives at the Summit described the outlook: “Their infrastructure is pretty much destroyed, communications are destroyed, there’s a lot of opportunities there for companies, particularly US countries [sic] because of the close proximity.” The Summit was apparently worthwhile, as US government paid out more than $10 million to the industry for “guard services,” and almost $20,000 for riot shields and suits.
Below are a few examples of post-earthquake contracts and grants, selected to show just some of the problems at play. They offer a small glimpse into a much larger, secretive world of disaster deals. We’re grateful to our investigative journalist colleagues who, alongside us, have kept heavy on the scent of these corporations and brought buried information to light.
* * *
“American corporations and their stakeholders must understand how helping Haiti over the long term also helps them,” said the non-profit CHF International in its March 2010 board report. “By contributing to Haiti’s reconstruction in a lasting, meaningful way, companies will be helping to build a new, more vibrant Caribbean market for their own goods and services.”
CHF’s involvement demonstrates how even non-profits can drive development that props up American business interests on the backs of poor Haitians. What CHF refers to as “helping Haiti” has meant using US tax dollars to underwrite textile sweatshops, making it easier and more profitable to score the cheapest source of labor in the hemisphere. In 2006, USAID gave CHF a $104 million, 4-year contract to help “existing industries to increase their capacity, efficiency and reach new markets,” primarily through the export textile industry. The money subsidized CHF’s creation of infrastructure such as roads around industrial areas and training of factory workers on skills such as “how to work in a formal work environment.” Bolstered by additional USAID funding, this project continued after the earthquake.
CHF’s post-earthquake USAID contract, for $20.9 million, went to clean-up projects, including cash-for-work. Cash-for-work meant camp residents engaging in hired-hand projects such as digging drainage ditches and clearing debris, for a period of a few weeks. The scheme has come under fire by camp residents and human rights groups, with even a USAID evaluation raising some serious critiques. The jobs are unpredictable, workers have said, and while the short duration can palliate personal crisis for the moment, the program quickly returns the worker’s family to its desperate state. Those hired are paid officially at the unlivable minimum daily wage of 200 gourdes, or US$5, though unofficially they often earn less. A Haiti Grassroots Watch exposé found, furthermore, that cash-for-work hiring is often based on corruption, with many workers having to pay a ‘kickback,’ negotiate sex (in the case of women) for a job, or affiliate with political parties or candidates. USAID also noted that cash-for-work programs it funded increased risks of “serious and avoidable” accidents on the job “by failing to develop and enforce consistent workplace safety rules and accident procedures.”
CHF’s projects, based on factory jobs and cash-for-work, have given neither livable incomes to employees nor offered development opportunities to the nation. Meanwhile, CHF has gained humanitarian clout and an influx of funding, and its garment industry partners sit happily with the perks.
* * *
Using tried-and-true strategies of political manipulation, some corporations have been able to edge their way into post-earthquake contracts despite histories of fraud and corruption.
AshBritt Environmental, for instance, has a record of disaster response elsewhere that spells trouble for Haiti. The company had received $900 million in contracts for Hurricane Katrina clean-up, after hiring lobbyists formerly involved in state government. An MSNBC investigation later brought to light complaints by local contractors, a mayor, and local legislators that the company’s work was too slow, that it overcharged, and that it was not hiring local contractors. The extent of “layer cake” contracting was so extreme that in one case, AshBritt was paid $23 per cubic yard of debris removed but subcontracted through three middleman companies so that the company that actually removed the rubble received $3 per cubic yard.) Even a 2006 federal report accused the company of wasting money in this subcontractor layering after Katrina.
Given its experience, AshBritt wasted no time unleashing its skills in lobbying and political pressure to get in on the Haiti game. Early in 2010, the company paid $90,000 to a lobbying firm to pressure the government for Haiti contracts, according to disclosure records described in the press. In a prime instance of revolving door between public and private sectors, one of the lobbyists working on the case was the former chief of staff for Senator John Kerry. Kerry, in turn, was the senator who co-sponsored the legislation for Haiti relief funding.
With influential people circulating between the givers and receivers of funds, AshBritt was confident enough about future contracts that it spent an initial $25 million setting up for anticipated operations in Haiti with a soccer field-sized base camp and services to house future project managers. In July 2010, AshBritt won a $500,000 US government contract for debris removal, the first of what the company anticipated would be many contracts to come their way. Continuing the revolving door trend, another lobbyist for the firm was the former USAID Mission Director in Iraq, Lewis Lucke, who was paid $30,000 per month to help win contracts via a partnership venture AshBritt set up. Lucke claimed he “played an integral role” in obtaining three contracts for the company, including $10 million from the World Bank and about $10 million more from the Haitian government (one of the first major government contracts for debris removal). As of this writing, not even the company’s website contains an update on what work it has or has not completed in Haiti.
* * *
Like AshBritt, CH2M Hill, a large engineering and construction firm, should have raised warning signals as a company to be hired on the taxpayer dollar. A government database that monitors federal contracts reveals a track record of corruption, listing nine instances of misconduct for the company since 1995. In one case, the company was paid $4.1 million for a contract in Iraq though no work was actually completed. On the Gulf Coast, a US government investigation of $45 million paid to CH2M and the three other companies in no-bid contracts for Katrina response was declared wasteful spending. CH2M was also accused in a congressional investigation in 1992 of misusing money during its cleanup of toxic waste sites in the U.S. More than two million dollars of this contract were allegedly used for “unallowable and questionable costs,” such as $11,379 for a Christmas party and $2750 for specialty chocolates. The company is listed in the top 50 of U.S.-based contractors and has been a major player in wartime contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The track record was nothing that some strategic lobbying efforts couldn’t mitigate, however. The lobbyist who headed up CH2M Hill’s efforts to win contracts in Haiti was Larry LaRocco, a former congressman from Idaho who now runs his own lobbying firm. And unsurprisingly, the company spent half a million dollars in political contributions in 2010. Thus equipped with politicians in its pocket, CH2M was well-positioned to compete in the latest contract game. It received its first post-earthquake contract just days after the disaster, and was given a joint contract with KBR Global Service (itself notorious due to its Iraq and Afghanistan activities) for facilities operations support at the end of 2010.
* * *
In the case of a few other contracts that we know to be operating in Haiti, we’ve spent hour after hour on the scent. We’ve scoured internet resources, news articles, and company websites to track companies we know received post-earthquake contracts in Haiti. Nothing. Not even a mention, sometimes, in the 100-plus-page 2010 annual reports.
What we have been unable to uncover is at least as alarming as what we have learned about some of the firms receiving millions from the US government, and what they have done with those millions. We wonder whether the US government has had any more knowledge or oversight of the corporate actions than have the corporation’s investors. As for the American people, they have no way to know how their money has been spent or what has been done in their names. The lack of transparency has also given a green light to profiteers to neglect standards, quality, and honesty.
There is one group for whom the secrecy, foul play, taking of power that should never be taken, giving away of what should never be given away, matters most of all: Haitians, the ones whose country is being treated like a Monopoly game. They alone will have to live with the long-term outcome of what foreign companies build, demolish, restructure, or steal in their country.
[A list of references can be found here.]
Deepa Panchang is Education and Outreach Coordinator for Other Worlds. Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Deepa has been involved in advocacy for human rights, particularly housing and health, for displaced Haitians living in camps. She has previously worked on community health projects in Nicaragua and India. Deepa is passionate about bringing gender and economic justice perspectives to bear in the realms of global health, aid, and trade.
Beverly Bell is the founder of Other Worlds and more than a dozen international organizations and networks, Beverly is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Beverly has worked for more than three decades as an organizer, advocate, and writer in collaboration with social movements in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S. She is the author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance.
Tags: baby doc, Bill Clinton, francois duvalier, haiti, imperialism, jean bertrand aristide, jean claude duvalier, jemima pierre, michael martelly, papa doc, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism
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by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre, PhD
There they were, at the official ceremony: the living, breathing banes of Haiti’s existence. “Rubbing shoulders on stage, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries were Haitian President Michel Martelly, former US President and UN Special Envoy, Bill Clinton, and, Jean Claude Duvalier,” the mass murderer and former dictator. The dictator is hoping for some kind of comeback, and the puppet president “will open up Haiti to permanent US occupation and economic exploitation while terrorizing Haitians who fight back.” Clinton oversees the whole process on behalf of imperialism.
“Duvalier has been allowed to roam Haiti’s streets, even dining at the finest restaurants with the likes of Sean Penn.”
Lost amidst the heart-wrenching stories and photographs of the “poor Haitians” living in squalor and misery circulating on the second anniversary of the 12 January 2010 earthquake, another set of images appeared. Few people noticed these other images – they received little attention in the mainstream media – but they offer an insight into the prospects for Haiti’s reconstruction and, indeed, into the prospects for Haiti’s political and economic future.
The images  were taken during the official commemoration ceremonies at the hillside ofTitanyen  [pdf], north of Port-au-Prince, where former dictators Jean Claude Duvalier and his father, Francois Duvalier, discarded the bodies of their political opponents. After the earthquake, it became the gravesite of thousands of unidentified earthquake victims. During the ceremonies, local delegates and international diplomats paid their respects to the Haitians that lost their lives and pledged to help those who lived. But the most striking image  that emerged during the ceremonies was that of an immoral triumvirate. Rubbing shoulders on stage, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries were Haitian President Michel Martelly, former US President and UN Special Envoy, Bill Clinton, and, Jean Claude Duvalier. To understand the future of Haiti, we have to shift our focus from the “poor Haitians” who dominate Haiti coverage and understand the significance of these three figures to the shaping of US imperial designs on Haiti.
“President Martelly is the face – and backbone – of a resurgent Duvalierism.”
“Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to Haiti after twenty-five years in exile on 16 January 2010. His arrival was supposedly a surprise, though it is becoming clear that he was given the go-ahead by France and the United States. The Obama administration’s relative silence around the return of Duvalier needs to be contrasted with the noise it made while it forcefully  tried to prevent  the return of Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected President. The contrast smacks of duplicity. Let’s remember that under Duvalier (and his father, Francois) nearly 50,000  Haitians were killed, disappeared, and tortured by the reviled tonton macoutes , his private army. At the same time, Duvalier embezzled  hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which sponsored an exiled life of grandeur . Despite the calls for his arrest and prosecution by Haitian survivors, lawyers, and international human rights organizations, Duvalier has been allowed to roam Haiti’s streets, even dining at the finest restaurants with the likes of Sean Penn.
What does Duvalier symbolize? For Haiti’s elite, he represents a form of totalitarian nostalgia. There is a cultish aura that surrounds Duvalier, a reminder of the era of “macoutized bourgeoisie ,” as journalist Kim Ives has referred to it, when there was an alliance between the elite and the paramilitary forces of terror. But Duvalierism was also good for US politics and economics. In the 1960s, they needed Francois (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier to offset the rise of revolutionary communist Cuba. Under Jean Claude (“Baby Doc”), they were able to open up the Haitian markets and resources to US businesses, expand sweatshops, and lay the basis for the coming neoliberal economic policies.
“Duvalierism was good for US politics and economics.”
This is where the US-selected President Martelly and “Papa” Bill Clinton come in. As we’ve pointed out here  on Black Agenda Report, right-wing candidate Martelly was handpicked by the Obama administration to become Haiti’s president in a forced election marred by irregularities and low voter turn out. More importantly, he is the face – and backbone – of a resurgent Duvalierism. His Duvalier affinities are well known as is his animus  towards former President Aristide. He has historic ties with Duvalier loyalists, has called for “amnesty ” for Duvalier, and is now in the process of reestablishing the Haitian army. Moreover, his erratic and belligerent interactions with his constituency and political colleagues – and, in particularly, his threats against Haitian journalists – are early indications of his repressive tendencies.
But he is a good puppet. As Ezili Danto of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network reminds us: “Martelly is merely a tool to be used by those ‘more schooled in the patterns of privilege and domination’ than any self-serving Haiti politician could ever dream to be. Martelly is the valve that releases accumulated surface pressure while reinforcing the ‘violent Haitian’ narrative. Brilliant US/Euro move. A no brainer.” In the meantime, he will open up Haiti to permanent US occupation and economic exploitation while terrorizing Haitians who fight back. As the U.S. attempts to consolidate its military presence in the Western hemisphere, control of Haiti is important. For many, this is one of the reasons explaining Haiti’s currently military occupation by the UN-led criminal force, MINUSTAH, the largest UN military force in a country that is not at war. It is also the reason for the massive new US embassy in Haiti, the fourth largest US embassy in the world.
“Clinton practically dictates Haitian policy.”
And then there’s Bill Clinton. Clinton provides the “kind ” face of US control of Haiti. With his push to turn Haiti into a Western tourist paradise while Haitians become cheap sweatshop labor  for making Western goods, Clinton is the arbiter of a new phase of neoliberalism. Clinton practically dictates Haitian policy. In fact, in one of the more absurd and nepotistic twists of Haiti’s political history, Haiti’s Prime Minister, Gary Conille, is Clinton’s former chief of staff . Conille also has a long family  history with the Duvaliers: his father was a minister to Baby Doc. As @dominique_e recently said on twitter, everything is set to “kill Haiti with neoliberalism.”
Last week, Glen Ford remarked  that in the US media, “Haiti is most often spoken of as a tragedy – when it is actually the scene of horrific crimes, mainly perpetrated by the United States over the span of two centuries.” With the puppet, the dictator, and the president on the scene, it is hard to imaging a more sinister cohort guiding Haiti down the path of US exploitation.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at BAR1804@gmail.com .
Haiti, Raped by the US Since 2004, and Still Bleeding January 13, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Caribbean, Haiti, Imperialism, Racism.
Tags: aristide, glen ford, haiti, haiti government, haiti homeless, haiti independence, haiti politics, haiti relief, haiti sovereignty, haity earthquake, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism
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The horrific squandering of Haitian lives and earthquake relief and aid dollars by the occupying powers over the past two years are direct consequences of previous imperial crimes. “Since 2004, Haiti has been methodically stripped of its sovereignty, made into a protectorate of the United Nations,” which is merely a front for the United States. “The earthquake of January 2010 was a natural phenomenon that happened to take place while a rape was in progress.”
“In the American media,” writes Ford, “Haiti is most often spoken of as a tragedy – when it is actually the scene of horrific crimes, mainly perpetrated by the United States over the span of two centuries.” (Photo: BAR)
In the American media, Haiti is most often spoken of as a tragedy – when it is actually the scene of horrific crimes, mainly perpetrated by the United States over the span of two centuries. For the past two years, since the earthquake that shook the life out of hundreds of thousands of already deeply wounded people, the United States has flexed every superpower muscle to prolong Haiti’s agony.
Half a million people are still homeless, two years after the quake, despite the billions in relief and recovery aid pledged by international donors. Sixty percent of the rubble has yet to be removed from the capital and its suburbs, and 6,000 people have died from a cholera epidemic brought into the country by United Nations troops. The UN has still not seen fit to apologize for being the vector of disease, because the UN is not accountable to the people of Haiti – only to the United States. The Americans used a huge chunk of their so-called aid money to reimburse themselves for the cost of their military occupation of the country. Dead, dying, sick, starving, homeless Haitians are made to pay for their own imprisonment in their native land, while Washington gloats that it is Haiti’s last, best hope, and that the catastrophic earthquake might have been a good thing, a chance for a “new beginning” under Washington’s firm guidance.
Millions were spent to choreograph crooked elections that brought to office a government with no power, even less money, and not a shred of dignity – a puppet regime held in absolute disrespect by its American puppeteers.
Meanwhile, Haiti’s most popular political party remains, for all official purposes, an outlaw, effectively banned from civic participation. The Haitian people are not allowed to speak. And this is the heart of the crime, from which all the grand and petty assaults on the Haitian nation, flow. This week’s anniversary of the killer earthquake is full of morbid statistics on physical destruction, death and disease, but the appalling numbers cannot separate these two years of horror from the crimes that came before: the isolation and armed extortion of Haiti by United States and Europe following her 1804 victory against French slavery, leaving the Black republic with a debt that was not paid off until the 1940s; the 26 separate invasions of Haiti by the United States from 1849 to 1915, followed by a nearly 20-year occupation that lasted until 1934; and the U.S. overthrow of Haiti’s popularly elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in 2004, the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence. Since 2004, Haiti has been methodically stripped of its sovereignty, made into a protectorate of the United Nations, which is merely a front for the real rulers, the United States and its junior partners, France and Canada.
The earthquake of January 2010 was a natural phenomenon that happened to take place while a rape was in progress. The rapists in Washington take their greatest pleasure in Haiti’s degradation. Haiti needs nothing from the United States, except to be left alone, as a free nation in the world, to make friends as it chooses. It is not natural disaster that holds her back, but naked U.S. aggression – because all people have the capacity to rise, unless they are held down by overwhelming force.
Private Contractors “Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot” February 20, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Haiti.
Tags: aid, anthony fenton, aristide, haiti, haiti aid, haiti earthquake, haiti relief, haliburton, mercenaries, naomi klein, private contractors, privatisation, privatization, rene preval, roger hollander
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Friday 19 February 2010
Vancouver – Critics are concerned that private military contractors are positioning themselves at the centre of an emerging “shock doctrine” for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Next month, a prominent umbrella organisation for private military and logistic corporations, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), is co-organising a “Haiti summit” which aims to bring together “leading officials” for “private consultations with attending contractors and investors” in Miami, Florida.
Dubbed the “mercenary trade association” by journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: the Rise of the World’ Most Powerful Mercenary Army”, the IPOA wasted no time setting up a “Haiti Earthquake Support” page on its website following the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country.
IPOA’s director Doug Brooks says, “The first contacts we got were journalists looking for security when they went in.” The website of IPOA member company, Hart Security, says they are currently in Haiti “supporting clients from the fields of media, consultancy and medical in their disaster recovery efforts.” Several other IPOA members have either bid on or received contracts for work in Haiti.
Likewise, the private military contractor, Raidon Tactics, has at least 30 former U.S. Special Operations soldiers on the ground, where they have been guarding aid convoys and providing security for “news agencies,” according to a Raidon employee who told IPS his company received over 1,000 phone calls in response to an ad posting “for open positions for Static Security Positions and Mobile Security Positions” in Haiti.
Just over a week following the earthquake, the IPOA teamed up with Global Investment Summits (GIS), a UK-based private company that specialises in bringing private contractors and government officials from “emerging post-conflict countries” together, to host an “Afghanistan Reconstruction Summit”, in Istanbul, Turkey. It was there, says IPOA’s director Doug Brooks, that the idea for the Haiti summit was hatched “over beers”.
GIS’s CEO, Kevin Lumb, told IPS that the key feature of the Haiti summit will be “what we call roundtables, [where] we put the ministers and their procurement people, and arrange appointments with contractors.” Lumb added that his company “specialise[s] in putting governments together [with private contractors].”
IPOA was “so pleased” with the Afghanistan summit, says Lumb, they asked GIS to do “all the organising, all the selling” for the Haiti summit. Lumb pointed out that all of the profits from the event will be donated to the Clinton-Bush Haiti relief fund.
While acknowledging that there will be a “a commercial angle” to the event and that “major companies, major players in the world” have committed to attend, Lumb declined to name most of the participants.
One of the companies Lumb did mention is DACC Associates, a private contractor that specialises in management and security consulting with contracts providing “advice and counsel” to governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
DACC President Douglas Melvin, a former Special Forces commander, State Department official and director of Security and Administrative Services for President George W. Bush, acknowledged that “from a revenue perspective, yes there’s wonderful opportunities at these events.”
Melvin added that he believes most attendees will be “coming together for the right reasons,” a genuine concern for Haiti, are “not coming to exploit” the dire situation there, and does not expect his company to profit off of their potential contracts there.
Naomi Klein, author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, is concerned that the thesis of her best-selling book will once again be tested in Haiti. She told IPS in an e-mail, “Haiti doesn’t need cookie cutter one-size fits all reconstruction, designed by the same gang that made same such a hash of Iraq, Afghanistan and New Orleans – and indeed the same people responsible for the decimation of Haiti’s own economy in the name of ‘aid.’”
Unhappy with critics’ characterisation of the IPOA, Brooks said, “If Scahill and Klein have the resources, the capabilities, the equipment, to go in and do it themselves then more power to them.”
University of California at Los Angeles professor Nandini Gunewardena, co-editor of “Capitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster Reconstruction,” told IPS that “privatisation is not the way to go for disaster assistance.”
“Traditionally, corporations have positioned themselves in a way that they benefit at the expense of the people. We cannot afford for that to happen in Haiti,” she said, adding that “any kind of intermediate or long-term assistance strategy has to be framed within that framework of human security.”
This, according to the U.N-.based Commission on Human Security, means “creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.”
Denouncing the “standard recipe of neoliberal policies,” Gunewardena said, “If private corporations are going to contribute to Haiti’s restoration, they have to be held accountable, not to their own standards, but to those of the people.”
Reached by telephone, Haiti’s former Minister of Defence under the first presidency of Jean Bertand Aristide, Patrick Elie, agreed. He’s worried about the potential privatisation of his country’s rebuilding, “because these private companies [aren't] liable, you can’t take them to the United Nations, you can’t take them to The Hague, and they operate in kind of legal limbo. And they are the more dangerous for it.”
Elie, who accepted a position as advisor to President Rene Preval following the earthquake, added “These guys are like vultures coming to grab the loot over this disaster, and probably money that might have been injected into the Haitian economy is going to be just grabbed by these companies and I’m sure that they are not only these mercenary companies but also the other companies like Halliburton or these other ones that always [come] on the heels of the troops.”
In its 2008 report, “Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity,” the NGO Human Rights First decried the “failure of the U.S. government to effectively control their actions, and in particular the inability or unwillingness of the Department of Justice (DoJ) to hold them criminally responsible for their illegal actions.”
The IPOA’s Brooks told IPS that members of the Haitian diaspora and Haiti’s embassy have been invited and are “going to be a big part” of the summit.
While stressing that it’s impossible to know the exact details of an event that is planned outside of public scrutiny, Elie countered that if high-level Haitian officials were to participate, “It’s either out of ignorance or complicity.”
Worried that Haiti is already seeing armed contractors in addition to the presence of more than 20,000 U.S., Canadian, and U.N. soldiers, Elie says he has seen private contractors accompanying NGOs, “walking about carrying assault rifles.”
If the U.S. military pulls out and hands over the armed presence to private contractors, “It opens the door to all kinds of abuses. Let’s face it, the Haitian state is too weak to really deal efficiently with this kind of threat if it materialises,” he said.
The history of post-disaster political economy has shown that such a threat is all too likely, says Elie. “We’ve seen it happen so many times before that whenever there is a disaster, there are a bunch of vultures trying to profit from it, whether it’s a man-made disaster like Iraq, or a nature-made disaster like Haiti.”
Tags: arun gupta, chomsky, Clinton, disaster relief, duvalier, haiti, haiti earthquake, haiti history, haiti occupation, haiti repression, jean bertrand aristide, lavalas, rene preval, roger hollander
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|Written by Arun Gupta|
|Tuesday, 16 February 2010 11:20|
| Source: AlternetSource: Alternet
Official denials aside, the United States has embarked on a new military occupation of Haiti thinly cloaked as disaster relief. While both the Pentagon and the United Nations claimed more troops were needed to provide “security and stability” to bring in aid, according to nearly all independent observers in the field, violence was never an issue. in
Instead, there appears to be cruder motives for the military response. With Haiti’s government “all but invisible” and its repressive security forces collapsed, popular organizations were starting to fill the void. But the Western powers rushing in envision sweatshops and tourism as the foundation of a rebuilt Haiti. This is opposed by the popular organizations, which draw their strength from Haiti’s overwhelmingly poor majority. Thus, if a neoliberal plan is going to be imposed on a devastated Haiti it will be done at gunpoint.
The rapid mobilization of thousands of U.S troops was not for humanitarian reasons; in fact it crowded out much of the arriving aid into the Port-au-Prince airport, forcing lengthy delays. Doctors Without Borders said five of its cargo flights carrying 85 tons of medical and relief supplies were turned away during the first week while flights from the World Food Program were delayed up to two days. One WFP official said of the 200 flights going in and out of Haiti daily “most … are for the U.S. military.” Nineteen days into the crisis, only 32 percent of Haitians in need had received any food (even if just a single meal), three-quarters were without clean water, the government had received only two percent of the tents it had requested and hospitals in the capital reported they were running “dangerously low” on basic medical supplies like antibiotics and painkillers. On Feb. 9, the Washington Post reported that food aid was little more than rice, and “Every day, tens of thousands of Haitians face a grueling quest to find food, any food. A nutritious diet is out of the question.”
At the same time, the United States had assumed control of Haiti’s airspace, landed 6,500 soldiers on the ground, with another 15,000 troops offshore at one point, dispatched an armada of naval vessels and nine coast guard cutters to patrol the waters, and the U.S. embassy was issuing orders on behalf of the Haitian government. In a telling account, the New York Times described a press conference in Haiti at which “the American ambassador and the American general in charge of the United States troops deployed here” were “seated at center stage,” while Haitian President René Préval stood in the back “half-listening” and eventually “wandered away without a word.”
In the first week, the U.S. commander, Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, said the presence of the Haitian police was “limited” because they had been “devastated”who has been tapped by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to lead recovery efforts) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When asked at the press conference how long U.S. forces were planning to stay, Keen said, “I’m not going to put a time frame on it” while Lucke added, “We’re not really planning in terms of weeks or months or years. We’re planning basically to see this job through to the end.”
While much of the corporate media fixated on “looters,” virtually every independent observer in Haiti after the earthquake noted the lack of violence. Even Lt. Gen. Keen described the security situation as “relatively calm.” One aid worker in Haiti, Leisa Faulkner, said, “There is no security threat from the Haitian people. Aid workers do not need to fear them. I would really like for the guys with the rifles to put them down and pick up shovels to help find people still buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings and homes. It just makes me furious to see multiple truckloads of fellows with automatic rifles.”
Veteran Haiti reporter Kim Ives concurred, explaining to “Democracy Now!”: “Security is not the issue. We see throughout Haiti the population themselves organizing themselves into popular committees to clean up, to pull out the bodies from the rubble, to build refugee camps, to set up their security for the refugee camps. This is a population which is self-sufficient, and it has been self-sufficient for all these years.” and the by the earthquake. The real powers in Haiti right now are Keen, U.S. ambassador Louis Lucke, Bill Clinton.
In one instance, Ives continued, a truckload of food showed up in a neighborhood in the middle of the night unannounced. “It could have been a melee. The local popular organization…was contacted. They immediately mobilized their members. They came out. They set up a perimeter. They set up a cordon. They lined up about 600 people who were staying on the soccer field behind the house, which is also a hospital, and they distributed the food in an orderly, equitable fashion.… They didn’t need Marines. They didn’t need the UN.”
Traveling with an armored UN convoy on the streets of the capital, Al Jazeera reported that the soldiers “aren’t here to help pull people out of the rubble. They’re here, they say, to enforce the law.” One Haitian told the news outlet, “These weapons they bring, they are instruments of death. We don’t want them. We don’t need them. We are a traumatized people. What we want from the international community is technical help. Action, not words.”
A New Invasion
That help, however, is coming in the form of neoliberal shock. With the collapse of the Haitian government, popular organizations of the poor, precisely the ones that propelled Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency twice on a platform of social and economic justice, know that the detailed U.S. and UN plans in the works for “recovery” – sweatshops, land grabs and privatization – are part of the same system of economic slavery they’ve been fighting against for more than 200 years.
A new occupation of Haiti — the third in the last 16 years — fits within the U.S. doctrine of rollback in Latin America: support for the coup in Honduras, seven new military bases in Colombia, hostility toward Bolivia and Venezuela. Related to that, the United States wants to ensure that Haiti not pose the “threat of a good example” by pursuing an independent path, as it tried to under President Aristide — which is why he was toppled twice, in 1991 and 2004, in U.S.-backed coups.
With the government and its repressive security forces now in shambles, neoliberal reconstruction will happen at the barrel of the gun. In this light, the impetus of a new occupation may be to reconstitute the Haitian Army (or similar entity) as a force “to fight the people.”
This is the crux of the situation. Despite all the terror inflicted on Haiti by the United States, particularly in the last 20 years — two coups followed each time by the slaughter of thousands of activists and innocents by U.S.-armed death squads — the strongest social and political force in Haiti today is probably the organisations populaires (OPs) that are the backbone of the Fanmi Lavalas party of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Twice last year, after legislative elections were scheduled that banned Fanmi Lavalas, boycotts were organized by the party. In the April and June polls the abstention rate each time was reported to be at least 89 percent.
It is the OPs, while devastated and destitute, that are filling the void and remain the strongest voice against economic colonization. Thus, all the concern about “security and stability.” With no functioning government, calm prevailing, and people self-organizing, “security” does not mean safeguarding the population; it means securing the country against the population. “Stability” does not mean social harmony; it means stability for capital: low wages, no unions, no environmental laws, and the ability to repatriate profits easily.
In a March 2009 New York Times op-ed, Ban Ki-moon outlined his development plan for Haiti, involving lower port fees, “dramatically expanding the country’s export zones,” and emphasizing “the garment industry and agriculture.” Ban’s neoliberal plan was drawn up Oxford University economist Paul Collier. (Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff admitted, in promoting Collier’s plan, that those garment factories are “sweatshops.”)
Collier is blunt, writing (PDF), “Due to its poverty and relatively unregulated labor market, Haiti has labor costs that are fully competitive with China.” His scheme calls for agricultural exports, such as mangoes, that involve pushing farmers off the land so they can be employed in garment manufacturing in export processing zones. To facilitate these zones Collier calls on Haiti and donors to provide them with private ports and electricity, “clear and rapid rights to land,” outsourced customs, “roads, water and sewage,” and the involvement of the Clinton Global Initiative to bring in garment manufacturers.
Revealing the connection between neoliberalism and military occupation in Haiti, Collier credits the Brazilian-led United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) with establishing “credible security,” but laments that its remaining mandate is “too short for investor confidence.”
In fact, MINUSTAH has been involved in numerous massacres in Port-au-Prince slums that are strongholds for Lavalas and Aristide. But that is probably what Collier means by “credible security.” He also notes MINUSTAH will cost some $5 billion overall; compare that to the $379 million the U.S. government has designated for spending on Haiti in response to the earthquake. It’s worth noting that one-third of the U.S. funding is for “military aid” and another 42 percent is for disaster assistance, such as $23.5 million for “search and rescue” operations that prioritized combing through luxury hotels for survivors.
As for the “U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti,” speaking at an October 2009 investors’ conference in Port-au-Prince that attracted do-gooders like Gap, Levi Strauss and Citibank, Bill Clinton claimed a revitalized garment industry could create 100,000 jobs. The reason some 200 companies, half of them garment manufacturers, attended the conference was because “Haiti’s extremely low labor costs, comparable to those in Bangladesh, make it so appealing,” the New York Times reported. Those costs are often less than the official daily minimum wage of $1.75. (The Haitian Parliament approved an increase last May 4 to about $5 an hour, but it was opposed by the business elite and President René Préval refused to sign the bill, effectively killing it. The refusal to increase the minimum wage sparked numerous student protests starting last June, which were repressed by Haitian police and MINUSTAH.)
Roots of Repression
Some historical perspective is in order. In his work Haiti State Against Nation: The Origins & Legacy of Duvalierism, Michel-Rolph Trouillot writes, “Haiti’s first army saw itself as the offspring of the struggle against slavery and colonialism.” That changed during the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Under the tutelage of the U.S. Marines, “the Haitian Garde was specifically created to fight against other Haitians. It received its baptism of fire in combat against its countrymen.” Its brutal legacy led Aristide to disband the army in 1995.
Yet prior to the army’s disbandment, in the wake of the U.S. invasion that returned a politically handcuffed Aristide to the presidency in 1994, “CIA agents accompanying U.S. troops began a new recruitment drive for the agency” that included leaders of the death squad known as FRAPH, according to Peter Hallward, author of Damning the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment.
It’s worth recalling how the Clinton administration played a double game under the cover of humanitarian intervention. Investigative reporter Allan Nairn revealed that in 1993 “five to ten thousand” small arms were shipped from Florida, past the U.S. naval blockade, to the coup leaders. These weapons enabled FRAPH to multiply and terrorize the popular movements. Then, pointing to intensifying FRAPH violence in 1994, the Clinton administration pressured Aristide into acquiescing to a U.S. invasion because FRAPH was becoming “the only game in town.”
After 20,000 U.S. troops landed in Haiti, they set about protecting FRAPH members, freeing them from jail, and refusing to disarm them or seize their weapons caches. FRAPH leader Emmanual Constant told Nairn that after the invasion the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was using FRAPH to counter “subversive activities.” Meanwhile, the State Department and CIA went about stacking the Haitian National Police with former army soldiers, many of whom were on the U.S. payroll. By 1996, according to one report, Haitian Army and “FRAPH forces remain armed and present in virtually every community across the country,” and paramilitaries were “inciting street violence in an effort to undermine social order.”
During the early 1990s, a separate group of Haitian soldiers, including Guy Philippe who led the 2004 coup against Aristide, were spirited away to Ecuador where they allegedly trained at a “U.S. military facility.” Hallward describes the second coup as beginning in 2001 as a “Contra war” in the Dominican Republic with Philippe and former FRAPH commander Jodel Chamblain as leaders. A “Democracy Now!” report from April 7, 2004 claimed that the U.S.-government funded International Republican Institute provided arms and technical training to the anti-Aristide force in the Dominican Republic, while “200 members of the special forces of the United States were there in the area training these so-called rebels.”
A key component of the campaign against Aristide after he was inaugurated in 2001 was economic destabilization that cut off much of the funding for “road construction, AIDs programs, water works and health care.” A likely factor in the coup was Aristide’s highly public campaign demanding that France repay the money it extorted from Haiti in 1825 for the former slave colony to buy its freedom, estimated in 2003 at $21 billion, or that Aristide was working with Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba to create alternatives to U.S. economic domination of the region.
When Aristide was finally ousted in February 2004, another round of slaughter ensued, with 800 bodies dumped in just one week in March. A 2006 study by the British medical journal Lancet (PDF) determined that 8,000 people were murdered in the capital region during the first 22 months of the U.S.-backed coup government and 35,000 women and girls raped or sexually assaulted. The OPs and Lavalas militants were decimated, in part by a UN war against the main Lavalas strongholds in Port-au-Prince’s neighborhoods of Bel Air and Cite Soleil, the latter a densely packed slum of some 300,000. (Hallward claims U.S. Marines were involved in a number of massacres in areas such as Bel Air in 2004.)
‘More Free Trade’
Less than four months after the 2004 coup, reporter Jane Regan described a draft economic plan, the “Interim Cooperation Framework,” that “calls for more free trade zones (FTZs), stresses tourism and export agriculture, and hints at the eventual privatization of the country’s state enterprises.” Regan wrote that the plan was “drawn up by people nobody elected,” mainly “foreign technicians” and “institutions like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank.”
Much of this plan was implemented under Préval, who announced in 2007 plans to privatize the public telephone company, Téléco, and is being promoted by Bill Clinton and Ban Ki-moon as Haiti’s path out of poverty. The Wall Street Journal touted such achievements as “10,000 new garment industry jobs,” in 2009 a “luxury hotel complex” in the upper-crust neighborhood of Pétionville, and a $55 million investment by Royal Caribbean International at its “private Haitian beach paradise,” surrounded by “a ten-foot-high iron wall, watched by armed guards,” just north of the capital. (That “investment,” according to the cruise line operator, included “a new 800-foot pier, a Barefoot Beach Club with private cabanas, an alpine roller coaster with individual controls for each car, new dining facilities and a new, larger Artisan’s Market.”)
Haiti, of course, has been here before when the U.S. Agency for International Development spoke of turning it into the “Taiwan of the Caribbean.” In the 1980s, under Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, it shifted one third of cultivated land to export crops while “there were some 240 multinational corporations, employing between 40,000 and 60,000 predominantly female workers,” sewing garments, baseballs for Major League Baseball and Disney merchandise, according to scholar Yasmine Shamsie. Those jobs, paying as little as 11 cents an hour, coincided with a decline in per capita income and living standards. (Ban Ki-moon wants Haiti to emulate Bangladesh, where sweatshops pay as little as 6 cents an hour.) At such low pay, workers had little left after purchasing food and transportation to and from the factories. These self-contained export-processing zones, often funded by USAID and the World Bank, also add little to the national economy, importing tax free virtually all the materials used. The elite use the tax-free import structure to smuggle in luxury goods. In response, the government taxed consumption-based items more, hitting the poor the hardest.
U.S.-promoted agricultural policies, such as forcing Haitian rice farmers to compete against U.S.-subsidized agribusiness, cost an estimated 830,000 rural jobs according to Oxfam, while exacerbating malnourishment. This and the decimation of the invaluable Creole pig (because of fears of an outbreak of African swine fever), led to displacement of the peasantry into urban areas, along with the promise of urban jobs, fueled rural migration into flimsy shantytowns. It’s hard not to conclude that these development schemes played a major role in the horrific death toll in Port-au-Prince.
The latest scheme, on hold for now because of the earthquake, is a $50 million “industrial park that would house roughly 40 manufacturing facilities and warehouses,” bankrolled by the Soros Economic Development Fund (yes, that Soros). The planned location is Cite Soleil. James Dobbins, former special envoy to Haiti under President Bill Clinton, outlined other measures in a New York Times op-ed: “This disaster is an opportunity to accelerate oft-delayed reforms” including “breaking up or at least reorganizing the government-controlled telephone monopoly. The same goes with the Education Ministry, the electric company, the Health Ministry and the courts.”
It’s clear that the Shock Doctrine is alive and well in Haiti. But given the strength of the organisations populaires and weakness of the government, it will have to be imposed through force.
For those who wonder why the United States is so obsessed with controlling a country so impoverished, devastated and seemingly inconsequential as Haiti, Noam Chomsky sums it up best. “Why was the U.S. so intent on destroying northern Laos, so poor that peasants hardly even knew they were in Laos? Or Indochina? Or Guatemala? Or Maurice Bishop in Grenada, the nutmeg capital of the world? The reasons are about the same, and are explained in the internal record. These are ‘viruses’ that might ‘infect others’ with the dangerous idea of pursuing similar paths to independent development. The smaller and weaker they are, the more dangerous they tend to be. If they can do it, why can’t we? Does the Godfather allow a small storekeeper to get away with not paying protection money?”
Arun Gupta is a founding editor of The Indypendent newspaper. He is writing a book on the politics of food for Haymarket Books.
Cuban Doctors in Haiti, and Their Promoters in Havana February 13, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti, Health, Latin America.
Tags: Cuba, cuba doctors, cuba health, cuba medicine, cuban doctors, earthquake relief, fidel castro, haiti, haiti earthquake, haiti health, haiti relief, Latin America, nick miroff, roger hollander
Friday 12 February 2010
Havana, Cuba – When the devastating earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Cuba’s emergency responders didn’t have far to travel. There were already some 350 Cuban medical personnel working in Haiti, sent by the Castro government to provide free care in nearly every Haitian municipality.
Since then, the number of Cuban doctors, nurses and other medical workers deployed to the disaster area has risen to 618, and the Cuban brigade is working alongside 402 Haitian graduates of Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine. According to Cuban authorities, these teams have treated more than 60,000 patients and performed more than 3,500 surgeries.
Their mission is driven by a simple principle, according to Fidel Castro.
“We are sending doctors, not soldiers,” Castro wrote recently, taking a none-too-subtle swipe at the Obama administration’s Haiti relief effort, in one of his regular postings on the government website Cubadebate.
“In the midst of the Haitian tragedy,” said the ex-Cuban leader, who has retired from his role as president but still weighs in on foreign affairs, “thousands of U.S. Marine Corps infantrymen, troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, and other military forces have occupied Haitian territory. Even worse, neither the United Nations nor the U.S. government has offered an explanation to world public opinion for this mobilization of forces.”
Castro’s criticisms, along with other articles and editorials that have since appeared in Cuba’s state-run media, are a reminder that the island’s socialist system seems to thrive at the convergence of politics, medicine and international diplomacy. Of course, for Haitian earthquake victims and others in poor countries where medical care is desperately needed, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Despite Cuba’s relatively small size and chronically ill economy, its education system has turned the island into a powerhouse of international medicine. Cuba sends thousands of doctors and other medical personnel abroad on “international missions,” and brings planeloads of patients to Havana for free eye surgery or other procedures they might not otherwise afford.
According to government figures, about 35,000 Cuban health care professionals are currently working in 70 countries. Some are assigned in the spirit of pure humanitarian assistance, while others are deployed through medical service contracts that bring in much-needed revenue for the Cuban government, as in the case of Venezuela.
These programs have generated vast amounts of international goodwill toward Cuba, building a kind of soft power that benefits the Castro government in its public relations battles with the United States. Once an outcast in the region, the Cuban government has gradually restored diplomatic relations with nearly every country in the Americas (the U.S. being the main exception), despite the persistent image of Cuba’s “isolation.”
Then there are more than 24,000 foreign medical students enrolled at Havana’s Latin American School of Medicine, mostly from Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. The Cuban government provides full six-year scholarships, and the students commit to returning to their home countries upon graduation.
Cuba has even opened its classrooms to U.S. students from low-income families, and 130 Americans are currently studying medicine in Havana. Seven of the program’s American graduates have joined the Cuban brigade in Haiti.
And yet, given the way these medical programs are promoted by the communist government’s state-run media, it’s hard to view Cuba’s efforts as pure acts of disinterested humanitarianism.
Government television reports and newspaper articles about the heroism of Cuba’s efforts in Haiti often appear crafted with maximum propaganda value in mind, especially when there’s an opportunity to score political points against the United States.
Cuban coverage of the U.S. role in Haiti has focused extensively on the American military presence, depicting U.S. troops as callous occupiers. Other Cuban editorials have gone further, alleging covetous American designs on yet-undiscovered Haitian oil.
Such claims undermine the Cuban government’s altruistic self-image, said Cuba expert Phil Peters.
“I think that people around the world recognize the great contribution of Cuban doctors in Haiti,” wrote Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, on his blog, The Cuban Triangle. “I also think that Cuban propagandists diminish Cuba’s contribution when they show that for them, Haiti relief efforts are part of a political competition with the United States.”
Of course, for patients in Haiti, it matters little whether Cuba is motivated more by public health or public relations. Cuban doctors have a track record in Haiti and elsewhere that demonstrates an overarching interest in providing care to the needy, said Gail Reed, director of MEDICC, a U.S. non-profit that publishes a journal on Cuban medicine and is helping to provide material aid for the Cuban-trained Haitian doctors.
“The world responds when there’s a disaster, and responds generously, and that’s wonderful,” said Reed. “The point to me, however, is to build a strong public health system. And the fact that the Cubans have been in Haiti for more than 10 years indicates a commitment to building a public health system.” The Cuban doctors provide everything from vaccinations to maternity care to major surgery, staffing Haiti’s public hospitals and clinics, rather than setting up private facilities of their own.
For those efforts, Reed said, Cuba deserves recognition and praise.
“Whether Cuba gets goodwill from its doctors, or for its global medical cooperation, well, shouldn’t it?,” she asked. “Shouldn’t it get some credit?”
Why Washington Cares About Countries Like Haiti and Honduras February 3, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Haiti, Honduras.
Tags: Allende, aristide, Brazil, brazil politics, Chile, cia, foreign policy, haiti, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras dictatorship, Latin America, Lula, monroe doctrine, nixon, obama administration, roger hollander
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US interference in the politics of Haiti and Honduras is only the latest example of its long-term manipulations in Latin America
by Mark Weisbrot
In 2004, the US involvement in the coup was much more open. Washington led a cut-off of almost all international aid for four years, making the government’s collapse inevitable. As the New York Times reported, while the US state department was telling Aristide that he had to reach an agreement with the political opposition (funded with millions of US taxpayers’ dollars), the International Republican Institute was telling the opposition not to settle.
In Honduras last summer and autumn, the US government did everything it could to prevent the rest of the hemisphere from mounting an effective political opposition to the coup government in Honduras. For example, they blocked the Organisation of American States from taking the position that it would not recognise elections that took place under the dictatorship. At the same time, the Obama administration publicly pretended that it was against the coup.
This was only partly successful, from a public relations point of view. Most of the US public thinks that the Obama administration was against the Honduran coup, although by November of last year there were numerous press reports and even editorial criticisms that Obama had caved to Republican pressure and not done enough. But this was a misreading of what actually happened: the Republican pressure in support of the Honduran coup changed the administration’s public relations strategy, but not its political strategy. Those who followed events closely from the beginning could see that the political strategy was to blunt and delay any efforts to restore the elected president, while pretending that a return to democracy was actually the goal.
Among those who understood this were the governments of Latin America, including such heavyweights as Brazil. This is important because it shows that the State Department was willing to pay a significant political cost in order to help the right in Honduras. It convinced the vast majority of Latin American governments that it was no different from the Bush administration in its goals for the hemisphere, which is not a pleasant outcome from a diplomatic point of view.
Why do they care so much about who runs these poor countries? As any good chess player knows, pawns matter. The loss of a couple of pawns at the beginning of the game can often make a difference between a win or a loss. They are looking at these countries mostly in straight power terms. Governments that are in agreement with maximising US power in the world, they like. Those who have other goals – not necessarily antagonistic to the United States – they don’t like.
Not surprisingly, the Obama administration’s closest allies in the hemisphere are rightwing governments such as those of Colombia or Panama, even though Obama himself is not a rightwing politician. This highlights the continuity of the politics of control. The victory of the right in Chile, the first time that it has won an election in half a century, was a significant victory for the US government. If Lula de Silva’s Workers’ party were to lose the presidential election in Brazil this autumn, that would be another win for the state department. While US officials under both Bush and Obama have maintained a friendly posture toward Brazil, it is obvious that they deeply resent the changes in Brazilian foreign policy that have allied it with other social democratic governments in the hemisphere, and its independent foreign policy stances with regard to the Middle East, Iran, and elsewhere.
The US actually intervened in Brazilian politics as recently as 2005, organising a conference to promote a legal change that would make it more difficult for legislators to switch parties. This would have strengthened the opposition to Lula’s Workers’ party (PT) government, since the PT has party discipline but many opposition politicians do not. This intervention by the US government was only discovered last year through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in Washington. There are many other interventions taking place throughout the hemisphere that we do not know about. The United States has been heavily involved in Chilean politics since the 1960s, long before they organised the overthrow of Chilean democracy in 1973.
In October 1970, President Richard Nixon was cursing in the Oval Office about the Social Democratic president of Chile, Salvador Allende. “That son of a bitch!” said Richard Nixon on 15 October. “That son of a bitch Allende – we’re going to smash him.” A few weeks later he explained why:
The main concern in Chile is that [Allende] can consolidate himself, and the picture projected to the world will be his success … If we let the potential leaders in South America think they can move like Chile and have it both ways, we will be in trouble.
That is another reason that pawns matter, and Nixon’s nightmare did in fact come true a quarter-century later, as one country after another elected independent left governments that Washington did not want. The United States ended up “losing” most of the region. But they are trying to get it back, one country at a time. The smaller, poorer countries that are closer to the United States are the most at risk. Honduras and Haiti will have democratic elections some day, but only when Washington’s influence over their politics is further reduced.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC.
The Minimum Wage and the Coup in Honduras August 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Labor, Foreign Policy, Haiti, Honduras.
Tags: workers rights, roger hollander, Latin America, haiti, aristide, minimum wage, U.S. imperialism, obama administration, haiti coup, haiti poverty, honduras labor, Honduras, honduras coup, manual zelaya, economic imperialism, robert naiman, honduras poverty, honduras workers, haiti workers, haiti labor, haiti minimum wage, hondras minimum wage, preval, honduras elite
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What is the minimum wage which a worker shall be paid for a day’s labor?
Supporters of the coup have tried to trick Americans into believing that President Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military because he broke the law. But this is nonsense. A Honduran bishop told Catholic News Service,
“Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That’s what they understand. They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That’s why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya’s return)”
This is why the greedy, self-absorbed Honduran elite turned against President Zelaya: because he was pursuing policies in the interests of the majority. The Washington Post noted in mid-July,
To many poor Hondurans, deposed president Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was a trailblazing ally who scrapped school tuitions, raised the minimum wage and took on big business.
In a statement condemning support for the coup by U.S. business groups, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation expressed its concern that under the coup regime, there are
worsening working conditions, and in particular at efforts to claw back a wage increase ordered by President Zelaya six months ago in order to reflect the increased cost of food and other essentials. In reality the increased wage barely covered 90% of basic food needs and less than a third of a living wage covering basic needs such as food, rent, transport, education, and medical care.
It’s not just in Honduras that raising the minimum wage provoked a coup. In reporting about efforts by Haitian lawmakers this week to raise the minimum wage in Haiti, AP noted:
Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 2004, in part after business owners angered by his approval of an increased minimum wage organized opposition against him.
This May, the Haitian Parliament approved a proposal to triple the minimum wage to about $5 a day. But President Preval rejected this, saying
the increase should omit workers at factories producing garments for export. Preval said those workers should receive an increase to about $3.
What’s the argument in Haiti against raising the minimum wage?
The debate has fueled unrest across the impoverished Caribbean nation, with some critics arguing that an increase would hurt plans to fight widespread unemployment by creating jobs in factories that produce clothing for export to the United States.
There are the magic words I search for in these articles, often buried at the bottom: “United States.”
So, the argument is being made that Haiti can’t afford to raise the minimum wage for workers in the export sector to $5 a day, because if they did Americans would buy clothes and shoes produced in some other countries.
Let me underline this, dear reader. You, as an American consumer, you are being invoked in Haiti as the reason that the minimum wage cannot be raised to $5 a day.
Of course this is nonsense. The overwhelming majority of Americans, along with the overwhelming majority of Haitians and Hondurans, would be absolutely delighted if Haitian and Honduran workers producing clothes for the U.S. market would be paid more. Labor costs are a small fraction of the prices that consumers face. Wages are so low because that yields even more profits for those who already have more money than they can ever spend; the low wage floor is being determined by government policy in Washington, Haiti, Honduras, and elsewhere, not by the desires of consumers. No magic formula of economics determines the minimum wage that can be sustained in Haiti and Honduras. At the margin – whether the minimum wage shall be $3 a day or $5 a day in the export sector in Haiti – it is determined politically.
If you say that the leverage of the U.S. consumer market should be used to support higher wages for poor workers in poor countries, rather than the opposite, you’re likely to be told that this is not allowed. This leverage has been allocated to something else. The power of the U.S. market can only be used for things like forcing developing countries to enforce the patents, trademarks, and copyrights of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, software companies, and Hollywood.
Indeed, if you say that we should be supporting efforts to raise the minimum wage in Honduras and Haiti, you’ll likely to be accused of “trying to impose American values.” But this is a baldfaced lie, the twisted-mirror image of the truth. The majority of Hondurans and the majority of Haitians want the wages of workers producing for export to the United States to be raised. Far from imposing “American values,” in Honduras and Haiti, we’re imposing Wall Street values, every day, through U.S. government policy, against the wishes and interests of the majority of the population, there and here.
And by its failure to help effectively Latin American efforts restore President Zelaya, the Obama Administration is helping to drive down the minimum wage in Honduras, Haiti, and throughout the world. And the reason that the Obama Administration is, de facto, taking the side of the corrupt and greedy ruling elite in Honduras, is that, as usual, U.S. foreign policy is being determined by Corporate America, not Main Street America, because the power and efforts of Main Street America to affect U.S. foreign policy in Honduras – the U.S. labor movement and its friends, basically – is too weak, compared to the infrastructure and efforts of Corporate America’s actions to shape U.S. policy.
Count this too as a casualty of the failure of Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. If the Employee Free Choice Act were law, and more American workers were organized into unions, Main Street would have more power in Washington, and Corporate America wouldn’t be calling the shots on U.S. policy towards Honduras.
So, the next time some lying moron invokes “economics” to “explain” to you that the wages of impoverished third world workers who produce for the U.S. market cannot be raised, remember the coup in Honduras, and how Washington sat on its hands while a democratically elected government was punished by greedy elites with a military coup for trying to raise the minimum wage.