More Pain for Devastated Haiti: Under the Pretense of Disaster Relief, U.S. Running a Military Occupation
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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" by the earthquake. The real powers in Haiti right now are Keen, U.S. ambassador Louis Lucke, Bill Clinton ( 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.”