Disaster Capitalism Headed To Haiti
By Stephen Lendman
18 January, 2010
In her book, "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," Naomi Klein explores the myth of free market democracy, explaining how neoliberalism dominates the world with America its main exponent exploiting security threats, terror attacks, economic meltdowns, competing ideologies, tectonic political or economic shifts, and natural disasters to impose its will everywhere.
As a result, wars are waged, social services cut, public ones privatized, and freedom sacrificed when people are too distracted, cowed or in duress to object. Disaster capitalism is triumphant everywhere from post-Soviet Russia to post-apartheid South Africa, occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, Honduras before and after the US-instigated coup, post-tsunami Sri Lanka and Aceh, Indonesia, New Orleans post-Katrina, and now heading to Haiti full-throttle after its greatest ever catastrophe. The same scheme always repeats, exploiting people for profits, the prevailing neoliberal idea that "there is no alternative" so grab all you can.
On Her web site, Klein headlines a "Haiti Disaster Capitalism Alert: Stop Them Before They Shock Again," then quotes the extremist Heritage Foundation saying:
"In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the US response to the tragic Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region."
Heritage notes "Things to Remember While Helping Haiti," itemized briefly below:
-- be bold and decisive;
-- mobilize US civilian and military capabilities "for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform;"
-- US military forces should play an active role interdicting "cocaine to Haiti and Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola;"
-- US Coast Guard vessels should stop Haitians from trying "to enter the US illegally;"
-- Congress should authorize "assistance, trade and reconstruction efforts;" and
-- US diplomacy should "counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp (to) demonstrate that the US's involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe."
Heritage is an imperial tool advocating predation, exploitation, and Haitian redevelopment for profit, not for desperate people to repair their lives. It disdains democratic freedoms, social justice, and envisions a global economy "where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish" solely for the privileged, the chosen few, not the disadvantaged or greater majority.
It's for free market plunder, regulatory freedom, tax cuts for the rich, exploiting the majority, corporate handouts, and militarized control for enforcement. It supports the Bilderberg idea of a global classless society - a New World Order with rulers and serfs, no middle class, no unions, no democracy, no equity or justice, just empowered oligarchs, freed to do as they please under a universal legal system benefitting them.
For the moment, their focus is Haiti, ripe for plunder, like the second tsunami that hit coastal Sri Lankans. The December 2004 one took 250,000 lives and left 2.5 million homeless throughout the region. Klein explained the aftermath at Arugam Bay, "a fishing and faded resort village" on Sri Lanka's east coast that was showcased to "build back better." Not for villagers, for developers, hoteliers, and other business interests to exploit. After the disaster, they had a blank slate for what the tourist industry long wanted - "a pristine beach (on prime real estate), scrubbed clean of all the messy signs of people working, a vacation Eden. It was the same up and down the coast once rubble was cleared....paradise" given the profit potential.
New rules forbade coastal homes, so a buffer zone was imposed to insure it. Beaches were off-limits. Displaced Sri Lankans were shoved into grim barracks, and "menacing, machine-gun-wielding soldiers" patrolled to keep them there.
Tourist operators, however, were welcomed and encouraged to build on oceanfront land - to transform the former fishing village into a "high-end boutique tourism destination (with) five-star resorts, luxury chalets, (and even a) floatplane pier and helipad."
It was to be a model for transforming around 30 similar zones into a South Asian Riviera to let Sri Lanka reenter the world economy as one of the last remaining uncolonized places globalization hadn't touched. High-end tourism was the ticket - to provide a luxury destination for the rich once a few changes were made. Government land was opened to private buyers. Labor laws were relaxed or eliminated. Modern infrastructure would be built, and public opposition suppressed to let plans proceed unimpeded.
The same scheme followed Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 when Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua were hardest hit. In Sri Lanka, Washington took the Mitch model to the next level - beyond individuals to corporate control over reconstruction. Business ran everything. Affected people were shut out. Klein called it a new type corporate coup mother nature made possible. Now again in Haiti with an idea of what's coming.
Powerful business interests constructed a blueprint from housing to hotels to highways and other needed infrastructure. Disaster relief went for development. Victims got nothing and were consigned to permanent shantytowns like the kinds in most Global South cities and Global North inner ones. Aceh and other affected areas adopted the same model.
A year after the tsunami, the NGO Action Aid surveyed the results in five Asian countries and found the same pattern - residents barred from rebuilding and living in militarized camps, while developers were given generous incentives. Lost was their way of life forever.
The same scheme played out in New Orleans with unfettered capitalism given free reign. With considerable Bush administration help, mother nature gave corporate predators a golden opportunity for plunder. Prevailing wage rates for federally funded or assisted construction projects were suspended. So were environmental regulations in an already polluted area, enough to be designated a superfund site or toxic waste dump. Instead, redevelopment was planned.
As a previous article explained, New Orleans had ample warning but was unprepared. The city is shaped like a bowl, lies below sea level, and its Gulf coast is vulnerable. As a result, the inevitable happened, affecting the city's least advantaged - the majority black population targeted for removal and needing only an excuse to do it. The storm wiped out public housing and erased communities, letting developers build upscale condos and other high-profit projects on choice city land.
It was right out of the Chicago School's play book, what economist Milton Friedman articulated in his 1962 book, "Capitalism and Freedom." His thesis:
"only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When a crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around...our basic function (is) to develop alternatives to existing policies (and be ready to roll them out when the) impossible becomes the politically inevitable."
Friedman believed that government's sole function is "to protect our freedom from (outside) enemies (and) our fellow-citizens. (It's to) preserve law and order (as well as) enforce private contracts, (safeguard private property and) foster competitive markets."
Everything else in public hands is socialism, an ideology he called blasphemous. He said markets work best unfettered of rules, regulations, onerous taxes, trade barriers, "entrenched interests" and human interference, and the best government is practically none - the wild west because, in his view, anything government does business does better so let it. Ideas about democracy, social justice, and a caring society were verboten because they interfere with free-wheeling capitalism.
He said public wealth should be in private hands, profit accumulation unrestrained, corporate taxes abolished, and social services curtailed or ended. He believed "economic freedom is an end to itself (and) an indispensable means toward (achieving) political freedom." He opposed the minimum wage, unions, market interference, an egalitarian society, and called Social Security "the biggest Ponzi scheme on earth." He supported a flat tax favoring the rich, and believed everyone should have to rely on their own resources to get by.
In a word, Friedmanomics preaches unrestrained market fundamentalism. "Free to choose," he said with no regard for human needs and rights. For him and his followers, economic freedom is the be-all-and-end-all under limited government, the marketplace being the master.
Applied to New Orleans, it meant permanent changes, including removing public housing, developing upscale properties in its place, privatizing schools, and destroying a way of life for thousands of disadvantaged blacks expelled from their communities and not allowed back.
Klein called Friedman's thesis "the shock doctrine." Applied to Russia, Eastern Europe and other developing states, it was shock therapy. For affected people, it was economic and social disaster under Friedman's prescription for mass-privatizations, deregulation, unrestricted free market predation, deep social spending cuts, and harsh crackdowns against resisters. It's disaster capitalism, business is booming, and Haitians will soon feel its full fury under military occupation.
Haiti - Beleaguered, Occupied, and Stricken by a Disaster of Biblical Proportions
Since the 19th century, America dominated Haiti. Before the quake, a proxy paramilitary Blue Helmet force occupied the country, dispatched not for peacekeeping but iron-grip control. Worse still, it was the first time ever that UN forces supported a coup d'etat government, the one Washington installed after US Marines kidnapped President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, forcibly exiled him to Africa, and ended the political, economic and social reforms he instituted - in areas of health, education, justice and human rights. Ever since, conditions for Haitians have been nightmarish, and now the quake and further misery ahead from the Pentagon's iron fist and greater than ever exploitation.
Obama's top priority is control, underway immediately after the Pentagon took over the Port-au-Prince airport, reopened it after its brief closure, and set up a temporary air traffic control center. Military personnel now decide what gets in or out, what's delivered, how fast, and according to unconfirmed reports, they slowed arriving search and rescue equipment, supplies, and personnel, except for what other countries managed to send in types and amounts way short of what's needed. As a result, trapped Haitians perished, whereas a concentrated, sustained airlift, including heavy earthmoving and other equipment, might have saved hundreds or thousands more lives.
The 1948 - 49 Berlin airlift showed how. For nearly 11 months, western allies delivered what rose to a daily average of 5,500 tons, providing vital supplies for the city's two million people. Today, the Pentagon has far greater capabilities. If ordered, massive amounts of virtually everything could be expedited, including heavy earthmoving equipment and teams of experts for every imaginable need. The result would have been vast numbers more lives saved, now perished because little was done to help, except for heroic volunteers providing food, water, and medical care, and Haitians who dug out survivors with small implements and their bare hands.
On January 15, Reuters reported that the Port-au-Prince 9,000-foot runway escaped serious damage and could handle big cargo planes easily. Immediately, food, water, medicine, rescue crews, and other specialists began arriving from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, China, and elsewhere, but very little from America, including vitally needed heavy equipment. Haiti has very little of what's needed.
Instead, the Pentagon sent in thousands of Marines and 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers (a 10,000 force contingent once in place), armed killers, not humanitarian personnel and regular supplies to sustain them. Larger numbers may follow to be supplemented by UN Blue Helmets and Haitian National Police under Pentagon command. A long-term commitment for militarized control is planned, not humanitarian relief, reminiscent of the 20-year 1915 - 1934 period when US Marines occupied and ravaged Haiti.
Throughout the country, the lives of nine million people are at stake. Of immediate concern, are the three million in Port-au-Prince and surroundings, devastated by the quake and unable to sustain themselves without substantial outside help.
Central also is Haiti's government, now crippled, including one report saying the senate building collapsed with most of the lawmakers inside. It's not clear who's alive or dead in either National Assembly chamber, the cabinet, or other government posts. It hardly matters, however, under US military control leaving President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive mere figureheads.
Once full control is established, the immediate shock subsides, and the media lose interest, reconstruction will be implemented for profit, not poor Haitians left on their own in communities like Cite Soleil and Bel Air or permanently displaced for what developers have in mind.
Efforts will focus on upscale areas and facilities for the Pentagon, US officials and selected bureaucrats. Before the quake, the Preval government was weak, ineffective, and uncaring about Haiti's vast needs. He effectively ceded power to Washington, the UN, and the large imperial-chosen NGO presence in the country.
In addition, Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party was banned from the scheduled February 2010 parliamentary elections (now cancelled or postponed), and was earlier excluded from the 2009 April and June process to fill 12 open senate seats, resulting in a turnout below 10%, and mocking a true democratic process.
Now, millions of Haitians hang by a thread. As one of them put it, "tout ayiti kraze," the whole country is no more. The government is inoperative. Port-au-Prince is in shambles. People are struggling to survive, 100,000 or more likely dead, a toll sure to rise as disease and depravation claim more. Those in poor communities are on their own. Rescuers are concentrating on high-profile, well-off areas, but without earthmoving equipment can do little to save victims. The problem - Washington obstructionism and indifference to human suffering and need.
On January 15, Al Jazeera reported that aid agencies are struggling under difficult conditions and inadequate supplies, let alone how to distribute them throughout the capital. As a result, frustration is growing with little help, no shelter, decaying bodies still unburied, the threat of disease, and the stench of death everywhere with no power, phones, clean water, food, and everything millions need.
Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera's Port-au-Prince correspondent said:
"A lot of people have simply grown tired of waiting for those emergency workers to get to them. Thousands of people are streaming out of the city towards the provinces to try to find supplies of food and water, supplies that are running out in the city."
On January 16, Al Jazeera headlined "Haiti: UP to 200,000 feared dead." About 50,000 bodies have been collected, according to Haiti's interior minister, Paul Antoine Bien-Aime, and he anticipates "between 100,000 and 200,000 dead in total, although we will never know the exact number," nor how many more will expire in the weeks and months ahead, unnoticed and unreported.
On January 17, Al Jazeera headlined, "Aid teams struggle to help Haitians....amid difficulties in distributing relief supplies to those who need it most.
Sebastian Walker said delivering supplies stacking up at the airport has been extremely problematic:
"This comes down to the complex issue of who is in charge here. The US military has a great deal of control over the number of flights that are landing here. We heard that a UN flight carrying aid equipment had to be diverted because the US was landing its own aircraft there. The question of just who makes the decision over how to distribute the aid seems to be what is holding up the supplies."
The Pentagon decides, of course, and that's the problem. Obama also urges "patience," saying "many difficult days (are) ahead," without explaining his obstructionist uncaring role.
The result is reports like this:
-- from Canada's CBC As It Happens broadcast interview with an ICRC spokesperson saying he spent the morning of January 15 touring one of the hardest hit areas, and "In three hours, I didn't see a single rescue team;"
-- a same day BBC interview with an American Red Cross spokesperson complained about aid delivery - that arriving planes carried people, not supplies, and amounts at the airpot weren't being delivered;
- the Canada Haiti Action Network calls Port-au-Prince a city largely without aid because areas most in need aren't getting it; further, in nicer neighborhoods, dogs and extraction units arrived, but 90% of them are just sitting around, perhaps because of no earthmoving equipment to reach victims;
-- another report said a French plane carrying a field hospital was turned away, then later allowed in; meanwhile, Israel got carte blanche for its own field hospital, able to handle 500 casualties daily, so it begs the question - why praise Israel for (selectively) helping Haitians when it murders Palestinians daily, keeps the West Bank isolated and locked down, Gaza under siege, and denies critically ill residents exit permission for treatment unavailable from Strip facilities, leaving them to perish; and
-- various reports say US forces are preventing flights from landing; prioritized are landing US troops, repatriating American nationals, and perhaps starving poor Haitians to death; dozens of French citizens and dual Haitian-French nationals couldn't leave when their scheduled flight to Guadeloupe couldn't land; an angry French Secretary of State for Cooperation, Alain Joyandet, told reporters that he "made an official complaint to the Americans through the US embassy."
UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Report on Haiti Relief
On January 15, OCHA reported as follows:
"Logistics and the lack of transport remain the key constraints to the delivery of aid. Needs are still being identified as access becomes possible and as assessments begin to take place.
Displaced populations are currently scattered across multiple locations where there is open space. Temporary shelters urgently need to be established.
Fifteen sites have been identified for distribution of relief items. World Food Program reached 13,000 people today with food, jerry cans and water purification tablets."
OCHA continued, saying:
"A total of (only) 180 tons of relief supplies have arrived in-country so far. Operations are heavily constrained due to the lack of fuel, transport, communications and handling capacity at the airport. Some flights are being re-routed through Santo Domingo airport (far from Port-au-Prince in the Dominican Republic) which is also becoming congested."
In its latest January 16 report, OCHA repeated that airport logistics remain a challenge, the result of re-routed flights, congestion, lengthy offloading times, the lack of transport and fuel, no storage facility, and the airport "now packed with goods and teams" not being delivered.
Three million Haitians need help, but the World Food Program distributed high energy biscuits only to 50,000. Around 50,000 are getting hot meals.
Major health concerns include untreated trauma wounds, infections, infectious diseases, diarrhea, lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, and Haitians with pre-existing condition like HIV/AIDS, diabetes and cancer aren't being treated.
Up to a million people need immediate shelter and non-food aid, including clean water, blankets, kitchen and hygiene kits, plastic sheeting and tents.
"As of 16 January it is estimated that fuel for humanitarian operations will only last 2 to 3 more days before operations will be forced to cease."
There have only been 58 live rescues so far among the many thousands trapped beneath or behind rubble. OCHA launched a Flash Appeal for $575 million "to cover 3 million people severely affected for six months."
Sixteen EU nations are providing aid but not enough. America is doing practically nothing.
One nation delivering heroic help is Cuba, but little about it is reported. Despite its own constraints, it's operated in Haiti for years, and now has over 400 doctors and healthcare experts delivering free services. They work every day in 227 of the country's 337 communes. In addition, Cuban medical schools trained over 400 Haitian doctors, now working to save lives during the country's gravest crisis. It's no small achievement that Cuba, blockaded and constrained, is responsible for nearly 1,000 doctors and healthcare providers, all of whom work tirelessly to save lives and rehabilitate the injured.
According to China's Xinhua News Agency:
"Cuban aid workers have taken charge of (Haiti's) De la Paz Hospital, since its doctors have not appeared after the quake," perhaps because many perished, are wounded, or are trapped beneath or behind rubble themselves.
Cubans are working despite a lack of everything needed to provide care except for what its government managed to deliver. Dr. Carlos Alberto Garcia, coordinator of its medical brigade, said Cuban doctors, nurses and other health personnel are working non-stop, day and night. Operating rooms are open 18 hours a day.
Independent reports now say Washington is trying to block Cuban and Venezuelan aid workers by refusing them landing permission in Port-au-Prince. The Caribbean Community's emergency aid mission is also blocked. On January 15, the US State Department confirmed that it signed two Memoranda of Understanding with the remnants of Haiti's government putting Washington in charge of all inbound and outbound flights and aid offloading in the country.
For years, Cuba has sent doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers to countries in need worldwide, winning hearts and minds for its free highly professional services. It provides national healthcare for all its people, and now has about 25,000 doctors in 68 countries. In addition, over 1,800 doctors from 47 developing states graduate annually from Cuban medical schools, return home, and provide quality care for their people.
Major Media Misreporting
Ignoring Haiti's long history as a de facto US colony, the major media report a sanitized version of today's catastrophe. For example on January 14, The New York Times cynically editorialized: "Once again, the world weeps for Haiti." This is the same paper that lied in a March 1, 2004 editorial after US Marines forcibly exiled Aristide, saying:
-- he resigned;
-- sending in Marines "was the right thing to do;" and
-- they only arrived after "Mr. Aristide yielded power."
It also blamed him for "contribut(ing) significantly to his own downfall (because of his) increasingly autocratic and lawless rule," and accused him of manipulating the 2000 legislative elections and not "deliver(ing) the democracy he promised."
In fact, other than a brief period after its liberating revolution (1791 - January 1, 2004), the only time Haiti was democratically governed was under Aristide and during Rene Preval's first term. Aristide, in fact, was so beloved, he was overwhelmingly reelected in 2000 with a 92% majority and would be equally supported today if allowed to run. In fact, when he's most needed and wanted, Washington won't let him return.
In media coverage of Haiti's disaster, the greater story is suppressed, the one that matters, that puts today's tragedy in context:
-- 500 years of repression; slavery under the Spanish, then French, and since the 19th century as a de facto US colony;
-- deep poverty and human misery, the worst in the hemisphere;
-- despotic rule, occupation, exploitation, starvation, disease and low life expectancy; and
-- now now a disaster of biblical proportions getting Times headlines like:
"In Show of Support, Clinton Goes to Haiti"
Omitted was that it was for a brief airport photo op, America's usual show of indifference to human suffering, in this case, the result of US imperialism, not as a benefactor the way The Times and other major media portray.
"Officials Strain to Distribute Aid to Haiti as Violence Rises"
In fact, Haitians have been remarkably calm, no thanks to Washington that's slowing aid delivery, providing very little of its own, and offers little more than militarized occupation, armed killers, including Xe (formerly Blackwater Worldwide) mercenaries, notoriously savage brutes.
"Looting Flares Where Authority Breaks Down"
Looting? People are suffering, starving, dying, desperate because America sends fighters, not food; Marines, not medical aid; combat killers, not compassion, caring, and kindness; and diplomats, not doctors or human decency.
"Government Struggles to Exhume Itself"
Calling it "comparatively stable" ignores that Preval's government is a proxy for US interests and no longer functioning. Pentagon killers are now in charge.
"Bush, Clinton and Obama Unite to Raise Money for Haiti"
After the December 2004 tsunami struck East Asia, the Bush administration spearheaded a similar campaign, raised over $1 billion, and used it for corporate development, not people needs. Obama backs a similar scheme (Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund) in a show of contemptible indifference to human misery and chose two co-conspirators for his plan.
The Bush administration engineered the February 2004 coup ousting Aristide, established police state rule, and immiserated nine million Haitians. For his part, Clinton kept an iron grip throughout his presidency instead of supporting Aristide's political, economic and social reforms.
He's now UN Special Envoy to Haiti heading an Obama administration neoliberal scheme featuring tourism, textile sweatshops, sweeping privatizations and deregulation for greater cheap labor exploitation at the expense of providing essential needs. He orchestrated a plan to turn northern Haiti into a tourist playground and got Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to invest $55 million for a pier in Labadee where the company operates a private resort and has contributed the largest amount of tourist revenue to the country since 1986.
More still is planned, including a new international airport in the north, an expanded free trade zone, a new one in Port-au-Prince, now delayed, various infrastructure projects, and an alliance with George Soros' Open Society Institute for a $50 million partnership with Haitian shipper Gregory Mevs to build a free-trade zone for clothing sweatshops.
In addition, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) has $258 million in commitments, including the Better Work Haiti and HOPE II projects, taking advantage of duty-free Haitian apparel exports to America to encourage greater sweatshop proliferation.
According to TransAfrica's founder Randall Robinson:
"That isn't the kind of investment that Haiti needs. It needs capital investment. It needs investment so that it can be self-sufficient. It needs investment so that it can feed itself." It also needs debt relief, not another $100 million the IMF just announced adding more to a $1.2 billion burden.
Above all, Haiti needs democratic governance freed from US control, military occupation, and the kind of oppression it's endured for centuries so its people can breathe free.
It doesn't need two past and a current US president allied with Haiti's elites, ignoring economic justice, exploiting Haitian labor, ignoring overwhelming human desperation, militarizing the country, crushing resistance if it arises, and implementing a disaster capitalism agenda at the expense of essential human needs, rights and freedoms.
The only good new is that the Obama administration granted undocumented Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months. They can now work legally and send remittances to family members. It affects 30,000 ordered deported and all non-US citizens.
During the Bush administration and throughout Obama's first year in office, repeated calls for it were refused. Now after 80 representatives and 18 senators, Republicans and Democrats, and the conference of Roman Catholic bishops sent appeals, Obama relented for Haitians in America as of January 12. New arrivals will be deported unlike Cubans under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (as amended), a "wet foot/dry foot" policy under which those interdicted at sea are returned home, but others reaching shore are inspected for entry, then nearly always allowed to stay.
TPS aside, Haiti faces crushing burdens - deep poverty, vast unemployment, overwhelming human needs, severe repression, poor governance, Washington dominance, a burdensome debt, and much more before the January 12 quake. Now the disaster, militarization by the Pentagon, and disaster capitalism soon arriving besides what's already profiteering. It's been Haiti's plight for generations, the poorest hemispheric nation in the area most under Washington's iron grip and paying dearly for the privilege.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Lendman News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy listening.