Seismic Imperialism: Haiti's Buried Cry for
Help on Third Anniversary of Earthquake
by Jesse Hagopian
Published on Saturday, January 12, 2013 by Common
"When you look at things, you say, 'Hell, almost three
years later, where is the reconstruction?' If you ask
what went right and what went wrong, the answer is
most everything went wrong." -Former Prime Minster of
Haiti Michele Pierre-Louis
On the third anniversary of the catastrophic
earthquake in Haiti that left tens of thousands dead
and injured, the solemn remembrances have been buried
under the debris of deception. Barely audible from the
bottom of this colossal heap, the cry to "build back
better" has turned into raspy whisper--and the world
has lost its voice, unable to even vocalize the words
"relief for Haiti."
As Nigel Fisher, humanitarian coordinator for United
Nations aid in Haiti, admitted in an article in the
New York Times, "humanitarian financing for Haiti has
all but dried up while needs remain acute."
Some 300,000 Haitians still live as refugees in camps,
and more than 60,000 people who live in tents on
private land have been evicted. Worse, a now nearly
three-year-old cholera epidemic has sickened hundreds
of thousands of people and killed over
7,900.Conditions remain dire for many of those
displaced by the devastating January 2010 Haiti
earthquake. (Photo: Amnesty International)
It is now widely recognized that no earnest effort was
ever undertaken to meet the needs of millions of
Haitians languishing in inhuman conditions. As the
Times reported, describing the fading support for
While at least $7.5 billion in official aid and
private contributions have indeed been disbursed--as
calculated by [special envoy Bill] Clinton's United
Nations office and by the Times--disbursed does not
necessarily mean spent. Sometimes, it simply means the
money has been shifted from one bank account to
another as projects have gotten bogged down. That is
the case for nearly half the money for housing.
The United States, for instance, long ago disbursed
$65 million to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund for the
largest housing project planned for this devastated
city. The fund, which issued a January 2011 news
release promising houses for 50,000 people, then
transferred the money to the World Bank, which is
executing the project. And there, almost all of it
still sits, with contracts just signed.
The mainstream media would lead one to think that
Haiti's primary problem is waning international good
will. The U.S. has contributed less than half of the
$1 billion it pledged to Haiti. Canada's International
"Cooperation" Minister Julian Fantino recently
announced a freeze on aid to Haiti, fuming, "We are
not a charity foundation."
The major problem, however, isn't abandonment--if only
Haiti was lucky enough to have been deserted by
"interested" outside parties after the earthquake.
Instead, the U.S., UN and other international
financing organizations decided that mere inattention
was too good for Haiti. The world's most powerful
governments and institutions have imposed policies
that have compounded the damage done by the
earthquake--a man-made economic and social disaster
that in many ways has caused more damage than the
natural one that came before it.
Election Puppeteers and the Disaster of Neoliberalism
Take, for example, the 2011 Haitian presidential
election. This might have been an opportunity for
Haitians to strengthen democracy, electing a leader
who shared their values and sense of urgency in the
rebuilding effort. Yet the U.S., along with the UN,
decided a democratic election would undermine the long
history of colonial rule in Haiti.
The U.S. supported Michel Martelly, a former supporter
of the U.S.-backed dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc"
Duvalier. Martelly was picked for the job by the U.S.
because of his close association with army figures who
carried out the first coup against Haiti's first
democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide in 1991. Martelly was also a supporter of the
paramilitary forces that carried out another
coup--orchestrated by the U.S. under George W.
Bush--against Aristide in 2004.
With U.S. and UN support, the Provisional Election
Commission (CEP) rigged the Haitian election by
banning 14 political parties from running, including
the country's most popular party, Aristide's Fanmi
With the help of the international puppeteers and
their manipulation of the election, Martelly was able
to ignore the mass protests against election fraud and
capture the presidency. As Haiti Liberte journalist
and editor Kim Ives said in a speech:
Martelly only won through U.S. intervention into the
Haitian elections. The first round of the election was
complete chaos--a total mess in November 2010. In
fact, all but the three frontrunners--Michel Martelly,
Mirlande Manigat and Jude Celestin--pulled out of the
race and called for the annulment of the election.
Martelly's pledge to make Haiti "business friendly"
made him the clear choice for U.S. interests. Not
content with simply leaving Haiti to suffer, the U.S.
has used Martelly as a pliable figurehead, behind whom
it can control Haiti's economy.
The U.S. government and Inter-American Development
Bank set aside $220 million to finance the new Caracol
Industrial Park, which was designed to provide
sweatshop labor for the South Korean-based clothing
manufacturer SNH Global. Former President Bill Clinton
joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the
Caracol inaugural ceremony in the fall of 2012.
Whenever the Clintons choose to visit sweatshop
workers in the shiny new Caracol factories, they can
stay at the Royal Oasis Hotel, with 128 luxurious
rooms ranging in price from $190 a night for standard
accommodations to $342 for a full suite. The hotel was
built with a $2 million equity investment from the
Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund.
Of course, the Clintons won't have to worry about
rubbing elbows with sweaty workers in the lobby, as
the U.S. has used its diplomatic authority in Haiti to
keep the minimum wage low. It would take more than a
month of Caracol wages to spend a single night in the
cheapest room at the Royal Oasis.
Isabel Macdonald and Isabeau Doucet's published an
investigative report for The Nation magazine on the
Clinton Foundation's first project in Haiti, a
reconstruction effort in the town of Leogane. The
reporters discovered that the foundation provided the
town with trailers from Clayton Homes, the very
company being sued in the U.S. for providing the
Federal Emergency Management Agency with
formaldehyde-tainted trailers following Hurricane
Katrina in New Orleans.
As Macdonald and Doucet reported, the trailers were to
be used as classrooms--but they incubated mold rather
than scholarship and were plagued with high levels of
As Judith Seide, a student in Lubert's sixth-grade
class, explained to the Nation, she and her classmates
regularly suffer from painful headaches in their new
Clinton Foundation classroom. Every day, she said, her
"head hurts, and I feel it spinning and have to stop
moving, otherwise I'd fall." Her vision goes dark, as
is the case with her classmate Judel, who sometimes
can't open his eyes because, said Seide, "he's
allergic to the heat." Their teacher regularly
relocates the class outside into the shade of the
trailer because the swelter inside is insufferable.
Two out of four of these classrooms provided by the
Clinton Foundation couldn't be used because
temperatures frequently exceeded 100 degrees inside
the trailers. As student Mondialie Cineas said, "The
class gets so hot. The kids get headaches. And we go
to the teacher for him to give us painkillers."
As the New York Times reported of Bill Clinton's
Many Haitians never shook the feeling that they were
an afterthought and that their institutions and
businesses were being bypassed and undermined ...."We
called it the second earthquake," said Jean-Yves
Jason, mayor of Port-au-Prince at the time.
The UN in the Time of Cholera
There is perhaps no better example of the cruelty of
international organizations toward Haiti than the
cholera epidemic that broke out in the fall of 2010.
Prior to October 2010, there had not been a reported
incident of cholera in Haiti in nearly a century,
according to the UN World Health Organization. Today,
Partners in Health (PIH) reports, "Cholera remains a
leading cause of death among young adults in Haiti,
and cases continue to spike during rainy periods."
An expert panel of epidemiologists and microbiologists
appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
concluded UN peacekeeping troops from Nepal imported
cholera to Haiti and contaminated the river tributary
next to their base through a faulty sanitation system.
"It was like throwing a lighted match into a
gasoline-filled room," said Dr. Paul S. Keim, a
microbial geneticist who worked on the study.
The UN did not intentionally infect Haiti's water
supply. But it is also true the UN has refused to
apologize for unleashing cholera  on the Haitian
population, saying the outbreak was due to a
"confluence" of factors "and was not the fault of, or
deliberate action of, a group or individual."
Besides introducing cholera, UN MINUSTAH forces have
perpetrated mass rape of underage girls, used
indiscriminate force in densely populated urban areas
that killed dozens of innocent civilians in raids and
prioritized security and policing over humanitarian
aid in the aftermath of the earthquake, a decision
that cost the lives of countless Haitians who were
trapped beneath rubble and needed to get water within
a few days of the quake.
The UN came to Haiti after Aristide was removed by the
U.S. Marines in 2004--a clear attempt to give a
humanitarian gloss to U.S. imperial interests. The UN
mission is primarily aimed at preventing Aristide's
Lavalas Fanmi party from returning to power and has
nothing to do with charitable considerations.
Had the popular Lavalas agenda of improving national
infrastructure been allowed to proceed, Haiti would
have been in a much better position to cope with the
cholera outbreak. Investing resources in a national
sewage system could have saved thousands of lives. In
this way, too, the UN is culpable for the spread of
The Earthquake and its Aftermath
Two days before the earthquake, my one-year-old son
and I accompanied my wife to Haiti where she was
conducting an HIV training course for her university.
We thankfully survived the earthquake unharmed and
soon began helping to care for others who were badly
We had one emergency medical technician (EMT) at our
hotel, and when word got out that there was a trained
medical professional present, people began flocking to
what became a makeshift medical clinic for hundreds of
badly injured Haitians. The EMT quickly deputized my
wife and I as orderlies in his driveway "emergency
room," where we assisted in whatever way we
could--ripping sheets to use as bandages, setting
splints, tying tourniquets--despite our lack of
On the third day after the earthquake, we drove
through the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince and
witnessed hundreds of dead bodies lining the streets
and people still desperately trying to dig loved ones
out of the rubble, while the UN and U.S. soldiers were
deployed to security details to protect against the
thing that worried them more than rescuing
people--possible civil strife, which could threaten
On the fifth day after the quake, we made it to the
airport. To our horror, we saw planes flying in with
materiel that that was stacking up on the tarmac. We
didn't see a single truck carry the supplies out of
the airport in all the hours we spent waiting for our
evacuation flight. With thousands of people buried
under rubble on that critical fifth day after the
quake, the water on that tarmac could have saved
thousands of lives.
Now, there is documentary evidence to back up our
conclusions about the cynical and self-serving role of
the U.S. government and the UN and other international
institutions it dominates.
In September of 2011, a massive collection of cables
from the U.S. embassy in Haiti was released by
WikiLeaks, revealing the U.S. government's role in
keeping former President Aristide from returning to
Haiti, how the U.S. tried to suppress the minimum wage
in Haiti and Washington's attempt to keep Haiti
purchasing oil from U.S. corporations rather than the
much cheaper supply from Venezuela, among other
I was particularly interested in the documents from
aftermath of the earthquake. While the inclination of
ordinary people was to do anything they could to
help--remarkably, half of Americans donated to Haitian
relief, according to one opinion survey--WikiLeaks
documents reveal that the U.S. government and its
disaster capitalist counterparts could think only of
For example, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten wrote in a
secret February 1, 2010 "situation report" cable sent
to Washington: "THE GOLD RUSH IS ON!...As Haiti digs
out from the earthquake, different [U.S.] companies
are moving in to sell their concepts, products and
Innovative concepts like sweat shops. Products such as
$342 per night hotel rooms. Services such free
delivery of formaldehyde-laced classrooms.
In 1852, Fredrick Douglass, the escaped slave and
famous abolitionist, delivered a speech titled "What
to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" His words are
appropriate today to describe our nation's appalling
treatment of Haiti at its most desperate hour:
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing
argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I
reach the nation's ear, I would, today, pour out a
fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach,
withering sarcasm and stern rebuke. For it is not
light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle
shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind,
and the earthquake....
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through
all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world,
travel through South America, search out every abuse,
and when you have found the last, lay your facts by
the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and
you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity
and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a
Jesse Hagopian is a public high school teacher in
Seattle and a founding member of Social Equality
Educators (SEE). He is a contributing author to
Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and
Liberation and 101 Changemakers: Rebels and Radicals
Who Changed US History (Haymarket Books). Hagopian
serves on the Board of Directors of Maha-Lilo--"Many
Hands, Light Load"--a Haiti solidarity organization. He
can be reached at: [log in to unmask] or you can
follow him on Twitter.
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