We’re all gutted about the situation in Haiti. It is so immensely tragic, particularly in the face of all the other suffering these people have experienced for far too long. One thing I would like to do at this juncture, is to ensure people realise that this latest disaster is not an entirely natural one. No, I cannot blame a secret global elite or a first world government for triggering a large earthquake underneath the island of Hispanola, but I can blame these for setting the stage for such an earthquake to result in maximum casualty rates – both during and after the event.
I am talking, in particular, about the acute poverty that has lead to Haitians becoming extremely vulnerable to any disaster. Haitians have gone from agricultural independence to having to eat mud and an almost complete dependence on outside aid for food, clothing, etc., by, specifically, following western economic guidelines for running their economy. Haiti followed the economic ‘recipe for success’ as mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Following the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program of deregulation is the prerequisite to receiving a loan from the international financier. If you haven’t done so already, I would strongly urge you to read Orchestrating Famine – a Must Read Backgrounder on the Food Crisis to learn how Haiti managed to go from being fully self-sufficient, just a few decades ago, to being almost totally reliant on imports today – imports many cannot buy for lack of funds to do so. The policies implemented saw a large scale dismantling of rural economies with its simultaneous explosion of urban slums. These newly landless were forced to build as cheaply as possible – ramshackled corrugated iron and cinder block constructions without steel reinforcing sitting on denuded, treeless hillsides.
This economic restructuring is said to have gone a lot further than just economic policies – with the U.S. government accused of having supported corrupt Haitian dictators who aligned with their extractive policies and even organising a coup (see also) against a democratically elected leader who promised to do something to address their poverty.
Although governments will deny these accusations, it is difficult to have faith in their good intentions when we see the economic vultures circling yet again, now that this latest tragedy has struck:
Now, in its attempts to help Haiti, the IMF is pursuing the same kinds of policies that made Haiti a geography of precariousness even before the quake. To great fanfare, the IMF announced a new $100 million loan to Haiti on Thursday. In one crucial way, the loan is a good thing; Haiti is in dire straits and needs a massive cash infusion. But the new loan was made through the IMF’s extended credit facility, to which Haiti already has $165 million in debt. Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low. They say that the new loans would impose these same conditions. In other words, in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms. – The Nation (entire article also recommended reading)
Unless we understand this history, we’re destined to repeat it, and our efforts to help these people will be in vain – worse, they’ll just translate to increased dependency and even further unreadiness to face the next disaster. This becomes even more important to realise when you factor that, within the next few years, western countries will likely be so focussed on their own internal problems, that future pleas for assistance may fall on deaf ears.
It pains me at present to see the same kind of media reports as we saw with Hurricane Katrina – a focus on small pockets of (largely necessary) looting with not enough emphasis on the incredible patience and resilience of the majority of Haitians – particularly in the face of our painfully slow response. Rather than create aggressive divisions we must find a way to comfort and inspire these people. Rather than short term aid and long term economic pillaging, let’s discuss and action some PermaHelp.
Democracy Now! – U.S. Policy in Haiti Over Decades