Let the Haitians In

by Amy Goodman

Jean Montrevil was shackled, imprisoned, about to be sent to Haiti. It was Jan. 6, days before the earthquake that would devastate Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Montrevil came to the U.S. with a green card in 1986 at the age of 17. Twenty years ago, still a teenager, he was convicted of possession of cocaine and sent to prison for 11 years. Upon release, he married a U.S. citizen; he has four U.S.-citizen children, owns a business, pays taxes and is a legal, permanent resident. He is a well-respected Haitian New York community activist. But because of his earlier conviction, he was on an immigration supervision program, requiring him to check in with an immigration official every two weeks. On Dec. 30, during his routine visit, he was immediately detained and told he would be deported to Haiti. A fellow detainee bound for Haiti had a fever. That man's illness halted the flight, and then the earthquake struck.

The devastating toll of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti continues to mount. Most efforts to rescue people from the rubble have ended. More than 150,000 people have been buried, some in makeshift graves near the ruins of the homes where they died, but many in unmarked, mass graves at Titanyen, the site of massacres during previous dictatorships and coups. More than 1 million people are homeless out of Haiti's population of 9 million. The stench of decaying bodies is still pervasive in the capital city of Port-au-Prince as well as in outlying towns, which, two weeks out, have seen little outside help. It was painful to see the mass of aid stockpiled at the airport. The Haitians need it now. For example, I saw pallets with thousands of bottles of Aquafina water there. Hopeful when a truck arrived to load up, I asked where it was headed. "To the U.S. Embassy," I was told. 

One of the principal sources of national income in Haiti is the flow of remittances from the Haitian diaspora, whose cash, wired to family members back in Haiti, amounts to one-third of Haiti's gross national product. For years, after four major hurricanes and massive flooding, the Haitian community has simply been asking to be treated like Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Salvadorans in similar circumstances, to receive Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS allows people to stay in the U.S., and legally work, during times of armed conflict or natural disaster, and is a critical element of any humane policy. Finally, following frantic grass-roots lobbying after the earthquake, the U.S. government extended TPS to Haitians.

But TPS is not enough. Haitians need to be allowed into the United States, legally, compassionately and immediately. I visited hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince, with thousands of people waiting for care, and amputations happening with ibuprofen or Motrin, if patients were lucky. Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based attorney who represented Haiti for years, says the U.S. must let in those immediately who need medical care, that far too few of the injured have been brought to the U.S. In addition, he told me, the U.S. should bring many more people from Haiti, including all those people who had approved petitions by family members. It's about 70,000 people. These people have been approved, but are essentially in a multiyear waiting line to move to the U.S. Kurzban compared the historical willingness and ability of the U.S. to accept Cuban refugees with what he calls a policy of "containment" with Haiti, preventing people from leaving and blocking the shores with the Coast Guard. The first thing I saw when flying in to Port-au-Prince days after the earthquake were the Coast Guard cutters. They weren't bringing aid in, or carrying people out. They were preventing Haitians from leaving.

National Nurses United, the largest nurses union in the U.S., has 12,000 registered nurses willing to travel to Haiti to help, but they say they can't get assistance from the Obama administration. So they called filmmaker Michael Moore. He told me this week: "This is pretty pathetic if you're having to call me. I mean, you are the largest nurses union ... and you can't get a call in to the White House?" The NNU is seeking individual sponsors through its Web site.

Grass-roots and church groups in New York City demanded freedom for Jean Montrevil, and he was released. It is that kind of solidarity that is now needed by millions of Haitians, here and in Haiti, suffering the greatest catastrophe in their history.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 800 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Original Post

Why the US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History

by Bill Quigley

Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the "Pottery Barn rule." That is - "if you break it, you own it."

The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either - that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions - with a big B.

The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.

Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.

In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world's first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.

After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (France sold the entire Louisiana territory to the US for 80 million francs!)

Haiti was forced to borrow money from banks in France and the US to pay reparations to France. A major loan from the US to pay off the French was finally paid off in 1947. The current value of the money Haiti was forced to pay to French and US banks? Over $20 Billion - with a big B.

The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade in 1915. Revolts by Haitians were put down by US military - killing over 2000 in one skirmish alone. For the next nineteen years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. How many billions were siphoned off by the US during these 19 years?

From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was forced to live under US backed dictators "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvlaier. The US supported these dictators economically and militarily because they did what the US wanted and were politically "anti-communist" - now translatable as against human rights for their people. Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives. Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40% of that debt was run up by the US-backed Duvaliers.

Thirty years ago Haiti imported no rice. Today Haiti imports nearly all its rice. Though Haiti was the sugar growing capital of the Caribbean, it now imports sugar as well. Why? The US and the US dominated world financial institutions - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - forced Haiti to open its markets to the world. Then the US dumped millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti - undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture. By ruining Haitian agriculture, the US has forced Haiti into becoming the third largest world market for US rice. Good for US farmers, bad for Haiti.

In 2002, the US stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Haiti which were to be used for, among other public projects like education, roads. These are the same roads which relief teams are having so much trouble navigating now!

In 2004, the US again destroyed democracy in Haiti when they supported the coup against Haiti's elected President Aristide.

Haiti is even used for sexual recreation just like the old time plantations. Check the news carefully and you will find numerous stories of abuse of minors by missionaries, soldiers and charity workers. Plus there are the frequent sexual vacations taken to Haiti by people from the US and elsewhere. What is owed for that? What value would you put on it if it was your sisters and brothers?

US based corporations have for years been teaming up with Haitian elite to run sweatshops teeming with tens of thousands of Haitians who earn less than $2 a day.

The Haitian people have resisted the economic and military power of the US and others ever since their independence. Like all of us, Haitians made their own mistakes as well. But US power has forced Haitians to pay great prices - deaths, debt and abuse.

It is time for the people of the US to join with Haitians and reverse the course of US-Haitian relations.

This brief history shows why the US owes Haiti Billions - with a big B. This is not charity. This is justice. This is reparations. The current crisis is an opportunity for people in the US to own up to our country's history of dominating Haiti and to make a truly just response.

(For more on the history of exploitation of Haiti by the US see: Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti; Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood; and Randall Robinson, An Unbroken Agony)

Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.  He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.  Quigley77@gmail.com

January 23rd, 2010 8:03 PM

Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti Rather Than Helping Haitians?

Here are two possibilities, neither of them flattering.

 

By the weekend, it was clear that something perverse was going on in Haiti, something savage and bestial in its lack of concern for human life. I'm not talking about the earthquake, and certainly not about the so-called "looting," which I prefer to think of as the autonomously organized distribution of unjustly hoarded goods. I'm talking about the U.S. relief effort.

For two days after the quake, despite almost unimaginable destruction, there were reasons to be optimistic. With a few notable exceptions—Pat Robertson and David Brooks among them—Americans reacted with extraordinary and unhesitating generosity of spirit and of purse. Port-au-Prince is not much farther from Washington, D.C., than, say, New Orleans, and the current president of the United States, unlike his predecessor, was quick to react to catastrophe. Taking advantage of "our unique capacity to project power around the world," President Barack Obama pledged abundant aid and 10,000 troops.

Troops? Port-au-Prince had been leveled by an earthquake, not a barbarian invasion, but, OK, troops. Maybe they could put down their rifles and, you know, carry stuff, make themselves useful. At least they could get there soon: The naval base at Guantanamo was barely 200 miles away.

The Cubans, at least, would show up quickly. It wasn't until Friday, three days after the quake, that the "supercarrier" USS Carl Vinson, arrived—and promptly ran out of supplies. "We have communications, we have some command and control, but we don't have much relief supplies to offer," admitted Rear Adm. Ted Branch. So what were they doing there?

"Command and control" turned out to be the key words. The U.S. military did what the U.S. military does. Like a slow-witted, fearful giant, it built a wall around itself, commandeering the Port-au-Prince airport and constructing a mini-Green Zone. As thousands of tons of desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies piled up behind the airport fences—and thousands of corpses piled up outside them—Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruled out the possibility of using American aircraft to airdrop supplies: "An airdrop is simply going to lead to riots," he said. The military's first priority was to build a "structure for distribution" and "to provide security." (Four days and many deaths later, the United States began airdropping aid.)

The TV networks and major papers gamely played along. Forget hunger, dehydration, gangrene, septicemia—the real concern was "the security situation," the possibility of chaos, violence, looting. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of on-the-ground accounts from people who did not have to answer to editors described Haitians taking care of one another, digging through rubble with their bare hands, caring for injured loved ones—and strangers—in the absence of outside help. Even the evidence of "looting" documented something that looked more like mutual aid: The photograph that accompanied a Sunday New York Times article reporting "pockets of violence and anarchy" showed men standing atop the ruins of a store, tossing supplies to the gathered crowd.

The guiding assumption, though, was that Haitian society was on the very edge of dissolving into savagery. Suffering from "progress-resistant cultural influences" (that's David Brooks finding a polite way to call black people primitive), Haitians were expected to devour one another and, like wounded dogs, to snap at the hands that fed them. As much as any logistical bottleneck, the mania for security slowed the distribution of aid.

Air-traffic control in the Haitian capital was outsourced to an Air Force base in Florida, which, not surprisingly, gave priority to its own pilots. While the military flew in troops and equipment, planes bearing supplies for the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and Doctors Without Borders were rerouted to Santo Domingo in neighboring Dominican Republic. Aid flights from Mexico, Russia, and France were refused permission to land. On Monday, the British Daily Telegraph reported, the French minister in charge of humanitarian aid admitted he had been involved in a "scuffle" with a U.S. commander in the airport's control tower. According to the Telegraph, it took the intervention of the United Nations for the United States to agree to prioritize humanitarian flights over military deliveries.

Meanwhile, much of the aid that was arriving remained at the airport. Haitians watched American helicopters fly over the capital, commanding and controlling, but no aid at all was being distributed in most of the city. On Tuesday, a doctor at a field hospital within site of the runways complained that five to 10 patients were dying each day for lack of the most basic medical necessities. "We can look at the supplies sitting there," Alphonse Edward told Britain's Channel 4 News.

The much-feared descent into anarchy stubbornly refused to materialize. "It is calm at this time," Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, admitted to the AP on Monday. "Those who live and work here … tell me that the level of violence that we see right now is below pre-earthquake levels." He announced that four—four, in a city of more than 2 million—aid-distribution points had been set up on the sixth day of the crisis.

So what happened? Why the mad rush to command and control, with all its ultimately murderous consequences? Why the paranoid focus on security above saving lives? Clearly, President Obama failed to learn one of the basic lessons taught by Hurricane Katrina: You can't solve a humanitarian problem by throwing guns at it. Before the president had finished insisting that "my national security team understands that I will not put up with any excuses," Haiti's fate was sealed. National security teams prioritize national security, an amorphous and expensive notion that has little to do with keeping Haitian citizens alive.

This leaves the more disturbing question of why the Obama administration chose to respond as if they were there to confront an insurgency, rather than to clear rubble and distribute antibiotics and MREs. The beginning of an answer can be found in what Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell, calls "elite panic"—the conviction of the powerful that their own Hobbesian corporate ethic is innate in all of us, that in the absence of centralized authority, only cannibalism can reign.

But the danger of hunger-crazed mobs never came up after the 2004 Pacific tsunami, and no one mentions security when tornados and floods wipe out swaths of the American Midwest. This suggests two possibilities, neither of them flattering. The first is that the administration had strategic reasons for sending 10,000 troops that had little to do with disaster relief. This is the explanation favored by the Latin American left and, given the United States' history of invasion and occupation in Haiti (and in the Dominican Republic and Cuba and Nicaragua and Grenada and Panama), it is difficult to dismiss. Only time will tell what "reconstruction" means.

Another answer lies closer to home. New Orleans and Port-au-Prince have one obvious thing in common: The majority of both cities' residents are black and poor. White people who are not poor have been known, when confronted with black people who are, to start locking their car doors and muttering about their security. It doesn't matter what color our president is. Even when it is ostensibly doing good, the U.S. government can be racist, and, in an entirely civil and bureaucratic fashion, savagely cruel.

January 20th, 2010 5:43 PM

Doctors Without Borders Plane with Lifesaving Medical Supplies Diverted Again from Landing in Haiti

Patients in Dire Need of Emergency Care Dying from Delays in Arrival of Medical Supplies

 

Port-au-Prince – A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) cargo plane carrying 12 tons of medical equipment, including drugs, surgical supplies and two dialysis machines, was turned away three times from Port-au-Prince airport since Sunday night despite repeated assurances of its ability to land there. This 12-ton cargo was part of the contents of an earlier plane carrying a total of 40 tons of supplies that was blocked from landing on Sunday morning. Since January 14, MSF has had five planes diverted from the original destination of Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic. These planes carried a total of 85 tons of medical and relief supplies.

“We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF’s Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil. “I have never seen anything like this. Any time I leave the operating theater I see lots of people desperately asking to be taken for surgery. Today, there are 12 people who need lifesaving amputations at Choscal Hospital. We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations. We are running against time here.”

More than 500 patients in need of surgery have been transferred from MSF health center in the Martissant neighborhood to Choscal Hospital with more than 230 operated on since Thursday. MSF teams have been working since the first hours after the earthquake and these cargo shipments are vital to continue their ability to provide essential medical care to victims of the disaster. In five different locations in the city, MSF has given primary care to an estimated 3,000 people in the capital and performed more than 400 surgeries.

“It is like working in a war situation,” said Rosa Crestani, MSF medical coordinator for Choscal Hospital. “We don’t have any more morphine to manage pain for our patients. We cannot accept that planes carrying lifesaving medical supplies and equipment continue to be turned away while our patients die. Priority must be given to medical supplies entering the country.”

Many of the patients have been pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings are at grave risk of death from septicemia and the consequences of “crush syndrome,” a condition where damaged muscle tissue releases toxins into the bloodstream and can lead to death from kidney failure. Dialysis machines are vital to keeping patients alive with this condition.

Another two planes carrying a total of 26 MSF aid workers were diverted to Dominican Republic. MSF has successfully landed five planes with a total of 135 tons of supplies into Port-au-Prince. Another 195 tons of supplies will need to be granted permission to land in the airport in the coming days in order to continue MSF’s scale up of its medical relief operation in Haiti.

More than 700 MSF staff are working to provide emergency medical care to earthquake survivors in and around Port-au-Prince. MSF teams are currently working in Choscal Hospital, Martissant Health Center, Trinite Hospital, Carrefour hospital, Jacmel Hospital, and are establishing a 100-bed inflatable hospital in the Delmas area. They are running exploratory assessment missions to other locations outside the capital as well.

I have wondered about why some things were occurring as they are and this article does bring up some good points.

A few issues in the back of the mind of ocatchings:

1). I understand that there may have been some issues getting civilian agencies mobilized due to the amount of corruption in the past. No problem, use the military assets to move the supplies and let the NGO's and the Haitian people handle the rest.

2). The military is not into nation building or humanitarian issues, so why do they keep getting called for this stuff?

3). We are taught to put in place/build bases out of nothing in the middle of nowhere, so why wasn't it done in thios case? They could/should have put up a network of facilities throughout the area and supplied/resupplied them using helicopters 24/7. This would eliminate the lame excuse "the roads are impassable".  
4.) How is it that every limp/lame politican or hollywood actor looking for publicity that has a plane load of supplies or wants to access the damages can get moved to the front of the line. Aren't these BS flights taking up space? All planes should land, unload and get the hell out of the way for the next plane, this way you wouldn't have the bottle neck. As the equipment comes offf the plane it is put on pallets for sling load ops and moved to a satellite location that I mentioned earlier.
5.) why isn't the US yielding to some of the other countries that are now available? Share the wealth.

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