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| | |-+  Haiti, disaster and democracy
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Author Topic: Haiti, disaster and democracy  (Read 5200 times)
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« on: October 01, 2004, 10:00:22 AM »

"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI
PROGRES newsweekly. For the complete edition with other
news in French and Creole, please contact the paper at
(tel) 718-434-8100, (fax) 718-434-5551 or e-mail at
<editor@haitiprogres.com>. Also visit our website at

                         HAITI PROGRES
            "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                    * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                      September 22 - 28, 2004
                          Vol. 22, No. 28


Floods and mudslides killed over 1000 people this past
weekend in North and Northwest Haiti as Tropical Storm
Jeanne brushed by the nation on September 18. Tens of
thousands are left homeless and destitute, their shops,
livestock and crops swept away.

The cities of Gonaïves and Port-de-Paix, as well as
smaller towns like Gros Morne and Chansolme, were
particularly hard hit when rivers overflowed their
banks. The death toll is sure to rise by hundreds in
coming days as authorities begin to count those killed
in the teeming countryside's hamlets, where medical and
rescue crews have yet to arrive.

And the worst is yet to come. As the muddy, stagnant
flood waters recede, they will leave behind sewage,
corpses and a host of diseases such as cholera, malaria
and dengue fever. These after- effects will be less
noticed but more lethal.

Floods washed away entire towns and killed some 3000 in
southeastern Haiti last May, capturing world attention
and sympathy. Today, many can only wring their hands
and shake their heads at what they think is Nature's
wrath and Haiti's bad luck.

But, in reality, the devastation wrought on Haiti is
anything but natural and chance. It is the inevitable
result of the policies set down by Haiti's local and
international ruling groups over the past 200 years.

Mistaking a symptom for the cause, mainstream analysts
have pointed to deforestation of Haiti's mountains as
the culprit, saying implicitly or explicitly that
ignorant peasants are to blame for cutting down trees
to make charbon, the cooking charcoal used in the
cities. This facile simplification distorts historical
and current realities.

First, the primeval forests that once carpeted the
island and prompted Columbus to name it Hispaniola
Little Spain   were razed in the 17th and 18th
centuries by French colonists to fuel their booming
sugar mills. Then during the 19th and 20th centuries,
thousands of acres of precious wood, principally
mahogany, were cut down to satisfy foreign appetites
for furniture and tourist carvings.

But in the past 30 years, Haiti's deforestation has
accelerated at the same rate that hundreds of thousands
of Haitian peasants have been forced into the cities.
Most were ruined because Port- au-Prince governments
followed two neoliberal dictates from Washington. One,
to lower tariff barriers to allow cheaper foreign
products, like agribusiness-produced U.S. rice or
Dominican plantains, to muscle out Haitian farmers
growing those foods. And, two, to grow cash crops like
coffee, sugar and cocoa. The same advice was being
given to every other Third World country, resulting in
a worldwide glut and price collapse for such crops.

In some countries, peasants remaining on the land have
turned to growing more profitable crops like drug-
producing coca or poppies. In Haiti, they have turned
to charbon.

Peasants use wood to cook. The refugees in Haiti's
sprawling slums, devoid of any services or
infrastructure, rely on lighter- weight charbon. But
charcoal provides about half the energy of wood. So
what a rural family cooks with one tree requires two in
the mushrooming cities.

Haiti's bourgeoisie, in concert with the U.S. State
Department, has capitalized on the giant urban labor
pool to set up industrial parks of sweatshops paying
pennies a day to assemble everything from baseballs and
brassieres to high-heels and calculators for export.
They have appropriated Haiti's principal dam at
Peligre, to produce hydroelectric power for their
factories rather than to provide irrigation and flood
control (its original purpose) to the now flooded
Artibonite Valley.

The February 29th kidnapping and exile of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide by U.S. Marines has only made
matters worse. The government of de facto Prime
Minister Gérard Latortue has proven unable to provide
any concrete response to this week's flooding, just as
it provided none to the floods in May. All it has done
is decree three days of mourning and that flags be
flown at half mast.... and begged for foreign aid. At
the 57th U.N. General Assembly in New York, de facto
President Boniface Alexandre appealed for the
"solidarity of the international community" saying the
country faced the "grave situation of a humanitarian

The European Union is sending $1.8 million in aid,
while Venezuela is sending $1 million along with food,
water, tents and rescue workers. Washington has anted
up a mere $60,000.

One has only to look at the preventive measures taken
by neighboring Cuba to see what difference a political
system makes. In late 2002 in the space of 11 days,
Cuba was directly hit by two hurricanes   Isidore and
Lili. Although there was great property damage, only
one person died as the result of a landslide. Over a
million people were evacuated during the storms, with
77,000 housed in shelters.

Although Haiti was not directly hit by any of the
monstrous storms crisscrossing the Caribbean during
this greenhouse-gas fueled hurricane season, it has had
the region's highest death toll. While it might not
have matched Cuba's pro-active preparations, Haiti's
constitutional government surely would have been better
able to respond to this year's disasters, if only
because it enjoyed popular support, participation and

After Hurricane Gordon in November 1994 and in May of
this year, U.S. occupation troops only grudgingly and
briefly used their helicopters to airlift food and
medical supplies to flood victims. Brazilian, Chilean
and Argentinian surrogates have largely replaced them
now, but the foreign occupiers' primary mission remains
to prop up the de facto regime rather than provide
flood relief.

Haiti's rain-induced floods are devastating because the
country has been already ravaged by a flood of cheap
imports, weakened by coups and despair, and neglected
by a greedy bourgeoisie intent only on its own
enrichment, not its compatriots' welfare.

Democracy is a prerequisite for the development that
can result in better infrastructure, housing,
irrigation, reforestation, and governmental disaster
preparation and relief. By overthrowing the popularly
elected government, Washington, Paris and the Haitian
ruling class made this year's disasters worse. The
government chosen by and answerable to the Haitian
people was removed, and in its place is one chosen by
and answerable to Washington. This prevents the Haitian
people from not only protecting their interests but
also their lives against Nature's onslaughts.

All articles copyrighted Haiti Progres, Inc. REPRINTS
ENCOURAGED. Please credit Haiti Progres.

justice for Ayiti!
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