Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The future of the world in Haiti

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 | By Melanie Newton
Original post at University of Toronto

Many who have followed Haiti's recent political history have a strong sense that the aftershocks of the Haitian earthquake will not be felt in Haiti alone. What happens now in Haiti is a question of world historical significance.

This is not the fi rst time that events in Haiti have served as harbingers for the world's collective future. An anti-slavery and anti-colonial revolution of 1791-1804 created the independent state of Haiti as only the second independent country in the Americas. In giving birth to Haiti, the revolution transformed the sociopolitical landscape of the 19th-century Atlantic world, unleashing forces that would ultimately lead to the collapse of Atlantic slavery. In a repeat of history, the 2010 earthquake has the potential to transform politics in our own times, either for better, or -- if we fail to take the time to reflect deeply on the full meaning of what has happened -- for worse. Together with Haitians, we must all confront the daunting but inevitable question: how do we imagine the future in the face of a catastrophe of this scale?

On Jan. 25 representatives from several national governments, aid agencies and international donors will meet in Montreal to discuss the issue of the reconstruction of Haiti. It is crucial that such bodies, including the government of Canada, acknowledge some of their responsibility for contributing to the recent human catastrophe. The international community needs to base its contribution to reconstruction efforts on respect for Haiti's government and people, rather than the criminalization and unforgivable ignorance that has undergirded foreign engagements with Haiti since the revolution.

Over the years, western destabilization of Haiti has been fostered by a deep culture of racist paternalism. This is evidence of the failure of countries such as the United States, France and, yes, Canada, to come to terms fully with the legacies of their own support for the slavery that the Haitian Revolution so boldly rejected. Engagement with Haiti must be based on a recognition that Haitians do, in fact, know better than we do what is best for the country.

One of the most destabilizing aspects of Haiti's political history has been the use of aid and loans by powerful external donors in order to call the political shots, control Haiti's economy and facilitate the exploitation of its people. In the midst of this crisis, rather than repeatedly treating the Haitian government like a child who cannot be trusted with money, Canada should spearhead a new kind of engagement with Haiti's government based on respect, transparency and a genuine, non-partisan effort to build up the Haitian government's ability to provide services to its people. Foreign governments have repeatedly used the excuse that the Haitian government is too corrupt to be trusted with these funds. At the same time, these self-interested international actors have failed to reflect on their own role in manipulating such a climate of corruption.

The kleptocratic tendencies of Haiti's government were not a serious enough concern to stop billions of dollars being funnelled to Haiti's horrifically violent Duvalier dictatorship from 1957 to the 1980s so long as the Duvaliers remained a bulwark against the possibility of so called "communist" infi ltration of Haiti. Only when it became clear in the 1980s that the dictator had become a force destabilizing the country and damaging foreign interests there did the aid tap begin to dry up.

The first United States occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 laid part of the groundwork for the current disaster. In an effort to facilitate imperial political and foreign economic exploitation of rural areas, the Americans largely rebuilt the infrastructure of Haiti using the forced labour of Haitians. Ever since then the countryside has hemorrhaged people by the millions, creating most of the massive urban slums that dominate Port-au-Prince.

The political and economic infrastructure left behind by the Americans after 1934 was the primary means through which the régime of François Duvalier, which came to power in 1957, was able to establish a degree of violent authoritarian control over Haiti previously impossible for any Haitian government. Under Duvalier the national infrastructure deteriorated and an environmental catastrophe caused by astounding impoverishment accelerated. This centralization of anti-democratic power is a fundamental reason why it has been so hard to transform the political landscape of Haiti and why it has been so diffi cult since the earthquake to bring aid to many devastated areas.

While the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince is crucial, foreign governments must prioritize working in a non-partisan fashion with Haiti's vast network of democratic and popular organizations to revitalize the rural agricultural economy and empower democratic structures and economic life across Haiti. This is a demand long articulated by environmentalists, intellectuals and pro-democracy activists in Haiti, and long ignored both by the Haitian government in Port-au-Prince and by the international community.

Such a reconstruction effort rooted in Haiti's own pro-democracy movements must also be accompanied by the recognition that there are no military solutions to Haiti's crisis. In common with other countries across the Americas that were born out of anti-colonial revolution, Haiti has struggled throughout its history with the challenge of removing the military from civilian government. Repeated foreign interventions have only served to destabilize Haiti and undermine the process of democratic reform. Neither the UN nor individual western countries has ever truly given civilian government in Haiti the support that it requires. The current U.S. and Canadian policy of militarizing Haiti, rather than focusing on public lines of communication with and support for the democratically elected civilian government of René Préval, is a disturbing return to bad habits.

Last, and most important, reconstruction efforts must aim at eliminating Haiti's terrible reality of la misère, the Haitian Kréyol word for the abject poverty that dominates the lives of most Haitians. As long as Haiti remains one of the world's most socio-economically unequal countries, reconstruction efforts in Haiti are likely to re-create the structures exacerbating the current catastrophe. This is not the time to use Haiti as a testing ground for neo-liberal economic policies or to tie the hands of the Haitian government with debt as it tries to rebuild. This would be a recipe for social, political and economic disaster.

For all of these reasons, the future of Haiti is an issue of basic human justice, not just humanitarian concern. Together with Haitians, we all have a chance to imagine a different and more democratic future. Nothing that Haitians demand of their government or the world is particularly utopian -- these are the basic elements of meaningful democratic government and active citizenship.

Melanie Newton is a Barbadian and Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto. She is a member of the organizing committee for Tet Ansamn: Dyaspora e Avni Dayiti, The Diaspora and the Future of Haiti, a symposium that took place in Toronto April 16-17. The symposium brought together students, teachers, members of the Haitian and wider Caribbean diasporic community to talk about grassroots strategies for a democratic reconstruction process.

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Nadege said...

Why would anyone assume Canada or any of these imperialists countries would come forward about their crimes against Haiti and her people?

I vouch for a mass education campaign, especially young Haitians who think they're "safe" just because they are living in the diaspora. I'm talking about those who have renounced their Haitian-ness.

As a 28 years old Haitian living in the US, I can say that it's only been a few years since I started paying attention to Haiti. And among me are a bunch of others who have not woken up to the importance of reclaiming their roots, and acknowledging the importance of standing behind Haiti.

thezenhaitian said...

Nadege, I completely agree. Haitians of the diaspora have to join together in order to support Haiti.

There are several groups which are doing good work in Haiti and in the Haitian diaspora.

Join and support them.

Haitian Lawyer's Leadership Network
P.O. Box 3573
Stamford, Conn. 06905

Haiti Action Committee
or Haiti Solidarity

Fondasyon Trant Septanm - FTS
P.O. Box 19042 3, 2e Imp. Lavaud, Port-au-Prince, HAITI 509-244-7987

Veye Yo
28 Northeast 54th Street,
Miami, FL 33137-2414
(305) 756-1205‎

Join Haitirewired, which is "a collaborative community focused on tech and infrastructure solutions for Haiti."

If you know of an organization deserving of mention, please do not hesitate to contact me.

TH in SoC said...

I am an African-American blogger who writes about resource depletion, energy decline and economic collapse, and the world's response to these challenges. One thing I have noticed over the last few years is that it's very hard for someone in the United States to get an accurate picture of the world from American mainstream media. This is because most of the media here are owned by a handful of very rich sociopaths.

I am interested in the response to the recent earthquake on the part of America (and other First World nations). I am especially interested in the American military response. I want to know why the U.S. responded to a humanitarian disaster by sending 10,000 armed troops. I want to know why CNN was broadcasting reports of widespread rioting and looting when no such things were happening.

I have my strong suspicions about the real motives behind recent U.S. actions in Haiti, but it's hard to find substantiating information. Is there any way to get a comprehensive idea of the number of foreign companies operating in Haiti? Or the type of foreign businesses operating there? I am assuming that there's probably a lot of large-scale agribusiness done for export, as well as a lot of mining and heavily polluting industry. But I don't know where to start looking to find these things out. Anyway, if you have any tips, I'd appreciate it, as well as links to other blogs written by Haitians. Thanks!

thezenhaitian said...

Hi. If you do a search under "Haitis Riches" on this blog (the search form is in the upper right hand side), you will get a lot of the information you require.

Most of the research regarding companies exploiting Haiti's resources are taken from the work of Ezilidanto of HLLN and are reposted here, so you can also go to their website to get the info first hand at http://www.ezilidanto.com -- the search form is under the "law" menu.

To get up to date info of the kind you seek, you can also join their email list. Just email them at ezilidanto@yahoo.com

Good luck.

so ye said...

The formula of bypassing democratically elected governments have worked so well in Haiti that the international ruling elite is poised to apply it elsewhere in the global South. Robert Zoellick in his own word:


Modern multilateralism must be practical. It must recognize that most governmental authority still resides with nation-states. But many decisions and sources of influence flow around, through, and beyond governments.

Modern multilateralism must bring in new players, build cooperation among actors old and new, and harness global and regional institutions to help address threats and seize opportunities that surpass the capacities of individual states.

Modern multilateralism will look more like the global sprawl of the Internet, interconnecting more and more countries, companies, individuals, and NGOs through a flexible network.

thezenhaitian said...

Maggie -- Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

So now the neo-liberals have a new phrase for their failed policies. These days, they are calling it "multilateralism." Thanks for the heads-up.

Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank imagines the end of "the third world" does he?

Mr. Zoellic's World Bank, along with the IMF, IDB, World Trade Organization and other Western institutions who have controlled the world economy have succeeded, in hoarding the world's resources for the very rich and making more poverty, misery, war, famine and despair than one could have imagined possible.

Neo-liberalism = multilateralism = disaster capitalism.

Naomi Klein has described Mr. Zoelics' and the Western global alliance and their agenda for the "third world" perfectly in her book: The shock Doctrine:

thezenhaitian said...

@TH in SoC -- Here is a good list of Haitian bloggers: http://haitianbloggers.collected.info/

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