The Battle for Haiti: Which Side Are You On?

Posted on June 24, 2010


The Battle For Haiti: Which Side Are You On?

by Carl Lindskoog

On March 31, speak­ing before the Inter­na­tional Donors’ Con­fer­ence for Haiti, Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton pro­claimed the United States’ com­mit­ment to “help Haiti and to help the lead­ers of Haiti lead a recov­ery effort wor­thy of their high­est hopes.” At the con­clu­sion of the con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pants from the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity had pledged $5.3 bil­lion to Haiti over the next two years and more than $9 bil­lion for the next three years and beyond. It seemed that the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity had come to a rarely-achieved con­sen­sus and was united in its effort to help Haiti. In real­ity, what we saw on March 31 was a maneu­ver by the United States and the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity to strengthen its grip on the coun­try. The bat­tle for post-earthquake Haiti is underway.

It is illu­mi­nat­ing to note what sort of future the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity envi­sions for Haiti. Some ele­ments of the rec­om­mended “New Future for Haiti” are not so new, such as the cen­tral role planned for the low-wage, labor-intensive assem­bly indus­try. Such sweatshop-driven eco­nomic devel­op­ment was also the cen­ter­piece of the US-imposed plan in the 1970s and 1980s and it failed to lift the major­ity of Haitians (even those with the man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs) out of poverty. Other key ele­ments include a rebuilt tourist indus­try which will cre­ate ser­vice jobs for Haitians and rede­vel­oped agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, some of which will sup­ply inter­na­tional investors like the 25,000 farm­ers who will be grow­ing man­goes for Coca-Cola.

Hold­ing the purse strings for this grand rede­vel­op­ment plan will be the World Bank. Though the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity is will­ing to con­cede that there should be some Hait­ian involve­ment, a major­ity of the rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the Interim Com­mis­sion for the Recon­struc­tion of Haiti will be for­eign­ers. In accept­ing this aid and recon­struc­tion plan, Haiti Lib­erte jour­nal­ist Kim Ives argues, Hait­ian Pres­i­dent Rene Preval has “turned over the keys to Haiti to a con­sor­tium of for­eign banks and governments.”

What’s more, mem­bers of Haiti’s grass­roots and civil soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions have been shut out of this dis­cus­sion. Out­side of the United Nations build­ing on March 31 pro­test­ers drew atten­tion to the exclu­sion of the pop­u­lar move­ment in the plan­ning of Haiti’s future. Like­wise, ear­lier in the month grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions were excluded from an inter­na­tional donors’ meet­ing in Santo Domingo. The exclu­sion of the pop­u­lar orga­ni­za­tions should not come as a sur­prise, how­ever, since they are call­ing for an eco­nomic model that breaks Haiti’s pat­tern of eco­nomic depen­dence on for­eign pow­ers and pro­poses to sub­sti­tute a sus­tain­able and decen­tral­ized Haiti with Haiti’s pop­u­lar orga­ni­za­tions play­ing a lead­ing role.

Mem­bers of Haiti’s pop­u­lar move­ment rec­og­nize that this is a strug­gle over the future of Haiti and we should too. Amer­i­cans should remem­ber that this is not the first time, even in recent his­tory, that the United States has pub­licly claimed friend­ship with Haiti while simul­ta­ne­ously attack­ing the Hait­ian people.

Less than a year after Jean-Bertrand Aris­tide was first elected Haiti’s pres­i­dent he was removed from office in a coup, after which CIA-backed death squads sys­tem­at­i­cally tar­geted mem­bers of the peo­ples’ move­ment. Pub­licly the United States con­demned the coup and claimed to be hor­ri­fied by this dis­re­gard for democ­racy, but behind the scenes it refused to enforce an embargo that would have cut off aid to the coup regime. Finally, in Sep­tem­ber, 1994, pro­claim­ing “Amer­i­can stead­fast­ness” and sup­port for Hait­ian democ­racy, Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton gave Aris­tide a mil­i­tary escort back to the coun­try, but not before they had set­tled on a few con­di­tions. As the terms of his return to the Pres­i­dency, the United States and other inter­na­tional “friends of Haiti” insisted that Aris­tide accept a neolib­eral future for the coun­try that included cut­ting pub­lic jobs and pri­va­tiz­ing pub­lic ser­vices, elim­i­nat­ing tar­iffs and price con­trols, and gen­er­ally mak­ing Haiti more hos­pitable to for­eign cap­i­tal. Then, as now, the real pur­pose of the much-heralded Amer­i­can sup­port for Haiti was to ben­e­fit the wealthy and pow­er­ful of the inter­na­tional community.

The Inter­na­tional Donors’ Con­fer­ence and the Hait­ian pop­u­lar orga­ni­za­tions have pre­sented two con­flict­ing visions for the future of Haiti. Will the Hait­ian econ­omy remain largely depen­dent on for­eign invest­ment for indus­try, agri-business and tourism and will Hait­ian grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions con­tinue to be excluded from mean­ing­ful par­tic­i­pa­tion in the oper­at­ing of the coun­try? Or will the pop­u­lar move­ment have a say in recon­struct­ing a Haiti that is inde­pen­dent, sus­tain­able, and con­cerned first-and-foremost with the well-being of the Hait­ian peo­ple? See­ing these visions side-by-side lays bare the real­ity that there is a bat­tle under­way for post-earthquake Haiti. Which side are you on?