Nelson Valdés on rescue priorities in Haiti

Soldiers guarding military plane in Port au Prince

The Rescue Operation’s Priorities in Haiti

By Nelson P. Valdés

“The contempt we have been taught to entertain for blacks, make us fear many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience.”  – Alexander Hamilton in letter to John Hay, 1799.

“Only those who hate the black population, see hatred in blacks.” – José Martí, Montecristi Manifesto, 1895

The recent earthquakes that have demolished the city of Port au Prince and its surroundings have left Haiti stateless, ever poorer, desperate and in need of long term global assistance. A world-wide rescue operation has been initiated. But, it is questionable to what extent the best interests of the people of Haiti have been and will be considered, in the long run.

First, the foreign aid teams “rescued” and took out of the country the non-Haitians, particularly the Europeans, Americans and assorted other tourists. The Voice of America on Jan. 16 reported: “In the last day or so the United States and French governments have started running passenger flights out of the country [Haiti] for evacuees from those countries.  People line up and wait for a plane to arrive so they can leave Haiti and leave behind what is a very difficult, traumatic experience for many.”[1]

Second, five days have gone by without any real significant distribution of medical supplies, food or water to the neediest people.

The facts indicate clear priorities: the Haitians are not first in line. In fact, the rescuers seem to have a widespread fear of the poor and desperate Haitians. A Scottish reporter said, “aid workers in Haiti today called for more security amid fears of attacks by increasingly desperate earthquake survivors.”[2]

Yet, the Haitians have been extraordinarily patient despite the fact that their world has collapsed around them.

The assistance teams seem reluctant to distribute until they feel secure. Thus, the US government sent troops to bring aid and the Haitian government dispatched police to provide “security,” and respond to the exaggerated rumors of “looting.” Indeed, there have been reports that the security squads moved the aid providers to “secure” places.[3]

The Haitian people who wait for basic needs have not been mobilized to work on their own behalf. Rather, the “humanitarians” treat them as children, with no thought to providing them with the tools to help themselves. One Haitian consul to Brazil, George Samuel Antoine declared two days ago that any country that happens to have Africans is cursed![4] Shades of Pat Robertson and David Brooks.

Seemingly, the outsiders coming to help the people don’t trust the natives, despite the fact that the Haitians are dying, hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, and with most of their families gone or lost. The Haitian chief of police, like most people in positions of authority, is a foreigner appointed by the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the twice elected and twice removed political leader of the Haitians – Jean-Bertrand Aristide – is not permitted to enter his own country. In fact, President Obama appointed one of those who ousted him  – George W. Bush – to help  “supervise” the “reconstruction” of Haiti. Bush merited his appointment presumably because of the wonderful job he did supervising the post Katrina aid program. Meanwhile, for all intent and purposes there is no longer, except symbolically, a Haitian government.

Perhaps it is too harsh but it appears as if those in charge think that a few thousand more Haitians dead would make it easier to control the situation.  USA Today has reported, “Rescuers pulled a dehydrated but otherwise uninjured woman from the ruins of a luxury hotel in the Haitian capital early Sunday, drawing applause from onlookers who have seen little to cheer as the body count continued to rise from Tuesday’s earthquake.”

They expect Haitians to remain patient, without food or water or aid to rescue their friends and relatives. Haitians are not even informed as to what to expect or when.

Some US television channels have begun broadcasting about vodou burials. The US mass media has turned the whole tragedy into another narcissistic story about how Americans handle disasters. Thus, Hillary at one end, and Bill on the other travel to Haiti to see for themselves![5]  As if such voyages have inherently curative powers!

Ironically, US and NATO can quickly deliver death from the air, but, apparently won’t unleash their technology and resources to quickly save lives. United Nations tanks have been sent to different locations throughout what remains of the city, particularly the poorer neighborhoods such as Cité Soleil.[6] A poor substitute for food and water.

In Afghanistan drones fire at will with no one at the Pentagon expressing minimal concern, yet, in the Haitian case dropping food and water has been avoided “for fear of riots.” Apparently no one has figured that people will riot because of the absence of drinking water or food; unless they have to go without either for enough time so that the Haitians experience a Caribbean version of the final solution.

On January 15th, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a report stating, “Haiti is currently at UN Security Phase 3. This will implicate ongoing operations in terms of limiting the ability to move around the city and work at night (which is also hindered by the lack of electricity). Patrols reported that the situation is calm in general, but there are reports of stone throwing at passing vehicles, looting and acts of vandalism. ICRC has inspected several prisons. The central prison was completely destroyed, meaning up to 4,000 prisoners have escaped.”[7]  Under Security Phase III all international staff and families are relocated inside or outside the country.

It is unclear who is directing what. Rear Admiral Ted Branch, the most senior military official aboard the USS Carl Vinson stated,  “We have lift, we have communications, we have some command and control, but we don’t have much relief supplies to offer…We have no supplies at the airport that we have access to. There are other supplies there that are under the control of other agencies, other organizations and we haven’t yet coordinated together to make those supplies available for anyone to deliver.”[8] The United Nations and the US authorities on the ground, are telling those who directly want to deliver help not to do so because they might be attacked by “hungry mobs.”[9] Two cargo planes from Doctors Without Borders have been forced to land in the Dominican Republic because the shipments have to be accompanied within Port au Prince by US military escort, according to the US command.[10]

One American on the ground summed up the situation: “For the aid to work and the teams of search and rescue workers to be able to do their job there is going to need to be a major effort of all people to lay down their own fear and personal need and allow the help to get to the worst off. Pray that people will think of others as best they can and that relief will begin to get to the places it is needed most.”[11]  Such fears, created and nurtured in colonial times, have been reproduced for over two hundred years.  Alexander Hamilton and José Martí recognized the humanity of the former black slaves  turned revolutionaries and told us to put our fears aside.   As Linda Polman writes in The Times of London, class and racial fear by the rescue teams is costing the lives of thousands in Haiti.[12]

Nelson P. Valdés is Emeritus Professor of Sociology, founder of the Latin America Database and director of the Cuba-L Project. He is a specialist on Latin America and writes for CounterPunch.

The author wishes to thank Sandra Levinson, Ned Sublette and Saul Landau for their suggestions.


Notes

[1] “VOA Correspondent Reports on relief Efforts in Haiti,”  VOA News.Com,01/16/10

[2]Fear of Looting as Desperation Among Haiti Earthquake Survivors Take Hold,” Scotsman.com, 01/15/10

[3]Haiti Earthquake Updates: Live Blog,” Guardian (London), 01/15/10

[4]Terremoto no Haiti: Consul Haitiano Afirma Que o Africano em si tem maldicao,” YouTube, 01/14/10

[5]Apocalipsis social en Haiti?,” IAR Noticias, 01/167/10

[6]Hillary Clinton Meets With Haiti Leader After Arrival,” CNN, 01/17/10

[7]Haiti: Ocha Sit Rep # 4

[8]After a Day of Deliveries, US Ship Runs Out of Aid,” AFP, 01/16/10

[9]RD se vuelca en ayuda a haitianos,” Listin Diario (Dominican Republic), 01/17/10

[10]Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince,” Doctors Without Borders, 01/17/10.

[11]Overwhelming Sadness – Overwhelming Gratitude,” The Livesay [Haiti] Weblog, 01/15/10

[12] Linda Polman, “Fear of the Poor is Hampering Haiti Rescue,” Times Online, 01/18/10

2 responses to “Nelson Valdés on rescue priorities in Haiti

  1. I hope I am not jumping to conclusions, but this stinks of a US recolonization of the Americas. I wrote a much more extensive piece on Haiti and Honduras as why I have this fear:
    http://theprisonnotebook.blogspot.com/2010/01/haiti-and-honduras.html .

    The US manipulation of the aid going into Haiti is discouraging at the very least. It is clear that the US is using valuable runway time to bring in troops and their supplies rather than give full access to the aid coming in. Given that there are reports from central locations like in front of the destroy Presidential Palace, (not even the slums) that still have not seen any aid or rescue workers, this all gives me a horrible sinking feeling.

  2. playersofelbeisbolcubano

    What is needed in Haiti are thousands of medical and civilian aid personnel, not thousands of U.S. military troops!

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