Revolution #197, April 4, 2010
Reporter's Journal on the Earthquake
KATASTWÒF!—Voices from Haiti
Part 4: The Disaster After the Disaster—Still Waiting for Aid...
January 12, 2010—an extremely powerful earthquake struck Haiti. This Katastwòf, as it is called in Kreyol, killed over 200,000 people. In the week after the earthquake Revolution ran articles about U.S. domination in Haiti which had created conditions of intense poverty and lack of infrastructure—direct causes of the huge death toll, and how the U.S. was sabotaging aid. To get a deeper picture of what this meant for the Haitian masses we sent a reporter to Haiti 12 days after the earthquake. The following is the fourth part in a series of pages from his journal. Go to revcom.us to read Parts 1, 2 and 3 and for more analysis.
My second day in Haiti, Janot, who has been taking me around, says, "Now I'm going to show you a radio station that is operating completely in the street." We drive for 30 minutes to the former offices of Radio Galaxie/Radio Caraïbes where broadcasting equipment is stacked on a long table on the rubble strewn sidewalk. Behind it sit a number of engineers, DJs and newsmen, with dozens more people crowded around. Radio is the main form of communication in Haiti, and is all the more crucial now.
When I ask some guys who seem to be employees of the station about the earthquake, right away, they start talking about the lack of aid. A guy in a khaki shirt says: "The majority of the people have received nothing. Probably it's a problem of coordination, but 13 days, that's a lot. They [the U.S. and the international community] keep promising and promising but still the people see nothing. They send soldiers, but the soldiers do nothing for us. They are here to protect U.S. interests."
Marc, who works for Radio Galaxie says, "They distributed some aid, around Boudon, around the Pétionville Country Club; they try to do the job in an organized way. But that is one place. In Delmas as we saw, there was nothing. At the soccer stadium [where thousands have set up home made tents and shanties], again, nothing."
Stefan (another radio employee) says that "at the University Hospital the U.S. Army is camped outside, and when people come to bring food for family members who are in the hospital, the soldiers are very rude. Often they just turn people away without letting them deliver the food." He describes the aid distributions he has seen: "The Americans just throw the food from trucks or helicopters, and then of course the people fight over it. The Americans seem disinterested in the food distribution; they have a look on their faces like they are here to do something else."
Someone else at the radio station says that Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders have been all over but don't have enough supplies. And people say this is true of hospitals as well. In fact, amputations were routinely done without pain killers. [Even now, two months after the quake there are reports of children dying of diarrhea in hospitals because of lack of basic things like respirators, or in some cases even food or hydration fluids.]
I mention hearing reports that Doctors Without Borders tried five times to get clearance at the airport to land a plane with medical supplies but had been turned back by the U.S. military. The guy in the khaki shirt says, "Yes, we know about that. Since the U.S. has military control of the airport, they control what comes in and what does not." He says this with a matter-of-fact tone, almost of resignation, but there is an edge of anger to it, which you can feel with all these guys.
These radio stations were taking calls from different communities who were in desperate conditions, who had received no food, water, medicine. Then they would announce the location and describe the situation on the air so as to let the government and aid agencies know where aid was most needed. The idea was that even given a still-chaotic situation, no one would be forgotten completely. But then, almost invariably, they would hear from the same area two or three days later that they still had not gotten any aid.
Almost every Haitian I talked to wanted to know what was happening to the aid, why was it so slow in coming. Many people asked in anger, some in despair, others in genuine bewilderment.
A man in the Mon Repos section of Carrefour said, "Here, the government has not given us anything—no food, no water, nothing. [There is only one block in Mon Repos that] does receive water—they get a delivery of 50 small bags of water per family every three days—about four gallons." Another group camped under sheets in the middle of the street tells me that no one has brought any aid, no food, no water. They say there are still dead bodies under the houses and the government hasn't come to help them. They need water, baby food, women's hygiene. It's been 15 days and not even a bottle of water! Carrefour is a huge residential area, and most of the people ended up just leaving because of the lack of help.
In the downtown area, a bread vendor named Marie says: "I thought that the American people were coming to do something, to help us. But after all this time, they are still doing nothing." Daniel, the leader of the downtown encampment where I am staying, says, "No government or international institution has come to help. We know they have supplies of tents, food and water at the airport, but no one even brought us water." When I went to the larger shantytowns, crowds of people would gather, all with this same question: "Where is the aid?" Often children and teens would pull up their shirts and point to their bellies to show they were starving.
One day we spend seven hours driving around the city, visiting five encampments. We talk to 15-20 people. Everywhere we go we see hand-drawn signs: "We need HELP," "We Need Food, Water," "Forgotten area—Help Us." The ONLY evidence of aid I saw or heard about during this tour: Two Port-o-Lets and a UNICEF tent at a camp in Pétionville; two distributions of small amounts of water in the large camp at Champ Du Mars a few days earlier; organized distribution of aid at the Pétionville Golf Club. This is in an area of hundreds of thousands of people!
One of the most infuriating things about being in Haiti was hearing the U.S. blame their near-complete failure to deliver aid on "the security situation," the "scale of the destruction," the "logistics," etc. Pictures of scattered instances where people fought over food were widely shown as if this was what was mainly going on. False stories of the "dangerous" streets of Port-au-Prince were front page "news." A so-called "security" problem became the U.S.'s excuse for not getting aid to people—and at the same time, the justification for sending troops instead of doctors and rescue workers.
Impoverished street vendors were able to pull together and plug into a distribution network that reached across the island to the Dominican Republic and then penetrated to most parts of the earthquake zone I visited. Small ad hoc groups of 2-5 people were able to make the rounds of the spontaneous communities and deliver their pickup trucks full of aid (with no security and no fighting amongst the people). Yet the U.S. with its ships, planes, helicopters, thousands of troops, vast wealth, and considerable experience in logistics (such as supplying an invading army of hundreds of thousands of troops marching through the Iraqi desert at the start of the Persian Gulf War) was able to deliver only a pitiful amount of aid!
After the earthquake, the U.S. seized control of the airport in Port-au-Prince and sent 20,000 U.S. soldiers into Haiti. These troops were not used to dig out thousands of people buried in the rubble. They were not used to distribute aid. In fact the U.S. obstructed aid being sent by others! And because of this thousands died and hundreds of thousands had their misery deepened and prolonged.
Many people I talked to in Haiti expressed bewilderment at why aid was not pouring in from the United States. But what the U.S. did—and did not do—was guided NOT by humanitarian concerns—but the concerns of empire.
For 100 years the U.S. has used economic blackmail, coups, military invasions/occupations, and backed brutal dictators to dominate and control Haiti and crush the struggle of the Haitian people. And in the wake of the earthquake, the foremost concern of the U.S. was keeping this domination intact, preventing things from getting out of hand in a way that would threaten U.S. control, including any kind of mass rebellion. THIS is what guided what the U.S. did in the face of such a horrible disaster—NOT humanitarian concern.
To be continued
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