Revolution #190, January 31, 2010

Why So Many People Died in the Earthquake... And Why the U.S. Can Do No Good in Haiti

The following is an updated, shortened version of an article posted at on January 19:

Think about it: A whole city that once had two million people. Now, mile after mile of buildings are collapsed after a huge earthquake. Many, many bodies sandwiched between layers of heavy concrete slabs lying in huge heaps. But thousands, still alive, trapped, are crying out. But help from the outside doesn't arrive and desperate relatives dig at the rubble with their bare hands. Amazingly, even after three days, human voices are still emanating from the ruins. But then, there are fewer and they are softer. Eventually a deafening quiet surrounds the crumbled buildings as the city of Port-au-Prince becomes a vast tomb.

One woman has been hitting the concrete with a broom. She believes her four missing relatives are buried inside. But her hope eventually turns to grief. "There's no more life here," she says.

In New York City, in the Haitian community of East Flatbush, many hearts ache with intense sorrow and worry, not knowing if their loved ones in Haiti are dead or alive. A young woman says, "I've been crying for three days. This is the first time I've been out of the house." In a laundromat two older women sit waiting for their clothes to dry, staring up at TV scenes of the carnage in the city that was once their home. They look to be in a state of shock and softly say they have been trying to call home but no phones are working so they have no idea what has happened to their family.

No human being could have stopped the earthquake that hit with such killing force on January 12. But so many of the people who have already perished DID NOT HAVE TO DIE.

Thousands who in fact could have been saved died because the United States—the richest and most powerful country in the world—failed to provide such aid in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. In fact, the survivors who against all odds were rescued only underscores how many more people could have been saved—but instead died—because the U.S. did not do everything possible to get rescue teams and equipment to Haiti right away. This amounts to nothing less than mass murder.

The Economist wrote: "[T]he majority of victims did not perish during the 35-second tremor. Ted Constan of Partners in Health, an American NGO, says that some 200,000 people were probably injured or trapped but not killed by the quake. He estimates that an additional 25,000 of them have died on each day that has passed since the tremor, as a result of treatable ailments such as bleeding, dehydration, suffocation and infection." (, January 18, 2010)

But U.S. efforts have NOT been focused on organizing and helping to facilitate the thousands of medical people, rescue workers, and others from the U.S. and around the world who want to help. Instead the U.S. has mainly concentrated on occupying Haiti with thousands of soldiers.

U.S. Sabotage of Relief Efforts

The U.S. quickly took control of the Port-au-Prince airport. And this has been a key way that the U.S. has prevented food and medicine from being delivered.

In the crucial days right after the earthquake, the U.S. was not only not delivering aid but actually sabotaging the efforts of others who were urgently trying to get medicine, food, water and teams of doctors and rescue workers into Haiti.

UNICEF tried to send a plane full of medical kits, blankets and tents, but was denied permission to land and was forced to return to Panama. On Saturday, January 16, the World Food Program was finally able to land airplanes with food, medicine and water—after being diverted for two days so that the U.S. could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety. Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency's Haiti effort, said, "There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti. But most of those flights are for the United States military."

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a statement demanding that priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel. This was in response to the fact that an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday. It was re-routed to Samaná in the Dominican Republic and the material then had to be sent by truck from Samaná. It needs to be asked—how many people died because of this 48-hour delay in the arrival of the mobile hospital?

Twelve days after the earthquake there are still reports that tons of food, water and medical supplies are stacked at the airport but not getting to the people who need them.

Laying the Basis for Even More Crimes Against the Haitian People

The U.S. media and government narrative has been that the real problem is the danger of looting and chaos. This is being used, in effect, to blame the Haitian people themselves for the U.S. delay in delivering aid.

But here it needs to be asked: What is the definition of "looting" in an extreme crisis like this? Is it a crime for people who are desperately in need of food and water to go inside a store and get what they need? Should people be shot if, in the midst of a total breakdown of commerce and services, they take what they need to prevent themselves and their children from dying?

And the actual truth is that the whole time the U.S. has been saying this, there has been very little violence among the people. Instead, and despite getting no help, the masses of people have been working together to try and rescue people, digging at the rubble with their bare hands, trying to tend to the injured and help each other survive. There were reports of many Haitians walking from other areas of Haiti for hours to get to Port-au-Prince to help people. It was the Haitian people themselves—many who were injured—who did everything they could in the first life-and-death 72 hours to save those who were trapped under the rubble—while the U.S. was not even on the scene.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Port-au-Prince on Saturday, January 16, she argued for an emergency decree in Haiti that would allow the imposition of curfews and martial-law conditions by U.S. forces. Clinton explained: "The decree would give the government an enormous amount of authority, which in practice they would delegate to us."

On Friday, January 15, two military officials were quoted in the press explaining that U.S. forces in Haiti will be operating under an adaptation of standard military rules of engagement—which means they can shoot people in self-defense. As the January 13 statement from Revolution (p. 3) said: "The Haitian People Need Emergency Assistance—NOT Suppression and Further Domination!"

On January 22, Amy Goodman reported that preparations were being made for a massive relocation of survivors from Port-au-Prince; that some 400,000 people will be moved to camps outside the city. She went on to say: "As thousands of well-equipped U.S. soldiers pour into Haiti, there is an increasing concern about the militarization of the country, supporting the soldiers and not the people. Or, as one doctor put it, 'We need gauze, not guns.' Relief workers continue to report dire shortages of food, aid and medical supplies, amidst fears the dire conditions will spark outbreaks of infectious disease."

The U.S. has put in place a naval blockade and announced that Haitians trying to get to the U.S. in this crisis will not qualify for TPS (Temporary Protected Status)—which means they will be deported immediately. Homeland Security announced it would move 400 detainees from the Krome detention facility to an undisclosed location, to free up space in case any Haitians manage to reach U.S. shores.

The U.S. has tremendous resources to take in all the people trying to leave such a horrible and unlivable situation. But instead it is already getting tents ready for Haitian refugees at the U.S. military facility in Guantánamo—just on the other side of the base where the U.S. has been torturing people.

The U.S. is giving—or at least has promised—just enough aid so it cannot be criticized as it was after the Sri Lanka tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But even this was not delivered in the most crucial days right after the earthquake. As Toby O'Ryan asks in his article, "Seven Questions on Haiti" (online at "Are you giving this aid in such small amounts and so slowly because you are more concerned to maintain the repressive government authority in Haiti than you are about meeting the urgent and immediate needs of the Haitian people by getting the aid directly to the people and allowing them to collectively organize to distribute it in a time of crisis, when the ordinary authorities are not totally in control?"

The hearts of people around the world ached as they watched the horror unfold in Haiti. Contributions of money, medicine and supplies have been pouring in. And thousands have been trying to come to the aid of the Haitian people. Doctors, rescue teams, relief workers and ordinary people are all coming at this situation from the starting point of the urgent need to save human lives. People might ask, what could be more simple than recognizing that people are dying, they need help, and especially rich countries with so many resources should do all they can to save lives?

But all the evidence shows that saving lives is NOT the concern and calculus governing the actions of the U.S. in its response to this horrible human tragedy.

Its response to the earthquake in Haiti shows that first and foremost what the U.S. is concerned with is maintaining the status quo of existing oppressive economic control over Haiti and the repressive political relations required to enforce that. It is concerned with keeping control and stabilizing the situation so things don't develop in a way that threatens U.S. domination. It is concerned with preventing uncontrolled immigration to the United States. It is acting to safeguard and further its economic and geopolitical interests in the Caribbean region. Every move the U.S. is making in Haiti right now is governed by these cold imperialist calculations—not regard for human life. When the U.S. Marines take control of the airport in Port-au-Prince, the message is: The U.S. is in charge and we're going to be setting the terms for everything that goes on here.

Why Is Haiti So Poor? Why Did So Many Have to Die?

With the eyes of the world on Haiti, many people are seeing how intense poverty severely multiplied the earthquake's toll. People need to ask, WHY is Haiti so poor? And WHY did you have a city like Port-au-Prince where so many people were so vulnerable to the devastating effects of such an earthquake?

First of all, Haiti is poor and impoverished because of a long history of U.S. domination and oppression. U.S. Marines invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 until 1934. The U.S. seized land and distributed it to American corporations. And the heroic resistance that arose against the U.S. was brutally crushed. Starting in 1957 the U.S. propped up the pro-U.S. dictatorial Duvalier governments—first Papa and then Baby Doc Duvalier—and the murderous Haitian military, along with the Tonton Macoute gangs that terrorized the people. After popular uprisings ousted these dictators the U.S. maneuvered and intervened—opposing any forces that threatened U.S. interests and working to keep a puppet government in power. In 2004, the U.S. was directly involved in overthrowing the popularly elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (For more on this history see "The U.S. in Haiti: A Century of Domination and Misery," pp. 8-9.) Through all this, the economic and social structures of Haiti have been distorted and geared toward serving the needs of foreign, especially U.S., investments. All this is why Haiti is so poor and dependent.

Over 80 percent of people in Haiti live in abject poverty. Over half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Over 80 percent of the people do not get the minimum daily ration of food as defined by the World Health Organization. Less than 45 percent have access to potable water. Life expectancy in Haiti is 53 years. Only one in every 100,000 Haitians has had access to a physician.

Speaking of the U.S. role in Haiti, Bill Quigley, Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said: "We have kept the country dependent. We have kept the country militarized. And we kept the country impoverished. We have dumped our excess rice, our excess farm produce and that stuff on the country, thereby undercutting the small farmers who would make up the backbone of the place... We didn't create the earthquake, but we created some of the circumstances that made the earthquake so devastating...." (Democracy Now!, January 14, 2010)

The extremely impoverished conditions of Haiti, including the lack of infrastructure—that created a situation in which the earthquake was so devastating—is due to the long history of U.S. domination.

Mechanism of Imperialist Domination

Thirty years ago the Haitians subsisted on corn, sweet potatoes, cassava and domestic rice—along with domestic pigs and other livestock production. Then in 1986 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million—but only on the condition that Haiti reduce tariff protections on Haitian rice, other agricultural products and some industries. This was aimed at opening up the country's markets to competition from outside countries. Haitian farmers could not compete with rice growers in the U.S., who were being subsidized by the U.S. government. Some of the cheap rice that flooded into Haiti was in the form of "food aid." The local rice market in Haiti collapsed and thousands of farmers were forced to move to the cities to look for work.

Around this same time the U.S. insisted that the Haitian peasantry do away with its huge and valuable pig population—due to a supposed threat to the U.S. pig population.

In 1994 the U.S. made it possible for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been forced out of the country, to resume his presidency—but only on the condition that he implement IMF and World Bank policies aimed at opening Haiti's markets even more to international trade.

This is how Haiti's agriculture was destroyed and how it became dependent on imported food, especially rice from the U.S. And in only a few decades hundreds of thousands of people were driven from the rural areas into Port-au-Prince—and forced to live in the most impoverished living conditions, where unemployment in some areas is as high as 90%.

Port-au-Prince used to have only 50,000 people in the 1950s. But when the earthquake hit, over two million people lived in this capital city, many in shantytowns, substandard housing, schools and other buildings that collapsed because they were so badly and cheaply built.

Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, talked about why so many people lived on the hillsides where they were vulnerable to the effects of an earthquake: "They got there because they or their parents or grandparents were pushed out of Haiti's countryside, where most Haitians used to live. And they were pushed out of there by policies thirty years ago, when it was decided by the international experts that Haiti's economic salvation lay in assembly manufacture plants. And in order to advance that, it was decided that Haiti needed to have a captive labor force in the cities. So a whole bunch of aid policies, trade policies and political policies were implemented, designed to move people from the countryside to places like Martissant and the hills—hillsides that we've seen in those photos [of the devastation]." (Democracy Now!, January 14, 2010)

U.S. Interests and Plans for Haiti

In the wake of this huge tragedy in Haiti, the U.S. continues to press forward its plans to further dominate and exploit the Haitian people. Obama put George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in charge of U.S. aid to Haiti. Bush's resume for this job is that he is the one who presided over the crimes against the people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Bill Clinton's credentials are that he is the point man for a much-praised plan for Haiti that involves setting up tourist areas and sweatshops where Haitians will be paid 38 cents an hour.

If you really want to talk about looting—and on a grand scale—this is what Bill Clinton had to say after the earthquake: "Once we deal with the immediate crisis, the development plans the world was already pursuing have to be implemented more quickly and on a broader scale. I'm interested in just pressing ahead with it. Haiti isn't doomed. Let's not forget, the damage from the earthquake is largely concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area. That has meant a tragic loss of life, but it also means there are opportunities to rebuild in other parts of the island. So all the development projects, the agriculture, the reforestation, the tourism, the airport that needs to be built in the northern part of Haiti—everything else should stay on schedule. Then we should simply redouble our efforts once the emergency passes to do the right sort of construction in Port-au-Prince and use it to continue to build back better."

In other words, Clinton now sees the massive destruction in Haiti as an opportunity to press forward with his plans for setting up profitable sweatshops and tourist areas.

Things Don't Have to Be This Way!

The earthquake has revealed even more powerfully that the Haitian people urgently need a revolution. A revolution to kick out the U.S. and other imperialist countries, that overthrows the Haitian ruling class tied to and serving imperialism—all of whom created the impoverished conditions that made this natural disaster so unnaturally devastating. A revolution that rids Haiti of a system that sees such a horrible tragedy as an opportunity to tighten the chains of control and exploitation. A revolution that sets out to build a socialist society with the aim of a communist world.

The system of capitalism-imperialism will not and cannot put human lives before the necessity to preserve its ability to dominate and profit. But things don't have to be this way.

As the RCP's statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" (Revolution #170, July 19, 2009) says:

"It is this system that has got us in the situation we're in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good…Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings…Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world."

A huge earthquake would be a huge struggle and a complex challenge for any society, including a new revolutionary society. I will be writing more about this in Revolution newspaper. But here are some initial points on how a socialist society would treat such an event completely differently than what the U.S. is doing in Haiti:

There would be an urgent need for leadership to mobilize the people to deal with everything from conducting relief and dealing with severe health needs to maintaining the cohesion and functioning of society. The utter devastation of infrastructure would be a big problem to solve—but this would not be fettered by the demands of profit and empire that today stand in the way of dealing with the crisis in Haiti. Society's resources, most especially the knowledge, creativity and bravery of the people, would be mobilized and organized immediately to do everything possible to save lives. The outpouring of support from people around the world would be facilitated, not sabotaged—while guarding against attempts by imperialist powers to take advantage of such a disaster to weaken and overthrow the new society. Scientists would play a role in understanding and predicting earthquakes, and together with the masses, figuring out ways to prepare for such a disaster. In the construction of buildings, safety would be a premium concern—not increasing profitability by using cheap materials. In Haiti we have seen the tremendous heroism and spirit of the people coming together to do everything they can to help each other out. A socialist society would fully appreciate and rely on such efforts. And in a revolutionary society tens of thousands would not have to die needlessly as is happening in Haiti today.

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond