Not A Time To Be Pulling Strings


I am overwhelmed, frustrated and even angered by what some journalists have written about Haiti since the 12 January earthquake and I cannot believe some of the images I have seen on news channels such as CNN and MSNBC.

It’s true that some journalists are doing their very best to give a real picture of the situation on the ground in Haiti — and some are just doing what their bosses have asked (or ordered) them to do.

But the mainstream media, especially in the United States, has focused the attention of their audiences on the fact that Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and concentrated on the efforts of the US, the richest country in the Americas, to mobilise disaster relief services.

In doing so, they are overlooking many important questions: Why is Haiti so poor? Why did the United States have to wait until a deadly catastrophe like the earthquake to deliver assistance to Haiti, located just 90 minutes by air from the coast of Florida? Why have successive US governments failed to support real democracy in Haiti? Why, in 1991, did the CIA under George Bush senior plot with Haiti’s elite class to carry out a coup against Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, currently in exile in South Africa? And then why in 2000–2004 did George W Bush’s administration fail to support the elected Aristide government?

Furthermore, why has George W Bush been included in delegations to help Haiti — but not Aristide? How can Bush possibly serve the people of Haiti better than Aristide? (You can read Aristide’s statement on the earthquake here.) As reconstruction of Haiti slowly proceeds, answers to these questions must emerge.

And there are other questions that also need answering, prompted by the reports I have personally received from friends in Haiti.

Lavarice Gaudin, the leader of Veye-Yo, a Miami-based Haitian advocacy group, told me: "I am now in Ti Plas Kazo. I have already visited many places in Port-Au-Prince; people are dying, they are thirsty, hungry. They do not know to whom to turn. The situation is catastrophic, it is grave."

Ti Plas Kazo is located 10 minutes from the airport where all the humanitarian relief supplies are arriving. Why are people there dying from a lack of food and water?

Jean-Claudel, a university student who survived this earthquake, spoke to me from his neighbour’s phone: "People are sleeping in the street, fearing that their houses can anytime collapse and they do not want to die. I do not know if I will be able to speak to you again because I may die after I speak to you because I have no water and no food. All the people here are in dire need."

My beloved country is one where people know how to do "konbit" (put their hands together) to help their brothers and sisters. But because so many of the organisations now involved in the relief effort do not know Haiti well and do not have Haitian employees who speak the local languages, the situation may worsen.

Thirty kilometres north of Port-Au-Prince, evacuation and relief efforts are working better. Images from American television show evacuees riding tap tap to Saint Marc, Gonaives, and other towns north of the capital. Why are American relief organisations not using this strategy rather than humiliating people by dropping food and water to them by helicopters? Would they treat American citizens in this manner?

There have been complaints from Médécins Sans Frontières that they cannot land planes to bring supplies for their doctors. France and China have both expressed discomfort with the manner in which the United States has taken absolute control of Haiti’s airport, because they too are struggling to land their disaster relief planes — carrying doctors, medications and mobile hospitals — while the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can travel to and fro, as can her husband. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the United States of occupying Haiti in the name of aid.

And what about the invisible Haitian President, René Garcia Préval? No one, it seems, is quite sure what he is doing. Some people think he is negotiating the country away to the United States. And others don’t think that Préval has ever been the one leading the country; rather, they argue that he has always been a puppet of the international community. He made many Haitians very uncomfortable when he responded in very basic English to a question from CNN reporter Anderson Cooper about the ongoing situation in Haiti. Many were angry that he did not speak in Creole, his people’s language, and use a translator.

Préval will eventually have to answer these questions, and many more like them. But most importantly, he will have to be honest with the Haitian people about what else he is allowing the Obama Administration to do under the cover of disaster relief.

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