By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
International League of Peoples’ Struggle
24 January 2010
On 12 January 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake shook the Caribbean nation of Haiti, its epicenter hitting west of the capital Port-au-Prince. The quake and its numerous aftershocks have wrought death and injury to a huge number of people and catastrophic damage to their homes and other vital infrastructures.
Current estimates put the death toll to at least 110,000, with some estimates saying that up to 200,000 have been killed. About 75,000 have already been buried in mass graves but tens of thousands still remain buried in collapsed buildings in the capital. Health facilities are overwhelmed by more than 250,000 wounded, with shortages of medical personnel and supplies hampering efforts to treat them. Estimates indicate that more than 2 million people have been rendered homeless, billions of dollars worth of public and private infrastructure have been devastated.
The people of Haiti are undergoing incalculably great suffering. We, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) convey our deepest sympathies to the Haitian people for their loss and express our most heartfelt recognition of their plight. We join the people of the world in lending our wholehearted support to help ease their suffering and call on our member-organizations and allies to extend immediate rescue and relief support to the victims in Haiti.
In the face of the devastation, the people of Haiti have had to rely on themselves and have shown heroism in helping each other as they go through the rubble, digging with their hands and puny tools to pull out what they can of the victims, both survivors and dead. With hardly any government or international aid support effectively reaching them on the ground despite the speed of information and hype of international disaster response, the people have had to rely on themselves for getting much needed water and emergency supplies.
We salute the Haitian people for helping each other. We also praise the various private organizations and institutions who have been able to extend whatever help on an international scale. At the same time, we direct our strongest denunciation against the US government for deploying military forces in Haiti instead of the personnel of US civilian agencies that are trained and equipped for rescue and relief aid.
The US government’s first prolonged reaction to the earthquake was to send in the US Marines and the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. This is the notorious force unit that had invaded Vietnam, the neighboring Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1984, Haiti in 1994 and Afghanistan. Under the preposterous pretext of providing security to the devastated nation, the US landed and deployed armed soldiers instead of civil rescue personnel and equipment, water and food.
The US military took control of the airport and blocked private relief organizations in order to make way for the flights carried soldiers and military cargo in the crucial first week after the earthquake. Professional rescue teams from many countries were compelled to stay in neighboring Dominican Republic or elsewhere, because they were not given landing slots.
A French plane, carrying a fully-equipped field hospital, was prevented from landing by the US military. The aircraft of the UN World Food Programme was also blocked from landing food, medicine and water for three days, because the US gave priority to flights ferrying US troops and equipment and evacuating Americans and other westerners. On 18 January, a US military spokesperson admitted that they have distributed a measly 15,000 liters of water and 14,000 meal packs. And they had done so chiefly through air drops, prompting the people to complain, “We are not animals!”
More than ever, the earthquake disaster in Haiti exposes the social vulnerability and devastation caused by two centuries of colonial slavery, debt bondage and modern imperialism. The capability of the people of Haiti to surmount the dire results of such a natural disaster has been undermined and debilitated by man-made disasters, inflicted by foreign debt, US military interventions and occupation, and US-imposed “free market” policies.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere where 80% of the population live in poverty. At its peak in 2008, the country’s total foreign debt was at US$1.4 billion, about 40% of its GNP. It has been spending more in debt service than on medical services to the people. Worse still, about 80% of the debt was incurred during the corrupt dictatorship of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Ruling under the strings of the US government, the Duvaliers plundered and repressed Haiti, stashing millions of dollars in their private bank accounts abroad.
Haiti is currently occupied by UN troops and controlled by a puppet government installed after the US military kidnapped democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Decades of “structural adjustment” programs, under the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have robbed the nation of the capacity to provide social services, produce enough food from the land and develop national industries. Since the late 1970s, these US-dictated programs have ejected tens of thousands of small farmers from the land and driven them to the overcrowded urban slums. A nation previously self-sufficient in grains and sugar is now importing rice and sugar, chiefly from the US.
It is utterly absurd and perverse for the US to invoke security as pretext for landing its military forces on a country which has long been laid prostrate by imperialist plunder and which just been devastated by the earthquake. Natural disasters have become one of the major pretexts for US military intervention and occupation in various parts of the world. It is the dastardly policy of the US government all over the world to militarize its every pretense at aid and relief assistance, to gain extraterritorial rights and to make propaganda for the acceptance of its military forces.
The ILPS calls on its member-organizations, its allies and the people of the world to extend their solidarity and support for the people of Haiti. Emergency support and relief activities by non-military organizations must be given full play, to help ease the suffering of those most affected. Long-term rehabilitation of Haiti must eventually be mapped out together with the Haitian people, in conjunction with respect for their national sovereignty and self-government.
The ILPS reiterates its call for the withdrawal of all US and other foreign military forces. We call on the American people to demand an end to US military occupation and intervention in Haiti and help reverse the course of US-Haiti relations. We can best help Haiti recover from the devastation of the 12 January earthquake by supporting the Haitian people’s struggle for national self-determination against foreign military occupation and economic plunder.