By Hwaa Irfan
Have you ever tried to put together a puzzle whereby not all the pieces seem to connect because it takes a while to realize that some of the pieces belong to another puzzle, well that is how Haiti appears to me at the moment.
My eye brows rose a little when I saw former Presidents Clinton and Bush doing fundraisers for the African-Caribbean island of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, stereotypically framed as the island of voodoo, and all things illicit. Maybe this was to make up for Katrina, but my eyebrows were further raised when I heard about the cholera outbreak almost 9 months after the worst earthquake on record – 9 months! All that time I had not explored the issue because I knew there was more to Haiti than meets the eye. However, when I read one paragraph on how Haitians were protesting and demanding the closure of a hospital pertaining to the cholera outbreak, while the rest of the article without effort had made the protesters to appear unreasonable, I suspected that there was a reason.
Call me a skeptic, but when one observes the flurry of activity over the cholera outbreak in the context of deaf ears pertaining to the environmental onslaught that Pakistan has had to face this year, one cannot help but ask the question why!
Low and behold, a link to a video was sent prepared by a Haitian, which of course I followed up, but before one gets to the video a few points need to be addressed.
In the week of the earthquake of January 12 2010, reports gave a devastating picture of the whole island, with a death toll of 200,000. Of course it took time to get accurate information, because as far as anyone knew all communication was down to and from Haiti. However, communication was possible from the mainland, the U.S., and in the areas outside of the capital, which was how family and friends of the islanders living in other countries found out the situation for family and friends in the capital, Port au Prince,. It was from this social networking that it was established that only the capital, Port au Prince was hit, and Leogane (30 miles away), and the rest of the island was fine – then all of a sudden later in the day phone and Internet connections stopped, and it was took 2 days before communication by phone was possible to the mainland, the U.S.! It was in the second week that we were able to establish that able bodied Haitians, especially women and children, fled to the country-side, whilst mainly men folk in the capital remained to do what they could, and in the second week Emergency Telecommunications staff had in place an enhanced Internet connection and voice lines for the humanitarian community.
“In the countryside where the people live simply, there were no human losses, no damages. The plantations and forests were not damaged. It is a way of life that has been destroyed by the earthquake”, commented Sister Sakina in contact with Haiti from the U.S.
While the English speaking press was giving a death toll of 200, 000, the French press was giving a death toll of 70,000, yet how the death toll was ascertained given the fact that the residents of the U.S. military base on the island were preventing aid from going past the airport. However, we were not supposed to know that, or understand why the locals were complaining about not getting any aid beyond that received via the Dominican Republic from other Caribbean islands and a couple of Muslim aid agencies. Again, we were not supposed to know that. Selected aid agencies gave reports that aid was getting through, which it did eventually, but not immediately. It was in those two days of communication silence, that all efforts by the military base was directed towards deploying military personnel, and not medical personnel and supplies, while aid was piling up at the island’s airport. Within two weeks there were 396 international aid agencies present in Haiti, excluding those from the Caribbean, and the Muslim world. In the words of Haitian Sheikh Zo Ibrahim:
“The country under international control was found totally defenseless in the earthquake. The world wholeheartedly has generously extended itself, after the fact, to help Haitian people through voluntary donations, humanitarian and military. It is easy for one to exhibit high virtues in these tragic circumstances, but was not apt to conceive and develop a world from a humane perspective that would reflect the virtue to spare us such calamities. Instead they persist in the same paradigm—sending military troops and billions of dollars to rebuild what has collapsed”.
By international control, Ibrahim was referring to MINUSTAH, the U.N. Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti – but it was only the capital Port au Prince, and Leogane that was hit! So, what did collapse, and where did those billions of dollars go to? The Haitian government provided free transport to 130,000 Haitians to return to the countryside, how many countries (all of whom are wealthier) hit by earthquakes lesser than the 7.0 on Richter scale be in a position to do that!
The fate of Haitians has never been in their hands. From being shipped from their mother countries Senegal, Benin and Nigeria as slaves to work on the sugar plantations for 200 years on an island occupied by mainly French Christians. It was not until the slave revolt of 1791 that slavery was abolished, but Napoleon Bonaparte was not going to let that happen, and sent General Leclerc with 30,000 men to re-establish slavery – after all, slavery was a money spinner! Even though they caught the leader of the revolt, Toussaint Louverture, that form of slavery was never to return. By 1804, via the liberation war, independence was claimed and Saint Domingue was to become Haiti. This was the first country to fight for independence. Now a rogue state, had to pay, a rogue state that was the richest Caribbean island. As such, France made Haiti pay, by forcing the signing of an 1825 treaty. King Charles X, proclaimed that Haiti had to pay the French Federal Deposit & Consignment Treasury F150mn in gold every year ( total F150mn) as compensation for France’s loss in income. In other words, Haitians who did not ask to be bought and sold, to make money for a country they know nothing of, had to buy their way out of slavery. This was eventually reduced to F90mn, which Haitians paid until 1888. Through this debt, poverty loomed.
Since then, the U.S. has traditionally supported successive dictatorships in Haiti. The challenge for the U.S. came with the democratically voted for Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2000, who won the people’s vote to become the President. Throughout Aristide’s presidency, counter propaganda by the U.S. sought to undermine Aristide’s presidency, which included withholding aid and blocking aid from the European Union, and to support aid giving only to selected non-governmental organizations, NGO’s. Once a green luscious land, the IMF forced Haiti to open to imports of highly subsidized U.S. rice (rice imports grew from 0 – 200,000 tons per year) while banning Haiti from subsidizing its own farmers. Without land, forced to work in sweatshops 50% of Haitian children are malnourished.
The democratically elected President Jean- Bertrand Aristide, now exiled in S. Africa at the behest of the U.S. had the following to say:
“What happens to poor countries when they embrace free trade? In Haiti in 1986 we imported just 7000 tons of rice, the main staple food of the country. The vast majority was grown in Haiti. In the late 1980’s Haiti complied with free trade policies advocated by the leading international lending agencies and lifted tariffs on rice imports. Cheaper rice immediately flooded in from the United States where the rice industry is subsidized. In fact the liberalization of Haiti’s market coincided with the 1985 Farm Bill in the U.S., which increased subsidies to the rice industry so that 40% of U.S. rice growers’ profits came from the government by 1987. Haiti’s farmers could not possible compete. By 1996 Haiti was importing 196,000 tons of foreign rice at the cost of $100 million a years. Haitian rice production became negligible. Once the dependence on foreign rice was complete, import prices began to rise, leaving Haiti’s population, particularly the urban poor, completely at the whim of rising world grain prices. And the price continues to rise”.
Aristide commented on an animal important to their livestock, the Creole pig. Not that we are here to support the eating of such animals, but simply to look at the callousness of decisions that have a detrimental effect on the lives of others.
“Haiti’s small, black, Creole pigs were at the heart of the peasant economy. An extremely hearty breed, well adapted to Haiti’s climate and conditions, they ate readily-available waste products, and could survive for three days without food. Eighty to 85% of rural households raised pigs; they played a key role in maintaining the fertility of the soil, and constituted the primary savings bank of the peasant population. Traditionally a pig was sold to pay for emergencies and special occasions (funerals, marriages, baptisms, illnesses, and critically, to pay school fees and buy books for the children when school opened…)
“In 1982 international agencies assured Haiti’s peasants their pigs were sick and had to be killed (so that the illness would no spread to countries in the North). Promises were made that better pigs would replace sick pigs. With efficiency not since seen among development projects, all the Creole pigs were killed over a period of 13 months.
“Two years later the new, better pigs came from Iowa [U.S.]. They were so much better that they required clean drinking water (unavailable to 80% of the Haitian population), imported feed (costing $90 a year when the per capita income was about $130), and special roofed pigpens… Adding insult to injury, the meat did not taste good. Needless to say, the repopulation program was a complete failure. One observer of the process estimated that in monetary terms peasants lost $600 million dollars. There was a 30% drop in enrollment in rural schools; there was a dramatic decline in protein consumption in rural Haiti, a devastating decapitalization of the peasant economy, and an incalculable negative impact on Haiti’s soil and agricultural productivity. The Haitian peasantry had not recovered to this day”
Back to the Earthquake
The Cuban and Dominican Republic Red Cross were the first to arrive on the scene, supplying food, fresh water, and medical support alongside the Haitian Red Cross. Why the U.S. has sought to seal off all access to Haiti, have allowed food aid to stockpile in the capital’s airport, and refused entry to some others begs serious questioning, while anger and violence flares on the streets of Haiti, thousands are homeless, starving, thirsty, and in need of medical care. As the Gazans can tell us, there is nothing worse than being in a situation whereby nobody cares. After all, the mainstream press was not aware of the many Muslim and non-Muslim aid agencies waiting to get in!
The U.S. Food for Peace program, which was designed to help U.S. farmers to unload their excess food production onto needy communities around the globe totally undermined the Haitian economy. Food for Peace is actually food dumping disguised as food aid whereby the food that U.S. does not want is sold to governments at a cheap price, and then put onto local markets at a price which undercuts local markets, bringing local markets to a standstill – a common practice. Today, the U.S. is the only country which practices monetarized food aid. As it is natural to buy cheaper food, the local producers end up going out of business, and then what was cheaply imported food increasingly becomes more expensive, pricing the locals out of the ability to buy food.
The luscious trees of Haiti was slowly cut down leading to serious deforestation because the people needed wood for fire and shelter under a U.S. puppet government as Aristide was banished to South Africa. Against the backdrop of serious annual hurricanes, and flooding, soil erosion became inevitable.
The massive fund raising drive done publicly in the U.S. by Clinton Bush Snr. and Bush Jnr. never arrived, at least to the benefit of the islanders, instead it went towards paying for the troops
The violence on the streets of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake was due to prisons destroyed by the earthquake, and a reluctance to distribute the food aid that has been delivered by what is a U.S. controlled “operation” involving certain aid agencies is more than enough reason for Haitians to be angry. Anger inflamed has led to local reaction to the cholera outbreak, and for very good reasons, considering there has been no other outbreak for any other disease!
First of all the outbreak did not occur anywhere near the earthquake hit areas of Port au Prince, and Leogane.
The World Health Organization’s, Pan American Health Organization have sprung to aid the Haitian government over the outbreak. So to have the much admired and respected Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Agency for International Development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Doctors Without Borders, and other nongovernmental organizations. Also the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Agency for International Development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and other nongovernmental organizations. The Haitians have been treated as the guilty party, being incapable of living hygienically. Cholera is caused by food and water that is contaminated with vibrio cholerae, a bacteria that cause severe intestinal infection, and loss of body fluids, which leads to dehydration, before claiming a life. Angered at being told to wash their hands and use safe water, the Haitians say they have been doing just that, drinking from treated water for years before they came as of habit. It was Haitian investigative reporter – journalist, Dady Cheri who discovered the source of the anger before the news of cholera hit the mainstream coverage. Cholera did not exist in Haiti before the epidemic that has claimed so far 300 lives and has infected 4,000 Haitians (as of 28 October), and when it did break, it began nowhere near the center of the epidemic! It began on the prison island of I’lle de la Gonave. Another possible source is the MINUSTAH camp occupied by the Nepalese whose waste flows into the Artibonite River, which flows past the agriculture area of the island. The strain of cholera is the same as the strain that broke out in Nepal this summer of 2010. This only adds to local anger who demand for MINUSTAH to leave as a Nepalese MINUSTAH murdered a local. Of course this call is being ignored, equally as Doctors Without Borders have set up a cholera clinic near a school. That is one thing Prophet Muhammed (SAW) advised about “quarantine” and the meaning of quarantine!
Aristide, J.B. Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization Common Courage Press 2000.
Bovard, J. How American Food Aid Keeps the Third World Hungry. Accessed 01-25-10
Dady, C. “Cholera in a Blue Bag”. Axis of Logic.
ENS Haiti’s Few Trees At Risk as Survivors Flee to Rural Areas
Kirwan, J. “Three Monkeys & the Haitian Epidemic…” http://www.rense.com/general92/threemonk.htm
Mittal. A. Land Loss, Poverty and Hunger Institute for Food and Policy Development. 2001
Oxford Policy Paper “Europe’s Double Standards: How EU Should Reform Its Policies with the Developing World”. 2002
Quixote Center Delegation Investigating the Human Effects of Withheld Humanitarian Aid. Haiti Reborn/ Quixote Center Delegation Jan 2003.