by Robert Roth, January 2010
In June of 2004, I went to Haiti with two other members of the Haiti Action Committee. We were there to investigate the effects of the political earthquake in which the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been overthrown by a coup orchestrated by the United States, France and Canada.
What we saw still resonates. Hundreds of families who had had to flee their homes in the face of repression, thousands of grass roots activists in prison because of their association with Aristide’s Lavalas movement, literacy projects and schools destroyed, community-based activists forced into exile, Haiti returned to elite control in the name of “stability” and “security.”
We also saw the beginnings of the United Nations occupation, labeled “peacekeeping” by UN (Minustah) authorities, but clearly seen by the popular movement as the beginning of an international take-over of Haiti.
The coup devastated Haiti. It shattered the promises of a truly democratic period in Haitian history. It interrupted a process of building schools (more schools were built under Lavalas governments than had been built in all of Haitian history), establishing health clinics and parks in the poorest communities, support for literacy efforts among women, respect for the indigenous religion of Vodou, and a commitment to the development of Haitian agriculture in the face of the flooding of Haitian markets by U.S. goods.
Six years later, here we are. Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular political party in Haiti, has been banned from participating in elections, with the full support of the United States. The Preval government has tailored its policies to what the United States demands, rather than to what the people need. There is a deep fissure between the people and the official government, a deep gap between the occupied and the occupiers.
Yes, the earthquake was a violent natural disaster, presenting overwhelming challenges to any government or any aid responders. Yet, it is clear that this natural disaster—just like that of Hurricane Katrina — is compounded by a political failure, the continuation of generations of assaults against Haiti, and – in particular – a brutal UN/US occupation that has brought to a grinding halt the promise of the Aristide years.
Now we watch the U.S. gear up for a massive military operation in Haiti, while people die due to lack of medicine, or starve while food supplies sit on the airport tarmac. We see the pictures of families digging their relatives out of the rubble, with no aid in sight despite the presence of 9000 UN troops. We read the usual racist slurs against Haitians, called “scavengers” or “looters” when, after days of no assistance, they look for food and water in abandoned homes. We read that the problems of Haiti are rooted in “their culture and religious beliefs,” rather than in the harsh realities of colonialism and occupation. We hear CNN reports of a field hospital being ordered out of a community for “security reasons” by the United Nations, even in the face of wounded and dying people. And we read that Doctors Without Borders cargo planes were denied landing space in Port-au-Prince by U.S. military authorities.
This is a time to respect the resiliency and courage of the Haitian people. It is a time for aid, not charity, for solidarity not a U.S. military take-over. And it is a time to return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to his homeland.