Friday, November 11, 2005

On Board the Haiti-U.S. Express

A little more than a month ago Americans and, for once, the American media issued cries of despair about the plight of New Orleans, a city under attack from nature as well as an irresponsible government. “It looks like Haiti!” pundits exclaimed, aghast at the horrible spectacle.

Little did they know how right they were.

For many who live in poverty in the U.S., and for those citizens who do not close their eyes to it, it is well known that the similarities between our countries run deep. U.S. policy has continuously shaped Haiti’s economic and political existence, to the extent that Haiti is like America—the worst of it. Likewise, the worst of America is a lot like Haiti.

During Katrina, television commentators were drawing conclusions based on color. A more appropriate and disturbing conclusion is that parallel economic and political strategies—paired with a deliberate lack of strategies—continue to determine the fate of many in Haiti and the U.S. (Unfortunately for Louisiana, Republican measures such as suspending the Davis-Bacon Act seem likely to maintain this trajectory.)

A short list of Haiti's current woes is also a dim reflection of us:

• A Texas corporation owner, originally from Haiti, is running for president of that country and, though his candidacy has been deemed illegal, he seems poised to do better than many others. Why let an illegal election stop you?
• Elections are being delayed until February. Only a few hundred polling places are currently planned; compare this to over 10,000 in the previous elections. The inability of the current U.S.-approved puppet government—following the ouster/kidnapping of Aristide—to organize a credible but corrupt election has been much criticized. But the U.S. continues its support...
• A donor’s conference took place this week for Haiti under the auspices of the State Department. In other words, as for Iraq and Louisiana, it’s pay-to-play in the current Haitian economy run by American, European and Canadian-approved politicians.
• As the American Enterprise and Cato Institutes did for the Bush administration in the aftermath of Katrina, policy in Haiti is being dictated by far right-wing organizations such as the International Republican Institute via the National Endowment for Democracy. (Supposedly “dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide,” the IRI pushes for semi- or even non-democratic privatization measures.)

A look at the results of a donor conference that took place this week for Haiti reveals an oppressive triangulation of Western governments, the International Monetary Fund and the few but powerful Haitians that are profiting from this mess. Quoting an IMF statement, an October 21st release from the State Department says that in 2005-2006 Haiti has a strategy that "adequately maintains the focus on preserving macroeconomic stability, enhancing governance and transparency, and increasing spending on infrastructure and social services."

Condoleeza Rice probably used such language in the talking points of her “surprise” visit to Haiti at the end of last September.

Of course, the language of the IMF, of the Department of State, of USAID and many others is duplicitous. It behooves us translate "macroeconomic stability" with toeing a multinational corporate philosophy on privatizing Haiti's infrastructure. The true meaning of the conference is thus evident. Moreoever, the strategy is not Haiti's, but that of the current U.S. administration, one particularly apt at imposing onerous economic regimes abroad and at home.

The unjust imprisonments of Father Jean-Juste and former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who both have popular support from the Lavalas party that elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide with a huge majority, reflect odious, criminal judicial practices. Such practices are gaining legal traction here in the U.S., as anyone familiar with the Patriot Act and similar legislation knows.

The purpose here is not to trivialize matters. Haiti’s woes are countless, deeper and more widespread than those of the U.S. They affect the staggering majority of Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, and one of the poorest on the planet.

But Americans should not be fooled either. This week's State Department "donor conference" for Haiti was a meeting to bring business and corrupt politicians into line while pushing for "elections" to add a superficial air of legitimacy to Washington's (Canada's, France's) economic regime. All of this is the standard modus operandi that was seen in the wake of Katrina as politicians handed out contract after contract to "friendly" (read: "contributor") corporations.

So let us take a moment to remember that we are Haiti, and Haiti is us. We are more than alike, we are intertwined. So far only the Congressional Black Caucus has any sort of stable position on this situation in Washington, and even they are not as unified as on other positions. As "elections" approach in Haiti, we should write our representatives to bring this situation further into the open because, in too many ways, the situation is simply our own.