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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 74/No. 3      January 25, 2010


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(lead article)
Social disaster racks
Haiti following quake
Imperialist exploitation magnifies crisis
Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
Residents sleep in streets of Port-au-Prince January 13 following earthquake. Tens of thousands are believed dead and many more trapped. Centuries of imperialist plunder and domination of island greatly magnify scope of social catastrophe inflicted on working people in Haiti.

January 13—As the Militant goes to press, tens of thousands are believed dead and many more trapped or wounded as working people in Haiti fight to rescue others, find refuge, and combat disease following yesterday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas. Haiti has a population of 9 million.

The damage has been greatly magnified by the extreme poverty of Haiti and its lack of infrastructure—products of the plunder of the island’s workforce and natural resources by Washington and other imperialist governments that are today offering a mere pittance in rescue aid, none of which had arrived by mid-afternoon today. In contrast, Cuban doctors have already set up field hospitals and are treating hundreds of injured Haitians. Prior to the disaster, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated that 60 percent of the buildings were poorly constructed and unsafe even in normal conditions. Many homes, public buildings, schools, and at least one major hospital collapsed during the earthquake. The pervasive lack of medical care and necessities like clean drinking water and electricity needed to power hospitals means that those who survived the initial shock are not yet out of danger.

A Voice of America article today blamed these conditions on the Haitian people, saying, “Years of political violence, corruption, deforestation, crime and natural disasters have severely hindered its development efforts.”

The article covered up the record of U.S., French, and other imperialist plunder of Haiti. It was a French colony until Black slaves overthrew their colonizers in 1804. Washington and Paris have continued to dominate and exploit the island. For 29 years the U.S.-backed Duvalier family, who killed tens of thousands of political opponents, ruled Haiti. A popular uprising ousted the Duvaliers in 1986 but the country has remained wracked by poverty and political instability. In 2004 Washington helped force elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile, replacing him with a government more to Washington and Paris’s liking. There are 9,000 UN troops in Haiti.

A tiny minority—1 percent of the Haitian population—owns nearly half the wealth produced. Haiti imports four times as many goods as it exports. Some two-thirds of the population lack full-time jobs. There were only 20,000 factory assembly jobs as of 2006.

Shortly after the quake January 12, U.S. president Barack Obama issued a curt, two-sentence statement that “we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti.” His office said, “The President asked his staff to make sure that embassy personnel are safe, and to begin preparations in the event that humanitarian assistance is needed.”

The next morning Obama read a four-minute statement to the press. Describing the images from Haiti as “truly heart-wrenching,” he said, “Our efforts are focused on several urgent priorities. First we’re working quickly to account for U.S. embassy personnel and their families in Port-au-Prince… . Second, we’ve mobilized resources to help rescue efforts.” He said search-and-rescue teams from three states were being dispatched. The U.S. Southern Command subsequently said it was sending 30 military personnel to “assess the situation,” Air Force troops to provide air traffic control at the main airport, and several Navy ships.

In contrast, Cuban doctors already stationed in Haiti went to work immediately to treat victims of the quake. There are 344 medical personnel from Cuba serving in Haiti on voluntary internationalist missions. Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez reported in Havana that they had established two field hospitals and had already treated 676 injured Haitians by the morning of January 13, reported Juventud Rebelde.

National television news in Cuba said an additional brigade of doctors, plus food and medical supplies, will be sent. Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine has also trained 551 Haitians to become doctors in recent years at no charge.

At the same time Cuban doctors mobilized in Haiti, the Cuban government yesterday evacuated 30,000 people from their homes in Baracoa, Cuba, after a tsunami alert was issued due to the earthquake in Haiti. The Cubans were moved to higher territory where they would be safe in less than an hour by teams composed of Civil Defense volunteers, members of mass organizations, soldiers, and police. They returned to their homes in the early evening when the threat had subsided.

In Venezuela, Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro announced that 50 experts in disaster response left for Haiti early in the morning of January 13.

The response of capitalist “disaster relief” organizations, meanwhile, was similar to the indifference of the Obama administration, given the scale of the damage. CARE said it is sending Haiti $145,000 in relief and the American Red Cross is promising $500,000.

Emily Paul in Miami and Róger Calero in New York contributed to this article.

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