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Haitian, Dominican floods: social, not ‘natural,’ disaster
Imperialist domination is cause of deadly toll
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Saudi Arabia raid provides opening for U.S. imperialism
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 68/No. 23June 14, 2004

lead article
Haitian, Dominican floods:
social, not ‘natural,’ disaster
Imperialist domination is cause of deadly toll

Reuters/Timothy Edwards (top) Daniel Morel (bottom)
Top, area near Haitian village of Mapou in border region of Haiti and Dominican Republic, submerged in water, has few trees. Bottom, a farmer sits on porch of his mud-filled house in Leogane, Haiti, May 27 after severe floods hit area. At least 2,000 people have died, about 1,600 of them in Haiti.

The capitalist catastrophe facing working people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic has deepened with the devastating consequences of floods and mudslides in the rural border region of the two nations. At least 2,000 people are reported dead and thousands have been left homeless, with entire villages washed away.

The toll has been magnified by the lack of adequate housing, medical care, roads, transportation, communications, and other basic infrastructure. These conditions are the result of exploitation by the domestic capitalist ruling families and plunder by the imperialist powers—above all Washington, Ottawa, and Paris—of the wealth that workers and peasants produce.

One of the horrible consequences of the imperialist domination of the two countries—especially Haiti—is the deforestation of the border region that made the toll from the floods so devastating. Haiti is the most deforested country of the Americas. Only 1 percent of its land has tree cover. The reason for the disappearance of the woodland is that electricity and gas or other forms of fuel are not accessible at all in most of the rural areas. As a result, working people are forced to cut wood and use it or sell it for charcoal—the only means of survival available to them.

In response to this calamity, the U.S. government offered the insulting sum of $50,000 in relief supplies plus two disaster experts. Instead of health-care and relief personnel, it has sent U.S. Marines from the imperialist occupation force to transport the supplies.

In Haiti, virtually the only medical services available to working people in the affected areas are being provided by Cuban volunteer doctors, who have been serving there since 1999.  
Deforestation makes floods deadly
Two weeks of heavy rains resulted May 24 in the overflowing of the Silli River, which crosses the border from Haiti into the province of Jiman in the Dominican Republic. Haiti has the least economic development of any nation in the Americas. Similar conditions exist in the border region of the Dominican Republic. Per capita income in Haiti is about $400 per year, and $2,000 in the Dominican Republic.

The center of the disaster is in towns and villages in the border region—Mapou and Fond Verrettes in Haiti, and Jiman in the Dominican Republic.

Floodwaters washed through the deforested hills, overflowing previously dry riverbeds. The floods struck before dawn while many people were still asleep. Entire neighborhoods were swept away as people struggled to reach safety on the roofs of their homes or by climbing palm trees.

Mudslides knocked down everything in their path as houses—many built from sticks and sheets of iron—could not withstand the pressure. At the same time, torrential rains, mud, and landslides have made impassable the few roads that could serve as either means of escape for residents or route of entry for emergency relief efforts.

According to media reports, an estimated 1,000 people are dead in the town of Mapou, which remains submerged under 10 feet of water. The single road leading into the town is now cut off by the Peredo River, which before the rains was little more than a creek. Relief workers have had to cancel almost all activity as ground transportation is impossible and only some helicopter flights have made it through the continuing rains. “We know something big is going on. But we can’t get there,” a Red Cross employee told the Miami Herald.

In Fond Verrettes—just 40 miles east of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital—as much as five feet of rain fell in 36 hours, and rushing waters and mudslides destroyed most homes there. Some 160 people reportedly died in the first days of flooding, including 45 children. Another 100 have been found dead in the southern town of Grand Gosier, Haitian government officials said.

For these rural communities, obtaining aid was especially difficult even prior to the recent disaster. The few services the government provides are concentrated in Port-au-Prince. “To get medicines you have to travel one long day to the capital, then spend two days there going around looking for what you need, then one long day to travel back,” Burnet Cherisol, who operates a clinic in Gonaives, in northern Haiti, told Reuters. “As a result the people continue to suffer and needlessly die.”  
Cuban doctors’ services vital
Cherisol said that the more than 500 Cuban medical volunteers on the island are vital to health-care services in the countryside. “In many areas the only care available is from the Cuban doctors, even though the current Haitian government doesn’t support them,” she said. “Few Haitian physicians are willing to venture this far, where there’s no electricity, no hotel.”

Haitian prime minister Grard Latortue was put in power by the U.S. military after a rightist rebellion three months ago spread throughout Haiti. The government of the elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide agreed to allow U.S. and other imperialist troops to land in Haiti supposedly to mediate the conflict. But the U.S. troops quickly shanghaied Aristide, taking him by plane to Africa. Aristide is currently living in South Africa. Some 3,600 U.S., Canadian, and French troops have been kept in Haiti to “restore order.”

The U.S. government has responded to the disaster by mobilizing U.S. Marines to carry relief supplies.

One of the main reasons for the catastrophic flooding and mudslides was the severe deforestation of the hills and valleys in the border region. Haiti’s forests have disappeared because, without access to electricity or other sources of fuel, thousands of Haitian workers and farmers depend for survival on charcoal made from cutting down trees for heat, light, and cooking fuel.

Latortue announced that to combat the deforestation, his government would create a “forest protection unit” made up of former soldiers from the demobilized Haitian army. Past government-sponsored reforestation campaigns, however, have not been more than token efforts.

The flooding in the Dominican Republic was centered in the border area, one of the country’s poorest regions. In Jiman, a town of 15,000, about 100 miles west of Santo Domingo, government authorities buried more than 250 bodies immediately, the Associated Press reported May 27. The majority of those living in the town are immigrants from Haiti, trying to make a living as sugar cane cutters or street vendors. As undocumented workers, many are afraid of being deported if they go to authorities for aid. Bodies were found crushed against walls, clinging to tree trunks, and buried in the mud. In most cases the government made no effort to identify those who had died. Many were buried in mass graves, while bulldozers dug holes to bury others where they were found, according to Reuters.

The floods destroyed all shelters, such as hospitals and churches, and left schools full of water and mud. Several survivors told the media that the government had warned them they were living in a flood-prone area, but were given no alternative. “The government came by and said we were in the river’s path, but we didn’t have the money to move or buy any land or build anything, so we stayed,” Fraudi Matos, a washing machine repair worker told the Miami Herald.

Dominican president Hiplito Meja has deployed army troops to take relief supplies to the flood-devastated areas. The main priority of the Meja government, however, has been to make payments to the imperialist creditors on the Dominican Republic’s foreign debt and to use the army and police against working people protesting the deterioration of their working and living conditions. Since the year 2000 the foreign debt has doubled to more than $7.6 billion in this country of 8.5 million inhabitants.

A two-day general strike shut down most economic activity in the Dominican Republic on January 28-29. Strikers protested rising unemployment and skyrocketing inflation, and condemned the country’s plunder by international finance capital through debt slavery. Workers demanded action against worsening conditions such as frequent, hours-long blackouts.

Meja responded with a display of force, sending thousands of soldiers and police into the streets. Government forces killed at least seven during the 48-hour period, wounded dozens more, and arrested about 500 others.  
Imperialist ‘aid’ an insulting pittance
Imperialist governments have offered no more than a trickle of aid for the thousands left homeless, for finding those who are missing, and rebuilding homes and livelihoods. Washington has promised a miserly $50,000 through its misnamed Agency for International Development. Ottawa has offered $43,000, Tokyo $100,000, and European Union governments a combined total of $2.4 million.

Much of this so-called aid, however, will be used not to improve the country’s infrastructure and the living conditions of working people but to perpetuate the debt bondage of the two countries and fatten the pockets of some local capitalists.
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