Political Promise

Stop Haiti Being Ravaged By The West

In Aaron Frazer on February 3, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Having a history defined by a distinct vulnerability to predatory external forces, the developments of the last few days have hardly been incongruous. Throughout its history, western nations have pummelled and persecuted this impoverished nation. In 1805 it was granted independence after a succession of slave rebellions but its subversion came at a price; a debilitating 120 million francs payable in gold to France which it did not finish paying until 1947. As well as being occupied by the US in the 1920’s, Haiti’s most infamous dictatorship, that of the Duvaliers, received an extraordinary level of financial support from the west. President Aristride who succeeded this regime was been toppled twice with American support. Through the IMF’s structural adjustment program Haiti has also been forced to do what no other rich country in modern history has ever had  to do; remove tariffs and protectionist measures which  developing economies have always used to protect new and precarious financial institutions and industries.

Following its IMF structural adjustment program Haiti has gone from grain self sufficiency to a mass importer of, you guessed it, heavily subsidised US rice. This has drastically hastened the chaotic and unsustainable level of urbanisation in Haiti.

What worries me currently is that in this sea of goodwill, initiatives to “change” Haiti’s political and economic structure will not be defined and approved by the populace but those who wish to prosper, once again, on chaos and misery. The Heritage Foundation, an exceptionally influential   neo-liberal think-tank which established “Pro Free market ideas for responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices”, (including the suspension of wage laws, vouchers for parents to use at private schools and flat tax laws), is tentatively in the mix. Amazingly, just 24 hours after the earthquake the Heritage Foundation said on its website;

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.”

In terms of “long dysfunctional government” the implicit reference is its “bloated” system of state ownership.  James Dobbins, former special envoy to Haiti under President Bill Clinton and director of the International Security and Defence Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, stated in the New York Times that “this disaster is an opportunity to accelerate oft-delayed reforms,” including “breaking up or at least reorganizing the government-controlled telephone monopoly” and restructuring the ports.

With the salivating prospects for investment, the self proclaimed “friends of Haiti”, made up of an array of foreign ministries and multi-national companies could not find $1bn of debt relief for the country. This is a nation which paid more in debt servicing in 2008 than its entire expenditure on education and health.

I honestly think there is overwhelming evidence that unregulated and unscrutinised forces, primarily from international capital, will pauperise and exploit this vulnerable nation.  There exists a very strong precedent of the impediments and opposition to a neo-liberal agenda being swept away with the advent of a political or ecological disaster. However with greater knowledge and appreciation of this, maybe, by throwing a big spanner in the works, this could change.

Aaron Frazer

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