Reader in Boston Writes on Haiti and Hurricane Sandy

November 3, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |


Before Hurricane Sandy smashed into New Jersey, New York and the Eastern United States, it had already swept through the Caribbean—with especially devastating impact on Haiti. I have been following events there as best as possible, calling and talking with friends who have family and colleagues in Haiti, and the picture they paint is one that is almost beyond comprehension.

Even before Sandy struck Haiti, conditions of life for the vast majority of Haitians have been incredibly difficult. It has been less than three years since the earthquake that devastated the capital city of Port-au-Prince, killing upwards of 450,000 people in a country of 9 million and driving over a million and a half more into makeshift shantytowns and tent cities around the city. There are still over 350,000 living in these shantytowns—with little to no public sanitation, makeshift electricity at best and virtually no ready access to healthcare or clean water.

The reason the population of the shantytowns has dropped in the last year is not because safe, affordable housing was built in the wake of the earthquake for families to move into, but because the Haitian military, backed by the United Nations, drove hundreds of thousands out of their makeshift homes to reclaim the land for the private land owners and speculators. Most of the remaining shanty towns were simply blown away by Hurricane Sandy—leaving hundreds of thousands more homeless once again.

Despite the outpouring of international support after the earthquake in 2010, little of the billions of dollars pledged ever reached the Haitian people. In fact, the most significant thing that was introduced to Haiti after the earthquake was cholera. The cholera epidemic that broke out less than a year after the earthquake has to date claimed over 7,500 lives and affects over 6 percent of the Haitian population. This is now considered the worst epidemic of cholera in the world, and it is a scientifically proven fact that the cholera was introduced through the UN military mission that itself saw a massive jump in size after the earthquake. This in a country that had not seen a case of cholera in over 100 years previously.

The situation in most of the countryside is not much better than the urban areas. Haiti, once one of the most beautiful and agriculturally rich countries in the Caribbean, now has to import half its food and has had large swaths of land deforested and without topsoil, leaving the hilly countryside vulnerable to mudslides and the streams and rivers that most people rely on for water vulnerable to run-off of sewage and waste. This was how the cholera epidemic got started—UN troops dumped untreated sewage into a stream that Haitians washed and bathed in and drank from.

This is what Haiti looked like on the arrival of Hurricane Sandy.

The storm swept past Hispaniola (the island comprised of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) as a Category 2 hurricane. People report that more than 20 inches of rain fell over most of the country in a matter of hours, triggering massive mudslides throughout the island that wiped out entire communities. It is estimated that over 70 percent of the agriculture in southern Haiti was destroyed by the hurricane. Hundreds of small farmers saw their fields covered in several feet of water. Everystream, river, pond and lake in the country flooded. There is already an increase in the reported cases of cholera from the further deterioration of the water quality.

To date over 54 people are known to have died because of the storm and dozens of others are still missing. Communication has been very difficult, but people who have been able to reach friends and family in Haiti say the destruction is much greater than being reported—partly because the areas are so remote and cut off and also because Western media pretty much ignored the impact on the country as "not that newsworthy."

As devastating as the impact of the hurricane has been and continues to be on the people of New York, New Jersey and the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., it is important to consider this—there is not even any talk of relief crews being rushed into the sections of Haiti devastated by Sandy, no plans to airlift in life-saving supplies of water and food, no "promises" for a speedy reestablishment of electrical services. In fact, for the millions of Haitians impacted by Sandy, they had little if any electricity before the storm and no ready access to clean water. Sandy has taken what was already a dire situation and made it much worse.

In a sick and twisted example of capitalist logic, the only serious outside investment that has been going on in Haiti since the earthquake has been in association with a much promoted industrial park (read "sweatshop park") in the northern region of the country. On the Monday before Sandy struck, Haitian President Michel Martelly, joined by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a host of political and business luminaries that included her husband (and U.N. special envoy to Haiti), former U.S. President Bill Clinton, inaugurated the Caracol Industrial Park, a $300 million, 600-acre (246-hectare) facility near the country's north coast, east of the seaport city of Cap Haitien.

A mock Haitian village was erected for the occasion, as celebrities like British tycoon Richard Branson looked on beneath banners proclaiming "A New Day in Haiti." Martelly, whom Hillary Clinton gushingly praised as the "chief dreamer and believer," declared the modern plant as proof that despite the usual "sad images of Haiti," the country "is open for business, and that's not just a slogan."

Think about it—a mock Haitian village is constructed for the viewing pleasure of the visiting celebrities, while hundreds of thousands of displaced Haitians live in tents.

And to drive the insane logic of capitalist development home even more: the industrial development of Caracol—whose anchor industry will be a South Korean sweatshop, internationally notorious for its brutal working conditions—is being built on one of the few remaining regions of rural land where the rich topsoil had not been eroded away. It is displacing dozens of small farms and, if successful, will open the door to the destruction of the last remaining areas of the country capable of sustaining a viable agricultural economy.

It is not exaggeration to say this "new day in Haiti" is being built on the broken bones and bodies of the Haitian people, and it profoundly underscores the point made by Bob Avakian:

"This system and those who rule over it are not capable of carrying out economic development to meet the needs of the people now, while balancing that with the needs of future generations and requirements of safeguarding the environment. They care nothing for the rich diversity of the earth and its species, for the treasures this contains, except when and where they can turn this into profit for themselves....These people are not fit to be the caretakers of the earth." (BAsics 1:29)

And I want to add, this system needs to be swept from the face of this planet as soon as possible.


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