No Housing, No Jobs – Bonanza for NGOs, Sweatshops and AgribusinessesCapitalist “Reconstruction” of Haiti
stands guard as residents of tent city inspect “relocation”
site, Corail Cesselesse,
After all the televised hype about “Hope for Haiti,” the post-earthquake reality remains grim. Little aid is reaching survivors, almost no housing has been built, the “temporary” camps are breeding disease and liable to be swept away by the next storm, residents are facing eviction with nowhere to go, and the police and mercenary occupation troops are back to their usual practice of arbitrary arrests and raids on poor districts. All this is the result not of a natural event, but of the chaos and oppression inherent in capitalism. This is the continuing devastation of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward (almost five years after Hurricane Katrina) to the nth degree, compounded by semi-colonial dependence. If NOLA residents got the 82nd Airborne and toxic trailers for housing, Port-au-Prince got the 82nd Airborne plus U.N. “peacekeepers” ... and no housing. Not even one-fifth of “tent camp” residents have received tents, most are still living exposed to the elements under tarps and make-shift shelters.
First there are the looters. No, not the non-existent roving bands of youths stealing food from babies that the U.S. military was supposedly sent in to control, but some of the aid agencies themselves. Most suspect is the American Red Cross (ARC), notorious in the “aid community” for its bloated bureaucracy and diverting funds. The ARC raised $430 million for Haiti, partly through appeals by First Lady Michelle Obama. People in Haiti are asking “where did that money go?” – particularly since nobody has seen any of it on the ground. The ARC refuses to make its records public, but said it had spent “or allocated” $106 million in the first two months, mainly by giving it to the U.N.’s World Food Program and international Red Cross efforts. But an ARC official argues that spending lots of money in an emergency when “everything is expensive” is “not being efficient.” The ARC is holding back the rest to be used for things like “water sanitation systems” – plus, of course, the 9 percent it charges for administration (Miami Herald, 27 April). A bitter Haitian joke says that if a local politician takes a rake-off, it’s corruption, but if an NGO takes the same cut, it’s called “overhead.”
Then there is shelter. Initially, the Haitian government vowed it would provide housing for earthquake victims on safer ground. However, when 2,000 residents were bused to the first site, Corail Cesselesse, they found a barren dust-blown plain far from the city without electricity, water supply, latrines, jobs, transportation, a place to buy food or anything at all. When President Préval showed up for a photo op, people complained they were being dumped in a “wasteland.” The bureaucrats’ talk of “decentralizing” Haiti was nothing but forcibly depopulating the capital – finishing the job for the earthquake. “Although there is open land closer to the city, landowners have not been willing to give it up,” reported the Los Angeles Times (18 April). A month and a half later, even the World Vision aid agency complains that the flimsy tents provided at Corail are inadequate for storms: “no tent or tarp is able to withstand that type of weather.” A spokesman for Oxfam asks: “Why did we pick a flood plain in the middle of the desert for this site?” (“Many Say Haiti Unprepared for Hurricane Season,” Miami Herald, 31 May).
In contrast to the perilous situation at the Corail site, the Herald writes, “Petionville Golf Club is a model of what can be done.” Disaster experts point out the sandbagging, ditches and fence around a ravine, adding that 4,000 people living in the most “at-risk” part of the Golf Club were relocated. Two things the article didn’t mention are: that the at-risk residents were relocated to the hellhole of Corail, and the manager of the Pétionville camp in the lush hills above Port-au-Prince is actor Sean Penn. Every visiting statesman passes through the Pétionville camp, and with USAID, Catholic Relief Services and the Israeli government pumping in resources, there are a few more facilities. Right across the street are boutique shops and posh restaurants catering to prosperous Haitians from the nearby gated mansions, as well as a casino and brassy nightclub for foreign aid workers. “The thumping beat of capitalism can be heard by those now living on Pétionville’s streets,” reported the New York Times (28 March). So things go better with money – lots of it – but whether any will trickle down is another matter.
As for temporary shelters, barely 2,000 have been built. (Although no more than glorified wooden boxes, they do offer some protection from extreme weather.) The American Red Cross said it had spent $30 million on materials for such “T-shelters,” but they are sitting in storage. The Canadian Red Cross was about to start building T-shelters, but they stopped. Why? In both cases because the Haitian government could not find land with clear property title to place them on. Meanwhile, some landowners, particularly several church-owned schools, have been creating obstacles to access, blocking food deliveries, destroying latrines, cutting off water, even threatening to use tear gas – doing everything possible to push camps off of their property. The Haitian government and the U.N. agreed on a temporary moratorium on forced evictions, but the minister in charge hasn’t informed anyone, and the ban is not being enforced (“As ‘Temporary’ Camps Linger, Tensions Rise with Haitian Landowners,” IPS, 9 June).
Clinton, the new neo-colonial gouverneur
of Haiti, with Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive (center) and Muhtar
Kent, chairman of Coca-Cola, launch new mango beverage at imperialist
donors’ conference on Haiti, March 31.
This brings us to the role of the “multinational” (mainly U.S.) corporations, waiting to cash in on the reconstruction. A liaison to Clinton’s HIRC told a Haitian entrepreneur that only 15 percent of the aid contracts would go to Haitian contractors (Haiti-Liberté, 16 June). U.S. debris-removal companies (Ashbrit, Ceres) are lining up at the trough, and giant construction firms like Halliburton, Bechtel, Fluor and Brown & Root are eager for action as their Iraq contracts wind up. In the countryside, the agrochemical giant Monsanto figured it would get in ahead of the competition by donating 475 tons of hybrid seeds. Peasant organizations held a protest march in Hinche that burned some of the seeds, saying they would make small growers with limited cash income dependent on annual purchases from Monsanto (producer of Agent Orange and other herbicides used in counterinsurgency warfare) and would lead to the destruction of peasant agriculture. In turn, Coca-Cola (with the endorsement of Bill Clinton) has launched a $7.5 billion “Haiti Hope Project” to produce mangos for a new mango-lime beverage, claiming this would provide 25,000 jobs for Haitian mango farmers. As with Monsanto’s “donation,” those likely to benefit are agribusinesses, not peasants.
However, the main focus for capitalist reconstruction schemes is on expanding Haiti’s role as a provider of low-wage sweatshop labor. The garment industry, Haiti’s largest employer and source of export revenue, was relatively unscathed by the earthquake: of 28 plants, 23 suffered minor damage and for most, production resumed within weeks. However, the Palm Apparel factory in Carrefour, near the epicenter of the quake, collapsed, killing some 500 workers doing overtime to fulfill their piecework quotas. Garment workers are almost entirely non-unionized, with most earning no more than the minimum wage of 125 gourdes (US$3) a day. The HOPE I and II acts passed by the U.S. Congress in 2006 and 2008 allow duty-free apparel imports from Haiti, and George Soros is building a new industrial park near the impoverished slum of Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince to take advantage of this. But aside from the absurdity of pretending that $3-a-day jobs are a road out of poverty, the reality is that the garment industry in the Caribbean and Central America is rapidly declining as U.S. companies prefer even lower-wage Asian producers (see David Wilson, “‘Rebuilding Haiti’ – the Sweatshop Hoax,” MRzine, 4 March).
short, the plans for capitalist reconstruction of Haiti may be
U.S. multinationals, but they are a dead-end for Haitian workers,
the poor. And the pipe dreams of the “anti-globalization” movement and
“progressive” Haitian NGOs such as the Platform to Advocate Alternative
Development Policies (PAPDA) – of a new “development model” based on
“participatory democracy,” “an end to economic dependency” and an end
“neo-liberalism” – will go up in smoke because the real obstacle is not
particular policy but the workings of the capitalist system. The
reality is, as
Bruno Lemarquis, Haiti director of the U.N. Development Program,
“The same rain that is killing 200 people in Haiti is not killing
Cuba. It’s not the disaster that kills. It’s the way a country or its
are prepared.” And Cuba is prepared with an elaborate system of
for mobilization and free medical facilities because it
had a social revolution. The League for the Fourth
International insists that nothing short of that can rescue Haiti from
cycle of poverty and destruction, and in this imperialist epoch that
must be a
socialist revolution reaching into the heart of the empire. ■
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