Friday, November 26, 2010

Helping Haiti
Suppose you wake up in the middle of the night and see your neighbor's house on fire. You rush outside and with a bucket or garden hose to help extinguish the fire. Once the fire is out, you return home and crawl into your warm bed, leaving your neighbors cold and miserable in front of their ruined house. You helped in an acute crisis but cared little for your neighbors.
This story is suggested by the continuing crisis in Haiti
When an earthquake struck Haiti last January, Americans and the world reacted with an outpouring of money and aid. Many NGOs sent teams to Haiti to help. They saved lives by supplying food, water, shelter and medical care to the victims.
But with the exception of such NGO's as Partners in Health or Médecins sans frontières, most of the private aid organizations have provided specific services without understanding the plight of Haiti. Foreign NGO's have supplied most of what government services there were in Haiti since the early 1990's. In 1994, the US imposed a harsh neo-liberal regime on Haiti. The government had to be cut to the bone and that slack was taken up by 3,000 NGO's. Borders had to be opened to foreign imports. Haiti had to import rice and other agricultural commodities from US agribusiness. Highly subsidized US agribusinesses were pouring commodities into Haiti; Haitian rice farmers could not compete with that. They were forced off the land into the cities.
Instead of raising their voices loudly about the US maltreatment of Haiti, the majority of NGO's seized the opportunity offered them by the forced imposition of neo-liberalism that pared the Haitian government to the bone. The NGO's were content to cooperate with the US domination of Haiti.
Today's poverty in Haiti, unemployment of 70%, rampant hunger and malnutrition are the direct results of US and other foreign interventions in Haiti, steady support for dictatorships and military take-overs whenever that favored US business interests. While helping, on one hand, the NGO's on the other hand enabled the US government's designs.
Haiti's profound poverty has made it so difficult to recover from the January earthquake and to combat the current cholera epidemic. That poverty is the direct result of two centuries of US intervention. It takes a daily toll in Haitian lives.
It is downright heartless to help Haiti in moments of acute crisis without informing oneself about Haiti, its sorry history of oppression and exploitation by more powerful countries. For Americans to return from helping in Haiti without protesting loudly the US abuse of the Haitian people is like helping to put out the neighbor's house fire and then leaving him cold and miserable in front of the charred ruins while you return to your warm bed.