Cheerful Haitians enjoying the fruits of capitalism before the earthquake.
I watch the CNN news from time to time. It’s instructive to see the Americans, if not as they see themselves, at least as they wish to be seen.
The CNN cameramen are legendary, there is no need for medical supplies so extreme that they cannot squeeze themselves into a space better occupied by a pallet of penicillin, and bring the full horrors of suffering non-Americans to your sofa. They have perfected the art of portraying the dying and pitiful – they home in on the widest, most uncomprehending eyes, lure a fly to the lips of an innocent pleading child, capture the spilled blood on the sidewalk perfectly.
Their anchormen disintegrate quietly each day, not enough that you worry for them, but a marginally more rumpled white shirt, a slightly grubby neckerchief so you know that they may sweat politely off screen, a harassed expression, to reflect the fact that they have been there for days on end to bring you the horrors. You are not supposed to concern yourself with whether they took up even more space on the ‘few’ aid planes getting through by bringing food for themselves with them – or do they fight the survivors for available supplies? Occasionally they will tell you of the bottles of ‘their own water’ they donated as they fought their way through to areas that ‘the aid agencies haven’t reached yet’.
They inevitably pan away to shots of towering American warships, photographed from the dockside so they look even more imposing and well, towering. The might of the American people come to sort out another natural disaster, amongst the little brown people. Man-Mountains of US Marines, with that curious walk born of testosterone filled bollocks too tightly encased in surgically applied army fatigues are pictured bringing order to the masses, or terror to the masses, or American capitalism to the masses, depending on whether they are disembarking in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Bay of Pigs. In charge, in command, handing out bubble-gum to grateful children, the Mother of all Battles to fearsome tyrants, or eternal damnation and a spell in Guantanamo Bay to confused Bolton wanderers who thought that growing a beard and learning five lines of the Koran was the passport to getting laid in perpetuam. It’s all the same to the Marines, they just get on with the job, they don’t flinch.
At least, they don’t flinch when presented with orderly queues of the grateful starving, or disciplined camps of those used to the cycle of famine, or even from camel mounted tribesmen that you can point a rocket launcher at from a safe distance. Dealing with human beings who had relatively full bellies just five days ago, who had just learnt the hard way that the plasma screen TVs they cherished after being saved from that well known fate worse than death – otherwise known as communism – were inedible, and buried underneath their grandmother, which was more than they could say for their grandmother, cannot be relied upon to act in the prescribed CNN manner. They don’t make good television.
In fact it makes for thoroughly disturbing television; the sight of US Marines fleeing in disarray, neither from AK47s, nor even from fearsome microbes unleashed in germ warfare, from ordinary human beings for whom five days wasn’t sufficient time to appreciate Ban Ki-Moon’s admonishment that the starving and the terrified should be patient. Panicking human beings behaving like starving dogs snatching a sausage from outside the butcher’s shop and racing back to their lair to consume it before it was stolen from them. The Marines threw the boxes of aid up in the air, and legged it in unbecoming fashion. Nobody chased them, nobody harmed them, nobody was even interested in them; they were starving, and they wanted to eat, not provide good copy for the watching ethical compassionista.
The particular form of American capitalism given to Haiti has resulted in the wealthy being decently buried in the Grand Cimetière in Port-au-Prince – going rate currently $100, but don’t expect it to stay so low, supply and demand and all that – and that is assuming that you deliver your nearest and dearest yourself in the back of a pick-up truck, or dragged through the streets by night, if you want the services o’ one o’ them capitalist funeral directors, it’ll cost you around $1500 – in a country where the average income was $400 per annum and is currently nil. The poor, if they are lucky, are hauled away to a mass grave.
The particular form of American capitalism given to Haiti has resulted in the wealthy owning hotels within easy distance of the airport, the temporary home for the few search and rescue teams that have managed to climb over the CNN correspondents and find a place on the available transport, and so the American media can report that five Americans were pulled alive from the rubble, and shipped safely home to Denver, without so much as mentioning the 70,000 who haven’t been. 1,739 specialised rescue workers have flown in so far, but they don’t stray far from the airport. Out in the boondocks, it took a week before anyone could be found to search the rubble of the university, the UN said nothing could be done, eventually a Spanish rescue team kindly devoted five minutes to establishing that they were too late, and sped off to find the body of a close friend of President Haiti. There is a pecking order in the survivor business.
The particular form of American capitalism given to Haiti has resulted in the Americans taking ‘control’ – an oxymoron in this context, for sure – of the main airport, to a crescendo of complaints from the NGOs and other hangers on who were supposed to be helping Haiti, and who now wish to get out of there as fast as possible, that the Americans were not getting them out fast enough, and besides, they were giving priority to Americans who wished to scarper.
America was so keen that Haiti should not be seduced by the notion of fair shares for all, that it supported the regime of Papa Doc, Baby Doc, and the Tonton Macoutes, as they busied themselves flooding the country with US agriculture and destroying the peasant economy. Mohamed Al-Fayed, doyenne of Harrods, temple of the capitalist, turned up in Haiti to share in this bonanza, and take his 5% cut of the ‘new economy’ (if you don’t have time to read the full article HERE now, do book-mark it and read it later, riveting stuff) The Fake Sheik of Capitalism.
When the good people of Haiti rose up and rid themselves of Baby Doc, and the £800 million of international aid that he took with him, and looked set under Aristide to put the peasants back into a position where they could be independent again, the US threw their might behind driving him from power. Eventually he was allowed back again, under Clinton, but only on condition that he did as the Americans said. He didn’t ‘jump’ high enough for American tastes, and thus the US imposed an economic embargo that strangled the country.
‘Communism bad, especially on our doorstep’ – starvation is an acceptable price to pay.
Recently, since the unfortunate US-backed Lartortue business, when he and his cronies embraced capitalism a little too fondly, and escaped with $4 billion American dollars clutched to their bosoms, the US has put its faith in the UN and other NGOs. The UN in turn has thrown its weight behind a package of measures designed to make Haiti more comfortable for rich American tourists, and the port more amenable to the cruise ships.
The $40 million plan involved transforming the now quaint town of Milot, home to the Citadelle and Palace of Sans Souci ruin, into a vibrant tourist village, with arts and crafts markets, restaurants and stoned streets. Guests would be ferried past a congested Cap-Haïtien to a bay, then transported by bus past peasant plantations. Once in Milot, they would either hike or horseback to the Citadelle…named a world heritage site in 1982…
Eco-tourism, archaeological exploration and voyeuristic visits to Voodoo rituals are all being touted by Haiti’s struggling boutique tourism industry, as Royal Caribbean plans to bring the world largest cruise ship here, sparking the need for excursions.
Have no fear though, the cruise ships are still managing to dock in Haiti, capitalism thrives far from the prying eyes of the CNN crews. Life ‘must go on’, and the ‘Independence of the Seas ‘ has just unloaded its cargo of well fed Americans to ‘cut loose’ with water-sports and barbecues on a private beach guarded by 12′ high wire fences reinforced with armed guards.
Despite the complaints from the French Foreign Minister that a plane load of medical supplies was refused permission to land, by the US authorities in charge of the airport, a Dutch plane engaged in that essential capitalist international trade of children for adoption, managed to land and take off again with 100 children bound for Holland. Rather than find themselves thwarted by red tape, they arrived complete with a cargo of psychologists, doctors, nurses and immigration officials – to ensure that their precious cargo arrived in good condition. Madonna missed a trick here, not for long I suspect. Fear not celebrities, there are plenty of orphans to go round.
The UN forces have spent their time protecting the rich and turning a blind eye to the death squads who terrorise the poor supporters of Aristide. Little wonder the poor aren’t listening to Ban Ki-Moons admonishments to stay calm now. Nor are they much inclined to behave themselves for the CNN crews.
The ‘liberal left’ in the UK urge the American Red Cross to refuse the £5 million donation from Baby Doc, on the grounds that it is tainted money, and some things are ‘just too dirty to touch’. Strangely, the Haitians don’t see it that way. Ethical compassion is something you can only afford on a full belly.
If I was one of the abandoned poor in Haiti, I should be sorely tempted to bite the hand that fed me, quite literally. Whoever owned it.
Edited to add: Last word goes to Constantly Furious, who has unearthed this gem – the EU has sent condolences to the UN.