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Haiti, "Classquakes," and American Empire

Excellent article by Paul Street on Z Magazine's website, ZNET. Explains why US is responsible for the crushing poverty in Haiti, exacerbating the destruction and deaths of thousands of people when the earthquake hit. No surprise there -- seems that in most of the countries where US has intervened, the results have been mass poverty, death, despair and suffering for the poor/workers.
Haiti, "Classquakes," and American Empire

January 16, 2010 By Paul Street

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The earthquake catastrophe in Haiti is being portrayed on the national and local evening news as a natural disaster that has elicited a virtuous humanitarian response from the inherently noble and benevolent United States.

It's about bad geologic (and cosmic, as in "acts of God") forces versus good Uncle Sam, that fine democratic friend of the poor and downtrodden around the world.

"This is an opportunity," the editors of The New York Times arrogantly proclaim today, "for President Obama to demonstrate how the United States shoulders its responsibilities and mobilizes other countries to do their part" (NYT, January 14, 2010, A28).

But Haiti's agony and the role of the U.S. is much more complicated than the childish morality play being broadcast on the Telescreens.

Earthquakes are natural developments, but vulnerability to them is richly anthropogenic ("man made") and is not spread evenly across the fractured and intersecting global landscapes of race, class, and empire. As Mike Davis pointed out in his 2006 book Planet of Slums, a chilling expose of the atrocious living (and dying) conditions that US.-led neoliberal capitalism has imposed on the ever more mega-urbanized poor of the global South: "Even more than landslides and floods, earthquakes make precise audits of the urban housing crisis...seismic destruction usually maps with uncanny accuracy to poor-quality brick, mud, or concrete residential housing...Seismic hazard is the fine print in the devil's bargain of informal housing..."

The "relaxation" of regulations on housing planning and construction combines with the concentration of much of the South's urban population "on or near active tectonic plate margins" to put millions in peril.

"Seismic risk is so unevenly distributed in most cities," Davis learned, that one leading "hazard geographer" (Kenneth Hewitt) coined the phrase "classquake" to describe 20th century earthquakes' "biased pattern of destruction," which fell mainly on "slums, tenement districts, [and] poor rural villages."

Davis' (and Hewitt's) analysis clearly applies to the current Haitian tragedy, vastly magnified by the desperately impoverished and informal, unregulated housing conditions of masses of marginalized people in and around the sprawling slums of Port au Prince. In that city's most notorious slum, Cite-Soliel, David noted, population densities are "comparable to cattle feedlots" crowding more residents per acre into low-rise housing than there were in famous congested tenement districts such as the Lower East Side in the 1900s or in contemporary highrise cores such as central Tokyo and Manhattan." [1]

Haiti's crushing poverty has long made it something of the Western hemisphere's Bangladesh - a symbol of almost total wretchedness. Like Bangladesh, however, Haiti awed its European "discoverers" with vast natural wealth and ease of life.

The Europeans put a brutal end to that ease, turning Haiti into a killing ground and then a viciously exploited slave colony that served for many years as leading source of France's wealth. When the slaves rebelled and overthrew their colonial masters to set up and independent black republic in the early 19th century, they were shunned and embargoed by the great slave-owners' republic to their north (that glorious beacon of freedom the United States) and were forced to make a huge reverse-reparations payment to their former masters.

Things didn't get much better in the 20th century, thanks in no small part to the U.S. and its supposed great liberal-humanitarian president Woodrow Wilson. In his conservative campaign book The Audacity of Hope (New York, 2006), a monument to historical whitewashing, the future liberal war president Barack Obama praised Wilson for seeing that "it was in America's interest to encourage the self-determination of all peoples [emphasis added] and provide the world a legal framework that could help avoid future conflicts" [2].

Not really. The Wilson administration showed "how the United States shoulder[ed] its responsibilities" and expressed its racism when it undertook a brutal U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1915. As Noam Chomsky wrote, "Wilson's troops murdered, destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery and demolished the constitutional system in Haiti." These actions followed in accord with Wilson Secretary of State Robert Lansing's belief that "the African races are devoid of any capacity for political organization" and possessed "an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature."

A major food crisis that broke out in Haiti in early 2008 could be "trace[d]back directly to Woodrow Wilson's invasion of Haiti, which was murderous and brutal and destructive. Among Wilson's many crimes," Chomsky noted last year, "was to dissolve the Haitian parliament at gunpoint, because it refused to pass what was called progressive legislation, which would allow US businesses to take over Haitian lands. Wilson's marines then ran a free election, in which the legislation was passed by 99.9 percent of the vote. That's of the five percent of the population permitted to vote." [3]

Formal U.S. colonial occupation ended in 1934 but there followed decades of subordination to bloody, U.S.-sponsored dictators, the most notorious of whom ("Papa Doc" and his buffoonish successor "Baby Doc" Duvalier, protected by the "Tonton Macoute" death squad until his forced departure in 1986) ruled with American support for more than 30 years. U.S. "economic assistance" and "bilateral" trade plans were structured and worked to undermine domestic industry and agriculture. Haitians were instructed to import basic goods from the U.S. in the name of "comparative advantage." They were systematically stripped of their ability to feed themselves and to fund basic government services. Haitian rice growers were crushed by government-subsidized U.S. farm exports. The nation's predominantly female and captive labor force was funneled into slave-like conditions in mainly U.S.-owned export-oriented assembly plants and sweatshops. Millions of Haitians were consigned to permanent structural unemployment, the drug trade, scavenging, and other hallmark activities of the informal proletariat of the world system's sprawling shantytown periphery. Claming that they were making Haiti into "the Taiwan of the Caribbean," U.S "development" officials were actually consigning the nation to its status as one of the world's most deeply and stubbornly impoverished states.

The hyper-concentration of poor Haitians in seismically hyper-vulnerable subs-standard housing in and around Port au-Prince, it is worth noting, is a direct outcome of U.S. trade policies that undermined Haitian small farmers, sending rural residents into and around the capital city.

A reformist priest named Jan Baptiste Aristide threatened Washington's vicious neoliberal regime when he won Haiti's first free election in 1990. Aristide came to office with strong support from the poor majority. His hostility to U.S.-imposed misery led Washington to move to undermine his regime from the outset. Aristide was removed in a U.S.-supported coup in 1991 but returned amidst popular upheaval in 1994. The Clinton White House initially backed the coup regime even more strongly than did George Bush I. Thanks to its rhetoric about "democracy" at home and abroad, the militantly corporate-neoliberal NAFTA-promoting Clinton administration felt compelled to pretend that they backed Aristide's return to power in 1994. The Clinton Pentagon and State Department delayed that return for two years and made it clear that Aristide's restoration to nominal power depended upon him promising not to help the poor by offering any further challenges to Washington's "free market" economics. "By 1994," Chomsky explained last year, "Clinton decided that the population was sufficiently intimidated, and he sent US forces to restore the elected president - that's now called a humanitarian intervention - but on very strict conditions, namely that the president had to accept a very harsh neoliberal regime, in particular, no protection for the economy." [4]

In February 2004, the U.S. and France - Haiti's traditional sadistic masters - joined hands (along with Canada) across their supposed great cultural divide to support another military coup. This U.S.-directed putsch exported Aristide to Central Africa. As William Blum explains in his book Rogue State (Common Courage, 2005):

"On February 28, 2004, American military and diplomatic personnel arrived at the home of President Jean-Baptiste Aristide to inform him that his private American security agents must either leave immediately or return to the United States or fight and die; that the remaining 25 percent of the American security agents hired by the Haitian government, who were to arrive he next day, had been blocked by the United States from coming; that foreign and Haitian rebels were nearby, heavily armed, and ready to kill thousands of people in a bloodbath. Aristide was pressure to sign a 'letter of resignation' before he was flown into exile by the United States."

"And then the US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the sincerest voice he could muster, told the world that Aristide 'was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth.'"

"...Aristide was on record, by word and deed, repeatedly, as not being a great lover of globalization or capitalism. This was not the kind of man the imperial mafia wanted in charge of the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere." [5]

Under the Woodrow Wilson-fan Barack Obama, as under George Bush II, Washington has banned Aristide from revisiting the region. Obama sided with the corrupt Haitian elite by refusing to act against the shutting out of Aristide's popular party (Family Lavalas) from Haitian elections in the spring of 2009. [6]

Washington has responded to the heavily racial-ized imperial "classquake" with Pentagon military "assessments" while China, Venezuela, and Cuba have acted promptly with direct humanitarian assistance and human solidarity. Look for the imperial masters to seek "disaster capitalist" (Naomi Klein) opportunities in the terrible tragedy in Haiti, which has been suffering the shocks and aftershocks of world capitalist empire since the end of the 15th century.

In the meantime, the geniuses in charge of my local newspaper, the Iowa City Press-Citizen (a Gannett organ) wrote the following 30-font headline on Haiti today: "PANIC, LOOTING, TRIAGE." There were shades of the infamous Katrina "looting" coverage as the story under the headline offered the following description of "LOOTING": "people were seen carrying food from collapsed buildings." Later in the article, a Gannett reporter refers to Haiti as an "often dysfunctional country." Well, yes, the government and people of Haiti have faced some difficulties working well in light of their longstanding U.S.-imposed status as the Western Hemisphere's Bangladesh - a desperately impoverished country that has been systematically oppressed and exploited by the world's only Superpower, located just 90 miles to its North...a country that is plagued with no small amount of "dysfunction" related to its own "unelected dictatorship of money"[7].

Here are some links to donate for assistance to Haiti:

*  https://secure.oxfamamerica.org/site/Donation2?df_id=3560&3560.donation=form1

*  http://www.heartlandalliance.org/whoweare/news/articles/heartland-alliance-emergency.html

* www.unicefusa.org

* www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=4147&cat=field-news&source=ADR1001E1D02&gclid=COe3nJm8op8CFQ4MDQodmDNgWA

Iowa City, IA

Thursday, January 14, 2010, 12 PM

Paul Street ( paulstreet99@yahoo.com) is an author and activist in Iowa City, IA.


1. Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2006), 126.

2. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, 283.

3. See Noam Chomsky, World Orders Old and New [New York: Columbia University Press, 1994], 44; Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues [Boston, MA: South End, 1993], 202-203).

4. Noam Chomsky, "Crisis and Hope: Theirs and Ours," Speech to the Riverside Church, New York City (June 12, 2009), transcript available at www.democracynow.org/2009/7/3/noam_chomsky_on _crisis_and_hope

5. William Blum, Rogue State (Common Courage, 2005), 219.

6. Jeb Sprague, "FANMI: Family Lavalas Banned," HaitiAnalysis.com (April 20, 2009), read at  http://www.haitianalysis.com/2009/4/20/haiti-fanmi-lavalas-banned-voter-apprehension-widespread; Ansel Herz, "US Development Plants for Haiti Ignore Most Haitians, " HaitAnalysis.com (May 4, 2009), read at  http://www.haitianalysis.com/2009/4/20/haiti-fanmi-lavalas-banned-voter-apprehension-widespread; Ansel Herz, "US Development Plants for Haiti Ignore Most Haitians, " HaitAnalysis.com (May 4, 2009), read at  link to www.haitianalysis.com

Kim Ives, "Haiti's Non-Election," Black Agenda Report (June 30, 2009); Chomsky, "Crisis and Hope," 4.

7. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Riding the 'Green Wave' at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond," Electric Politics, July 22, 2009.

democracy is an illusion 19.Jan.2010 13:18

not tonto

The disaster relief by the U.S., Canada, France, etc., is nothing more than a scam. U.N./NATO
forces are only focusing on the U.N. headquarters and other related sites. NATO has almost
20,000 troops there now, in addition to the U.N. force. Media only show the public carefully planned
and scripted photo ops.
Haiti has been punished since 1803 for their rebellion against the great white hype, and this is no

Haitian Revolution -- 1791 -1803

The battle at Snake Gully in 1802 led to the abolishment of slavery in Haiti and led to the establishment of the first republic governed by the African slaves in Haiti. Many rebellions occurred during the centuries of slavery in the "New World" but it was the revolt, which began in 1791,
that was successful in gaining freedom for African slaves.

Even though an independent government was established in Haiti, the former slaves continued to be affected by the democracy established by French colonial authority. The French established a democratic system of minority rule over the slaves by using threats and violence, and the political/religious hatred created by European colonialism and slavery still continues today. In the aftermath of the rebellion, the mulattoes, descended from white slavers and African slaves, became the new ruling elite. They had been educated, acquired land and wealth, served in the French military forces, and they dominated the political and economic systems.

In the 1730's, French engineers created complex irrigation systems to increase their sugarcane production. The wealth of the Caribbean depended on the demand for sugar by Europeans. The white slavers sold the sugar to Europe and "America" in exchange for manufactured goods. By the 1740's, Saint-Dominque, along with Jamaica, were the largest suppliers of sugar to the world. The colonial sugar production depended on manual labour by African slaves on colonial plantations. The white slavers, wealthy from sales of sugar and coffee, were greatly outnumbered by the slave population and lived in constant fear of a slave uprising.

In 1758, the colonial government passed laws that restricted the rights of slaves and others until the European class system was firmly established. The blancs, or white people were the ruling class, the gens de couleur, or mulattoes were the middle class. The plantation slaves were the bottom class. The white slavers continually imported slaves from Africa to deal with the high mortality rate among plantation slaves. The slaves spoke a mix of African languages and French, known as Creole.

The white colonials were frequently engaged in violent conflicts with escaped slaves, or maroons, who often conducted devasting raids on the island's coffee and sugar plantations. The numbers of escaped slaves grew into the thousands, waging successfull guerrilla campaigns against the plantations. The slave resistance was led by Voodoo shaman Francois Mackandal, who united the resistance with a network of secret organizations, and by drawing upon African traditions and spirituality. Mackandal led the slave rebellion from 1751 to 1757, but was burned at the stake in 1758 by the French. After Mackandal's death, armed bands of escaped slaves continued harassing and raiding colonial plantations.
Saint-Dominque became the most flourishing and wealthiest of the Caribbean slave colonies, producing 40 percent of the world's sugar.

In 1789, the slave population was one million, with about 500,000 being the bottom class, while other half being gens de couleur (free people of colour). This relatively privileged class worked as cooks, personal servants, overseers and artisans. The 500,000 bottom class slaves outnumbered the colonials by ten to one. However, the slave death rate exceeded the slave birth rate, so the colonials had to keep importing slaves from Africa and "America." The slave rate declined yearly by about five percent, due to severe overwork, inadequate food, clothing and health care, including an imbalance between men and women.

In 1789, there were 40,000 white colonials on the island, with European-born French high royalty controlling the government. The grand blancs, or plantation owners were lesser nobility. Many returned to France as quickly as possible, to avoid the yellow fever which regularly swept across the island. The petit blancs, or lower class whites included slave dealers, overseers, artisans, shopkeepers, and day labourers.
The French colony had intense regional rivalries between the western, northern, and southern areas of the island, in addition to the racial and class tensions between the whites, gens de couleur, and field slaves. There were also conficts between supporters of independence, those loyal to France, the allies of Spain, England, and America, all of whom coveted ownership of the slave colony.

On August 26, 1789, in France, the King's advisors, the Estates General, proclaiming themselves as the National Assembly, made changes to royal law, publishing the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which stated that all men are free and equal. The French Revolution was the spark for the slave revolt, changing the outcome of their revolution. The news of the French Revolution was welcomed on the island, but the events on the island were so complex and there were many twists and turns among the politics of French royalty. This caused the white colonials to change their allegiances many times.

The slave population on the island heard of the campaign by the plantation owners for independence from France. The slaves allied themselves with the British and the loyalists. They were aware of more heavy-handedness and injustice at the hands of the plantation owners if they led the campaign for independence.
During the 1780's the gens de couleur of Saint-Dominique campaigned for full civil equality with white colonials. Julien Raimond presented this major colonial issue to the French National Assembly. In 1790, Vincent Oge, a wealthy gens de couleur, returned to the island from Paris.
Believing that full equal rights had been granted to all gens de couler, Vincent Oge demanded the right to vote. After the colonial governor refused to allow black people to vote Oge led a short resistance near Cap Francais. Oge was caught in 1791 and violently killed by the colonial authorities. The treatment of Oge at the hands of the whites was one reason why the slaves rebelled in August of 1791 and their refusal to make treaties with the whites.

On August 14, 1791, Voodoo shaman Dutty Boukman gave the signal to begin the revolution, and on August 22 the slaves revolted. Within ten days the slaves were in control of the northern province. The colonials retaliated by killing slaves captured by the colonial army.
In the next two months over 100,000 slaves joined the revolt. In the following two months the slaves killed 2,000 whites and destroyed 180 sugar plantations, and hundreds of coffee and indigo plantations. By 1792, slaves controlled one-third of the island.

The success of the slave uprising alarmed France's government, and in order to protect France's economic interests, 6,000 French troops were sent to the island, and in 1792 the French government granted civil and political rights to the gens de couleur, but not to the slaves.
The colonials made agreements with the British government to take over island sovereignty, and in 1793 France declared war on England.
Spain, who controlled the area known today as the Dominican Republic, also declared war on France. Spanish forces invaded Saint Dominique and were joined by the slave forces. By August 1793 there were only 3,500 French troops left. In order to prevent further political, economic and military disasters the French government, in 1794, formally abolished slavery and granted political and civil rights to all black people on the island. Approximately 100,000 slaves and 24,000 whites died in the uprising.

Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former domestic slave, was one of the most successful leaders of the uprising. Like other leaders, L'Ouverture initially fought for the Spanish government, but when the British invaded the island, he decided to fight for the French if they would free all of the slaves.

In May 1794 L'Ouverture joined his forces to the French military. After defeating the British and expelling the Spanish, control of Saint Dominique was returned to the French. However, L'Ouverture was reluctant to surrender full authority to France and he began to rule the island as governor, after overcoming his local rivals, Commissioner Sonthonax, Andre Rigaud and Comte d'Hedouville.
In 1798, Toussaint defeated a British military force, and led an invasion of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), and freeing the slaves there.

In 1801, Toussaint L'Ouverture issued a consitution for Saint Dominque which called for full autonomy and stated that he would be governor-for-life. Napoleon Bonaparte sent a large military force and warships to the island, under the command of Charles Leclerc, his brother-in-law, to restore French rule and to restore slavery. The French military was accompanied by mulatto troops led by Alexandre Petion and Andre Rigaud, leaders who had been defeated by Toussaint three years earlier. Some of Toussaint's closest allies, such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defected to Leclerc. L'Ouverture was promised his freedom if he agreed to integrate his forces into the French army.

In 1802, L'Ouverture agreed to this but was deceived, arrested and sent to France, where he died months later while in prison at Fort-de-Joux.
In October, 1802, Dessalines and Petion began fighting the French when it became apparent that the French were moving to restore slavery. Charles Leclerc and many of his troops died from yellow fever in November, 1802. Leclerc's successor, the Vicomte de Rochambeau, fought an even more brutal campaign, and it was his atrocities that rallied former French loyalists to join the rebellion. The French were also weakened by British naval blockades, and by the unwillingness of Napoleon to send the requested reinforcements. Bonaparte lost his interest in his "new world" business ventures, and sold the Louisiana Territory to the "United States" in April 1803.
Dessalines led the rebellion until 1803, when the French forces were totally defeated.

On November 18, 1803, the Battle of Vertieres, the last battle of the rebellion, was fought near Cap-Haitien between Dessalines forces and the French colonial army. On January 1, 1804, in the city of Gonaives, Dessalines officially declared the former colony's independence, renaming it "Haiti" after the indigenous Arawak name. This major financial loss was a decisive blow to France and its colonial empire.

On January 1, 1804, Dessalines, the new leader under the 1801 constitution, declared Haiti a free republic. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence
was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. The country was crippled by years of war, its agriculture devastated, and its formal commerce nonexistent.

Haiti agreed to make reparations to French slaveholders in 1825 in the amount of 150 million francs, reduced in 1838 to 60 million francs, in exchange for French recognition of its independence and to achieve freedom from French aggression. This indemnity bankrupted the Haitian
treasury and mortgaged Haiti's future to the French banks providing the funds for the large first installment, permanently affecting Haiti's ability to be prosperous.

The end of the Haitian Revolution in 1804 marked the end of colonialism in Haiti, but the social conflict cultivated under slavery continued to affect the population. The revolution left an affranchi Úlite in authority, as well as the formidable Haitian army. France continued the slavery system
in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Great Britain was able to abolish its slave trade in 1807 and in 1833 abolished slavery completely in the British West Indies. France formally recognized Haiti as an independent nation in 1834, as did the United States in 1862.

The Haitian Revolution was influential in slave rebellions in America and British colonies. The loss of a major source of western revenue shook Napoleon's faith in the promise of the western world, encouraging him to unload other French assets in the region including the territory known
as Louisiana. In the early 1800s, many refugees, including free people of color and white planters, of whom some in both categories had owned slaves, settled in New Orleans, adding many new members to both its French-speaking population and African population.

In 1807 Britain became the first major power to permanently abolish the slave trade. However, slavery was not fully abolished in the British West Indies until 1833, and it continued in the French colonies until 1848. The Haitian Revolution stood as a model for achieving emancipation for
slaves in the United States who attempted to mimic Toussaint L'Ouverture's actions. L'Ouverture remains a popular figure to this day. In 2004, Haiti celebrated the bicentennial of its independence from France.