Haitians paying for freedom

EVER since the tragedy of Haiti began unfolding, many all over the world have been glued to television screens as the devastation of the earthquake that hit the impoverished island nation continues to occupy the main news slot.

EVER since the tragedy of Haiti began unfolding, many all over the world have been glued to television screens as the devastation of the earthquake that hit the impoverished island nation continues to occupy the main news slot.

Two themes have come to dominate the approach taken by the major news agencies and channels. First, we are shown the generosity of the international community as humanity responds to the plight of the three million people who are said to have been displaced by the earthquake.

Indeed, organisations and individuals all over the world, plus governments, have shown the good hand of humanity as the people of Haiti count their 200000 or more loved ones who died.

The second angle from which we are shown the devastation of Haiti is how the "failed state" cannot cope with the disaster.

This failure, as some Western commentators would want us to accept, is the sole reason why the US army has literally taken over the operations of the only functioning building in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, the Toussaint Louverture International Airport.

An alternative look into the Haiti story requires us to pose uncomfortable questions in order to understand why a nation would fail to cope with an act of nature.

There is no doubt that an earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale would have devastated many a big city too. Yet, would a well-built city have been so devastated? Would a well-functioning state fail so dismally to cope with such a disaster to a point of literally handing over the control of every country's pride, its international airport, to the military arm of another government to run?

To understand why Haiti is failing to cope with this disaster we have to look at its history. The origins of Haiti's problems can be traced to the first successful slave revolt, which started in 1791 and culminated in the 1804 victory, led by Toussaint Louverture and in which the African slaves defeated the French colonising army.

Many critical commentators agree that the Western world has never forgotten and forgiven the slaves and their offsprings for successfully challenging and defeating white power, and establishing the first Black Republic which was to inspire the black resistance movement all over the world.

Instead of accepting that humanity was incomplete without the freedom of its component part, black people, it became apparent that white power was to unleash on Haiti a century of sustained attack and devastation.

Contrary to practice, where the oppressor nation would pay reparations to the formerly oppressed for visiting on them the misery of subjugation, the people of Haiti were made to pay reparations to the former colonial master for more than a century.

Haiti could not benefit from its strategic placing as one of the Caribbean Islands endowed with natural resources that would in another country earn enough revenue to feed itself and develop.

Instead, outside interference meant that in addition to reparations and structural adjustment programmes that ensured that it remained heavily indebted and therefore spent every dollar to service its debt instead of developing itself, Haiti experienced one of the most devastating external military interferences that propped up dictatorship after dictatorship.

It is this background that we need to keep in mind when we are bombarded with messages that the government of Haiti is nowhere to be found, that its police and army are nowhere to be found, and that the "non-existent" government cannot be trusted to handle any monetary aid the world is pouring into the country.

The reality is that Haiti was deliberately brought to its knees so that it would not cope with any form of disaster.

Adopting a race-class analysis we are reminded of how the majority of African-American working class found themselves devastated by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Yet, the modest nation of Cuba, because it has managed to mount decades of resistance against imperialism and has prioritised its people, is able to deal with yearly seasons of hurricanes without one soul losing a life.

The effect of the many years of the destruction of Haiti is best illustrated by two points. First, the building structures in Haiti were so weak that very few, including the Presidential Palace, which in other cases would be one of the strongest buildings in the country, could withstand the tremors.

Second, the government institutions are so weak that they simply failed to cope with the damage.

But the devastation does not end there. What is emerging is that rescue operations, and later aid, will definitely be used to reconquer Haiti and once-and-for-all subject it to lasting imperialist rule.

The symbolism of the literal take-over of the airport for the rescue operation should not be lost. Going forward Haitians will pay the second price in their history. First they had to pay for challenging white power. Now they will have to pay the price for having white power rescue and reconstruct them.

It is against this background that we should not be easily moved by the "generosity" shown by the Western world in assisting Haiti. Instead, we should not lose sight of the fact that the imperialist world is assisting where damage was already done. It is a case of nature having completed the damage that imperial power and greed have long inflicted.

The writer works for the City of Tshwane. He writes in his personal capacity