On January 12, 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti. Each hour following revealed the complete devastation caused by the earthquake; over 220,000 people killed, an estimated 1.5-2.3 million people displaced, more than 300,000 homes destroyed or badly damaged, streets, buildings and infrastructure turned to rubble.
International Response to the Disaster: Haiti Needs Doctors Not Soldiers!
Governments and people around the world responded to the crisis situation immediately. According to the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, "Within hours of the earthquake, the Government deployed civilian and military emergency management experts to Haiti to begin a significant humanitarian response." U.S. President Barack Obama "pledged a swift, coordinated, and aggressive effort in response to the earthquake in Haiti." Large international aid organizations, like Oxfam and the Red Cross began calling for donations for disaster relief efforts.
But, instead of emergency rescue teams, food aid, field hospitals and housing supplies the first "aid" to arrive from the U.S. and Canada were armed soldiers mainly tasked with providing "security." In all the U.S. deployed 22,000 troops and Canada 2,000, as well as military ships, planes and helicopters. As a glaring example of the role of the US and Canadian military deployment to Haiti, Doctors Without Borders reported being prevented from landing with a mobile hospital unit at the Port-au-Prince airport, which was controlled by the US military, they were instead directed to land in the Dominican Republic and carry the hospital overland at a time when emergency medical assistance was needed.
Cuba and Venezuela Vs U.S. and Canada
At the same moment the U.S. and Canada deployed soldiers, other countries sent doctors and immediate humanitarian aid. The revolutionary government of Venezuela was one of the first countries to respond, sending 400 people to construct camps for people displaced in the earthquake, and immediate food aid, humanitarian aid workers, reconstruction supplies and 225,000 barrels of gasoline. In the year following the earthquake Venezuela delivered 8,139 tons of food, medicine and humanitarian aid to Haiti, as well as forgave 400 million dollars of debt and continued to provide Haiti with much needed energy assistance in the form of gasoline and the construction of power plants.
The 350 Cuban doctors already working in Haiti at the time of the earthquake were the first to set-up emergency medical facilities. In the first 24 hours after the earthquake they treated 1,987 patients, carrying out 111 surgeries alone at 5 different medical facilities and field hospitals. In six months, the medical brigade had treated 70,300 patients, and performed more 2,500 surgeries. Cuban doctors and Haitian graduates of the Latin American School of medicine in Havana Cuba (where tens of thousands of young people from Latin America, Africa, Asia and the United States study to become doctors for free), make up the largest medical brigade in Haiti, with over 1200 personnel, including doctors, nurses, and mental health and rehabilitation experts sent with medical supplies and equipment including 400,000 tetanus vaccines.
Three Years After the Earthquake - Where is the Reconstruction?
Now three years have passed since the devastating quake and it's immediate aftermath, but the people of Haiti are still suffering under the weight of what could hardly be called a "natural" disaster. When it comes to the basic everyday lives for people in Haiti, nothing has been accomplished by the billions of dollars in aid and military operations led by the U.S., Canada, and U.N. Over 350,000 people are still living in 496 tent camps, half of which don't have access to water or toilets at the camp sites. 21% of these people are under threat of eviction from the camps with no other place to live. Women living in camps are especially affected, with lack of access to birth control and maternal care, as well as increased sexual violence. According to the Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti from the United Nations governments have allocated 13.34 billion dollars in humanitarian and reconstruction aid since the earthquake. So, the question is where has all the money gone?
In a Dec. 23, 2012 New York Times article ("Rebuilding in Haiti Lags After Billions in Post-Quake Aid") it was reported that of the 7.5 billion dollars in aid disbursed so far, only 215 million dollars has been allocated to home construction, while over half has gone to band-aid solutions, providing supplies for people in camps or funding short-term cash grants or job creation programs. The article goes on to describe how much of the donated money is eaten up by the administrative overhead costs of programs and aid organizations, or how reconstruction projects are being out-sourced to foreign companies. According to the article, "Oxfam spent $96 million over two years and devoted a third to management and logistics. Doctors Without Borders spent 58 percent of its $135 million in 2010 on staff and transportation costs."
One project that has been highlighted by the U.S. government as an example of the "success" of reconstruction in Haiti is the Caracol Industrial park. This park cost 300 million dollars to construct and is supposed to create over 100,000 jobs. The trouble is that the jobs it will create are minimum wage factory sweatshop jobs that can barely sustain a person, let alone a family. On top of this the industrial park is built upon land that was being used for farming when people in Haiti are already facing a food shortage crisis.
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) continues to be the main source of aid to Haiti from Canada. CIDA reports that they have contributed 1 billion dollars in aid to Haiti from 2006-2012, but this money has been funnelled through NGO's that operate in Haiti, which are not accountable for the money they spend. None of the projects that CIDA has funded have been in cooperation with the government of Haiti.
Another devastating outcome of the lack of reconstruction is the cholera outbreak that began in Haiti 10 months after the earthquake. The origins of the cholera have been linked to the soldiers of the United Nations mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). MINUSTAH currently has 9,988 military troops and police in Haiti. The operation first began following the US/Canada/France backed coup of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The cholera outbreak, which has killed at least 7,000 people and made over 600,000 people sick, despite the tremendous efforts of especially the Cuba medical brigade, is only one of the many devastating effects of the UN occupation, where MINUSTAH forces have also raped, tortured and abused Haitians.
Cuba and Venezuela Leading the Way
Since the earthquake the governments of Cuba and Venezuela have maintained their revolutionary commitments to the people of Haiti in a way very different from that of the US, Canada and the UN. Rather than sending aid money through NGO's with large administrative costs and short-sighted relief plans that only mask the devastation in Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela are working together to provide sustainable solutions to the crisis that respect the sovereignty and independence of the people of Haiti.
In January of 2013 Cuba and Haiti signed eight bilateral agreements to expand their cooperation. This included agreements for development in the agricultural and industrial sectors like food and steel production, as well as continuing commitments to health and education. For example, the Cuban medical brigade of 723 personnel continues to operate in Haiti providing free medical services and Cuba's world-renowned literacy program "Yes I can!" is also being implemented in Haiti.
Venezuela and Cuba also are leading projects in Haiti through the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an organization of economic cooperation for countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, that include tree planting initiatives (Haiti is nearly entirely deforested with only 2% of it's forest remaining) and home building projects, as well as the installation of power generators to help people in Haiti have access to electricity.
In the 2012 agreements between Haiti and Venezuela, the largest percentage of 369 million dollars of funding was directly towards home construction and infrastructure projects. 20% of electricity in Haiti is provided by power plants installed by Venezuela, who has also committed to providing 24hours a day electricity to Port-au-Prince which had been experiencing black-outs.
Self-determination for Haiti!
The extreme amount of destruction and devastation in Haiti after the earthquake and continuing on to today was made possible because even before the earthquake Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 77% of households in Haiti lived on under $2 a day and 67% of people in Haiti's urban areas lived in unbearable conditions in slums. After 500 years of colonization, slavery, wars, occupations, invasions, U.S. and imperialist backed dictators and puppet-regimes and economic exploitation and environmental destruction, Haiti was left defenceless when the earthquake hit.
Despite the remarkable aid and solidarity effort by the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and ALBA members, the people of Haiti still face the tremendous challenge of rebuilding their country flooded with foreign sweatshop construction, aid money that never makes it to the grassroots movements and organizations in Haiti, and a government backed and paralysed by the U.S., Canada, France and other imperialist powers intervention and sabotage.
So how can the people of Haiti really begin to clear the rubble and rebuild their country? With self-determination and control over their own resources. Natural disasters in Haiti are not going away. Since the earthquake, tropical storms, hurricanes and flooding have continued to displace hundreds of thousands of people. The solution is not more tents, but more houses, not more minimum wage jobs, but real economic growth where the profits got to the people of Haiti, not imperialist corporations, not U.S. and Canada style aid and charity, but Cuba and Venezuela led support and solidarity!
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