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Peter Hallward: Haiti 2010 -- Exploiting disaster

With Peter Hallward's permission, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is making available the Afterword to the 2010 paperback edition of Hallward's Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment (Verso, 2010), published in November. Readers can download the essay HERE, or read it on screen below.

Links' readers are urged to purchase Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment. Click here to do so.

Read more on the situation in Haiti HERE.

* * *

By Peter Hallward

Just before 5pm, on Tuesday January 12, 2010, Haiti's capital city and the surrounding area were devastated by the most catastrophic earthquake in the history of the hemisphere. The scale of the destruction was overwhelming. According to the most widely cited estimates, around 220,000 people perished and more than 300,000 suffered horrific injuries, leading to many thousands of amputations.

Stories told by the bereaved defy summary. Perhaps as many as 200,000 buildings were destroyed, including 70% of the city's schools. Today, more than half a year after the disaster in which they lost their homes and virtually all their belongings, around 1.5 million people continue to live in makeshift camps with few or no essential services, with few or no jobs, and with few or no prospects of any significant improvement in the near future.

Although the earthquake has no precedent in Haitian history, the factors that magnified its impact, and the responses it has solicited, are all too familiar. They are part and parcel of the fundamental conflict that has structured the last 30 years of Haitian history: the conflict between pèp la (the people, the poor) and members of the privileged elite, along with the armed forces and international collaborators who defend them. If the 1980s were marked by the rising flood that became Lavalas, by an unprecedented popular mobilisation that overcame dictatorship and raised the prospect of modest yet revolutionary social change, then the period that began with the military coup of September 1991 is best described as one of the most prolonged and intense periods of counter-revolution anywhere in the world. For the last 20 years, the most powerful political and economic interests in and around Haiti have waged a systematic campaign designed to stifle the popular movement and deprive it of its principal weapons, resources and leaders. The January earthquake triggered reactions that carried and that are still carrying such measures to entirely new levels.

So far, this ongoing counter-revolution has been grimly successful. Rarely have the tactics of divide and rule been deployed with such ruthless economy and efficacy as in Haiti 2000-2010. A small handful of privileged families are now wealthier and more powerful than ever before; once the post-quake reconstruction begins in earnest, in early 2011, they are set to become wealthier still. More than a million homeless and penniless people, by contrast, are likely to spend the reconstruction years in a sort of squatters' limbo, as foreign technocrats, multinational executives and NGO consultants decide how best to rebuild their city. The majority of their compatriots will remain destitute and forced to endure the most harrowing rates of exploitation in the hemisphere. The majority also know that if current tendencies prevail, their children, and their children's children, can expect nothing different.

Today, with the battered remnants of the Lavalas movement more divided and disorganised than ever before, with the country firmly held in the long-term grip of a foreign "stabilisation" force, the majority of Haiti's people have little or no political power. At the time of writing, in late summer 2010, many foreign observers of the Haitian popular movement were struck above all by a widespread sense of resignation and impotence. For the time being, suppression of Lavalas has left the people of Haiti at the mercy of some of the most rapacious political and economic forces on the planet. For the time being, at least, it looks as if the threatening prospect of meaningful democracy in Haiti has been well and truly contained.

In these intolerable circumstances, nothing short of popular remobilisation on a massive scale, more powerful, more disciplined, more united and more resolute than before – nothing, in other words, short of the renewal of genuinely revolutionary pressure – holds out any real prospect of significant change for the majority of Haiti's people. Of course, this is precisely the prospect that those who have managed the country's recent political development, and who are managing its post-earthquake reconstruction to this day, are most determined to avoid.

Just a few days after the immediate trauma of January 12, it was already clear that the US- and UN-led relief operation would conform to the three main counter-revolutionary strategies that have shaped the more general course of the island's recent history. (a) It would foreground questions of "security" and "stability", and try to answer them by military or quasi-military means. (b) It would sideline Haiti's own leaders and government, and ignore both the needs and the abilities of the majority of its people. (c) It would proceed in ways that directly reinforce and widen the immense gap between the privileged few and the impoverished millions they exploit.

Even a cursory review of the first six months of reconstruction in 2010 should be enough to show that the ongoing application of these strategies is best described as an intensification of the measures that have undercut the power and autonomy of Haiti's people over the two preceding decades.

[Continue reading below, or download HERE.]

Hallward Haiti 2010 Exploiting Disaster 23 Sept 2010

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