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The responsibility to protect

by admin January 19, 2010

In the immediate fallout of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shattered Haiti last Tuesday, UN Secretary General Bhan Ki Moon told the world he believed the crisis was “clearly a major humanitarian disaster.” As the death toll is estimated in the tens to hundreds of thousands, the Secretary General is once again proving his talent for stating the blindly obvious. But in doing so, he also manages to miss one key factor in this tragedy 8212; the situation in Haiti was a major humanitarian disaster before the earthquake, and as the disaster capitalists eyeball the wreckage of Port-au-Prince, it is more important than ever before that the un-natural disaster in Haiti is confronted, and those who aim to profit from of this catastrophe are exposed.

Less than 24 hours after the earthquake, the Heritage Foundation posted on their current events blog, The Foundry, stating that “in addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.” The Heritage Foundation is one the most prominent right-wing think tanks in North America, and has long been involved in using disaster capitalism to extend corporate interest domestically and abroad. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it was policy advisors at the Foundation that drove for the establishment of a zero capital gains tax in what was called the “Gulf Opportunity Zone.” They also advised the administration of George W. Bush to amend environmental legislation in the region, such as the National Environmental Policy and Clean Water Acts, and to repeal or waive the Clean Air Act, all in the name of letting corporate interests run free 8212; not only in Louisiana, but also with an eye to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The blog post has since been pulled from The Foundry, to be replaced by a more consumer friendly message that American relief should include troops and Coast Guard to “counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola … [and] prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea … to try to enter the U.S. illegally.” All actions moving towards “long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy [that] are also badly overdue” in order to “demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.”

If this were not enough, President Barack Obama has appointed his two presidential predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, to lead the relief effort. Both men come to the table with histories of leading North American interests in Haiti, and bear some blame for the destabilization that has ensured Haiti remains in abject poverty. In 2004 Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in what Montreal writer Yves Engler calls “the culmination of a U.S.-led and Canadian supported destabilization campaign.” In the ensuing years, American and Canadian policy and aid dollars were used to prop up the Haitian elite and North American interests in the region. As the United States Envoy to Haiti, Bill Clinton has been labeled Haiti’s “colonial governor,” a title rooted in Haiti’s coupled history with the slave trade. Clinton clings to some popularity in the region for returning Aristide to the presidency in 1994, although he is also a powerful supporter for the Haitian garment industry, which largely exports to the United States and has a history of exploitative labour practices.

Natural disasters serve as perfect platforms for corporate interests to avoid legal and social constraints typically placed on them as they ride into a disaster under the guise of aid packages and reconstruction contracts. The situation is made even more frightening in Haiti, where government infrastructure is ill equipped to confront this earthquake on its own. The people of Haiti need the world to stand in solidarity with them, not finance the further exploitation of the people in these desperate hours. Rebuilding Haiti is not a project of simply bricks and mortar, it is resurrecting a nation that our leaders have turned into a 190 sq. km advertisement for World Vision. Canadian intervention around the globe is driven by a doctrine of the “responsibility to protect,” and it is high time we adhere to that, even if it means protecting the Haitian people from ourselves, and the “best” intentions of the governments of our world.