Global Capitalism and Devastation in Haiti
by Tanya Golash-Boza / January 18th, 2010
The earthquake in Haiti has caused the whole world to spin around and look at the “poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” When we look, we see corpses, crying children, wounded mothers, desperate fathers, and other examples of human tragedy.
What you see when you look at the images of Haiti depends in large part on your perspective and knowledge of the country that shares an island with the Dominican Republic. For this reason, I think it is important to share my own perspective on what I observe when I see pictures of people desperate for a bucket of water or a bowl of rice.
Many people say this is a time to act, not to speak. But, really, what can I do? I am in Santo Domingo, a few hours drive from Port-au-Prince, but I have no on-the-ground skills that would help people in Haiti. I can send supplies in the many caravans that leave Santo Domingo each day. I have done so, and will continue to do so. As a writer, however, I think the best I can do is to think about Haiti, write about Haiti, and tell people why this is happening to Haiti and what it means for the rest of us.
You may critique this effort as opportunism — using the human tragedy for my own political purposes. To that charge, I say, this is the moment when people are interested in Haiti, so this is the time to tell the story of Haiti. This story is not unique to Haiti. The story of pillage and plunder and coups and the CIA is the story of much of the Third World. The story of global inequality is the story of capitalism. Except for, in Haiti, it goes back right to the beginning of capitalism.
Haiti, led by revolutionary Touissant L’Ouverture, defeated France in a war for its independence in 1804 — making it the first non-slave republic in the Americas. After losing the war, the French demanded reparations from Haiti, to the tune of 150 million gold francs. This was eventually reduced to 90 million gold francs — the equivalent of over $20 billion current US dollars. Haiti did not finish paying this crippling debt until 1947. Haiti provided more wealth to France than any of its other colonies prior to Haiti’s independence. After independence, the debt prevented Haiti from gaining a solid economic footing. France, in contrast, has flourished.
Throughout the 19th century, the United States and the rest of the Americas kept a close eye on Haiti, doing what they could to prevent any of the other nations and colonies from experiencing a major slave revolt. The specter of Haiti sent fear through the hearts of plantation owners throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Twentieth century Haitian history is marked by US interventions, occupations, and interference. Haiti was occupied by the United States military from 1915 to 1934. From 1957 to 1951, Haiti was ruled by “Papa Doc” Duvalier, a brutal dictator who was backed by the United States because of his anti-communist stance. When “Papa Doc” passed away, his son, “Baby Doc” became President. He ruled Haiti under the same reign of terror until he was finally overthrown in 1986. In 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was democratically elected by the Haitian people — the first democratically elected president of Haiti. Eight months later, he was ousted in an effort orchestrated by the CIA. In a twist of events, US-backed forces restored Aristide to power in 1994, and the US military occupied Haiti from 1994 to 2000. Haiti was occupied again by US and UN forces in 2004. UN forces continue to occupy Haiti to this day.
The constant influence and interventions of the United States and Europe have kept Haiti a poor and tremendously unequal nation. A 7.0 earthquake is a horrible event whenever it strikes on or near a land mass. However, the proportions of the disaster were much greater in Haiti because of its poverty. Over twenty years ago, in 1989, a 7.0 earthquake struck the Bay Area in Northern California. In that quake, 63 people were killed. In Haiti, the Red Cross estimates that as many as 50,000 people have died in Haiti. Already, thousands of people have been buried in mass graves.
Poverty exacerbates natural disasters for many reasons. Some of these reasons are the poor structures people inhabit, overpopulation in urban areas, deforestation of hillsides, and a lack of an adequate infrastructure.
When “Baby Doc” was in power in Haiti, the Haitian business community and the United States developed a plan to implement neoliberal reforms that would take Haitians out of rural poverty and into the modern world. As a “modern” nation, Haiti could take advantage of its location close to the United States and supply cheap consumer goods to its wealthier neighbor.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) developed “aid” programs in Haiti that were designed to transform subsistence farmers into laborers for export-oriented farming. Peasants that could not find jobs as farm laborers could go to urban areas and work in the newly built low-wage sweatshops making T-shirts for Walt Disney Corporation and other US-based companies.
The farming for export idea failed and there were not nearly enough jobs for the working poor in the cities. The “development” plan did not work, and Haitians were left worse off. Of course, the USAID and other initiators of the plan never fixed the disaster they created. Eventually, the “American planners and Haitian elites decided that perhaps their development model didn’t work so well in Haiti, and they abandoned it,” leaving Haiti worse off than before.
Failed development initiatives left Port-au-Prince extraordinarily vulnerable to natural disasters. USAID initiatives in the countryside combined with dumping of US-subsidized agricultural products forced peasants out of subsistence farming and into the cities to seek out survival. Many of these urban migrants live in houses made of cinderblock or other substandard materials that are very susceptible to earthquake damage. The fact that so many people live in inadequate housing structures adds significantly to the destruction.
Poverty and underdevelopment have also led to deforestation. People too poor to afford kerosene or gas for cooking turn to wood for fuel. In addition, European and US companies have been mining Haiti’s natural resources (cement, marble, granite, aggregate, gold and copper) and razing forests for lumber for decades. The extreme deforestation of Haiti makes the country more vulnerable to landslides and earthquakes.
The story of Haiti — a nation that broke the rules from the beginning by standing on its own two feet — is the story of how global capitalism works to keep most people in poverty. When Haiti won its independence from France, France and its allies ensured through military means that Haiti paid its debt — and much more — to France. When investors in the US were looking for a source of cheap labor, they looked to Haiti. Maintaining global inequality though military force and profiting off of cheap labor from poor countries is how global capitalism works — or does not work, according to your perspective.
The earthquake in Haiti is a prime example of how unbridled capitalism kills. For this reason, it is crucial to think and to talk about Haiti, in addition to doing what we can to avoid as many deaths and injuries as possible during the current crisis. Perhaps then we can prevent the same mistakes from being committed in Haiti as they have elsewhere in the aftermath of disasters. Perhaps then we can truly rebuild Haiti, for the Haitians.
திங்கள், ஜனவரி 18, 2010
Kolkata (by Bhavesh ): As veteran Communist leader Jyoti Basu breathed his last on Sunday here at the AMRI Hospital at 11.47 a.m. after a multiple-organ failure, the nation lost one of its finest political leaders and a man of masses in him.
The grief of Jyoti Basu’s demise overwhelmed the entire political fraternity, as leaders expressed their heartfelt condolences as their last tribute to the Communist patriarch. He will always be remembered not just as the longest serving chief minister of West Bengal but also a leader who always stood by ethics in all seasons of his political career.
Union Finance Minister and head of West Bengal State Congress Pranab Mukherjee said: “He was architect of first United Progressive Alliance government. The nation lost a great Parliamentarian in him.”
Basu remained chief minister of West Bengal for 24 years in his long political career. He held Chief Minister’s post for five times.
Expressing her grief on the passing away of Jyoti Basu, the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, “Basu was a leader of stature. I always admired him for his worth ethics.”
Conveying his condolence to Jyoti Basu, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and senior BJP leader Arun Jaitely said: “We have learnt a lot from him. He was such a tall political personality who worked for the poor in his lifetime.”
Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari described Jyoti Basu as “a leader who did politics of principles.”
An aggrieved Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who wanted Jyoti Basu to occupy Prime Minister’s post as the head of coalition, said: “ In Jyoti Basu’s death, a great era has come to its end.”
Communist Party of India leader D.Raja described Basu as “the finest Communist leader”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his condolence letter to the departed leader’s son Chandan Basu, described his father as a legendary leader of the country.
“I was deeply grieved to learn of the sad demise of your father Jyoti Basu. The passing away of Basu from the scene marks the end of an era in the annals of Indian politics. In a political career spanning more than six decades, the veteran communist leader steered his party to power in West Bengal , leaving a legacy of uninterrupted rule by the Left Front that he forged through his leadership and legendary skills in building consensus,” Dr. Singh said.
“During his more than 20 years at the helm of affairs in West Bengal, he proved himself to be one of the most able administrators and politicians of independent India . He was a powerful regional voice in the national political scene and helped to strengthen Indian federalism,” he added.
Dr.Singh said he had the opportunity to work with Basu and had always turned to him for his sagacious advice on all matters, whether they related to West Bengal or to issues of national importance.
“His advice was statesmanlike but always pragmatic and based on unshakable values that he championed throughout his political career,” he said.
Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram, on this occasion said: “It is a sad day for us as we remember the great son of India. He has served for many decades, not only the people of West Bengal, but India...he dedicated his entire life to the nation. He was a great patriot, great democrat and a great human.”
“He suffered a lot for the last fortnight. I am deeply sad and offer my sincere condolences to the people and government of West Bengal,” he added.
Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “Jyoti Babu was not only one of the longest serving Chief Ministers in the country but also an extremely popular mass leader. He was among the leading lights of the left movement in the country. In his death we have lost one of our tallest national leader and an ideological sage who always worked for the downtrodden.”
In his condolence message, Vice-President Hamid Ansari said that Basu made significant contributions to public life, and especially to the development of West Bengal.
“I have learnt with great shock and deep anguish the unfortunate passing away of veteran leader and former Chief Minister of West Bengal Jyoti Basu. His demise is deeply mourned by the vast numbers of his friends and admirers in the country,” Ansari said.
“His demise leaves a void, which will be very difficult to fill. My wife joins me in conveying our heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved family and wide circles of friends and admirers and pray to give them strength to withstand this loss,” he added.
Jyoti Basu breathed his last at the AMRI Hospital of multiple-organ failure at 11.47 a.m. on Sunday. He was 95.
He was admitted to the hospital on January 1 with acute respiratory failure bordering on pneumonia. He was also undergoing treatment at the hospital for age-related ailments.
On Friday, doctors at the hospital said in a medical bulletin that his condition was very critical and hope for his survival was receding.
Basu served as the Chief Minister of West Bengal for 24 years from 1977 to 2000.
For more detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jyoti_Basu
ஞாயிறு, ஜனவரி 17, 2010
By Charles Ponnudurai Sarvan
"Lay then the axe to the root"
(Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791)
The following is apropos an interview with Mr A. Sivanandan, published in New Left Review (London, Nov-Dec 2009 issue, pages 79-98) under the caption ‘An Island Tragedy: Buddhist ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka’. Steps towards ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka, Mr Sivanandan claims, were taken immediately after independence by the government of D. S. Senanayake: one of his first measures as prime minister was to disenfranchise the ‘plantation Tamils’ (p. 83).
Mr Sivanandan was born in 1923, studied in Colombo, entered the University of Ceylon (then situated in Colombo), married a Sinhalese, and spoke the language fluently. As a consequence of the anti-Tamil riots of 1958, the family left for England (and walked into the anti-non-white-skin Notting Hill riots of late August and early September). Mr Sivanandan went on to become Director of the Institute of Race Relations (London), and Editor of the highly-regarded journal, Race & Class. Sri Lankan readers may know him best as the author of the novel, When Memory Dies (London, 1997).
Sivanandan states that until the anti-Tamil riots of 1958, he had “no sense at all of being a Tamil” (82). When I was aged about fourteen, and a boarding-school pupil at St Thomas’ College, Gurutalawa, involved in a dispute, a fellow pupil taunted me with Para Dhemmala (foreign Tamil).
I was puzzled because ethnic classification then had no significance to me personally, as an individual. (See, Sarvan, ‘An extract from a personal memoir’, The Sunday Island, Colombo, 5 July 2009.) Being Tamil didn’t matter to me. It was a fact but without importance, like living in this town rather that, or preferring to swim rather than play cricket for the school. So it was with German-Jews in the first decades of the last century. They saw themselves as Germans who also happened to be Jews - that is, until the Nazis came to power, and a Jewish consciousness and identity were brutally forced upon them. The problem lies not in difference per se but in what we make of that difference. Difference and the resulting variety are welcome in nature, and when one travels as a tourist but not, it seems, in ethnic terms in one’s own country, particularly within certain lands where, obsessed with racial and / or religious “purity”, “impure” actions are committed: Nazi Germany, the Balkans and Sri Lanka come to mind.
In Sri Lanka, children and young people politely address those much older as “Uncle” or “Aunt”, even if the person is not related. Sivanandan recalls that in 1958, seeing someone he didn’t know in the house of his (Sinhalese) mother-in-law, he asked his eldest daughter, aged about five, who that uncle was. She replied in Sinhala: “That’s not an uncle, that’s a Tamil” (p. 87). Horrified that his own daughter had been poisoned with racism, and at so early an age, he decided to leave the Island. Some years ago, while teaching in the Middle East, I was friends with a Sinhalese family. Their daughter – let’s call her Nalini – was about twelve. One day, as I walked into their home, little Nalini met me at the door with a worried, earnest, expression on her face: “Uncle, is it true that you are Tamil?” Her eyes asked I should deny and reassure, say that someone was teasing her. It was as if she’d suddenly been told that I was, in fact, a paedophile.
This brings me to what I term the “exceptionalism” of racism and racists. What was the reaction of Sivanandan’s daughter when she understood that her own father was Tamil? What was the child told by the others? I don’t know, but it could have been something on the lines of “But your father is different. He’s not like (all) the other Tamils”. True, he’s Tamil but not one of those Tamils in general whom we distrust and dislike; want to expel or subordinate. “He’s a Tamil but not a Tamil Tamil: you know what we mean?” He or she is turned into an exception, serving only to prove the rule, to confirm the generality. Those individuals whose life and conduct confound the racist (or religious) myth and image are made exceptions so that stereotypes, unquestioned and unchallenged, continue to have their justification and existence. In this way, racist attitudes are preserved and perpetuated. (See the blanket suspicion of, if not hostility to, all Moslems where, in a mode known as ‘Block thinking’, a varied reality is fused into one indissoluble unit.) So it is that, even those who are suspicious of (if not hostile towards) Tamils in general may have a Tamil friend or friends; socialise, and be of mutual company and help. The contradiction, the inconsistency, is “rationalised” away on the basis of their friend (or friends) being an exception.
It’s an almost no-win situation: if you “behave”, you are seen as an individual, made an exception; if you don’t, then not just you, but the entire group is blamed. In the very early 1960s, a young man in London, I was befriended by an elderly English couple. Once when I asked them whether they visited the West End, they reacted with alarm: “Oh no, dear Charles. They’re far too many foreigners there.” Having got to know me as a person, they’d forgotten not only that I too was a newly-arrived foreigner but that I was non-white. To them, I had become an individual tree, and no longer part of the vague wood: threateningly out there, all around them, sensed rather than actually encountered and experienced.
Did Sivanandan’s daughter and Nalini, in later life, question adult attitudes or did they, utilising “exceptionalism”, continue in their culturally inherited prejudice? It is not easy to call into question the world of those one loves and respects, if not admires: to think independently, differently from them, becomes rejection and, worse, betrayal. It is difficult, very difficult, to extirpate group prejudice because its roots are spread wide and deep in the collective soil. (Varying the metaphor, about 90% of an iceberg lies below, and only 10% is visible above the surface.) But it’s by no means impossible, as post-war Germany has shown, emerging from a period of “now done darkness” with relief, wanting to understand the past, willing to make amends in the present.
While an undergraduate at the Peradeniya Campus, one of my closest friends was (let’s call him) Wijesooriya. I spent extended holidays with him at his parental home in what was then a little village off a little town. His mother was a personification of gentleness and kindness, wise and caring, yet ready to smile or laugh. It would not be an exaggeration to say she treated me as if I were one of her own family. Yet “Wije” told me that, while he was a growing child, she had related stories which portrayed Tamils not only as “the Other”, but which created the image in his mind and imagination of the Tamil as trouble and menace, to be distrusted, held at a distance and controlled. I have not the slightest doubt this was not her intention: she simply was not aware of the image of the Other that folk tales and folk history create; their effect on the mind and imagination of a child and, finally, on the hapless Tamil. Essentially kind, decent and good she was simply “innocent” (in the sense of being unaware) of the possible long-term effects of the stories she narrated, tales she told and retold simply to entertain her son. Folk history and stories help to explain the intensity of hatred, and the ferocity of attack, during successive anti-Tamil riots and pogroms. They form an unbroken line of suspicion, resentment and hatred from ancient times into the present.
“Wije” joined Royal College and found himself in a boarding-house in Colombo where all the others happened to be Tamil. He told me of his initial unease at having to live with those of whom he had, entirely unconsciously, built up a very negative image. But to his surprise and puzzlement, he found them no different; was welcomed and treated as a friend. “Wije”, having the mind of a sociologist, did not attempt to explain away the contradiction between received image and impression on the one hand and actual encounter on the other by making exceptions of the other (Tamil) boarders. Instead, he thought about and questioned the values and attitudes of adult society, including those of his parents.
One can perhaps set up three categories, the first consisting of those who are racist in thought and nature. (Often, such individuals and groups, avoiding the opprobrium attached to “racism”, claim they are “nationalists.”) Then there are those from religion and politics who see advantage in stoking, and keeping alive, a negative image of other ethnic groups, religious difference being a component of ethnicity. The third group is made up of those who are not aware of the nature and degree of their prejudice. Here the work of Mahzarin Banaji and other researchers is apposite.
Our brain, like a computer, quickly processes data so that we can react, and get on with the business of living. We cannot, in daily life, pause each time and reflect but must “jump to conclusions”. The question, “What role does our implicit association play in our beliefs and behaviour?” led researchers to the Implicit Association Test - a concealed test where the respondents did not realize what was really being tested. It was found that our attitude to aspects such as “race”, colour and gender operate on two levels. The first is what we (like to) think or believe is our attitude; the second is our unconscious but real attitude, that is, the immediate, automatic, association we make before we have had time to think. We don’t choose to make unfavourable associations with one group, but it is very difficult to avoid doing so if that group (or contrasting object or category) is frequently, if not constantly, paired negatively with another. Indeed, it was found that even those discriminated against could come to share in this negative association. For example, it was found that people of colour who took the Race Implicit Association Test (Race IAT) in the USA had stronger associations with whites than with those of their own skin-colour. An Implicit Association test conducted on a sample of Sinhalese on attitudes to Tamils (as on those with a white or fair skin-colour) will be revelatory, illumining and sobering. Of course, the association of all Tamils with the Tigers is damaging: see postscript below. An early step in combating “racism” is to bring about a realization, an awareness or consciousness, of the extent and depth of group assumptions and prejudice. (I thank Liebetraut Sarvan, particularly for her comments on this section.) Self-examination, both at the individual and collective levels, will lead to a cleansing of the mind of ancient, inherited, prejudice. Lay then the axe to the roots of the poison tree.
On the LTTE, Sivanandan says the following:
Their degeneration “began relatively early” (p. 92). “Instead of winning over people who disagreed with them, they wiped them out [...] The Tigers had begun to alienate the Tamil population, and gradually ceased having the support of the whole community. [T]he political dimension of their struggle had been subordinated to an ad hoc militarism [...” Unlike resistance movements elsewhere, the Tigers were politically underdeveloped. Weaponry was in command, not politics. “This was a critical weakness, and it created the conditions for the final defeat in 2009” (p. 93).
Courtesy: The Sunday Leader
திங்கள், ஜனவரி 11, 2010
Tamil Journalist Tissainayagam released on bail !
Tamil journalist Jeyaprakash Tissainayagam can be released on bail tomorrow. He was sentenced to 20 years hard labour in jail for supportive writings for LTTE and critical for the present government. His appeal case of his conviction is pending and he can be released on bail tomorrow. Mr. Tissainayagam has to surrender his passport and pay money for his bail, said his attorney-at-law S.A. Sumanthiran.