Gimme Shelter: An 8.8 Earthquake Jars Chile, But the Rains Are Closing In on Haiti
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It’s a race against time to dig out more than 300 Chileans who are trapped under rubble after an 8.8 quake (which was felt as far away as Sao Paulo, Brazil) shook the razor-thin shaped country on Saturday morning. While many cities and towns are feeling the pain, Chile will not have as many songs, or have as many charity benefits produced in its name. Chile, at least, has an infrastructure. It is a wealthier nation than Haiti, and therefore may be more self-sustaining after the shock of such a cataclysm has worn off. The Chilean quake was indeed stronger; in fact, one of the strongest quakes on record, but Haiti’s was far more destructive.
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The U.S. Geological Survey says eight Haitian cities and towns — including [Port-au-Prince] this capital of 3 million — suffered “violent” to “extreme” shaking in last month’s 7-magnitude quake, which Haiti’s government estimates killed some 220,000 people and left about 1.2 homeless. Chile’s death toll was in the hundreds.
By contrast, no Chilean urban area suffered more than “severe” shaking — the third most serious level — Saturday in its 8.8-magnitude disaster, by USGS measure. The quake was centered 200 miles (325 kms) away from Chile’s capital and largest city, Santiago.
In terms of energy released at the epicenter, the Chilean quake was 501 times stronger. But energy dissipates rather quickly as distances grow from epicenters — and the ground beneath Port-au-Prince is less stable by comparison and “shakes like jelly,” says University of Miami geologist Tim Dixon.
And while Haiti’s woes have left the front pages of the media, its people’s troubles have hardly ended under an unprecedented expression of concern, charity and largesse.
People still aren’t getting enough food and medicine; last Monday, 150 machete-wielding thugs attacked and commandeered a World Food Program convoy of supplies slated for their needy countrymen. Chilean U.N. peacekeepers supposedly could not prevent the gang from stealing everything. Whether these gangs are a manifestation of the black market, or a political party, or something else more sinister, no one is saying.
The rainy season is officially beginning in only a few weeks, and many of the million homeless Haitians are still living in tent cities, or on the streets, under cardboard, bedsheets and blankets and plastic tarps held up with little more than sticks and poles. Mud, open latrines and instances of infectious diseases like TB, cholera and typhoid are developing and growing. Yesterday, at least eight people were reported dead with two missing from floods engendered by the rainstorms in the port city of Les Cayes, the third largest city on the island, and the region around Nippes. These cities had been spared the massive quake devastation, but they have also absorbed an influx of Haitians fleeing Port au Prince. The loss of life and the flooding are only a taste of what will occur in April, and with the start of hurricane season in June.
So it is a race against time to help Haitians to safety and shelter. It appears that no one–not even the Americans–are organized enough to accomplish this seemingly basic task. Now, relief officials have changed course again, ordering the Haitians back into their ruined neighborhoods instead of keeping to their original plan to build large shelters outside Port-au-Prince. They say that this will facilitate getting relief supplies as well as tarps and tents to needy Haitians, but a tent cannot stand up against hurricane winds. Why? Is this the latest in Haiti’s version of the shock doctrine.
Gerald-Emile Brun, an architect with the Haitian government’s reconstruction committee, told Reuters that “everything has to be done before the start of the rainy season, and we will not be able to do it”.
Brun also suggested that Haitians may largely be left to fend for themselves.
It’s true. This is what our media refuses to report: the more our military can tighten its grip on the country, wave away airloads of aid meant for Haitians, the more desperate, hungry and pliable the people will become, according to the New York Indypendent to a new game plan. Who’s really running Haiti in the absence of its government?
At the same time, the United States had assumed control of Haiti’s airspace, landed 6,500 soldiers on the ground with 15,000 more troops off shore at one point and dispatched an armada of naval vessels and nine coast guard cutters to patrol the waters, and the U.S. Embassy was issuing orders on behalf of the Haitian government. In a telling account, The New York Times described a press conference in Haiti at which “the American ambassador and the American general in charge of the United States troops deployed here” were “seated at center stage,” while Haitian President René Préval stood in the back “half-listening” and eventually “wandered away without a word.”
The real powers in Haiti now are the U.S. commander, Lt. Gen. Ken Keen; U.S. ambassador Louis Lucke; Bill Clinton (who has been tapped by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to lead recovery efforts); and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When asked at the press conference how long U.S. forces were planning to stay, Keen said, “I’m not going to put a time frame on it,” while Lucke added, “We’re not really planning in terms of weeks or months or years. We’re planning basically to see this job through to the end.”
And to what end? Does former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide figure in any of this? No. After overthrowing the erstwhile president twice, the powers that are have no use for him steering an independent course away from Washington. Aristide had even demanded the return of the money the French extorted from the country by gunboat diplomacy in 1825. But Aristide was accused of engaging in excesses previously enjoyed by his predecessors: of drug trafficking, human rights abuses, and corruption. The occupation also means the continued suppression of pro-Aristide supporters and his party Fanmi Lavalas (or Avalanche or Waterfall Family), as well as the transformation of Haiti into a neo-colonialist, sweatshop, free trade country.
Less than four months after the 2004 coup, reporter Jane Regan described a draft economic plan, the “Interim Cooperation Framework,” which “calls for more free trade zones (FTZs), stresses tourism and export agriculture and hints at the eventual privatization of the country’s state enterprises.” Regan wrote that the plan was “drawn up by people nobody elected,” mainly “foreign technicians” and “institutions like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank.”
Much of this plan was implemented under Préval, who announced in 2007 plans to privatize the public telephone company, Téléco. This plan is now being promoted by Bill Clinton and Ban Ki-moon as Haiti’s path out of poverty. The Wall Street Journal touted such achievements as “10,000 new garment industry jobs” in 2009, a “luxury hotel complex” in the upper-crust neighborhood of Pétionville and a $55 million investment by Royal Caribbean International at its “private Haitian beach paradise.”
That’s where all our stateside garment industry jobs are going…to Haiti and other countries who could eventually help themselves and who could have made their own deals without our help. The cheaper the better, right? And they know how to help themselves despite periodic attacks like the one I outlined above.
[…]Veteran Haiti reporter Kim Ives told Democracy Now! on January 20: “Security is not the issue. We see throughout Haiti the population … organizing themselves into popular committees to clean up, to pull out the bodies from the rubble, to build refugee camps, to set up their security for the refugee camps.” In one instance, Ives continued, a truckload of food showed up in a neighborhood in the middle of the night unannounced. “It could have been a melee. The local popular organization … was contacted. They immediately mobilized their members. They came out. They set up a perimeter. They set up a cordon. They lined up about 600 people who were staying on the soccer field behind the house, which is also a hospital, and they distributed the food in an orderly, equitable fashion. … They didn’t need Marines. They didn’t need the U.N.”
Chile’s government, headed by President Salvador Allende, was toppled by the Nixon Administration, American corporations like ITT, and the CIA in 1973. The right-wing junta of General Augusto Pinochet and his generals murdered, tortured and disappeared thousands of left-of-center people as they imposed the Chicago Boys version of neo-liberal economic free-market reforms. Social services were severely curtailed, but the result was a so-called model economy that the old dictator freely took credit for before he died, unrepentent, in 2006. That ‘model economy’ is still criticized for vast inequities in wealth among the poor, middle and upper classes that remain today despite over twenty years of rule by center-left parties. It remains to be seen what will happen under the new president, conservative Sebastian Piñera, who is scheduled to take charge March 11 from current moderate Socialist president Michelle Bachelet.
In the cases of both Chile and Haiti, the United States could be accused of state terrorism.
It’s not over yet.