Haiti: A breviary

It’s hard to keep up with everything that’s going on in Haiti at the moment. Here’s a short must-read/must-see list.

First, Avi Lewis and the team at Al Jazeera have produced a fantastic short documentary, impressive on so many levels. In less than half an hour, they overturn almost every reporting convention observed in the past month’s coverage, presenting Haiti as a country in which people are absolutely able to manage their affairs, proceeding in dignified emergency to help one another, and articulating clearly and unambiguously their visions for the future.

Those demands, as Arun Gupta notes in his wide-ranging analysis, are ones that cannot be accommodated under the US occupation. It may be glossed over as ’emergency security support’, but a close look at the evidence suggests something far more sinister. There’s clearly a long-term economic agenda, for instance. Arun is quite right to bring attention to the document below, by Oxford economist, Paul Collier. Readers may remember my finding fault with Collier previously for living in a bygone century, insisting on a vision of agrarian change that has been thoroughly discredited. In this document, written a year ago for the United Nations, Collier goes one better. He ignores the past completely. The first few pages of his report turn euphemism into an art, as he struggles to describe Haiti’s past without making any mention of coups, political intervention or economic warfare.

Paul Collier on Haiti

As you can see, Collier doesn’t worry too much about the past that has been destroyed in Haiti, or the reasons why so many Haitians are prepared to work for so little. He’s a forward-looking man, and he has a solution for Haiti’s woes. The country’s sweatshops (‘the textile industries’) are a great start. The trouble is that they aren’t running to full capacity. The way to save Haiti, it seems, is just to get the sweatshops running twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. Problem solved.

Naomi Klein’s latest piece is a helpful reminder that Haiti does indeed have a past, and one that makes it not a debtor, but a creditor nation. The rest of the world, Europe and the US in particular, owe Haiti, for the toxic debt and even toxic waste that has laid the country bare.

For a brief, happy, moment it looked as if the IMF saw the light, and was going to give Haiti an unconditional grant. Turns out, the IMF would like to impose conditions through debt after all, but just not while the world is watching. So they’ll bring the pain, and the repayments, in a few years’ time.

It’s through journalism events like these, networks such as Haiti Action, and the information at places like Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch that we’ll be able to piece together exactly what’s going on.


Haiti Protest San Francisco 26 Jan 2010

The mainstream media isn’t getting the real story out – which is why events like this protest in San Francisco a couple of weeks back, part of dozens in North America, become so vital: one of the few ways that ordinary people can hear the truth about Haiti is through a megaphone, on the streets.