Glen Ford: The US Set Haiti Up For Disaster [video and transcription]

Posted January 18, 2010

Russia Today: Now joining us now live from New York to talk about the relief response is Glen Ford. He’s a writer and radio commentator as well as executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. Now, Mr. Ford thank you for joining me.

Glen Ford: Thank you for the invitation.

RT: Now President Obama has pledged $100 million to help Haiti recover. He’s sending troops and aid and all the reports we’re hearing about is how it’s a logistical nightmare, and aid can’t get in. But, looking at what the Black Agenda Report is writing about, it looks like your paper has slightly different concerns about the US relief effort in Haiti. What are your concerns?

GF: The strength of a society is in its civil society, and one of the many ways that the United States basically set Haiti up for a disaster with which it could not cope was by suppressing Haitian civil society. A government that is not based on the will of the people is a hollow force. And so it is no surprise, then, that under the blows of nature, the Haitian government would collapse. We must look at the political aspect as well as the dire necessities of the moment, and that means empowering civil society.

RT: Tell us why you think the US is responsible for that.

GF: Well, the United States did not even recognize Haiti’s independence until Abraham Lincoln was in office. Haiti was, of course, the first Black republic on the face of the earth, winning a bloody war of independence with France in 1804. It was immediately saddled with a debt of 150 million gold francs by France. Otherwise, the alternative would have been to be re-invaded by France. The United States stood by France in that obligation on the part of the Haitians to make whole the French plantation owners. It took Haiti 100 years to pay back that debt.

The United States constantly interfered with Haiti after recognizing its independence, seizing control of its ports, collecting the duties as if it were sovereign. It invaded Haiti in 1915 and didn’t leave until 1934, and then backed a succession of oligarchs and klepto-crats who bled the country dry with United States support. And finally, when the Haitians…

RT: Mr Ford, going from that history that history you were talking about, which is important to discuss, let’s talk about the current day, after this huge disaster. Now US and international relief efforts are beginning. What do you think about the efforts that are underway and the troubles they are encountering?

GF: Well the troubles they are encountering are caused by the bottlenecks that are due to the collapse of the Haitian government, the collapse of the infrastructure. We have to understand that there will always be earthquakes, there will always be hurricanes and floods. But the damage to people is predicated on the state of the infrastructure. For example, in 2008 a series of hurricanes in quick succession hit Haiti and resulted in, officially, 800 deaths.

In Cuba, which is only a few miles away across a narrow strait of water, only 12 people died from the same hurricanes. That’s because of the state of the infrastructure of Haiti. To involve the people, to recover from these hammer blows from nature, we must set loose civil society. And that means bringing back by far the most popular politician, from the most popular political party. That politician is [Jean Bertrand] Aristide, who was sent into exile by the United States in 2004. So, empower the Haitian people to rebuild their own country. That and $100 million can go a long way.

RT: Mr Ford, former presidents George W Bush and Bill Clinton are spearheading efforts to help with the recovery process in Haiti. What do you think about that, based on their administrations’ policies on Haiti when they were in office?

GF: Bill Clinton brought to Haiti devastating structural adjustments that basically put the coup de grâce on the Haitian peasant class, moving Haiti from bare sufficiency in agriculture, from feeding itself to dependency on the United States. That, of course, swelled the population of Port-au-Prince, the capital, to ridiculous proportions, and made the country totally dependent before the earthquake on US corporations and US largess.

So, certainly, if there is going to be a recovery it must be based on moving the Haitian people to self-sufficiency at least in agriculture. That’s something the United States can do, but it should be part of that recovery effort. The United States can also stop deporting Haitians in such large numbers, as they do today.

RT: Well Mr Ford, certainly some really interesting ideas and very different from just the current crisis that we are talking about. You’re talking about what has endured for some time. We thank you for sharing your views and we will continue to follow this story.


8 responses to “Glen Ford: The US Set Haiti Up For Disaster [video and transcription]”

  1. Chloe Avatar

    A friend of mine brought this fundraiser to my attention recently. It seems sort of like having a memorial for the cats killed in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I thought it was pretty outrageous.

    Jivamukti – Sunday
    841 Broadway, 2nd Floor
    Jivamukti Yoga School is joing forces with P.E.T.A. and A.R.C.H. (Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti) to relieve the suffering of animals affected by the earthquake. Their program on 2/7 will start with a meditation and chanting session, then a yoga asana class and then a vegan brunch at the JivamukTea Cafe. Donations are $75. The first 100 people to register will get Kelly Britton’s new CD and the first 50 will get Ruth Lauer-Manenti’s CD of “An Offering of Leaves”. Festivities begin at 9:30AM

  2. Isaac Avatar

    I don’t know anything about the individuals and organizations it is coming from, but I like this statement which does call for withdrawal of US troops. The US military has no progressive role to play anywhere. I have heard (in this situation and similar ones) leftists refer to the short Trotsky essay called “Learn to Think” in which he argues against dogmatic, formulaic opposition to imperialism without considering concrete situation. (I am not saying this is what you are doing, only that I have heard others say this.) It’s clear that the role of the US in Haiti is actively preventing aid from reaching those in need, even as it tries to secure the country for its own ends.

    After the catastrophe, what are the perspectives?
    Sony Esteus

    To all our partners

    On January 12th 2010 an earthquake of unprecedented force struck our country with dramatic consequences for the people of many areas in the west and south east, and for the country as a whole. The tremor registered 7.3 on the Richter scale, and the irreparable losses it caused have left our country in mourning and unbearable pain. The tragedy we are facing today is certainly one of the gravest in our history, and its traumatic effects will stamp their mark on our 21st century. The partial accounts that have already been disseminated go some way to expressing the dreadful, indescribable horror that we collectively lived through during those endless 35 seconds on January 12th, and which have left so powerful a legacy of pain and tears. More than 150,000 dead, 500,000 injured, over a million homeless, tens of thousands who have lost limbs, 300,000 refugees who have fled into the countryside, more than 3 million disaster victims who, from one minute to the next, saw their lives, their homes and their society changed forever. A whole society is traumatised, and lives in fear of probable aftershocks or of a second earthquake. Our organizations have all been profoundly affected by this event. We have lost close relatives, work colleagues, children, young people, professionals with dreams full of promise and skills, buildings, equipment, tools, and a huge body of documents embodying thirty years of the collective experience of grassroots and community organizations. The losses are enormous and irreplaceable. Despite our pain, it is important that that we all pause to reflect on what has happened and to draw from this tragic experience the lessons and the guidance that will allow us to continue our tireless dedication to building a different country, one that is capable of overcoming the cycle of dependency and destruction and rising to the level of the dreams of universal emancipation of its founders and of all the people of Haiti.

    The extent of the disaster is certainly linked to the character of the colonial and neo-colonial State our country has inherited, and the imposition of neo-liberal policies over the last three decades. The extreme centralization around the ‘Republic of Port-au-Prince’ imposed after the US occupation of 1915-1934 is certainly one determining factor. In particular the complete liberalization of the housing market has opened a space for rampant speculation by every kind of opportunist. We have been deeply moved by the extraordinary spirit of solidarity displayed by the people of the metropolitan area who for the first three days after the disaster responded with self-organization, helping to save the lives of thousands of people trapped under the rubble and building 450 refugee camps which made it possible for 1.5 million people to survive thanks the sharing out of the available resources (food, water, and clothing). We honour and respect the people of Port-au-Prince! These spontaneous organs of solidarity must now play a central role in the reconstruction and reconceptualising of our national space. We address this letter to our partners, and the national and international networks in which we participate, to inform you of the actions we have taken and our objectives for the short, medium, and long term. For over a week now a group of organizations and platforms have been meeting regularly to address the new situation, setting up new strategies and methods of work. As representatives of the organizations and platforms who are signatories to this document, and as a result of a number of meetings to assess the new situation and define common strategies, we have adopted a position based on the following guidelines:

    1. To contribute to defending the main gains made by the popular and social movements of Haiti now threatened by the new situation.

    2. To help to respond to the urgent immediate needs of the people, by setting up community service centres with the means to respond to the following needs: food, primary health care, medical and psychological assistance for those in shock as a result of the earthquake.

    3. To take advantage of the presence of the international press in our country to present a different image to that disseminated by the imperialist forces.

    4. To establish new ways of overcoming the atomisation and dispersal which are among the central weaknesses of our organizations.

    This process of gathering our forces should begin with the creation of a common space where our six teams can provisionally come together while they continue to work independently, while at the same time putting in place permanent mechanisms for mutual exchange and joint work. We will seek to establish a collective approach in seeking common responses to our problems, and to build a real and viable alternative based on popular democracy. As far as the immediate emergency is concerned, we are in the process of setting up centres in each area of the city. One is already operational at 59 Avenue Poupelard in the premises of a community school run by the SAJ/VEYE YO (Solidarite Ant Jen) organization. It provides for nearly 300 people who are given two meals a day and accommodated in tents. The centre offers them consultations, medicine, and psychological support. These services are also offered to those living in the refugee camps that have been spontaneously set up in the area. The centre functions thanks to the generous support of a group of Haitian professionals (doctors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers) with the support of the aid organization, Deutsche Not Ärzte e.V. (German Emergency Doctors Union) – Cap Anamur. We are trying to extend the centres into other metropolitan districts badly hit by the earthquake and where no centres of this kind currently exist. We anticipate that four more will be set up the districts of Carrefour (Martissant, Fontamara) and Gressier. We would call upon the solidarity of all our partners in helping to ensure that they function effectively. At the same time, the two platforms and four organizations involved have set up a meeting and coordination centre at the offices of FIDES-Haiti, in Impasse Gabriel-Rue de Fernand in Canapé Vert. This space is open to other platforms and organizations of the popular and democratic movement. We are committed to mobilizing the different elements of that movement with a view to, on the one hand, extending emergency help to the disaster victims, and on the other, to lead to the formulation of a joint plan designed to rebuild our organizations and institutions. We will communicate this plan, and the concrete projects associated with it, to our partners as soon as possible. The emergency aid effort we are involved in is alternative in character and we expect to advocate a method of work which will denounce the traditional practices in the field of humanitarian aid which do not respect the dignity of the victims and which contribute to the reinforcement of dependency. We are advocating a humanitarian effort that is appropriate to our reality, respectful of our culture and our environment, and which does not undermine the forms of economic solidarity that have been put in place over the decades by the grassroots organizations with which we work.

    Finally, we would like to salute once more the extraordinary generosity of spirit which has moved public opinion across the world in the wake of the catastrophe we have suffered. We acknowledge it and we believe that this is the moment for creating a new way of seeing our country that will make it possible to build an authentic solidarity free of paternalism, pity, and the taint of inferiority. We should work to maintain this spirit of solidarity as against the momentary impact of fashion and media exaggeration. The response to the crisis has proved that in certain situations the people of the world can move beyond hasty judgments based on sensationalism and stereotypes. Massive humanitarian aid is indispensable today, given the scale of the disaster, but it should be deployed in terms of a different vision of the reconstruction process. It should connect with a break from the paradigms that dominate the traditional circuits of international aid. We would hope to see the emergence of international brigades working together with our organizations in the struggle to carry out agrarian reform and an integrated urban land reform programme, the struggle against illiteracy and for reforestation, and for the construction of new modern, decentralised and universal systems of education and public health. We must also declare our anger and indignation at the exploitation of the situation in Haiti to justify a new invasion by 20,000 U.S. Marines. We condemn what threatens to become a new military occupation by U.S. troops, the third in our history. It is clearly part of a strategy to remilitarise the Caribbean Basin in the context of the imperialist response to the growing rebellion of the peoples of our continent against neo-liberal globalization. And it exists also within a framework of pre-emptive warfare designed to confront the eventual social explosion of a people crushed by poverty and facing despair. We condemn the model imposed by the U.S. government and the military response to a tragic humanitarian crisis. The occupation of the Toussaint Louverture international airport and other elements of the national infrastructure has deprived the Haitian people of part of the contribution made by Caricom, by Venezuela, and by some European countries. We condemn this conduct, and refuse absolutely to allow our country to become another military base. As leaders of the organizations and platform who have set this process in motion, we are writing to share our initial analysis of the situation. We are certain, and you have already shown this to be true, that you will continue to support our work and our struggles in the framework of the construction of an alternative from which our country can rise again from this terrible catastrophe and struggle to break free of the cycle of dependency.

    Port-au-Prince, 27th January 2010

    For the Coordinating Committee:
    Sony Estéus Director of SAKS
    Marie Carmelle Fils-Aimé Programme officer for ICKL
    Camille Chalmers Director of PAPDA

    On behalf of the organizations and platforms taking part in this initiative:
    Marc Arthur Fils-Aimé, Institut Culturel Karl Léveque (ICKL);
    Maxime J. Rony, Programme alternatif de Justice (PAJ);
    Sony Estéus, Sosyete Animasyon ak Kominikasyon Sosyal (SAKS);
    Chenet Jean Baptiste, Institut de Technologie et d’animation (ITECA);

    Antonal Mortimé, Plateforme des Organisations Haïtiennes de Droits Humains (POHDH) composed of:
    Justice et Paix (JILAP), Centre de recherches Sociales et de Formation pour le Développement (CRESFED), Groupe Assistance Juridique (GAJ), Institut Culturel Karl Léveque (ICKL), Programme pour une Alternative de Justice (PAJ), Sant Karl Lévèque (SKL), Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), Conférence haïtienne des Religieux (CORAL-CHR)

    Camille Chalmers, Plateforme haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA) composed of:
    Institut de Technologie et d’animation (ITECA), Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA), Centre de Recherches Actions pour le Développement (CRAD), Mouvman Inite Ti Peyizan Latibonit (MITPA), Institut Culturel Karl Léveque (ICKL), Association Nationale des Agroprofessionnels Haïtiens (ANDAH)

    Translated from French by Mike Gonzalez

  3. Sacha Ismail Avatar

    Hi comrades,

    Would you call for the immediate withdrawal of US troops? I don’t mean would you advocate distrust of the troops, expose their crimes and omissions, remind people of the US’s past role etc; I mean would you call for them to be withdrawn, now?

    The reason I ask is because when I visited the states in November I had (friendly, mostly) arguments with Solidarity comrades about Iraq, and they put a lot of emphasis on the ‘Out now’ slogan as a principle.

    I think that in the context of the Haitian catastrophe, saying ‘US out now’ doesn’t make sense. And in fact your article doesn’t seem to call for it. (Nor, to my slight surprise, does the call for solidarity from Batay Ouvriye.) But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Cheers and comradely greetings

    Sacha Ismail
    (Workers’ Liberty, UK)

  4. Dianne Avatar

    While it’s true that the U.S. role in Haiti started back at the time of the Haitian Revolution, it’s really important to know that U.S. intervention never ended. President Aristide was overthrown twice!

    Here’s a report from The Real News Network that I think summarizes recent U.S. intervention. It shows how ironic it is to put ex-presidents Clinton and Bush II “in charge” of U.S. relief to Haiti:

    More at The Real News

  5. Matt Avatar

    A friend of mine recently passed on this quote to me from Marx (I’m not sure its source):

    ‘It is absolutely impossible to transcend the laws of nature. What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these laws expose themselves.’

    then paraphrased Mike Davis on the ecology of disaster with this…”Exposure to risk that the world’s poor endure is part of the way in which the circulation of capital is tangible in the world.”

    Both ideas keep turning around in my head as I boil over the tragedy of Haiti.

  6. Matt Avatar

    I like a lot of what FRSO has to say on this. I think we should be demanding reparations to Haiti from France and the US, the World Bank and the IMF to start with (aid is a dependency racket). I think we should call for immediate withdrawal of all US, UN (you know those “peace keepers” who shoot hungry people) and other armed forces. Since the Haitians need immediate help how about that instead of sending troops unemployed construction workers, trades, laborers, engineers, etc. be organized by the unions to join the over 7,000 nurses who have volunteered to go through the Nurses Association (and ignored by the US government). There are tens of thousands of workers now out of work who could be employed in Haitian relief (and not a rifle carried!). Now there’s a jobs program for you and it has to cost less than sending the Third Fleet! Well, this is just daydreaming you might say. My response: the notion of a benevolent (or benign to be charitable) imperialism is the real dream. There’s a reason, after all, that it is soldiers and not the nurses that the US government chose to send. Out Now!

  7. redchuck4 Avatar

    Our comrades in Freedom Road Socialist Organization actually make a compelling case for calling for the withdrawal of US troops– but not US aid– from Haiti in their Talking Points on the US Role in the Haitian Earthquake Crisis.