Yesterday, I watched news of rescue efforts in Port-au-Prince. Elite rescue teams, such as the one from Fairfax County, VA, were focusing primarily on the Montana Hotel and the headquarters of the UN "peacekeeping" force, MINUSTAH. Anyone who knows Haiti knows that the Montana Hotel is the most lavish lodging your can find in Port-au-Prince and is frequented by wealthy business people, foreign dignitaries, and served as the initial headquarters of the MINUSTAH force. Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods most heavily hit by the earthquake, Haitians, equipped with nothing more than their bare hands, dug frantically to save their families and neighbors.
The Canada Haitian Action Network is circulating an aid worker's account that tells of this class/race disparity in responding to the injured. The aid worker says rescue teams are refusing to go into popular neighborhoods because they fear "violence." Breathlessly, the media rotate stories of poor, injured Haitians with warnings of violent Haitian masses on the verge of a nationwide riot.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's foil to counter Michael Moore about his indictment of the US health care system in his film Sicko (Moore kicked his ass), reported two nights ago that a tent clinic in downtown Port-au-Prince was abandoned by all medical staff because of a "rumor" of impending violence. Gupta showed the CNN audience cot after cot of injured Haitians with no medical staff in sight. CNN would probably get an Emmy award if Gupta would quit playing journalist and used his time there being the doctor he was trained to be. This is not a place or time where ANY medical professional on the ground in Haiti should do anything other than treating the injured.
Those who have observed that US aid is slow getting to Haiti, such as the Navy's USS Comfort which is leaving Baltimore, Md., only TODAY, should understand that the US is concentrating on getting military boots on the ground first. By the end of the weekend, the US will have 10,000 military troops in Haiti. Once this is done, it will be "safe" for aid workers to tend to the injured in the popular neighborhoods. As time goes on, pay attention to the back story, and you will see that the placement of these soldiers has more to do with stemming a political tsunami than helping the people.
Maintaining a violence-prone image of poor Haitians is de rigueur. During the US Marine occupation of 1915-1934, Haitians were characterized summarily as "bandits." In the US destabilization campaign against President Aristide in 2003-2004, his followers were called "chimeres" or "thug-creatures," a label created for propaganda purposes by a Western journalist. Further, the concept of the "violent Haitian" has given cover to the UN "peacekeeping" force to conduct one deadly attack after another in the middle of the night in poor neighborhoods against unarmed, sleeping Haitians.
On the day after the earthquake, reporters expressed concern about the prisoners who escaped from the collapsed Haitian penitentiary (the ones that didn't die, of course). In the first and only mention of the Haitian National Police, the media reported that their top priority was apprehending these violent criminals. Yet, we have not heard of police helping the people dig out of the earthquake. This is not surprising. In the days after the US kidnapping of Aristide in 2004, the Haitian National Police were responsible for summary executions of Aristide's supporters, illegal mass detentions, and numerous disappearances. Who knows how many of the dead or escaped prisoners there were those who were incarcerated without cause over the course of the two years that followed Aristide's departure? The whole point is that the police are worried about escaped prisoners when their entire country is in shambles. If you ask average Haitians how concerned they are about these prisoners, they will look at you as if you are crazy. The prison story is good "violence" propaganda and we will most likely hear more about it.
President Aristide is as popular now in Haiti as he has ever been. The people, especially the poor who comprise the majority of the population, found Aristide to be the only president that ever gave a damn about them. The 2004 coup was a US, French, and Canadian expedition that had NO popular support in Haiti. In order to make the coup stick, the US engineered the placement of a 10,000 United Nations "peacekeeping" force there. As my friend Kevin Pina, journalist and documentary filmmaker who lived and reported from Haiti for many years says, "If MINUSTAH had not been brought into Haiti, the coup would have fallen in a week." Aristide's political party, Lavalas, undoubtedly the most popular party in Haiti, has been barred from the ballot in the two previous elections resulting in a massive boycott and illegitimate results for the state.
In the earthquake, MINUSTAH suffered many casualties and because its offices were destroyed, it is not fully functional. The US is scared that, without full MINUSTAH muscle, the tsunami of Haitian demand for the return of Aristide will rise up, that is, until the planned 10,000 troops are on the ground. So, Haiti's poor, already totally consumed by loss of homes, injury and the death of loved ones, will have to start watching their back as well -- as always.
Shirley Pate is a Haiti solidarity activist, who was in Haiti six weeks after the 2004 coup, participating in a delegation to determine the role of the US in the coup. This article was first published by the HONDURAS OYE! blog on 16 January 2010; it is edited and republished here for non-profit educational purposes