Haiti: a striking example of the barbarism of capitalism

The earthquake in Haiti has been presented by some preachers in countries like Nigeria as the vengeance of God against the sins of the Haitian people. This reveals the true nature of these people, who use religion to distract the attention of the masses away from the real causes of poverty and devastation. The earthquake is a natural phenomenon; the deaths that it caused are not.

It is now common place news that Haiti, a country on the Island of Hispaniola, was struck by an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the 12th of January, 2010. It is also common knowledge that in its wake, the earthquake left a devastation of mind-boggling proportions. About 200,000 people died, more than 250,000 people injured and well over 1.5 million people rendered homeless. As if that was not enough, a series of nerve-racking after-shocks and another earthquake of magnitude 6.0 followed, exactly nine days later. It was as if a “vengeful god” was really at work.

However, long before this epic destruction unleashed by the now (in)famous earthquake, Haiti was regarded by many as a land of suffering and impoverishment. If Nigeria belonged to the “third world”, then Haiti could be said to belong to the fifth, such was the level of poverty and chaos. Since the earthquake struck, so many theories of “why?” have emerged. Some, like evangelist Pat Robertson, have even gone as far as saying that the earthquake was a God-sent punishment for the Haitians as they had committed a sin of making a pact with the devil a long time ago!

What is not household news, however, is the story of how a piece of the earth considered to be “the richest colony on earth” came to be known and referred to as “the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere”. This history is worth looking at.

The historical background of Haiti

The country we know today as Haiti became so in 1804. Prior to that, it was the French slave colony, Saint Dominique, which brought in immense profits for France from the sweat and labour of African slaves who were forced to work on sugar and coffee plantations. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved Blacks carted from Africa were forced into labour. These slaves were brutally treated and kept in unimaginably sub-human conditions. The result was that they died young and in their thousands; they didn’t even have the stamina to procreate leading to too few children being born. However, the powers-that-be were not deterred, just as quickly as these slaves died they were replaced by fresh imports from Africa!

For France the colony was the goose that lays the golden eggs; resources derived from there constituted the mainstay of France’s economy. The exploitation of these unfortunate Africans was so total that the colony then came to be known as “the richest slave colony on earth”. The condition of perpetual subhuman bondage in which the Black population, then numbering about 500,000, were kept created the objective conditions for revolts. A decade of such revolts culminated in the revolution of 1804, in which under the leadership of Toussaint and Dessalines, these slaves waged what is considered the only successful slave rebellion in the world. Thus was born of the first independent Black Republic and the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.

From the outset, the newly-born Haiti was never given a chance. All the capitalist superpowers of the day more or less ganged up against it. The United States, itself a product of revolt and thus becoming the first independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, did not even acknowledge or recognise Haiti for upwards of 60 years. These capitalists were all so afraid that the spectre of freedom-fighting and revolts would soon consume their own lands and put an end to their exploitation and enslavement of these ill-fated Africans. To them this was unthinkable, as the labour of the slaves formed the very basis of all their wealth.

Consequently, the new state of Haiti instead of growing to a healthy toddler and then a full-fledged adult became a child with seriously stunted growth and finally a sickly adult. The US and capitalist powers of the day placed a repressive, oppressive and suffocating trade embargo on these triumphant slaves. Not only that, they made them pay a colossal amount of money and resources as reparation to their former colonial master, France. This, the fledgling country had to do, in exchange for peace! It is on record that Haiti was still paying enormous debts to France, even up to 1947. About 80% of the wealth generated was going straight out of the country; in this manner no money was left to build up the infrastructure or raise the people’s standard of living. Held in contempt and isolation, this vice-like hold on its jugular by the capitalist powers led to the strangulation of its economy even before it got started and went on for about 100 years.

It was no wonder then that even the political system that evolved as an aftermath of this diabolical ‘capitalist war’ on Haiti was very peculiar indeed. According to historian and author Mark Denner:

“Haitian history became the immensely complex tale of factional struggles to control the state, with factions often defined by an intricate politics of skin colours (mulatto vs blacks). There were no methods of succession ultimately recognised as legitimate, no tradition of loyal opposition. Politics was murderous, operatic, improvisational. Instability alternated with autocracy… fragility of rule and uncertainty of tenure multiplied the imperative to plunder. Unseated rulers were sometimes killed, more often exiled, but as always, their wealth that part of it not sent out of the country _ was pillaged in its turn.”

Yet again the strong arm of the US could be seen in all these maladies afflicting Haiti. By the time the First World War erupted in 1914, Haitian internal strife had come to a head. Under this guise, but in actual fact ruing the fact that the Germans might get a foothold in the Caribbean, the US Marines landed in Haiti in 1915. The Americans then ruled Haiti for 19 years, a period in which they enforce the continued repayment of the reparation debt. The aftermath of the Americans saw Haiti’s cruellest and bloodiest dictator being brought to power, Francois Duvalier. He was to be succeeded later by his son, Jean-Claude,who was no less cruel or bloody. By 1986 when the Duvalier era was put to an end by the overthrow of the son, Haiti was once again thrown into a convulsion of coups and counter-coups, revolutions and counter- revolutions, rigged or aborted elections.

The Haitians did try to move against imperialism. A populist, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was freely elected to power in 1990 but was ousted in a coup in 1991. In the year 2000, Aristide was elected again, doubled the minimum wage and was promptly ousted by yet another US and France backed coup. This time he was bodily carried and dumped somewhere in Central Africa by the Americans. He is still in exile to this day. The United Nations Stabilisation Mission has also been in the county ever since. Effectively the UN has been ruling the country, since there is no standing Haitian Army.

It is under this yoke of brutal policies of the capitalist superpowers, military occupation by the US and of course deep-rooted internal strife, that Haiti became what is now known as the “poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.” Against this backdrop, it is not therefore surprising that even before the occurrence of the calamitous earthquake, Haiti was bemoaned as a country of want, poverty and suffering.

In the same vein also, it is no wonder that the populace of that country has become overly religious and spiritual. When a people cannot boast of security of life or property, or when or if the next meal would come, the only recourse would likely be to a spiritual deity (whether in the catholic churches or voodoo shrines, or the two combined!) History has shown us that the fear of the unknown had led humanity to religion, and Haitians are no exception.

Is the earthquake really an act of God?

Evangelist Pat Robertson displayed his limitations, nakedly exposing how callous and inhuman, religious bigotry can be when he posited that the earthquake is responsible for the present agony in Haiti and that this was because the Haitian people had made a pact with the devil a long time ago.

In Haiti it is true that spiritualism is strong, especially with the belief that corpses can be made to walk and so on. But Robertson in his haughty “superiority” is no better than them. Between those who believe that there are gods who can raise up dead bodies to torment the living and this evangelist preacher who believes that a deity exists who could wreak vengeance by sending a devastating earthquake to a people as punishment for their sins, there is no fundamental difference. In no way are they inferior to him and his like in spirituality.

To quote Mark Denner, once again: “and yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons”.

Earthquake damage on Haiti. Photo by Marcello Casal Jr/Abr.Earthquake damage on Haiti. Photo by Marcello Casal Jr/Abr. Haiti of 2010 under the effect of the terrible earthquake, just like New Orleans of 2007 under the assault of Hurricane Katrina, once again brings to sharp relief the barbarism which capitalism is capable of.

Capitalism is responsible for the transatlantic slave trade in which millions of Africans were carted to the Americas and the Caribbean islands as chattel labour on plantations, upon which the wealth of the present day imperialist powers was built. It went on for upward of five hundred years, as a consequence of which we now have the black nation of Haiti, among other phenomena. American imperialism, not nature or Gods, was responsible for placing the economic blockade and sanctions on Haiti’s agricultural produce and manufactured goods right from the day of its independence. Furthermore, as already mentioned, American imperialists made sure the fledgling nation was completely impoverished by having to pay obscenely huge reparations to its French counterpart.

It is true that nature sometimes imposes huge misfortunes on humanity, but history has shown that the ones that men consciously add to them are even crueler. Capitalism as a system cares little about people as people but rather as a means of deriving profits and furthering the rule of capital. Suffice it to say that earthquakes, although they are natural disasters, are such that their impact is not due to geophysical processes alone.

For example, Cuba a very close neighbour of Haiti is equally prone to natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquake that bedevil Haiti. Recently, a wave of earthquakes passed through Cuba and the result was a mere four casualties. The reason for this is not difficult to see. Cuba, even though it was also placed under a total economic blockade and victimization by America, operates a planned economy. They make plans to protect the lives of their citizens. Houses have been built that could withstand the shocks of hurricanes and earthquakes, among other things.

Undoubtedly, the lack of environmental planning and degradation, overcrowding in slum conditions in the capital city as a result of people fleeing the backward rural areas all trademarks of capitalism made it possible for the effect of the earthquake to be as terrible as it has been in Haiti. The same reasons as to why the dykes of New Orleans were left unreinforced, even after documentation to the effect that a hurricane of the magnitude of Katrina could happen, also suffice to explain the tragedy in Haiti. A country so close to the United States and ruled by them for nearly 25 years could not boast of even a minimal infrastructure and houses that could safeguard the people against such natural disasters. Instead of this, American imperialism has dedicated immense resources in fighting the now infamous “war on terror”.

What way forward

Since the earthquake of January 12, everybody has been falling over themselves in a bid to help “poor Haiti”. Workers of many nations have contributed with donations. These noble producers of society’s wealth stand commended. Similarly, to be commended are the governments of Cuba and Venezuela. They responded, within hours, with medical brigades, fire-fighters, fuel and supplies.

On the other hand, the US government, true to type, pledged assistance of $100,000,000 instantly, as if money itself was all. We were to learn later that this amount was not even up to what they spend on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in just two days! In addition, they also dispatched close to 1000 troops “to maintain peace and order”.

The so-called “third world” countries themselves have not been left behind; even the poverty stricken Democratic Republic of Congo donated its widow’s mite. Corporate bodies, houses of parliament, football clubs and individual alike, all have been canvassing for one aid scheme or another for Haiti. This is all very commendable, of course.

As at now the UN, led of course by the United States, is feverishly carrying out relief activities in Haiti. Food and other relief materials are being airlifted to stem the tide of starvation and deprivation. The US would have us believe that it is a most humanitarian government; but as one commentator asked, “why do the rich find it easier to be helpful than to be just? Why couldn’t America act and not just mouth its revolutionary creed of ‘all men are created equal’, when the Haitian slaves triumphantly took power from their oppressor, a long time ago?” To us their aid giving is like shedding crocodile tears.

To be sure, Haiti has been no stranger to such aid in years past. Aid from foreign countries, private corporations, etc. has been a mainstay of the economy, especially under the reign of the diabolical father and son Duvalier. However, none of this translated into anything fundamentally positive for the poor masses, but only for the self-serving ruling class. The combination of the plundering local ruling elite and the blood-sucking imperialists positioned Haiti where it is today.

This writer ventures to say that just as all previous aid to Haiti has not amounted to any permanent significant positive change in the lives of the wretched masses, so also will a great proportion of the present much-orchestrated aid not reach the people. Already, one reads in the dailies that relief efforts are being slowed down by bottlenecks, and many thousands of survivors are fending for themselves. No wonder news of looting has been rife. It’s a sign of desperation and dehumanisation.

Very soon, the reconstruction process will commence and one can hazard a guess that the “contractors” will be agents of these capitalists, both local and foreign. Very soon much of this much-talked about aid will find its way back to the capitalist and their hangers-on. The common people will still be as impoverished as ever.

The way out of this abyss for these unfortunate Haitians, and even the rest of the “wretched of the earth”, is for this capitalist system to be toppled, and to be replaced by a new world order where the economy as well as the environment would be planned. This world order can only be achieved when the workers of each country unite and take the power from their oppressive ruling classes, and henceforth establish a world federation of socialist republics.

Source: Workers' Alternative (Nigeria)