Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who is to blame as the death toll in earthquake may approach 100,000?

With fears that the death toll in the Haitian earthquake could rise above 100,000, the country's President, René Préval, makes a desperate appeal to the international community for help and there is President  Obama to the fore, spouting his pathetic pathos as he promises to do everything to help the Haitian people overcome this "cruel and incomprehensible" tragedy."

"Cruel" yes, but "incomprehensible"?  Not according to Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who says the "relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums." And there they are barely existing in hovels that are  invariably perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines." Their choosing where to live, however, is just as unnatural as their deaths. Brian Concannon again: "Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses."

Slave labour and a market for American products or at least the only product that Haitians can afford to, or rather have to buy, and there we had "Uncle Sam", working covertly through the IMF, forbidding Haitans to subsidise their own rice while opening the country to highly subsidised US rice. The impoverished country is now dependent on cheaper imported rice. Indeed, it has become a substitute not only for home grown rice but also for corn and grain. A win, win situation for the IMF and its Washington backers as Haitian farmers are forced off their land to seek work in sweatshops for a pittance which might, if they are lucky, allow them to earn enough to buy a handful of the rice that makes Haiti the fourth biggest market, after Japan, Mexico and Canada,  for American rice.

Today, men, women and children are lying and dying in a city whose basic infrastructure remains completely inadequate, depending on a government that is incapable of mobilising any sort of disaster relief and a not so noble "international community"that is to no little extent responsible for their plight. Of course, when the dust has settled and the corpses are cleared it will be good news not only for the American rice conglomorates but also for those US clothing manufaturers who will sell themselves as being the embodiment of altruism as they lower the hourly rate in their sweatshops from 50 cents to 40 cents, a rate which they might discuss with the rice conglomorates back in the good old 'US of A'. There is method in the madness and it is not all as "incomprehensible" as Obama would like us to believe.

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