Friday, January 15, 2010

How to help Haitians

Partners in Health has been working in Haiti in an exemplary way for years. The literal collapse of many medical facilities in Port au Prince and other areas hardest hit by the quake has made their network of clinics and local health workers an even more important part of the country's sparse medical infrastructure. Please support them today.

Some people consider it unseemly to speak about the political context in which a massive, tragic catastrophe is happening. If you're one of those people, please stop reading this post now.

On February 29, 2004, the U.S. government helped depose the elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Marines forced him onto a plane in the middle of the night and flew him to the Central African Republic. With U.S. and U.N. military and economic support, Haiti's new rulers launched a campaign of assassination, detentions, and intimidation against leaders and activists of Aristide's Lavalas party. The U.N. "peacekeepers" have participated in this campaign, firing on demonstrators, ignoring crimes committed against Lavalas activists by the police (who are being trained by the U.N. troops), and massacring civilians while carrying out sweeps in Lavalas neighborhoods against "criminal gangs".

Lavalas candidates have been prevented from running in subsequent elections. Their exclusion from this past spring's Senate election resulted in a massive boycott; even the government claimed only 11% participation. Now they have been barred again from the general elections scheduled for February 28, the eve of the coup's sixth anniversary.

Through all this, most of the U.S. political class has painted the overthrow and forced exile of Aristide and the reimposition of government for the rich as a good thing, a "transition to democracy". (This piece by Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch is typical.) This is a lie, as big a lie as the claim that the coup against Pres. Manuel Zelaya in Honduras was a legal "democratic transition".

The Obama administration, and the State Department run by Sec. Clinton, are firmly committed to this lie and the policies for which it is a cover story. But suppression of the largest political party in the country is not going to make it, or Haiti's poor, disappear. Haiti can only rebuild and develop if its people drive that development. An organization supporting such work is the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. Your solidarity can make a difference to Haitians struggling for something they need as badly as shelter, food, and water: genuine democracy.

Update: 3:15pm, 19 Jan - Media analyst Danny Schechter forthrightly assesses the near-FUBAR relief effort, which is making the situation even more explosive. [Hat tip to Rupa Shah in comments at A Tiny Revolution.] Mark LeVine has an incisive overview of exactly how the U.S.-imposed economic model has set Haiti up for maximum damage from the recent series of natural disasters.

On the horizon is a prolonged U.S.-U.N. occupation of Haiti, even more comprehensive than the MINUSTAH mission that's been in place for the last five years. The proconsuls of the "international community" will do everything in their power to prevent Aristide from returning, but that demand will be heard again and more often as the crisis deepens.

State spokesman P.J. Crowley, a reliable fount of empire-speak,
says the Obama administration is discouraging visits to Haiti by prominent political figures, including Mr. Aristide. "The last thing that we need is to have someone land and put an additional burden in an already-stressed situation," said Crowley. "We've sent that same message to our members of Congress."
Ass. Aristide wouldn't be jetting in for a "visit" like prominent political figure Secretary of State Clinton (whose arrival caused the U.S. to hold up landings of relief planes for hours), he'd be a citizen of Haiti returning to his country, from which he is illegally being barred.

Update 2: 6:15pm, 19 Jan - People-to-people solidarity ties are the way around our overlords' high-handed approach of creating ever-deeper dependence. The program developed by Haitian popular organizations themselves should be the rebuilding project that we support by word and action, not the kind of "help" our government wants to impose. (Did you know that the International Monetary Fund conditioned disaster relief funds to Haiti on an immediate freeze in public sector wages and a rise in electricity rates? No, apparently there's not a minute to waste in even a fleeting gesture of human compassion; the only thing to do in a crisis on this scale is to press the advantage.)

Beverly Bell puts it well:
Friends: There are ways that your donation, no matter how small, can have a big impact. They are not via the huge bureaucracies, but via the foundations who have long histories of accompanying, trusting, and strengthening the grassroots groups which, in Haiti, are the only ones who have ever made a sustained difference. These are small foundations that know that the only thing that ever works in Haiti is for people to have control over their own rebuilding, over their own communities, and over their own needs and destinies. These are the small foundations who understand that the best that they can do is strengthen those groups' capacities and strength with funding, infrastructure, and technical support.

The need today is of course enormous and overwhelming. Even the UN and Red Cross have no idea how to respond to a calamity of this size. Past the urgency of everyone now getting food and water (which will not happen) and the wounded getting care
(neither), what will be needed is what the Lambi Fund called today "second responders." That involves rebuilding the efforts that were under way to move Haiti "from misery to poverty with dignity," as it is known there. That is the slow, careful work of helping grassroots movements get back on their feet, reclaim what they lost, and move forward - both individually, and as organized movements working for change and justice.

We're not yet beyond the first responder stage, for which Partners in Health is the best "multiplier" channel. But the Lambi Fund and Grassroots International, along with the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, are organizations of integrity that have earned the respect and trust of Haiti's real leaders.

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At 1:15 AM, January 23, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, Nell. My first contributions were to PIH, the next to HERF. The Red Cross has been AWOL and the UN more of a negative than a positive. The lesser-known, small NGOs are the ones that do the heavy lifting, so all we can do is get the word out.


At 5:46 PM, February 03, 2010, Blogger Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

The history of the relationship between Haiti and other countries in the America's, particularly the USA need to be better know. From its beginning the US conspired with France to make sure there was no successful black republic off the US coast.

The overthrow of Aristide was a conspiracy with Canada involved. A meeting being held in Canada jsut before the coup. There has been little discussion of Canada's role within Canada. And then, Canada went on to participate in the peacekeeping. As a Canadian, I find this a sad bit our history.

At 8:23 PM, February 15, 2010, Anonymous Arby said...

Speaking of muliplier effects, I'm hoping that the calamities in Honduras and Haiti continue to draw attention to each other, since the challenge is for the major media to keep it's attention on both places. That is obviously good and bad. It's good because if people continue, or start to, look for information about those, then we anti-imperialists out here can speak up.

What is your view of the Red Cross's efforts and worthiness to be spoken of as a good place to send aid money?

Also, I'd like to tell the 'Christians' among the American, and Canadian, admin that they shouldn't expect to see Jesus Christ while all their political and other challenges are on their plates. That would just be too distracting and burdensome for them to deal with. Honestly!

That's the thing about rightwingers. Because they have so much power - and those 'law and order' types have that power largely because they gain advantages by breaking all sorts of written and unwritten rules - they therefore don't even bother to try to reason with us. They babble at us. They almost seem to not even think about the crap that they spew from their mouths.

Peace, Arby

At 11:23 AM, March 09, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just have a quick question for you but couldn't find an email so had to resort to this. I am a progressive blogger and the owner of the mahablog. Please email me back at when you get a chance. Thanks.


At 2:54 PM, March 10, 2010, Blogger Nell said...

I've responded to Barbara by email, but for anyone else who might have the same trouble, my email is in the 'About Me' section on the upper right-hand side of the main page of the blog.

At 3:02 PM, March 10, 2010, Blogger Nell said...

To Arby's question about the Red Cross: for those who are unlikely to contribute another way than the very easy 'text HAITI to #####', better that than nothing.

But for those willing to take even a tiny bit more trouble, money to the Red Cross is not the best possible use of resources. The money goes much further and more directly to those in need through Partners in Health.

At 3:22 PM, March 10, 2010, Blogger Nell said...

A welcome ongoing source of information on the progress of outside and inside efforts is the blog Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch set up last month by the Center for Economics and Policy Research (best known as home base of Mark Weisbrot and Dean Baker). H/t Charles, I think, or maybe BoRev. At any rate, I didn't find it on my own.


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