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U.S. troops invade Haiti

Pentagon sabotages relief effort, escalates suffering

Published Jan 27, 2010 5:38 PM

Jan. 26. — The U.S. secured its occupation of Haiti when the Pentagon placed 13,000 troops in the country around the capital and on nearby ships, with at least 4,000 more scheduled to arrive. It’s now two weeks after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake leveled the capital city and nearby towns, wreaking havoc on the population, and in doing so eliminated the Haitian government bureaucracy, police and the United Nations military mission.

Washington has rushed in its own military to re-establish a repressive force under cover of a “humanitarian” mission needed to bring aid to people who are injured, hungry and thirsty, and without shelter.

Spokespeople from what is left of Haiti’s government estimate that some 200,000 people have died in the disaster, that hundreds of thousands have left the capital area to seek shelter in the North of the country, and there are still some 609,000 without shelter in the capital area itself. (Reuters, Jan. 25)

The U.S. Marines and Airborne forces have seized the destroyed presidential palace, the banks, the Port-au-Prince airport and the severely damaged seaport. The U.S. forces took control of air traffic at the airport on Jan. 14. Currently 120 planes can land daily on the one runway, but 1,400 planes are backed up waiting for U.S. permission to land.

Accompanying the U.S. troop surge, the U.N. forces that have occupied Haiti since 2004 have rebuilt their command, which was severely damaged by the earthquake, and are increasing the number of troops from 9,000 to 12,500. Canada, which invaded Haiti in 2004 along with the U.S. and France after the U.S. deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has doubled its contingent to 2,000 troops.

All reports on the ground from Haiti show that Washington gave first priority to the military buildup, while delaying emergency aid. Comments from officials engaged in aid and rescue missions  —  even from U.S. allies  —  show that by giving the military priority, Washington hampered the international humanitarian effort.

Aid officials angered by U.S. military priorities

Guido Bertolaso, who directed Italy’s disaster relief effort after an earthquake in the Abruzzo region in 2009, called the U.S.-led effort “pathetic” and disorganized. He likened it to the early days after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He suggested that there should be a single international civilian coordinator and that the rescue effort be demilitarized. (Times of London, Jan. 25)

Of the U.S. military buildup, Bertolaso said, “Unfortunately, it’s a massive presence, but it’s not been used in the best way.”  Italy’s rightist government of Silvio Berlusconi distanced itself from Bertolaso’s criticism.

The Geneva-based Doctors Without Borders repeatedly had their planes carrying medical supplies bumped to make way for U.S. military aircraft. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet complained of the U.S. priorities. “This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti,” said Joyandet. Like the Italian government did with Bertolaso, the rightist French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner disowned Joyandet’s response to the U.S. priority. (BBC News, Jan. 19)

Washington’s policy had immediate negative consequences. Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders Choscal Hospital in the Cité Soleil section of Port-au-Prince, said on Jan. 20, “We were forced to buy a saw in the market to continue amputations. We are running against time here.” (CBC News, Jan. 25)

With hundreds of thousands of Haitians severely injured, delays in receiving antibiotics and cleaning wounds meant Haitians developed gangrene. This forces amputations, which had to be done without anesthesia, and could lead to death.

The Canadian government followed the U.S. lead. It had planned to send several Heavy Urban Search Rescue Teams, which were immediately readied but never sent. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said this was because “the government had opted to send Canadian Armed Forces instead.” (Toronto Sun, Jan. 17)

Washington faced growing criticism that aid was being held up. Finally, on Jan. 24, U.S. soldiers and Brazilian U.N. troops handed out food and water in Cité Soleil, a neighborhood of poor people in Port-au-Prince. They still couldn’t disguise the military effort: “U.S. Army Humvees formed a corridor alongside cinder-block houses, and hundreds of Haitians lined up to receive food packs, water and crackers.” (Reuters Canada, Jan. 24)

In contrast, by Jan. 24, socialist Cuba, without sending any troops, had 650 doctors and medical technicians operating field hospitals in the earthquake area. Its teams included Haitian medical students who were in their final year of medical school in Cuba. The Cuban teams had already treated 18,000 injured Haitians and performed 1,700 surgical interventions.

Self-organization of the Haitians

As they did in reports from New Orleans after Katrina hit, the corporate media here painted the Haitian survivors as a mob tearing each other apart for whatever they could get their hands on. Even the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, had to contradict this slander. Merten told PBS: “People should be aware that the vast majority of Haitians here are behaving in a calm and peaceful manner.” (BBC News, Jan. 21)

Other observers more friendly to the Haitian population described how Haitians, though without food and water for days, organized themselves to rescue those trapped and to receive and share aid.

Matthew Price reported: “During the last week in Haiti, I was left with one overwhelming impression  —  it is the survivors who are helping themselves. They are pulling together, not tearing themselves apart.” (BBC News, Jan. 21)

Kim Ives of the weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! had similar comments. Ives described a scene outside General Hospital: “Here were people who were going in and out of the hospital bringing food to their loved ones in there or needing to go to the hospital, and there were a bunch of U.S. 82nd Airborne soldiers in front yelling in English at this crowd. They didn’t know what they were doing. They were creating more chaos rather than diminishing it.” (Haiti Liberté, Jan. 20-26)

And when a truckload of food came unannounced in the middle of the night to the Delmas 33 neighborhood, “the local popular organization  ...  immediately mobilized their members. They came out. They set up a perimeter. They set up a cordon. They lined up about 600 people who were staying on the soccer field behind the house, which is also a hospital, and they distributed the food in an orderly, equitable fashion. They were totally sufficient. They didn’t need Marines. They didn’t need the U.N.” (Democracy Now! transcript, Jan. 20)

Ives told Workers World on Jan. 26: “The earthquake was half a revolution, removing all the government buildings and virtually eliminating the repressive power of the state. That’s why the U.S. is rushing in to replace that state power, to control Haiti’s future and to prevent the people of Haiti from carrying out the other half.”

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