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.
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
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
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,
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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