35 seconds that changed everything
2010-01-28, Issue 467
Given the severity of the earthquake in Haiti and the criticisms of the delivery of humanitarian aid and massive deployment of US and UN troops in the country, it is disappointing that there has been so little commentary from African bloggers. I did some research over the weekend to try to find out more on the historical connections between Haiti and Africa. It was just a cursory exploration but I found that the majority of enslaved people in the country came from what is now Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal/Gambia and Sierra Leone. These are important connections, which we need to acknowledge and further investigate. I am therefore moving beyond the continent itself into the diaspora and including a few posts from Haitians in this round up.
Shailja Patel, Kenyan performance poet and activist, has published a number of excellent posts. The first one ‘Haiti: 10 Point Action Plan’, published two days after the earthquake, calls for the following (so far numbers one and nine have been implemented, with the IMF claiming the US$100 million originally given as a loan is to be a grant to Haiti):
1) Grants, not loans
2) Keep corporations and corporatist policies OUT. Stop disaster capitalism in its tracks
3) Cancel ALL Haiti's debt to the Inter-American Development Bank
4) Let Aristide return to Haiti
5) Lift the ban on Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas political party
6) Rip up the neoliberal pre-earthquake Clinton-Obama program for Haiti: tourism, sweatshops, privatisation, deregulation
7) Do not allow US military or UN ‘peacekeepers’ to point guns at desperate Haitians.
8) Allow all Haitians in the US to work, and remit money home
9) Release all 30,000 Haitians held in US jails for deportation, and grant them Temporary Protected Status
10) Demand that France start repaying the US$21 billion it extorted from Haiti in 1825, to ‘compensate’ France for loss of Haiti as a slave colony.
The second of her posts I want to highlight speaks to the increased militarisation of Haiti:
‘When you store your brains in your weaponry, then every situation is a security threat. US military in Haiti, hyper-vigilant about securing emergency relief, obviously missed the central purpose – get the supplies out to save lives.’
She goes on to make similarities between the response to Katrina and what she describes as the ‘paranoia, incompetence and criminalisation of disaster victims’ – and the ‘Superdrome Solution’.
‘And if you happen to be too injured to move, have infants or immobile elders you can't carry, if you just can't bring yourself to leave the bodies – bad luck. We've all got to make difficult decisions in disasters. Were you really expecting the relief to come to you? We've only got 10,000 troops here, lady! You want us to whip out maps and highlighters, mark off neighbourhoods and just send our guys out with supplies? Whaddaya think we are – Cubans? It's dangerous out there. We may have assault rifles, but we've heard about your Voodoo.’
Nigerian Curiosity comments on the need for Nigeria to follow the response from other African countries in responding to the earthquake:
‘Currently, the African governments of Gabon, Ghana, Benin, Liberia Morocco, Rwanda and South Africa have pledged/donated money ranging from US$50,000 to US$1 million. Senegal's government has gone a step further of offering free land parcels and/or accommodation to Haitians who opt to repatriate and settle there. As more African countries will undoubtedly join in the global chorus to assist the Haitian people, the Nigerian government must use this opportunity to show kindness to Haiti.’
African Loft reports on the comment made by US evangelical church leader Pat Robinson that Haiti had made a pact with the devil. Importantly AL also acknowledges the close relationship between continental Africa and the African Diaspora:
‘The people of Haiti are predominately descendants of Africa – ‘a key part of the African diaspora’, using the language of the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka. They were the sons and daughters of slaves that rebelled against the harsh slave-trade dependent society of their time. They fought for freedom; from the brutality of being a slave – a bought human being seen and treated like animals.
‘The forebearers of the present-day Haitians fought for liberty, and are catalysts that gave meaning to civil-rights as we know it today.
‘The conditions those men and women endured under the French rule in the 18th century couldn’t be described as godly, it was hellish! Then how could a good thing like seeking freedom from bondage and oppression of slavery be made possible by the devil? Yet, this is what Pat Robinson asserts!’
Haitian blogger Ezili Danto asks whether mining and oil drilling contributed in any way to the earthquake:
‘Since the earthquake, I've had occasion to ponder, like many others, about what may have caused this heretofore-unknown natural disaster in Haiti? Was it a natural occurrence or man-made? Port-au-Prince, Haiti has not had an earthquake in 239 years. Why now? The nation of Haiti is only 206 years old, so Haitians in Port-au-Prince have no experience with earthquakes whatsoever. Did not know that for an earthquake you run away from the house. So, when the trembling started they did the worst possible thing – ran into their houses as they are used to, for protection, with hurricanes. The houses all collapsed on them.’
The Haitian Blogger, written by Chantal Laurent, reports on the decision (after considerable pressure from activists across the world) by the IMF to change its loan of US$100 million to a grant:
‘Talk about shock and awe. In what is being termed a "breakthrough," yesterday, the IMF announced that Haiti would not be forced to take a loan out for rebuilding. The new $100 million dollar debt the IMF gave to Haiti for reconstruction will be cancelled.’
She also comments on the media hype around ‘security’ stating that people on the ground see no reason for concern. I also spoke to people in Haiti last week who echoed the same feelings. So the question which still remains to be answered by the US government is – why the deployment of thousands of additional troops some of who are sand banked with automatic weapons on the ready. Repeat over and over, ‘There is no war in Haiti’.
Black Looks has a number of posts including ‘So, Send in the Marines, OK?’ in which she discusses the increased militarisation of Haiti and the commercialisation of humanitarian aid.
‘From the very beginning it was clear that the tragedy of the earthquake would be used as an opportunity for the US to further militarise the country and control the political process. The silence of the puppet President, René Préval and the resulting absence of any leadership could also be seen as part of the justification for US intervention and involvement. It is not extreme to question whether the US had any influence in maintaining his silence. And then President Obama’s shameful act of calling President Bush and Clinton to oversee the military process – described by the London Daily Mail as the ‘American Invasion’.
Finally Painful Thoughts by a young Haitian blogger has a series of moving and beautifully written personal thoughts on her much changed life. She begins with a moving account of her own earthquake experience.
‘You might not wanna know what happened to me. You might only be interested to what happened to you aunt or your grandpa that are in haiti and that you can’t reach by phone. I can’t blame you for that, though you can’t blame me for wanting to write all this, since there’s no one else but my blog that can sit and listen to it.
‘I was at school in PE class when all this happened going to get water with a friend. We felt the ground shaking, but we didn’t pay attention, because none of us had experienced that before, so we continued walking. but then it started shaking a lot more and we could hear the PE teacher screaming for us to lay on the ground. Then everyone got up and ran to go get their phones and try to call their parents… I tried to call my dad; the only thing i could hear was the ‘beep beep’ it does when it’s busy. and disconnected.. i got extremely worried about him. worried. Then i heard someone scream that phones weren’t working… and a few seconds after that first shaking, i saw my school three stories building become a 2 meters high pile of debris.’
For her the earthquake and its aftermath is a wake up call to the realities of life and what really matters:
‘it’s good cause then you realize, none of all these stupidities everyone here wants, really mattered. partying never mattered, fancy clothes, making a big deal about how your hair is done, huge & expensive armored cars, summers at the beach in Miami, having a beautiful body, nice hair… you realize all this was BULLSHIT; that all this was going nowhere, a big nasty pile of POINTLESS time-wasting crap! Now you have to open up your eyes and face reality with all it’s details and find a way to compress years of growing up into these 35 seconds, that changed everything.’
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Sokari Ekine blogs at Black Looks.
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